By Stuart Grant

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What was the fastest road-legal Ford sold in South Africa in June 1980? You might think it was the big-engined XR6 or even a local special with a V8 shoehorned under the bonnet of a tame saloon but it was, in fact, a 1600 Sport Escort, force-fed by a turbo-charger and sold through Pretoria-based Ford dealer, Steyns Ford.

Unique to South Africa the standard Escort 1600 Sport, which launched in 1979, was a nippy runabout that provided a more entry-level performance Ford to those that lusted after the 2-litre RS2000. The ‘1-6-double O’ differed from the rest of the Escorts on sale by means of 5.5j Rosstyle wheels, round halogen headlights, spotlights, matt black quarter bumpers and twin side mirrors, and ‘1600 Sport’ decals. Inside the cabin seating was amped up with headrests, Chevron cloth upholstery, three-spoked steering wheel and full set of gauges, glove box and an electric clock mounted in the centre console.

With Formula 1 employing the monstrous 1500bhp four-cylinder turbo layout in the early 1980s it was no surprise that the ‘real car guys’ talked the turbo talk – especially those on the Highveld, where a turbo would somewhat negate the lack of air created by the altitude. Alan Brough, through his Randburg-based Brospeed Developments, was vocal about the benefits (performance, economy and relatively cheap smiles) of turbos in South Africa and the deal between Steyns Ford and Brospeed kicked off into 1980, with the first unit ready and tested by June.

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An American-sourced Rajay induction turbo found home inside the 1600 Sport bonnet. With an induction set-up the turbo is located between the carburettor and inlet port as opposed to the more usual turbo set-up externally of the carb – this offered less turbo-lag than the traditional. In order to accomplish this, new inlet and exhaust manifolds had to be manufactured, as well as an easy-breathing, remote-mounted air filter. An oil cooler was also added for good measure. Options on top of this were mainly cosmetic items from Calbrook Colours in Booysens.

Operating at 0.3 bar the Brospeed Escort churned out 61kW at the rear wheels, a jump of 20kW on the standard Ford. A clean 0-100km/h sprint was nigh on impossible with the 175/70 13-inch rubber and kart-like leaf springs combining to deliver more spoke and black lines than go, but Car magazine was able to break the 10-second barrier with a run of 9.7 seconds. Top speed wasn’t limited by the pulling power, rather by not enough gears in the four-speed box, but it was still good enough to take the title as the quickest 1980 Ford for sale at 173.9km/h.

Selling price was set at R6 995, which could climb quickly to R8 315 by ticking a few extras like Scheel seats, alloy wheels, wheel-arch spats, bonnet scoop, rear spoiler, tinted sunroof and racy graphics. It raised the following questions: Was having a turbo important enough to warrant paying a premium of 18% over the Ford Escort RS2000? And is a top speed of an extra 4.7km/h or a two-second faster 0-100km/h sprint worth the extra loot?

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Sure, the low-drag droop nose on the RS2000 is a bit odd looking compared to the slab-fronted 1600 Sport but at R5 680 it came with the Scheel seats, sporty decals, four halogen headlamps, a plethora of gauges, remote-adjustable driver door mirror, aluminium sports steering wheel and the more modern 2-litre overhead camshaft Köln engine. Adding another R2 000 to your RS2000 budget would allow for some 6J Minilite wheels, wheel-arch extensions, sunroof, rally lights, window louvres, an engine tweak good for 60% extra oomph and limited-slip differential and you’d still be under the Turbo price tag. The wise ones would have gone for the RS but the enthusiast and techno talker would have jumped at the Turbo.

And if you weren’t of the Ford orientation there were a few more locally developed options on the market in 1980/81. A few months before the Escort Turbo hit the streets, Calbrook Colours had launched its own Brospeed-fitted turbo-charged Mazda 323. As a big player in the custom car market it was no surprise that this car, now called Distyl, sported the likes of bubble arches, custom alloy wheels, aero-kit and fancy paintwork. Spotting a good thing, Steyns Sigma joined the party and called upon Brospeed to fit a turbo to some of its 1400 Mazda Meteor 323 offering. Again, Calbrook was employed to tart up the bodywork, the odd add-ons and decals. If German was your thing and a Porsche was out the price range, Lindsay Saker offered a Brospeed Turbo Volkswagen Golf 1600 GTS. For the Toyota crew, Imperial Motors commissioned Brospeed to add a Rajay setup to a 1.6 SE Liftback Corolla and Corolla Sprinter.

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Performance of the bunch of Rajay-fitted cars was similar across the board, allowing for pub-talking techno gurus to opt for their brand of choice. And if you had already splashed out on a normally aspirated factory model the good news was you could keep up with the Joneses by taking your car along to Brospeed and having a turbo and decals retro fitted. Exactly how many complete conversions were done on these machines is difficult to track down, but the firm did fit 600 of these turbos to small capacity runabouts over a period of three years.

Operating at relatively low boost and with a reputation for reliability (it is the only turbo approved by the USA Civil Aeronautics Board for use in single-engined aircraft), the lifespan of a Brospeed-modded car should be in a similar ballpark to the standard vehicles. But not many seem to exist anymore. Is this the fault of the modification – the fact the when something went wrong it was easy to unbolt and remove the turbo – or that cars were written off following some over enthusiastic driving, unwittingly encouraged by the charger? Who knows, but what does remain is the memory of a great little period in South Africa where dealers came up with ideas on how to make cars better and did a proper job of selling.

Make / Price / 0 to 100km/h / Max speed

Steyns Ford Escort Sport Turbo
/ R6995 / 9.7 seconds / 173.9km/h
Steyns Sigma Mazda 323 Meteor Turbo / R7825 / 10.1 seconds / 166.8km/h
Distyl Mazda 323 Turbo / R9625 / 11.4 seconds / 162.7km/h
Lindsay Saker Golf GTS Turbo / R8975 / 8.1 seconds / 178.2km/h
Imperial Motors Toyota Corolla 1.6SE / R9780 / 10.9 seconds / 175.7km/h

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