Special order 1985 RS Turbo first went to Diana, Princess of Wales as a gift from Prince Charles. Last week, it traded hands from a private collection at a British auction
Car fans move back and forth in time quite often. We admire new models and the latest technologies as much as we reminisce about icons of yore. The other day, I saw a Ford Escort on the street and took a moment to think of its fate. Even though it was successful back in the day, the Focus replaced it quite well in every aspect. With the exception of the Chinese spin-off, the Escort has become a distant memory.
That thought is the reason the latest auction to make the news is so interesting. We know that Her Royal Highness had a penchant for performance cars, yet not necessarily opulent ones. She had not one, but a total of three Ford Escort models in the 1980s. One of them, the RS Turbo, was special enough on its own. Now, the unit Princess Diana owned has just sold for a whopping £730,000 at a Silverstone auction.
Some context on the Ford Escort
The compact car debuted in 1967 to replace the Anglia, after decades of high sales. It was the first model Ford developed after merging its European operations. Aside from its own qualities, it was more modern than the best-selling Austin/Morris 1100 in the UK and more affordable than the Ford Cortina. Both facts and a good performance in rally races quickly made the new top seller in many European countries.
After two successful generations, the 1980 Escort brought an all-new project. Ford caught up with many advancements made in the compact category, like front-wheel drive. It was also the first generation truly concerned with aerodynamics; there were smooth shapes and a radiator grille that optimized air intake. This was also the very first Escort to include a convertible in its family of body styles.
This time is also important because it marked the Escort’s foreign ventures. Ford made a specific variation for North America in 1981, where it also spawned the EXP coupé and the respective luxury siblings Lynx and LN7. In Latin America, it replaced the aging Corcel and brought Ford’s line up to date. The European model had modifications such as the Verona sedan and the use of a 1.8L engine from Volkswagen.
Moving on towards the RS Turbo
Ford made the famous Escort XR3 to fight the Golf GTI, but things were not easy at first. The 1980 car had an attractive style but too few performance upgrades to be a true competitor. Fuel injection came in 1982 in the RS 1600i and, eight months later, made it to the XR3i. But Ford knew there was more to do. As Car and Driver states, “the relatively new technology of turbocharging promised performance dividends”.
Besides the forced intake, the RS Turbo featured aluminum head and upgraded camshaft. That made its engine reach the power of 132 hp and torque of 133 lb-ft. While those figures did not make it a rocket, they did a great job hauling the weight of barely above 2,000 lb. Ford wanted to produce 5,000 units so as to homologate it for Group A racing, but there was enough demand for a total of 8,604 cars.
The RS Turbo turned out to be the fastest Escort of that generation. Ford sold it in a few LHD and RHD countries using a limited network of Rallye Sport dealers. The model had a nice equipment package that included Recaro seats, the 1600i’s alloy wheels, and limited-slip differential. All units came in the Diamond White color except for three. As you can imagine, Ford built those for a highly special custom order.
Princess Diana’s Ford Escort RS Turbo
It turns out that the Princess of Wales had three Escort of the same generation. The first one came in 1981 as an engagement present: It was a regular four-door Ghia liftback. It was a sensible choice from Prince Charles considering the rough times the United Kingdom was going through. Years later, Diana replaced it with a red convertible Escort, but that caused problems with the Royalty Protection Command.
That color attracted too much attention and the manual fabric roof did not give her enough privacy or protection. The RPC discussed the matter with Ford, and they reached a compromise: the Princess would get an RS Turbo in black with the regular five-slat grille to look more neutral. The security staff would get two identical cars but fitted with a secondary rearview mirror and a radio in the glove box.
The car returned to Ford in 1988 and was internally bought by Geoff King for his wife. It traded hands in 1993 as part of a Kiss FM promotion and again in 1994. Fourteen years later, Princess Diana’s car went to a private collector of Ford RS cars. Now, it has just gone on auction with a detailed register of all those transactions. Not to mention the Escort is in immaculate condition and shows only 24,961 miles.
Did Princess Diana like her RS Turbo?
Quite a lot. Media outlets theorize that the Escort was yet another way she found to break away from the Crown’s formality. While most royals used armored Rolls-Royce cars with chauffeurs, the Princess of Wales honored her commoner origins. There were countless photos of her enjoying boutiques in Chelsea and restaurants in Kensington. She would meet her friends and/or take her two sons for a leisure drive.
Those activities, the choice of a generalist car, and driving by herself are all symbols of her effort to bring normality to her and her sons’ lives. Besides, her marriage to Prince Charles was already crumbling by the mid-1980s, so seeing her pursue independence was quite satisfactory. Silverstone says the RS Turbo “remains the most daring choice of class-dividing motor car by any member of the Royal Family”.
By adding up the RS Turbo’s rarity, Princess Diana’s provenance, and its wonderful condition, it is easy to understand that the car fetched $850,000. That event is a terrific opportunity to reminisce both about the People’s Princess and one of Ford’s past hits in the automotive market. What other car models do you know that had such a noble owner? They may be featured on an exclusive AutomoBible’s article soon!