The Ford Sierra RS500 Group A racer is back: three 575bhp continuation cars to be built
The late, great Murray Walker talked like a man whose trousers were on fire. So said the late and equally great Clive James. Well, even by his high standards Murray was rarely more conflagratory than when commentating on the British Touring Car Championship in the late Eighties. There was something about ordinary street cars turned circuit warriors that fired the collective imagination, and the sight of, say, Andy Rouse trading paint with Steve Soper round Brands Hatch in a Sierra Cosworth remains unsurpassable. Head over to YouTube if you don’t believe me.
Which is probably why the news that Rouse himself – winner of 60 BTCC races and a four-time British champion – is endorsing three ‘new’ continuation Ford Sierra RS500 Group A race cars is so ridiculously exciting. Certainly for those of us who remember weekend afternoons glued to BBC Grandstand. The cars in question will be manufactured by touring car experts CNC Motorsport AWS, headed up by a guy called Alan Strachan who worked for Rouse when the great man also ran Andy Rouse Engineering (ARE would later run the works Ford Mondeo BTCC campaign). So they go way back.
Strachan’s outfit has access to the original data and parts, including the front suspension uprights, rear arms, the sealed fuel tank, side exit exhaust and the steel roll cage. CNC also happened to have a new three-door Sierra bodyshell – known as a 909 and carefully stored since the late Eighties – which prompted the lightbulb moment. "Demand for competitive Group A machines is rising, enabling access to some of the best motorsport events around the globe for correct cars," Strachan says. "The cars are great fun to drive, relatively easy to maintain, and considerably more affordable to run than Super Touring cars."
The Sierra RS500 was also powered by one of the great racing engines, especially if you liked old-school rocket-ship turbocharging. The stock RS500 ran 224bhp but most were doing way more than that; in ARE race trim the 2.0-litre four-pot was making well over 500bhp. Imagine what that felt like in the wet on the Craner Curves. The three continuation cars promise up to 575bhp, the new Cosworth YB units being overseen by ARE’s original engine builder, Vic Drake, who made over 100 engines during the car’s heyday. The gearbox is the period correct Getrag five-speed, with a Proflex fuel system and later spec viscous differential fitted. They’ll also be eligible for all the right historic racing events.
But exactly what made the Sierra RS500 such a successful racing car? TG.com gets Andy Rouse on the phone to find out. "They were sensibly priced cars. At the high point, there were 18 RS500s on the grid, that’s how successful and popular it was," he says. "It was a cost effective car, too, we could build one back then for about £80k (RM457k) We built about 30 race cars at ARE and 100 engines, we were sending parts all over the world. It was being raced pretty much everywhere.
"It was by far the best racing car I drove, it looked fast, it went fast, and it was a tricky thing to drive simply because it had an excess of power over grip. And the tyres weren’t great in those days, either. Oversteer isn’t good for a lap time but it was difficult to avoid it if you were trying to go fast in an RS500. I grew up driving on grass tracks so going sideways was natural to me."
Good job with all that power. The continuation car is likely to run up to 575bhp, which sounds crazy… "That’s maybe a bit optimistic. We’d race it with about 520bhp and turn it up a bit for qualifying," Rouse recalls. "We’d run about 2.2 bar of boost. It was great to drive somewhere like Silverstone but Bathurst and Fuji were even better. We’d see 298kph on the straight at Bathurst."
Rouse is quietly retired these days, and has a nice place in leafy Surrey. For one of the greatest British racing drivers of all time, he keeps a deliberately low profile. Does he ever get recognised doing the shopping? "Not particularly. I run a Facebook page which seems to generate quite a lot of interest, but it’s surprising that people still remember me after all this time. I certainly appreciate it when they do. People know my name more than my face. Back in the day there was a TV advert for the Sierra which was on in the middle of the News At 10 every night for about six months that said, ‘The Ford Sierra has made Andy Rouse British Touring Car Champion’.
Or perhaps the other way round. Prices for the ‘new’ car start at £185,000 (RM1m) for an unadorned white car, with options for spares packages and liveries. Bear in mind that good examples of the homologated road car are now making up to £115k (RM657k) and you can see that the appeal is fiscal as well as emotional. We’ll be following this one with interest.