DD Motoring: From Bondi Beach to Ballybofey – emigration in reverse

first_imgWhat can you say about a car that transcends life? A car that connects one generation with another, one that feels so familiar like a part of our past yet so familiar in Co.Donegal in the present day.What did Ford know when they decided to pick a family car from its production line to transform it into one of the most iconic rally cars in the world? Now thanks to the skill of a Ballybofey man who is following where Ford finished in the early 80s.Rodney Stewart is not alone helping to keep a rallying icon alive but is also bucking the trend of emigration and rather than heading to Australia in search of employment. Advertisement Rodney has taken part of Australia back to Donegal in an effort to make work for himself at home.The bare metal finish shows the workmanship of Rodney Stewart on this Mk1 Ford Escort which is presently nearing completion at the workshop in Ballybofey. Photo Brian McDaidA view of one of the latest developments in roll cage safety . The use of continuous roll bars for this cross section which adds strength to safety of the cage. Photo Brian McDaidFlying high, like all good Ford Escort should be! A classic MkI Ford Escort all the way form Australia now near completion of the first stage of rally preparation by Rodney Stewart. Photo Brian McDaidA wheel set in place to give the idea of the intended wheel arch will look in the finish Mk 2 Ford Escort . Photo Brian McDaidRodney Stewart spent five years in Australia working hard was but thinking of a job at home that he loved so well. Before he left Ireland he worked on the preparation of rally cars mostly Ford Escorts Mk2s.While in Australia he soon realised that what he had left in Donegal was what he really wanted to do and planned to return some day and set up his own business building rally cars.Like fine win sitting on a rack in the corner. Two escort shells one from Australia and one from West Germany ready for Rodney Stewart to work his magic on for next year’s Donegal Rally, perhaps. Photo Brian McDaidWhile in Australia he hand picked the best he could find in perfectly preserved MK 2 Escorts. When he came home he shipped a container load of years of collecting to his home in Co. Donegal. Advertisement Creating the iconIf the “Flying Finn” Ari Vatenan hadn’t had as many offs when he was driving for the Ford Team 40 years ago he wouldn’t have been ask to take a step back on the number of World Rally events at that time in his rallying career and he would never have ended up in our wee Donegal in his David Sutton prepared Black Beauty.The magic of a MK2 Ford Escort in Donegal drove by the Flying Finn Ari Vatenan on his way to winning the rally in 1978 by 12 minutesThis Mk2 Escort was nothing like anyone seen before in Donegal and with the tall fair haired Finn at the wheel no one has ever seen a Ford Escort going as fast either.First impressions In 1978 Andy Hegarty flew past as one of the officials in his brand new Escort RS2000 on the Donegal International Rally. That year he was also the Main Ford Dealer and was sponsoring the number 2 seeded competitor, who was also driving a Ford Escort.Seasoned spectators took two steps back from their prime viewing point as this flying black escort looked as if it never was going to get stopped for the junction! Then at the last minute, the driver who was on the left-hand side of the car threw the car sideways to the left and then changed direction to take the 90 right junction and flew off into the distance as the dust settled behind him.The memory of that car and the sound of the engine never missing a beat as Ari change down through the gear box and then away over the stage has never left my memory. That was the first time an Escort won the Donegal International Rally and from then to 1983 it was Ford Escorts RS1800 in charge in Donegal, bar 1980 when Jimmy McRea was the Chevette in the Ford sandwich. Loving your jobFor the most of us that are into our rallying we only have the build up in June and the Donegal International to really enjoy our sport. Rodney, with the exception of the odd day off to bring in the turf (as I was to find out recently when I tried to track down this man,) spends his full year working at rally cars.Rodney Stewart opens the doors of his converted farmyard at 7am in the morning. His garage is made to measure for the work that he does. His radio fights for a reception as does his phone which works only if it sits high on the workshop window. Rodney likes that disconnection so he can get on with his work.Rodney Stewart has no less than 4 escort shells in his work shop at the moment cars for most that started life as family cars on the other side of the world, Three of them came all the way from Australia where the dry climate is a lot kinder to these beautiful pieces of Ford history than the climate in Donegal.However, Donegal is not Donegal without a Mk2 Escort and forty years on it’s still the most sought after car to do the Donegal Rally in. The original Rodney is mostly focused on a beautiful Yellow Mk 1, also imported all the way from Australia. The car floats a couple of foot above the garage floor (as all Escort should when rallied). This one is on a rig which makes the hard to access points to work on all that easier.A foundation of safety is what Rodney Stewart is focused on when he takes a car into his workshop. Some of these cars might not be on the road for a couple more years so Rodney is putting in place specification that is not yet a safety requirement on the car as far as strengthening and safety are concerned.Extra bars low along the inside of the bottom door sill and a four point brace in the engine bay just all add up to a stronger and safer rally car. Rodney is not bothered about the extra weight that the car will carry when his work is finished as he feels the extra strength he can build into his preparation of rally car out weighs the benefits of a lighter car.The Mk 1 Escort he is working on will be more than likely end up running as a historic rally car which means that it will run with its original Lotus Twin Cam or similar.The other three cars could run on any variety of Vauxhall or Toyota based engines so Rodney has to plan for that and as far as transmission tunnels and exhaust space is concerned in the car. The development of a round tunnel running from the gearbox to the back of the car gives a couple of valuable inches for the sighting of the drivers and navigator seat.A perfect tenRodney Stewart often wonders how the dimensions of the rear wheel drive escort just happen to fit the dimensions to build a perfect rally car so well, from the suspension right through to the wheel positioning of the car which ended up as not just a rally car but a living thing.Something magic going down a stage particularly on the Donegal rally that can talk to you, with a familiar note of its exhaust right through to its body language as it makes the road before it, its own.A model of the 1979 winner of the Donegal International Rally. Brian Nelson in his famous Tuca Tile RS1800Forty years on and that first win by a Ford Escort in 1978 is still stirring the heart strings of drivers and fans when the see a Mk2 Escort in Donegal.Happy motoring memories folks.DD Motoring: From Bondi Beach to Ballybofey – emigration in reverse was last modified: August 9th, 2017 by Brian McDaidShare this:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)Click to share on Telegram (Opens in new window)Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)Click to share on Skype (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Tags:brian mc daidmk escortmotoringrodney stewartlast_img

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