Monday, June 17, 2024

Tolman unveils latest hot hatch restoration project – 1981 Ford Escort XR3

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Automobile Magazine
Editor | News | United Kingdom

Following the recent reveal of desirable restomods including Lotus Sunbeams and Peugeot 205 GTIs, Tolman has now completed its latest restoration project, a 1981 Ford Escort XR3 in better than new condition. Despite being younger and produced in higher numbers, restoring a modern classic poses new challenges requiring new skills and knowledge that Tolman is developing to cater for customers seeking high end restorations of 1980s and 1990s cars.

On sale from 1980, the Ford Escort XR3 was a popular alternative to the class-leading Golf GTI. Whilst its handling may not initially have matched its German rival, its 1600cc CVH engine did enable a quicker 0-60 time and the cosmetic enhancements transformed the look and appeal of the standard Mk3 Escort. Add in competitive pricing and the XR3 was a best-selling hot hatch, continuing a famed lineage of ‘Fast Fords’ that have been a staple for aspiring enthusiasts seeking accessible performance and sporting looks that continued right up to the recent Fiesta ST.

Despite over 11,000 XR3s being sold in the first year of production alone, less than 200 carburettor cars are still on the UK’s roads. Crashed, stolen, converted into RS Turbo clones or condemned by rust, means surviving Halewood-built cars are now rare. As values of early XR3s have yet to match later fast Fords, correctly restored XR3s are few and far between, leading one customer to request Tolman’s make this ‘one of the best in the world’.

Tolman received the matching numbers XR3 as an unfinished project from another restorer. With parts missing and not knowing what exactly has been done, taking over this restoration was fraught with difficulties. After an audit of the bodyshell and two pallets of over 1,000 parts including bags of unlabelled bolts it received, Tolman opted to create an OEM-style bill of materials to identify parts, track and control the restoration.

It started the 18 month project by undertaking its own metalwork repairs on the bare metal ‘shell that was ultimately finished in its original Sunburst Red. Tolman paid significant attention to improving the shut lines, achieving levels of uniformity not possible when the cars were rolling off the Halewood production line in their thousands.

Sourcing hard to find parts led Tolman to set up alerts on every key selling platform. With the continuous evolution of the car’s specification, a common theme of Fords of that time, some components, even from the same year of production, were not interchangeable. One piece of luck came when just days away from commissioning a new batch of the Laser pattern trim, a roll of New Old Stock (NOS) seat trim turned up on eBay after being found in someone’s loft. For other parts such as the driveshafts, one NOS example came from Germany and having failed to find another, Tolman designed it in house and had it made locally.

Tolman also adopted new processes such as additive manufacturing for creating hidden clips, invisible ‘smart’ repairs for sun damaged plastics such as the dashboards and reengineering other components in higher grade materials such as black coated, CNC-formed brake lines and a stainless steel exhaust. For originality, Tolman cut and polished all the original glass, retaining the windows etched with the registration number and recreating the period ‘Identicar’ decals. Tolman created four variants of the sticker as it debated whether to recreate it in ‘as new’ vivid white as new or with some patina. Other work included stripping down the instrument cluster and airbrushing the cluster needles to bring back the vivid orange lost to fading and reverse engineering the double-printed (to display the blue and red colours both day and night) heater control decals, which are typically too complex for restorers to recreate. Such details dramatically lift and freshen the interior and to assist other Escort restorers, Tolman will sell these in its new web shop soon. Just like its Tolman Edition restomod series, 185 60 14” Michelin Youngtimer tyres were specified for the iconic 14” ‘Clover Leaf’ wheel design.

Underlining Tolman’s attention to detail beyond the car, it also sourced period correct accessories including a NOS 1980s, not reproduction, Feu Vert air freshener, a packet of Embassy cigarettes and period race programmes.

“We truly enjoy finding ways to improve modern classics through our Tolman Edition programme,” says founder Chris Tolman. “We have to be more innovative, drawing on different networks and ways to find the harder to find parts and reproducing or restoring the ones you simply can’t buy. But it’s really satisfying to restore a car to factory specification, hunting down the near-impossible-to find parts and ensuring it looks like we remember them.”

The owner now intends to take the Escort to a number of car events and concours in 2024.

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