Built, in effect, to RAC Rally specifications, the Escort’s first works drive would be at the Rally de Portugal in March 1977, with Swedish rally ace Björn Waldegård at the wheel of the brand new Ford, along with his long-time navigator, Hans Thorszelius. Despite unfamiliarity with the Escort – previously Waldegård had rallied cars such as the Porsche 911S and Lancia Stratos HF, both entirely different from the front-engined Ford – he was soon setting some very quick times and battling for the overall lead against fellow Escort driver, Ari Vatanen, and Markku Alen’s Fiat 131 Abarth. A series of tyre punctures plagued the Fords with Waldegård having to accept second place behind Alen’s Abarth.
Any disappointment Waldegård felt after missing out on the win at Portugal was soundly put away when he drove another works RS1800 Escort to victory at the Safari Rally, finishing more than 30 minutes ahead of Rauno Aaltonen’s second-placed Datsun 160J.
Back in STW130R, Waldegård took out yet another win, this time in Greece on the Acropolis Rally, finishing well ahead of his teammate, Roger Clark, in his RS1800.
STW 130R’s next outing would be at the 1000 Lakes Rally in Finland with Billstam Claes acting as Waldegård’s navigator. For this rally, the RS1800 was prepared to Ford’s usual high-speed forest specification including a Brian Hart-prepared engine producing 182kW, stronger leaf springs and heavy duty Minilite alloy wheels. With the overall championship having effectively become a Fiat vs Ford affair, Waldegård obeyed team orders to simply drive to finish, with fellow Escort drivers Vatanen and Kyösti Hämäläinen expected to take the fight to Fiat. Hämäläinen would take the rally win, while Waldegård notched up a creditable third place.
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