"In the 1970s there was no fast route north of Barking. No M11 to take you up to Cambridge for the day, no A406 cutting a swathe through Wanstead Flats. To the south there was only marshes and the river. "
Ford Focus RS500 Cosworth
Judge Dredd - Essex Boy
An electric blue badge burning with neon intensity against a dark background-matte black- like a stealth bomber.
That’s what first hits me in the hard morning light at the Ford Heritage Centre whilst signing the release forms for the Focus RS 500.
That and the space it takes up. The large volume of air it occupies compared to a standard Focus. This is the Focus re-rendered by a comic book artist. The Judge Dredd focus.
Whilst talking me through the basic controls Brian, the ever-perceptive chief engineer, picks up – perhaps in my glance at the triple turbo dials perched atop the dash- a note of trepidation behind my excitement. It has, after all, a 350PS engine.
In his blue overalls he reassures:
“At low revs it’s just like driving your ordinary focus, handles real easy. It’s only when you floor it you need to hold tight and watch out for those yellow cameras!”
He’s right. On the backstreets of Dagenham, still in the shadows of its spiritual home, it plays nice. It could be the comfortable, company ride of the travelling rep, smooth and easy driving enough for consumption of coffee and a Ginster’s, whilst having a ‘hands free’ with the office PA.
Yet out on the A13, nose pointed toward Southend it starts to live up to its looks and badge. Apply some pressure on the throttle and you’d end up choking on that pasty.
And that’s where I am now, A13, Southend bound on the Essex boy racer’s crucible of courage. I punch the throttle and those mini dials bunched on the dash buck and dart like a rodeo steer. The acceleration is intense, felt low in my gut as I spread into the bucket seat like human gel.
Life suddenly becomes more intense. Faster, obviously, and louder. Also noticeably more pungent, as the stench of super heated oil fills the car.
Inside the trim is not particularly special, lots of plastic, and perhaps even slightly tacky. It’s designed for thrills not comfort and as I hit it again the pressure of the acceleration forces that involuntary childlike smile onto my face and I’m reminded of something.
Arriving at the Southend seafront I know what it is. The whiff of danger. The rush of the rollercoaster. The punch in the guts from the waltzer. The bright lights against a dark background.
With its rough and tumble thrills and the promise of edgy excitement the RS 500 is like the youthful memory of a night at the fair.
But now it is daylight and sat on the seafront for the photo-shoot I can’t help feeling it’s not getting the attention it deserves from the public. Despite its rarity – there were, as the denomination suggests, only 500 made and only 101 for the British market – the RS is not turning many heads.
Pumped up and painted it may be, but to the average passerby it’s still a Focus. To truly appreciate this machine you’ve got to get in it and take a ride.
Then, like a great fairground attraction, it becomes the deliverer of visceral sensations; the G-force in your stomach from the 0-60 (5.4 seconds), the stink of hot oil in your nose, the explosive roar of the exhaust gases and the strange feeling left in your mind from that matte black paintjob.
And just as after a good night at the fair, when I get out back in Dagenham I feel exhilarated, windswept and slightly queasy.
What I need now is an overpriced hot dog…
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