One month before the royal couple married in the summer of 1981, Prince Charles gave Lady Diana Spencer a silver engagement gift. No, not jewelry; it was a Ford Escort Ghia sedan, with a 1.6 liter engine. The car had four doors and 79 horsepower and was in every way quite ordinary and even very boring. In an era of austerity for many of Britain’s commoners, Charles’ gift broadcasts a message of honor: the newest addition to the royal household will not disappoint a cup of tea. But as we now know, a storm came, and just four years later, Princess Di came with a push.
In particular, His Majesty is putting together a boost on this little rocket, his 1985 Ford Escort RS Turbo, which will go up for sale on August 27th. It was never sold this side of the pool, but performance-oriented Ford fans will take note of the RS designation and rightly conclude that the princess’s tastes extend to a pretty serious hot hatch. Maybe even for some royal honors?
Diana’s Escorts are third-generation cars, and she owns three of them. After the rear-wheel drive Mark I and Mark II Escort—both still popular with vintage rally collectors and racers alike—the small European family car Ford now comes with front-wheel drive. It is a modern choice for the modern British family. The Escort took just two years to be crowned the best-selling car in the UK.
Looking to stir up a bit of excitement to fend off the likes of the Volkswagen GTI, Ford developed a tuned version of the two-door Escort hatchback called the XR3 (later the XR3i, when fuel injection arrived). The XR3 was aggressive enough for its day, but its relatively new turbocharging technology promises performance dividends.
The Escort RS Turbo is the fastest third-generation Escort has. Thanks to the aluminum head, upgraded camshaft and factory turbocharging, the output is 132 horsepower at 6000 rpm, with boot torque of 133 pound-feet at 3000 rpm. Not a huge number by today’s standards, but pitted against a curb weight of barely over 2000 pounds, the RS Turbo is blazing fast.
Initially, Diana replaced her meek Ghia with a bright red convertible Escort, but the move compromised her safety details. Droptop is too famous. Messages went back and forth between Royalty Protection Command and Ford’s PR division, and a compromise was reached. Diana would get the Escort RS Turbo she wanted, painted black on the production line, better fly under the radar.
While almost all other Escort RS Turbos are white, three black cars were made for Diana and detail the protection. He often rode his own between 1985 and 1988 and is often seen driving around London, usually with young princes William and Harry in the back seat. A plainclothes detective rides a rifle.
One of the three, the car Diana was driving herself, crossed the block at Silverstone Auctions on Aug. 27. The car was offered without a spare and is expected to make at least six figures, due to its association with the still-loved public figure.
At a time when rifts arise in her fairy tale marriage, this unusual hot hatch represents another side of Princess Diana’s independence. The hope is that she will become a modern but dutiful, four-doored People’s Daughter. What emerges is a freer spirit, determined to stay firmly at the wheel.
In her hot little turbocharged Escort, running around town, Diana did just that. Revs climbing, turbo spooling torque, bodyguards nervously grabbing hold of the roof as the next sharp turn approaches. He lived his life like a cambelt in the wind.
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