The 2016 Ford Focus RS looks set to continue Ford's record of producing extremely successful performance versions of its road cars.
First came the famous tie-up with Lotus in 1963 that produced the Mk1 Lotus Cortina. Then, in the 1980s, Ford created the XR brand, which helped to sell countless Fiestas, Escorts and Sierras.
When that name became tarnished by too many jokes about ‘Essex men’ and boy racers, after a short pause to reflect, Ford came up with its replacement, the ST badge, which currently adorns fantastic cars such as the Fiesta ST and Focus ST.
However, one Ford motif is the most enduring of them all. It’s usually, but not exclusively, reserved for the most highly developed models, which are often destined for competition on race track or special stage.
It is the legendary RS, or Rallye Sport, brand, and 21 models have been gifted those iconic initials in the UK over the years.
Rallye Sport's genesis and early years
Throughout the 1960s, Ford had a string of successes with models like the Cortina Lotus (its official name), its lesser sibling the GT, plus the Mk1 Escort Twin Cam.
To maintain this success, the company decided that future performance models would come from a dedicated unit based in Aveley, Essex. In 1970 it established Ford Advanced Vehicle Operations (AVO). The special division's brief was simple: design, develop and manufacture high-performance derivatives of standard production cars, for use on the road, track, or both.
It didn’t take long for the team to settle in. With the paint barely dry on their new office, they released the Escort RS1600 in January 1970.