Why the Escort Cosworth couldn’t come with its original triple wing

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Frank Stephenson

There’s a bit of a confusion surrounding who did what on Ford’s Escort Cosworth. Its chief exterior designer was Stephen Harper, while Ian Callum calls it his first major car design, adding that he created it with the help of fellow Royal College of Art graduate Peter Horbury. What’s for sure is that the Cossie’s iconic rear wing came from the head of yet another designer fresh out of college—Frank Stephenson. What’s more, Ford’s rally car was supposed to get a three-deck rear wing—inspired by the WWI Fokker Dr.I triplane—like the world had never seen before in automotive design.

Aerodynamic testing confirmed Stephenson was on the right track with that wing, but since the Escort Cosworth was a Sierra-based, all-wheel-drive car built by Karmann in Germany, the finance department decided to cut costs by simplifying the rear piece, and there wasn’t much a young designer could do about that.


With the twin-deck wing, the Escort Cosworth still produced enough downforce to win a total of ten WRC events, only for Ford to sell 7145 units until January 1996. That wasn’t a bad sales figure for a Group A homologation special, and for the 1997 and 1998 seasons, the platform even evolved into the Escort WRC. For 1999, Ford made the switch to the Focus WRC.

Two years ago, in an episode of Wheelers Dealers, an Escort Cosworth finally got the triple-deck wing Frank Stephenson envisioned in 1989. That 1995 car is for sale now, and here’s how the designer feels about that early idea today:

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    THE REALITY: There was never a third wing designed or proposed for this car, for many reasons (Cost not being one of them), which the real designers, John Bull, Ian Callum, John Wheeler & Steven Harper will happily reiterate. Since the car was designed for rallying, high downforce was never desired for optimal performance. But the single high wing together with the boot spoiler produced enough of a venturi effect to remove lift and balance the front and back of the car.

    STEPHENSON: According to John Wheeler, and Stephenson’s bosses, Gert Hohenester and Helmuth Schrader, at Ford’s Merenich design center in Germany, Frank Stephenson played no part in the Escort Cosworth design. Instead, completely independent of the Escort Cosworth project, he was asked to submit ideas to the Escort Cabriolet design, and he came up with a gorgeous speedster design.

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