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Frank Stephenson: Beancounters stopped the Ford Escort Cosworth having three rear wings

by James Mills
22 May 2020 2 min read
Frank Stephenson: Beancounters stopped the Ford Escort Cosworth having three rear wings

The Escort Cosworth was Ford’s answer to the Group A rallying regulations, a car born to slug it out in Sweden and battle its way around Britain against the Lancia Delta Integrale, Subaru Impreza and Toyota Celica. Yet although the ‘Scort’s history is well documented, Frank Stephenson, who worked on the car’s design, says the original proposal for the car’s famous rear wing arrangement featured three spoilers based on the Red Baron’s Fokker fighter plane.

Conceived during the end of the 1980s and early ’90s, the Escort Cosworth was the first project that Stephenson was involved with after graduating and working with Ford.

He explains why the aerodynamics of the vehicle were so important for its success in motor sport and how, full of fresh thinking that was yet to be reigned in by Ford’s corporate culture, he dreamed up the idea for a “mahusive” set of rear wings.

“I was incredibly inspired by the Fokker DR1… the Red Baron’s plane, the three-winger that was very successful in World War One,” says Stephenson. He says wind tunnel tests on the three-wing arrangement were successful, but the idea did not survive Ford’s infamously tough ‘cost-down’ meetings.

As the name suggests, cost-down meetings are where the finance department attempts to make a production car more profitable. Losing the middle wing, says Stephenson, was calculated to save five deutschmarks from the car’s “bill of materials.”

“That always felt for me like a big loss in terms of design. It’s still considered one of the iconic designs of the 80s [sic] but for me it always felt like this was a child that had been born with nine fingers instead of 10.”


In 2017, Wheel Dealers, the motoring TV show, put Stephenson’s design to the test and added it to an Escort Cosworth. You can catch up with the highlights of that episode, below.

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