Wingin' It (Part One)

November 24,2013

Wingin’ it

The story of one man’s mission to bring Mk1 Escort wings to the masses.

Words: Ben & John Folan          Pics: John Folan


Type 49 wings. The mere mention of these to anyone who has restored a Mk1 Escort over the last few years is guaranteed to have sent a shiver down their wallet. Pattern items didn’t exist and if you could find a set genuine Ford ones, you’d be looking at having to remortgage your house just to buy them! It was pretty much the same situation with standard wings, and although there were pattern ones available (if you could find them), they didn’t fit very well at all. So imagination, then, if an old Ford enthusiast took it upon himself to get these wings remade. Well, as I’m sure you are all aware by now, this is very much the case and Mk1 Escort wings are once again available to the messes, all thanks to John Folan. Here’s how it all happened...


In 2007 John was looking for a new grille for a Mk2 Escort but found that he couldn’t get one anywhere so he ended up getting in touch with a woman called Julia Zhou over in China with regards to the possibility of getting new Escort grilles made there. After a fair amount of discussion with Julia, he sent an example grille over and waited while a company in China manufactured a replica. Happy with the sample that was returned to him, John payed for the tooling and commissioned the company to make 1000 new Mk2 Escort grilles.”They were initially very slow to shift,” he explains, “I didn’t have a marketing mechanism so it took a while for people to realise they were even available. But thanks to word-of-mouth they were soon fitted to nearly every new Mk2 Escort that was being built. The rally boys were buying a new one every time they had a front end bump.”


With the grilles all looking good and selling like hot cakes, John then went on to getting Mk2 Escort front indicators manufactured. Again this was borne of a shortage of decent new-old-stock or second-hand items. Even if you could find them, they were a pain in the bottom to keep working properly. “Because of this I had new plastic ones made which are not only lighter but will stay working reliably,” John tells us, “as you boys at Retro Ford seen with the units on Project Charlton.” With the indicators proving just as popular as the grilles had, John then decided to tackle the shortage of Mk1 Escort front wings.


“The wings were a big step, an even bigger decision and nearly a very big mistake,” starts John. “First of all I had to find four good wings - two standard, two Mexico – and then they all had to be genuine Ford. You would imagine that they’d fit nicely, but once we’d got them to China and laser-measured them, we discovered that all four wings were different. Which was annoying. In the end we decide to make all four wings but use the panels that we had as a template for the measurements.”


In all there are 28 tools involved in making the four wings, and getting these made up wasn’t an easy process, as John explains.”I spent many, many nights getting up at midnight to get on the internet so I would be online for when the factories opened in China. I’d then spend all night long discussing problems with the manufacturing that they seemed to pull out of thin air. Okay, so it might be because they had never seen Mexico wings before and had never been asked to copy a panel that was nearly 40 years old. But after 16 months of to-ing and froing the first samples from the first set of tooling arrived...


“I nearly died. They were a huge investment on my part and they were totally rubbish. So much so that I threw them outside, where they still lay today, happily rusting away! Poor Julia was so distressed as she too had spent a lot of time and efforton this, but then how was she to know what a good Mexico wing was supposed to look like? Anyhow, we decided to start again.”


After such a huge disappointment and a lot of money down the drain, it was a huge decision to take to carry on and try again, but John was determined to get the job done. “We used a new factory that delivered new promises and both me and Julia were much wiser. Throughout the process I would ask for photos to check on things, and Julia never once complained,” says John.”When I finally got to go over there myself, I found that for her to get the pictures it was a ten-hour bus ride, each way. It even included an overnight stay. I never knew and I felt so bad for asking her to go there so often.”


By the time that John managed to get over to China, it was March 2010. He went there to iron out the small problems that he’d found on the third set of the samples he’d received. ”These had been sent over to the UK and trial-fitted, but it was so difficult to explain how to improve them over the ‘net, I decided going out there in person would be easier. The factory is really remote and served by a river for transport,” he explains.


“I spent a few weeks there with Julia until we were completely happy with the finished product. Then it was on to production – I had to raise the final lump sum of cash to get it under way.”


Luckily for John, the demand seemed to be there and Hadrian Body Panels came on board along with West Limerick Rally Spares. “Between them, they promised to take all that I could make, which was great. Ken and Dennis Bowman were great to work with and very easy to deal with,” says John.


Two sets of tools and three years later, the first batch of Mk1 Escort wings arrived in the country. The development process had been followed on the popular Turbosport forum with the post getting over 40,000 views, making it the most viewed post ever. So it’s fair to say that the old Ford world was as keen to see the wings arrive as John was. No sooner had they arrived then they were sold. “There are still a few small issues to iron out as they are being fitted round the country and people are finding little things that I’d personally like to get ironed out, but some are saying that they are super,” says John. “Overall I am very happy.”


So, thanks to the determinination of a Ford enthusiast here and a hard working lady in China, the old Ford world is definitely much better off. No longer will you pay a premium for a Mk1 Escort wing.