Uncovering A Treasure Trove Of Ford Performance In Portugal
Photography by Robb Pritchard
An eight-year-old getting a beating for crashing his dad’s Anglia is perhaps not the most likely of places to start a story about one of the best collections of Fords I have ever seen, but here I am, sitting in a workshop full of stunning Blue Oval machines that’s known as one of the country’s best classic tuners. That’s how Portugal’s Luis Miguel Carlos tells me the story of how he got to this point.
With its flared arches and garish pea green paint, it’s hard not to notice the Anglia first, even if it wasn’t one of the most well-known race cars in Portugal. Even with a cursory glance it was obviously worth a closer look, but I wasn’t expecting to find the rest of the treasure waiting in the GC Sport workshop.
A garage in a small village an hour outside of Lisbon with a big metal gate across the driveway is as innocuous as possible, and I had to double-check the GPS to make sure I was in the right place. The sliced-off half of a Mk1 Escort shell nailed to the wall like a Damien Hirst exhibit told me I must be getting close though, and as soon as the roller doors were hoisted up I stepped into a wonderland, one full of such stunning cars that a 175bhp Group 5 Anglia wasn’t the star attraction.
Before the welcoming coffee was even brewed, I was staring in disbelief at an original Team Lotus Jack Sears/Jackie Ickx Cortina touring car. It was in for a service and a thorough looking over before the Portuguese Historic Championship season began, but nothing major needed doing. It’s an indication of what standing Luis commands that such a car is brought to him to work on. But as incredible as such a historic car is, it’s far from the only notable auto inside, and Lewis laughed as I gasped in awe at the rest.
The black beauty with its bonnet invitingly open is a sought-after Mk1.5 turbocharged Capri which was imported years ago from Germany before it spent many years abandoned in a field. It was a rusty wreck when it was dragged out, and the painstaking rebuild was practically done from the ground up. The old turbo was exchanged for a bigger one (of course) and the head has also had its air channels bored out so now it puts out a healthy 300bhp, and because going faster means slowing down is more demanding, a set of Wilwood brakes are fitted. Whereas Luis normally makes cars for the track and rally stages this one was destined for use by its very satisfied owner as a daily driver. Lucky man.
Also a rusted out shell at one time was the orange Anglia van which is set to be the service car for towing the green Anglia to races. Eight months of work had already gone into it to get the shell to this point, and the mechanical bits were just about ready to be fitted at the time of these photos. A 1600 Kent Crossflow has already been sourced and Luis plans to have it fitted too, and though I’m excited to see the vehicles in this state, I wish I was around to see the van and racer combination together on the road.
In addition to the white Fiesta shown in the header image (which looked to me like it could be in a Boreham workshop getting ready for the 1980 Monte Carlo rally), there was an immaculate Mk2 Fiesta XR2 in his collection. The blue Mk1 Escort shown below was in the shop to have special manifold branches and a custom head with bigger valves fitted as its owner wants a bit more power within the strict rules of the FIA governing body. This car can be seen in historic races all over Europe, and Luis smiled as he explained how it’s going to be seen a lot closer to the front of the field now.
Just behind that car sat the most breathtakingly immaculate Mk1 Transit I have ever seen. It looks like it was just being wheeled out of a museum but its condition belies the massive amount of work that has gone into it. Also, like many of the cars Luis brings back to life, to start with it was an abandoned rusty wreck… In fact it was five rusty wrecks as that’s how many vans he needed to get enough usable parts to restore a whole one.
Parts of different chassis were grafted together to make a whole one, good parts of body panels were cut out and combined with each another, and anything that couldn’t be stripped down and restored to pristine condition was bought from Burton Power, Ralloy, and Ric Wood. The wooden back Luis made himself. Every other car he showed me up until now was built to be driven hard, but this one is destined for life as a collection item to only be taken out on very special occasions.
And then it was time to move on to the mini monster. The famous Batmobile BMWs, Kremer Porsches, and Lancia Betas were all Group 5 cars, known as silhouettes as they only bore a passing resemblance to the road cars they were based on. This Anglia is in the same class. After all the countless cars Luis has worked on over the years, all the expertise and experience from a quarter of a century of fixing, modifying and restoring classic Fords has gone into this car. And again I am amazed the level of detail and care that has gone into it, All the way down to the checkered trim around the rear cowling. Stripped out and rebuilt with only the bare essentials, it registers as a featherweight 760kg on the scale, while the tuned 1600 Kent Crossflow in front puts out 176bhp, so the power to weight ratio is pretty spectacular. With the English LSD axle being much wider than the original it has a great stance, but it’s not just pretty, it’s also the current Portuguese National Classic champion as last year Luis won 11 of the 16 races with it. A problem with the gear linkage meant that there was no test drive for me, but I wasn’t sure of the legality of razzing a race car around the village streets anyway…
Through my friend and translator Edgar asked how he came to have such an empire of Escorts, Luis is a man of spanners and arc welders, not words and the answer was simple. Unperturbed by the Anglia incident Luis’s older brother Goncalo had a 2L Capri he kept breaking and crashing, and enlisting his younger sibling to help fix it meant that when Luis left school at age 13 he had the skills to get a job as a mechanic. And when a few years later Goncalo opened up his own workshop, Luis was automatically a partner… and has spent every day of the last 25 years working on Fords. But the workshop is not all he has.
With a knowing smile he beckoned me to follow him down the yard to another garage and opened the door to his private collection. A bright yellow Mustang and Sierra Cosworth facing me framed by a collection of caps that looked like festival bunting was a stunning sight, but the garage was packed with even more Ford jewels. In the back corner was his brother’s first Escort, one much abused and sold on many years ago. By chance he found it again, and like most of the other cars they bring back to life this one was in a very bad state. They restored it to absolute perfection, put it in the garage… and haven’t touched it since.
The 1971 472bhp 7.2L V8 Mustang is one of Lewis’s favorite cars to drive, and it’s also one that needed the least amount of work—he’s trying to keep it that way as he likes the originality of this icon. It’s also unique in the collection as it’s the only one that actually makes him money rather than just costing it, as he rents it out for promo work to companies like McDonald’s—American style I suppose. Next to it is something very special (saying this a lot aren’t I?): the pearl white Cosworth he bought from Holland 10 years ago which is, in Luis’s opinion, the best car Ford has ever made. Apart from a set of souped injectors and a bigger bore exhaust, it is all original. He wants it to stay that way, so only does about 300km a year in it. Such wonderful things happen when he puts his foot down that it’s almost too tempting to start pushing it around the local lanes… and he doesn’t want another Anglia incident.
The silver Taunus is a bit of an odd one out seeing as it’s not a performance car like everything else around it, but it too has a story. It’s not actually Luis’s either, but the guy who owns it is the same that bought it new! He’s an engineer from Ford Portugal who looked after it so well it looks like it’s just rolled off the production line. Also unlike most of the others, it’s totally unrestored, just amazingly well looked after.
The roller shutter came down again to lock the collection away until the next wide-eyed Ford fan comes in to appreciate it. To end a perfect afternoon he then insisted in buying Edgar and I lunch. We sat there enjoying our steak and chips both sure that we’d just seen something we weren’t likely to find anywhere else.
Thank you to Edgar Santos for his translating skills. And for pushing the Anglia up the hill!