1978 Ford Escort Ghia Mk2, Mexico front and rear spoilers, quarter bumpers, tinted windows

1978 Ford Escort Ghia Mk2, Mexico front and rear spoilers, quarter bumpers, tinted windows

The Escort Ghia was always pitched as a posh and aspirational spec. And in his quest to build a South London-style Mk2 in Malta, Ruben Schembri didn’t want to lose any of that baked-in fanciness…

Words Daniel Bevis

Photos Dylan Darmanin/DLP Automotive


South London-style Escort — from Malta

1978 Ford Escort Ghia Mk2, Mexico front and rear spoilers, quarter bumpers, tinted windows

Rabbit stew, known in the local vernacular as stuff at tal-fenek, is Malta’s national dish. Its inception dates back to the lifting of hunting restrictions in the 18th century, and it’s an important symbol of Maltese culture. Now, if South London were to have a ‘national’ cuisine (which is most likely a question nobody’s ever asked), it’d probably be fried chicken, as that seems to be the most readily available thing. So what happens when you attempt to fuse those things together? Conceptually speaking, that culture clash results in the Mk2 Escort you see here: a build crafted on the pretty Mediterranean island of Malta, seeking to evoke the South London style of the late-1970s and beyond.

1978 Ford Escort Ghia Mk2, Mexico front and rear spoilers, quarter bumpers, tinted windows

What’s the South London style? Why, it’s delicious — in essence, you take an early Escort or Cortina, shove in a hot Crossflow, run it very low on 13 inch wheels with lo-pros, keep it smooth and unarched, and paint it in a pastel shade. Picture a mischievous Ford laying down a set of number-elevens over Chelsea Bridge as the sun goes down and you’re pretty much there. Scampers like a rabbit, spicy like chicken. This is all very much at front-of-mind for this Mk2 Escort’s owner, Ruben Schembri.

Regular readers may remember his Mk2 Cortina 1600E from our April 2021 issue; those with longer memories might recall his YB-engined Mk1 Escort from October 2013. This is a man who knows his stuff; Blue Ovals course through his veins, and he’s always got a keen eye out for a strong and appropriate base for the next project. And much like a number of his projects before, the acquisition and reinvention of this Mk2 Escort Ghia came about thanks to his deep ties throughout the classic Ford scene in Malta and beyond.

Lost and found

Having put together that lovely Cortina 1600E a couple of years or so ago, the allure of the E was evidently walking tall in Ruben’s affections, and when he learned about the existence of this Ghia, it was clear that this would be a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’. “The car used to belong to a neighbour of mine,” says Ruben, “and it always caught my eye, although the colour was not my cup of tea. However, having built my black Cossie Mk1, and then having a Sierra Cosworth and another Mk1, I had always said to myself that I should have a Mk2. Then it could be a small collection of three proper rally legends!” Naturally Ruben’s approach has never been to build these cars as a pastiche of their motorsport heritage, that’s not his style. He’s more a street-and-strip kinda guy. But you can see how the kernel of the idea formed, and it was only a matter of time before it would bear fruit.

1978 Ford Escort Ghia Mk2, Mexico front and rear spoilers, quarter bumpers, tinted windows


“I went knocking on his door and I asked Alfred if he still had it,” Ruben continues, “but he told me he’d sold it a long time ago to someone else. That’s when the hunt started! And after a few days I tracked it down to someone called Alex at AGR Autoparts; I managed to speak to him and asked if he was interested in selling it, but unfortunately the answer was no.” Not exactly what our hero was wishing to hear, but nevertheless Ruben left his number with instructions to give him a bell if Alex did ever think about selling. And sure enough, less than a week later, his pocket buzzed with the news that yes, actually, the Mk2 was up for grabs after all. “I told him I’d have to come and see it, and if the car was how I remembered it then I’d definitely be buying it,” he says. “When Alex opened the garage and I uncovered the Mk2, there was a tear in my eye – I felt like I’d won the lottery! I bought it straight away, no offers, no bargaining, just the price he wanted… and I drove it straight home before he changed his mind!”

Good buy

The condition of the car was outstanding, and there was so much of the original Ghia essence preserved that Ruben was keen to keep as much of that as possible, while also giving it his own personal touch including swapping from square to round headlamps. The interior, for instance, was such a glorious symphony of wood veneer and Savannah cloth that he wisely opted to leave well alone, embellishing little beyond a couple of extra gauges to keep an eye on what was going on under the bonnet. And just what is under that bonnet now? Being a South London-flavoured recipe, you’ll no doubt have guessed that it’s a hot Crossflow.

1978 Ford Escort Ghia Mk2, Mexico front and rear spoilers, quarter bumpers, tinted windows

Specifically, it’s a 1600 with twin Weber 45s, a ported head, balanced flywheel and crank, oversize pistons and Kent three-quarter race cam. This last ingredient is a proper nod to the old-school: the cult of the three-quarter cam originated in the hot rod scene of the 1950s, essentially meaning a cam that had been ground in the style of a full-race profile but not quite as extreme, in order to keep it just about streetable. So you can imagine what Ruben’s Escort sounds like — it’s not so much built for trundling to the supermarket, it’s more for fully exploring the outer reaches of the rev range and allowing that twitchy little tail to wag on demand.

1978 Ford Escort Ghia Mk2, Mexico front and rear spoilers, quarter bumpers, tinted windows

“The wheels and suspension I’ve fitted give it that proper South London look,” Ruben grins, and he’s really got it sitting pretty over those custom banded steels, thanks to a hefty lowering job at each end. With four-pots up front and an LSD out back, he’s certainly equipped for whatever manner of mayhem takes his fancy, and it’s evident from the way he talks about the build and the spec decisions that this is a project born of a deep-seated love for the Mk2 Escort as an entity. “We don’t have a lot of these cars in this country anymore,” he explains. “Like the Mk1, they all got hired out to tourists which meant they got smashed up and neglected.

1978 Ford Escort Ghia Mk2, Mexico front and rear spoilers, quarter bumpers, tinted windows

International flavour

“I do all the modifications on my cars with my engineer friend, Malcolm,” he continues. “I buy lots of parts from Burton Power with the help of Terry and Lee, my mates from South London. And the parts from Malta, I buy them from George.” It’s an international fusion of styles and cooperation, and the piquant results are right here for you to enjoy: rabbit stew, deep-fried in the Colonel’s blend of herbs and spices. With the plush and panache of the Ghia running through it, that’s some proper haute cuisine stuff.

Tech Spec

  • Body 1978 Ford Escort Ghia Mk2, Mexico front and rear spoilers, quarter bumpers, tinted windows.
  • Paint Nordic Blue
  • Engine 1600 Crossflow, 711M block, Weber 45 carbs, Kent three-quarter race cam, oversize pistons, ported head, balanced flywheel and crank, 4-into-1 exhaust manifold
  • Transmission Type E four-speed ’box, quickshift, English axle, LSD with 3.77:1 cwp
  • Suspension Front: uprated inserts, 3 inch lowering springs. Rear: uprated dampers, 2 inch lowering blocks, modified leaf springs
  • Brakes Front: four-pot front callipers, vented discs. Rear: drums. Servo-assisted
  • Wheels and tyres 8x13 inch banded 1300E steel wheels, 175/50R13 Nankang semi-slicks
  • Interior Original Ghia spec with wood veneer and Savannah cloth, three-spoke steering wheel, additional water temp and oil pressure gauges
  • Thanks To Terry and Lee in South London and George in Malta for help sourcing parts, thanks also to my brother Roderick — he’s always behind my projects — and to my family for having patience with me!

Twin 45s (right) feed the fruity Crossflow.


Ruben’s wheel choice is inspired, and acts as a little Easter egg for hardcore Ford-spec nerds. The original posh Mk1 Escort back in 1973 was the 1300E, resplendent in wood (ish) trim and purple paint. The Mk2 Escort Ghia of 1975 was the 1300E’s spiritual successor, and in tribute to this lineage, Ruben has opted to fit a set of 1300E steels to his Mk2… but with a twist. These 13 inch wheels have been banded to a chunky 8 inches in width, allowing for a meaner footprint and the fitment of some properly fat tyres. And they suit the look so well, don’t they?

Mexico chin spoiler (above left) and boot spoiler (below) add a touch of RS to the Ghia’s otherwise fuss-free bodywork.

Numberplate is particularly apt...

Ruben’s Mk2 retains all its Ghia interior trim — and is all the better for it.

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