This WRC Mk2 Escort BDA-powered 1929 Ford Model A sleeper was built for 4-time World Rally Champion Juha Kankkunen

Photos by Stefan Bau

We spent the last few Sundays looking at impressive home-built creations from Sweden, and now we’ve moved across to neighbouring Finland to look at a workshop-built machine that we believe to be the world’s best, most convincing sleeper

The basic premise of a sleeper is the element of surprise; a car that looks like it struggles to move at all but in reality would carve you up, even through the corners, like you were standing still. And the more it looks like a museum piece, and the more quick-and-agile it is, the better

Watch this video to see what we’re on about. This 1929 Ford Model A is a spluttery but nicely-restored vintage car, and then it isn’t

For the first several years of its existence in this deceptive form its owner was also unknown to the general public, then in 2012 when the 4-time world champion opened his shed doors to show the world his collection of former rally machines this car was spotted parked amongst them

The build came about after Juha had found a Model T and a Model A, both in complete and restorable condition, in Argentina during the 1993 WRC season (the year he won his fourth title by the way) and both vehicles were bought and shipped back to Finland to be restored by Makela Auto Tuning (MAT)

The Model T was rebuilt to standard specs, and then before work began on the Model A, Juha mentioned that he’d like more power but still wanted the car to retain its vintage look

Ideas started flowing and Juha also mentioned he really liked the Group 4 Ford RS1800 Escort’s Cosworth BDA engine in the cars that he used at the start of his WRC career. MAT owner Kari Makela thought it was a brilliant idea but insisted on having free reign to design the whole car to suit. That also meant an open chequebook, because Kari says the total cost was “enough to be the most expensive Model A in the world”. If you have the time you can flick through 200 pics of the build on MAT’s website here

Kari says “the most difficult challenge was to get this car permitted on the road in Finland. We also did a lot of engineering work to develop suspension and steering to use the car at demonstrations on race tracks and even on rally special stages”. To help achieve this they made the suspension layout look original but stiffened the chassis structure, added a 4-link rear plus rose joints and sway bars, and gave it some soft-compound Dunlop vintage-style racing tyres

Kari also declares that “We did a lot of adjustments and it works perfectly, doesn’t roll and goes nicely sideways even on tarmac, just lifting a little inside front wheel.” Yeah, he said sideways, it has a hydraulic handbrake and since he mentioned them those wheels are custom sand-cast alloys with hand-made wooden covers on the spokes to disguise them

That explains the handling, and to explain the power there is a modified all-alloy Cosworth BDA 4-cyl, the kind of motor that took drivers of Ford Escorts to World Rally Championships at the end of the ’70s and beginning of the ’80s. This one has been enlarged from 1798cc to 1991cc and retrofitted with EFI so it makes about 250hp. In a 1050kg car that means 0-100km/h in just 5.8 seconds which is the same as a stock Nissan R32 GT-R or a Lamborghini Countach LP500S

You wouldn’t know it was a rally weapon as quick as a 1980s supercar by looking at it though, or hearing it in its spluttery 1929-mode (activated by a switch on the gear lever). In fact, this sleeper is so convincing you could even let someone drive it in that mode and they still wouldn’t know what it can do when it gets kicked in the guts, and we believe that’s what makes it the best one there is

The motor is further disguised with the aid of green paint, brass fittings, a custom plenum that looks like a vintage intake, hidden wiring, a coil pack that doesn’t arouse suspicion and boots on the ends of the spark plug leads that look like spark plugs themselves

Also out of sight are a dry-sump system, a close-ratio ZF 5-speed from the same sort of rally Escort as the engine, and a Toyota diff with a TRD LSD and 5.8:1 gears because the BDA loves to rev

Hidden in plain sight, the brakes are large hydraulically-operated drums also from Toyotas and there is a Tilton pedal box with adjustable bias as well as two 21mm Girling master cylinders and the aforementioned hydraulic handbrake

The interior is upholstered like a nicely-restored Model A as well, with harnesses for the front occupants that can be tucked away under the original seats (lap straps under the front, shoulder straps under the rear)

The ECU is tucked under the dash, and an LCD data display is hidden under a cover next to the rear-view mirror

The thing is, if we hadn’t pointed all of this out you’d have just though it was a nice museum piece. As Kari points out, nobody who sees this vintage, seemingly wooden-wheeled car can believe how fast it is and how well it handles. It is the world’s best, most convincing sleeper, bar none



OWNER: Juha Kankkunen

VEHICLE: 1929 Ford Model A

PAINT: Custom mixes of PPG 2-pack (brown, tan and black)

STYLING: Intended to look standard

ENGINE: Cosworth BDA 4-cyl (Group 4 Escort), now 1991cc

ENGINE MODS: Alloy block (90.4mm bore), Cosworth billet steel crank (77.6mm stroke), Cosworth forged rods, Cosworth flat-top pistons, 11.5:1 static comp’, multi-layer steel head gasket, ported Cosworth 16-valve head (47cc chambers), stainless valves (1.4in intake and 1.2in exhaust), Cosworth L1 cams, belt drive hidden under custom steel cover, Cosworth double valve springs, dry sump (tank in rear trunk, along with battery), Cosworth intake manifold, Jenvey 45mm throttle bodies (two twins), custom classic-look air cleaner cover and plenum, Bosch 450cc/min injectors, Jenvey fuel rail, Bosch fuel pressure regulator (6bar), Bosch fuel pump, Hestec multi-point EFI (stand-alone ECU, switch on gear knob to make it misfire a little and sound like the original motor), EFI wiring hidden under custom valve covers, Bosch Classic Wires ignition leads, NGK Racing 10 spark plugs, Lucas alternator (disguised as dynamo), brass-coloured fittings

Power: 248hp@8200rpm (flywheel power calculated from Bosch chassis dyno)

Performance: 0-100km/h in 5.8sec

Exhaust: Custom 2in long-tube 4-into-1 headers, single 3in system with Simons centre muffler and custom rear muffler (1.5in outlet tip and large cut-out at bottom)

Gearbox: 1981 ZF short-ratio 5-speed (Group 4 Escort, 3.42:1 first, 1.94:1 second, 1.39:1 third, 1.25:1 fourth, 1:1 fifth), Magnesium bellhousing, sintered double-plate clutch, steel flywheel, custom gearshift

DIFF: 1988 Toyota 4x4 van, Toyota Racing Development (TRD) LSD, TRD axles, 5.8:1, TRD driveshaft

SUSPENSION: Original-type cross-leaf front spring (lowered 50mm), Girling adjustable lever-type struts (from Aston Martin DB4), reinforced original A-arm, rose joint, brass bushings, adjustable 20mm front anti-sway bar, rear leaf springs (lowered 70mm), Girling adjustable lever-type shocks from Austin Healey 3000, rose-jointed four-link with Panhard rod, adjustable bump stops

BRAKES: Toyota hydraulic drums (330mm front, 290mm rear), Tilton bias-adjustable pedal box, two Girling 21mm master cylinders (no booster), hydraulic handbrake (“for handbrake turns”)

WHEELS/TYRES: Custom cast aluminium 19in wheels (spokes covered with polished wood-grain), 5in Dunlop Racing tyres (vintage style)

Interior: Restored original seats, custom Moto-Lita steering wheel, Simpson 4-point belts (can be hidden under seat pillows), LCD data logger display hidden above windscreen

WEIGHT: 1050kg (without occupants), 45/55% front/rear weight distribution

ANYTHING ELSE: Extensive chassis mods (boxed rails, custom cross bracing)

COST: “Enough to be the most expensive Model A in the world”

THANKS: Kari Makela and Makela Auto Tuning (MAT) in Finland