Ford Focus RS Mk1 Buyer’s Guide & History – 2020

When the Ford Focus RS Mk1 appeared in 2002 it was the first car to wear the illustrious RS badge in five years. The car was extremely well received when it first launched and since then it has gone on to be a bit of a modern classic.

As only 4,501 RS models were produced and many of them have been looked after poorly, it is starting to become harder to find good ones for sale. That’s why we have created this complete buyer’s guide for the Ford Focus RS Mk1.

This guide will cover everything you need to know about purchasing a Mk1 RS, along with its history and specifications.

How To Use This Ford Focus RS Mk1 Buying Guide

This is a long guide, so make sure you use the table of contents below to skip to the section you want to read (or just read it all!).

At the start of this guide we will be looking at the history and specifications of the Ford Focus RS Mk1. Following this we will be diving into the buyer’s guide and at the end of the article we have a bit more general car buying advice (what to look for in a seller/owner, where to find one for sale, et.).

History of the Ford Focus RS Mk1

The Ford RS badge was born for rally racing and stands for Rallye Sport. It has been used on some of Ford’s most famous and loved motor vehicles, going back to the range topping Ford Taunus 15M RS in 1968.

At the 2000 Birmingham International Motor Show, potential buyers and fans got their first glimpse of the new RS model of the Focus. The Focus had been introduced to slowly replace the Escort range that had been popular in Europe for three decades.

While Ford showed off the Mk1 RS in 2000, it wasn’t until the Geneva Motor Show the next year that they revealed the production car in all its glory. In all, it took around 15 months for Ford to conceive and produce the RS.

Based on the three-door car (all painted in Imperial Blue), the RS might have looked like a regular Focus, but with its flared wheel arches and aggressively low stance it was far removed from the standard model.

While the Focus RS might not have been developed by the same team running the rally program, it was completely re-engineered with around 70 percent of the original car’s parts being replaced or re-worked.

At the heart of the RS was a 2.0-litre Duratec DOHC four-cylinder turbocharged engine that produced 212 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 229 lb ft of torque at 3,500 rpm. While those figures today might not seem that impressive, they were more than enough to get the front-wheel drive car from 0-100 km/h (62 mph) in 5.9 seconds and onto a top speed of 230 km/h (143 mph).

To squeeze the extra power from the engine, Ford’s engineers made a number of changes and improvements. The block had a modified oil return system that featured pistons that imitated those fitted to the WRC car, but with a lower compression ratio.

Another upgrade came in the form of forged conrods that were installed to cope with the extra power of the engine. A Garret turbocharger with a modified exhaust manifold replaced the original one, and a larger diameter exhaust system was also fitted.

To cool the more power engine, Ford installed a revised air-intake system with a water-to-air intercooler. They also changed the engine management system, fitted new higher flow injectors, and installed a new water pump and oil cooler with a 50 percent increase in flow.

Power was sent to the front-wheels via a strengthened five-speed manual transmission with unique gear ratios, a short-shift mechanism and an uprated AP Racing clutch. A Quaife automatic torque-biasing differential was given the job of distributing the 212 horsepower to whichever wheel had the most traction to prevent wheelspin. In reality, this differential was far from perfect and it made the RS a handful during spirited driving, especially on bumpy roads.

To tame the unruly handling as much as possible, Ford included modified camber settings for the front suspension, along with an 18 mm front anti-roll bar and a revised steering rack. They also fitted Sachs dampers and the multi-link suspension at the rear was stiffened. Another change was the inclusion of a stronger anti-roll bar and improved bushes.

With the increase in engine power came an increase in stopping power. New 324 mm ventilated discs and four-pot calipers at the front came from Brembo, while at the back the car featured 280 mm solid discs. The brakes were covered by bespoke 18-inch OZ Racing lightweight-alloy wheels that were wrapped in 225/40 R18 Michelin low-profile tyres that were developed specifically for the RS.

On the outside of the car the bonnet, doors, tail/headlights and the roof all remained the same as the standard car. However, every other exterior component was either reworked or changed completely to make the Focus RS clearly identifiable as a fast Ford.

While Ford did add styling cues from their WRC car, these had to be production items and as such the front/rear wings and the flared wheel arches were made from metal rather than composites. Reinforced polypropylene was used for the front and rear bumpers, the side sills/skirts and the rear spoiler fitted to the tailgate.

Moving onto the inside the Focus RS featured a black, black and silver themed interior that was dominated by Sparco bucket seats that were finished in blue and black leather and Alcantara. The steering wheel was also finished in similar fashion, while an aluminium handbrake, shifter knob, and Sparco pedals added to the rally/racing theme. Bespoke dials with flashes of blue rounded up the changes to the car’s interior.

In total Ford produced 4,501 Mk1 Ford Focus RS models at its Saarlouis plant in Germany between October 2002 and November 2003. A total of 2,147 of these models were sold in the United Kingdom, while others were shipped globally.

Ford Focus RS Mk1 Specifications

ModelFocus RS Mk1
Year of production2002 – 2003
LayoutFront-engine, Front-wheel drive
EngineDuratec DOHC four-cylinder turbocharged engine
Capacity2.0-litre
Power

(hp)

212 hp
Torque

(lb ft)

229 lb-ft (310 Nm)
Transmission5-speed short-shift manual & AP Racing clutch
Weight1,270 kg (2,800 lbs)
0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)5.9 seconds
Top speed230 km/h (143 mph)

 

Ford Focus RS Mk1 Buyer’s Guide

So now that we have covered the history and specifications of the Ford Focus RS Mk1, let’s look at what you need to watch out for when buying one.

It is important that you inspect any Focus RS you are thinking of buying personally or get a reliable third party to do so for you (if it is not possible for you to go for an inspection). We also recommend that you take a second person with you as well as they may catch something you missed.

Many of these cars you come across will have been thrashed or not looked after properly, so it is important to thoroughly inspect all of them you are interested in. While there are plenty of lemons out there, you can still find good Ford Focus RS Mk1s for sale that will have many more years of life left in them.

We recommend that you try to organise an inspection in the morning before vehicle has been started. The reason for this is because warm engines can hide a multitude of problems that could cause you serious expense.

Additionally, try to avoid inspecting a Focus RS Mk1 when it is raining or if the car is wet. Water can cover up problems with the paint or bodywork (for example, resprayed panels after an accident). If you do have to inspect a vehicle when it is wet, try to go back for another viewing when the car is dry.

Inspecting a Ford Focus RS Mk1

The Ford Focus RS Mk1 has become somewhat of a modern classic. Prices for models in good condition and low mileage are reasonably high, so expect to spend a bit for vehicles in excellent condition.

Despite, the relatively high cost compared to some other sports cars, many RS Mk1s have made their way into the hands of people who couldn’t maintain them properly. Do not purchase a poorly maintained Focus RS Mk1 unless you are willing to spend some big bucks to get it back into satisfactory condition (this may not even be possible).

Additionally, many RS Mk1s have been modified in some way. These modifications can lead to a whole host of problems if they have not been installed properly or if they are not suitable for the car. If you are looking for a completely original car in good condition expect to pay a premium.

Phase 1 vs Phase 2 Ford Focus RS Mk1s

While Ford didn’t offer any choice of colour or spec with the Focus RS Mk1, they did produce the car in two different phases. We have listed the minor modifications/upgrades that you will find on phase 2 cars below:

  • Pink grommet on the throttle cable (reduces throttle pedal vibration at high speed)
  • Extra stitching on the front seat bases to prevent sagging
  • Engine start sticker around the start button
  • Different engine map to revise cold start issues (however, this led to misfiring issues around 5,000 rpm)
  • Some phase 2 cars were fitted with a dimming headlight switch that allowed for dimming of the dash lights (these can be purchased and added to Mk1s without them)
  • Plastic covers over the seat hinges (not all phase 2 models featured this)

As you can see the changes made for phase 2 cars are pretty minor, so we wouldn’t get to hung up on them. Look for a well-maintained Focus RS in good condition, rather than setting your sights on a certain phase.

Checking the VIN

You should always check the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) of any Mk1 Focus RS you are thinking of buying. The VIN can tell you a lot of information about a vehicle and we recommend that you run it through a VIN checkup website such as Carfax, or CarJam (NZ).

The VIN can be found in a number of different places on Mk1s including the following;

  • On the body on the right-hand side floor panel
  • On the VIN plate located within the engine bay on the front body crossmember in front of the air intake duct
  • On the instrument panel, located close to the windshield glass on the left-hand side of the vehicle (visible from the outside)

Engine & Exhaust

To start your inspection of a Ford Focus RS Mk1’s engine, open the bonnet and take a good general look at the engine bay – does it look well maintained? Are there any modifications? Is there any visible damage or leaks?

Once you have taken a good look at the engine bay, move onto checking the fluid levels to make sure they are at the correct height. You are going to want to do this both before and after a test drive.

If the fluid levels are incorrect (both too low and too high) it can lead to premature engine/part wear or possibly even total engine failure. Fluid levels that are incorrect are a sign of a poorly maintained vehicle and are a major warning sign.

When to Change the Oil & Oil Filter?

Both the engine oil and oil filter should be changed regularly. The reason for this is because old oil that sits at the bottom of an engine’s crankcase can breakdown overtime and become diluted in the presence of contaminates. Below we have listed when the oil and oil filter should be replaced.

Engine Oil – While Ford recommends servicing a Mk1 Focus RS every 20,000 km (12,500 miles), you should swap out the old oil every 6,500 – 8,000 km (4,000 – 5,000 miles). While modern synthetic oils can last a long time, you need to be careful of vehicles that have not had regular oil changes. Additionally, if the oil has not been changed in a long time it suggests that the owner does not care for their vehicle.

It is recommended that you use an oil such as Castrol’s Edge 5W-40 synthetic engine oil for Focus RS Mk1s. Other oils such as 10W-30 & 10W-40 from good quality brands will work as well. Typically, heavier weight oils (higher numbers) are better for hotter environments and thinner oils are better for cold.

Oil filter – It is usually recommended that you change the oil filter with every oil change. The oil filter should be changed with a genuine Ford oil filter such as this one, however there are some other alternatives that can be used.

Are Oil Leaks Common on RS Mk1s?

During an inspection you really shouldn’t come across any oil leaks. You may find some small ones, but they should be pretty insignificant. If you come across a Focus RS Mk1 that leaks oil you should move onto another vehicle. Check under the car to see if it has left a puddle of oil, if so, don’t waste your time on it. Remember to check for oil leaks both before and after a test drive.

Do These Cars Burn a lot of Oil?

The Ford Focus RS Mk1 is not known to burn a lot of oil, but oil burning can occur on higher mileage models. You may notice a small puff of blue smoke from the back of higher mileage Mk1s when they start up, but lots of smoke is a warning sign (we will talk about that later in this buyer’s guide).

Cooling System of a Mk1 Ford Focus RS

One of the biggest failure points on internal combustion engines is typically the cooling system. It is incredibly important to check that this system is in good working order and is not failing or leaking. The main components of a Focus RS Mk1’s cooling system includes:

  • Radiator – removes heat from the water/coolant
  • Thermostat – sends water/coolant that is hotter than the target temperature to the radiator to be cooled
  • Water Pump – belt that is driven from the e-shaft pully. Pushes water/coolant through the engine (Pay particular attention to the water pump on RS Mk1s. They are also difficult to source)
  • Overflow or Expansion bottle – removes air from the system and provides a filling point
  • Coolant Lines – hoses that allow water/coolant to remain contained as it moves through the engine/cooling system

Remember to check for leaks both before and after a test drive, and don’t forget to check that the coolant is at the correct height. It is quite common for coolant to leak around the thermostat housing and the water pump, so look out for any pink residue. If any of the cooling system components fail it can lead to engine loss.

Charge Cooler Problems

It is important to check that water is pumping into the charge cooler. If this is not the case then the vehicle may need some costly repairs.

To check that it is working as it should be, remove the charge cooler cap while the vehicle is running. If you are unsure where this is there is a little tube coming from the box that says intercooler. It looks like a little reservoir at the back of the engine bay. Once you remove the cap you should see a jet of water spraying in.

If no water is coming in it may either be caused by a faulty pump or the fact that the hole is blocked (can happen easily as it is very fine).

To check that it is just a blockage, turn off the car and take the pipe off. Use a needle to clear the hole/tube and start the car again. If the problem persists it is probably the pump or the bushes in the pump. You can repair the charge cooler pump yourself with a soldering iron (bushes can be found online).

If the charge cooler is not working correctly do not drive the vehicle hard. Only drive the car off boost until it is sorted out. If the coolant in the charge cooler reaches boiling point it can lead to complete engine failure and also allow super-heated air into the engine.

Are There any Charge Cooler Modifications?

Yes, many owners have replaced the original intercooler with a front-mounted one from the likes of JW Racing. While originality is desirable, the modification removes one of the biggest problems with the Mk1 Focus RS. It also makes the radiator more efficient by improving air flow.

Rusted Water Pipes

There is a water pipe that is hidden behind the right-hand front wheel arch that rusts. This is a common issue but thankfully it is quite cheap and easy to replace.

Remember to Check the Coolant!

One of the most useful and telling tests during an inspection is to check the coolant. This can be an indicator of well the Focus RS you are looking at has been looked after. The coolant, if replaced with Ford’s coolant (1336799) should be a pink-like colour. You may come across Mk1s with different coolant, but you should be very cautious of these cars.

If the coolant is brown or muddy it shows that it has not been changed in a long time, and therefore the vehicle has probably not been serviced according to Ford’s schedule. Additionally, oily bubbles in the coolant are a very bad sign and you should move onto another Focus RS if this is the case.

Rubbing Power Steering Hose Clips

The clips for the power steering hoses can rub against other hoses leading to wear and leaks. Inspect these to make sure this is not a problem.

When Does the Timing Belt Need to be Changed on Focus RS Mk1s?

While Ford recommends that you change the belt every 160,000 km (100,000 miles), you should really change it much earlier. Many owners recommend that you change the timing belt every 100,000 km (60,000 miles) or even earlier. Alternatively, if you don’t drive that much the belt should be changed every 10 years (as per Ford’s service schedule), but once again many owners recommend that you change it much earlier than that.

Part of the reason why you should change the belt much earlier than Ford’s recommended service schedule is because the timing belt tensioner usually fails before the belt.

It is incredibly important to check that the timing/cambelt has been changed regularly on Focus RS Mk1s. This is because a snapped timing belt can cause significant damage to the engine, which will result in a very expensive bill. In many cases a snapped timing belt will spell the end of a car’s life.

If the timing belt has not been changed in a long time it is a sign that the owner/seller has not maintained the vehicle properly. Additionally, if the belt needs to be replaced soon and you are interested in purchasing the vehicle, we suggest you try to get a discount or get the owner to replace it for you.

Be careful if the owner has replaced the belt themselves. While there are plenty of competent home mechanics, there are far more incompetent ones. If the owner has replaced the belt themselves try to get an idea of how competent they are (ask them about their experience working on cars, ask them about the process of changing the belt, inspect the engine bay thoroughly, etc.).

Replacing a timing belt on a Mk1 Focus RS is not recommended for novice mechanics. It is a semi-difficult and labour-intensive task that requires a quite lot of steps to complete. If you are not sure about the owner/seller’s skills move onto another Focus RS.

What Else Should be Replaced with the Timing Belt?

Along with the timing belt there are a number of other parts that should also be replaced:

  • Timing belt tensioner pulley
  • Water pump
  • Timing belt idler pulley
  • Valve gasket cover
  • Spark plugs
  • Filters (air, oil, etc.)

Check to see if these parts have been replaced in the service history and also double check with the owner.

Checking the Spark Plugs & Ignition System

If possible, try to get a look at the spark plugs and spark plug wires to see if they are in good condition. The appearance of spark plugs can tell you a lot of information about how an engine has been looked after and how it is running. We recommend that you check out this spark plug analysis guide.

If you are running stock boost it is recommended that you use something like NGK Performance PLTR6A-10G Spark Plugs on a Ford Focus RS Mk1. Some other spark plugs are okay as well, just make sure they are from a good brand.

Depending on what spark plugs you use, you may have to change them at a different mileage. Some owners like to replace the spark plugs in their Mk1s ever oil change as they are cheap to replace.

Remember to check with the owner to see when they were last replaced. If they haven’t been replaced in a long time it may be a sign of a poorly maintained vehicle.

Inspecting the Exhaust System of a Ford Focus RS Mk1

It is important to get under the vehicle and inspect as much of the exhaust system as possible. Exhausts can be expensive to replace, so make sure it us in good condition. Below we have listed some things to watch out for:

  • Black sooty stains – indicates a leak which may be expensive to fix
  • Corrosion – While the stainless steel exhaust of the RS Mk1 is pretty hardwearing, they can corrode. A little bit of corrosion is usually okay, but excessive amounts of rust is a major problem.
  • Cracks or accident damage – pretty self-explanatory and can be expensive to repair
  • Dodgy repairs – Watch out for any bad repairs as this can be a nightmare to put right and is a sign of a poorly maintained car.

It is very common for Focus RS Mk1 owners to replace the exhaust with an aftermarket one. If the exhaust has been replaced make sure it is from a good brand such as Milltek or BCS. The biggest issue with aftermarket exhausts is that many suppliers have stopped making them, so if you need spares they could be difficult to source.

Another problem with Milltek’s sport exhaust system is that it can cause issues with the cat, especially if an atmospheric dump valve is installed. This is because it makes the air/fuel ratio richer leading to more unburnt fuel entering the cat. However, a sports cat or de-cat pipe (if your country allows this) can be fitted to get around this problem.

Smoke or Vapour from a Focus RS Mk1

Always check for any smoke or vapour coming out of an RS Mk1’s exhaust during an inspection. Do this both on engine start-up and while the vehicle is running. Expect to see some vapour caused by condensation in the exhaust system. If you notice excessive amounts of vapour or smoke, move onto another Focus RS. Here are what the different smoke colours indicate:

White smoke – Is typically caused by water that has made its way into the cylinders and indicates a blown head gasket. If the smoke smells sweet, it is probably coolant. White smoke can also be a sign of a blown turbocharger.

Blue smoke – Can be caused by wear to the pistons, piston rings, and/or worn valve seals. To check for blue smoke, get a friend to follow you as you drive the car or get the owner/seller to take the car through the rev range. Blue smoke on start-up and overrun is a sign that the car has been thrashed. Blue smoke could also indicate that the turbo oil seals are gone (quite expensive to fix).

Black smoke – Usually occurs when the engine is running too rich (burning too much fuel). The first things you should check is the air-filter and other intake components.

In cold weather you will probably see a small amount of white smoke or vapour like we outlined above. If the temperature outside is warm, you really shouldn’t see any exhaust gases.

Signs of Overheating and/or a Blown Head Gasket

Overheating is bad on any car, including a Focus RS. If the owner mentions anything about overheating than alarm bells should be going off in your head. We would personally avoid any Mk1 that has a history of overheating issues.

During an inspection, keep an eye out for the following:

  • Coolant leaking externally from below the exhaust manifold
  • White smoke from the exhaust pipe (especially if you see lots of it)
  • Bubbles in the radiator or coolant overflow tank
  • An engine that overheats
  • Oil that is white and milky
  • Fouled spark plugs
  • Low cooling system integrity
  • Engine oil that smells of coolant
  • Sweet exhaust smell
Start Up and Idle Speed

We recommend that you get the owner/seller to start the car for you during an inspection. There are a couple reasons for this:

  1. To see if any smoke comes out the exhaust
  2. To see if the owner revs the car hard on start-up. If they do, move onto another Focus RS

Remember to listen out for any strange noises or signs that the car is struggling to start. If the Focus your are looking at doesn’t start or struggles to start it may have a number of different issues from a bad battery to much more serious issues. Loud banging or knocking should be an instant dismissal.

The idle speed should be around the 750 – 850 rpm mark, but this will depend on a number of factors. Turn on all the electronics and the air conditioning to make sure the car doesn’t stall. Expect to see a slight increase in the idle speed when you do this. The idle speed may drop a bit after you rev the engine.

Misfires, Squeals & Other Noises

Keep an ear out for any chugging or misfiring, especially when the car is cold. These problems can be caused by low compression and/or worn injectors. A metallic whining noise may be down to a failing power steering or oil pump. Squeals coming from the timing belt area are a sign of a worn bearing in either the alternator, power steering pump or even a worn timing belt itself.

Turbocharger Problems on Mk1s

Turbochargers will wear overtime and it is important to follow the recommended service intervals and use good quality lubricants  to maximise the life of them. Unfortunately, as you can only purchase used Focus RS Mk1s there is no guarantee that they has been looked after properly.

Expect to replace the turbocharger at some point during a Mk1s life, however, they will last quite a long time. If the Focus RS you are looking at is a higher mileage model, check to see if the turbo has been replaced at any point.

What are the Signs of a Failing Turbocharger

Keep an ear out for any strange rumbling, whistling or high-pitched metallic sounds when the turbocharger is at full boost. If you do hear any such sounds, the turbo is on its last legs. However, it will probably fail before you notice these sounds. Below we have listed some other signs of a failing turbo:

  • Distinctive blue/grey smoke– This happens when the turbocharger housing cracks or if the internal seals become worn. The smoke will become more apparent when the turbocharger is in use, so get somebody to follow you and check while you are test driving an RS.
  • Burning lots of oil– This one is hard to gauge during a test drive but try to get some information from the owner about how much oil the car uses.
  • Slow acceleration– If the car feels slow it is a good indication that the turbo has failed or is failing. This is why we recommend you drive a number of different Mk1s to get a feel for how fast they accelerate (Note, modified vehicles with more power will feel different to stock cars).
  • If the boost pressure comes on late– Boost pressure that comes at higher than normal rpms could indicate either a worn or unbalanced turbocharger (full boost should be around 3,000 rpm or just above).
  • Check Engine Warning Light– The check engine light (CEL) can be displayed for a number of reasons, from major to minor. One of these reasons may be due to a failing/failed turbocharger. If the light is on and you notice some of the other symptoms we have listed above, then it is a good sign that the turbo has failed.
Purchasing a Focus RS with a Rebuilt Engine

You may come across a Ford Focus RS Mk1 with a rebuilt engine. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with a car with a rebuilt engine, you need to be extra careful when inspecting them. The reason why you need to practice extra caution is because some rebuilt engines are slapped together for a quick sale. Additionally, you may even come across a person who claims that their Ford Focus RS has a rebuilt engine when in fact it does not.

When looking at a Mk1 with a rebuilt engine, pay particular attention to any receipts and paperwork the owner has. Find out who did the work and make sure it was done by a trusted Focus or Ford specialist.

Additionally, it is better to purchase a Focus with rebuilt engine that has done a few more miles. Freshly rebuilt engines are an unknown whereas ones with say 10,000 km on them are probably a safer bet.

Do I Need to do a Compression Test on a Mk1 Focus RS?

While it is not completely necessary, we do recommend that you get a compression test done on any Focus you are seriously considering (especially if you want a really good example). Compression tests can tell you a lot of information about the health of an engine and how it has been looked after.

If you want to do a compression test, we recommend that you take the vehicle to a mechanic or specialist (unless you know how to do one and the owner is happy for you to do the test). Remember, a compression test can indicate a problem with an engine, but it won’t necessarily tell you what that problem is.

Compression readings across all four cylinders should be somewhere in the region of 145 – 160 psi. The most important thing is that the readings across all the cylinders are similar (within 10 percent of each other). Additionally, if the results seem too low or too high it may also indicate a problem with either the car or the testing method.

Transmission

While the transmission fitted to Mk1s is fairy tough and robust, many owners have fitted performance modifications that put more stress on the gearbox. This can ultimately lead to premature wear and reliability problems down the track.

Additionally, problems can start to appear with regular spirited driving or if the car has been used on a track extensively. During a test drive, listen out for any strange noises from the transmission such as grinding or whining. Whining can indicate a whole host of issues from incorrect transmission fluid to bearings that have been damaged from continuous high rpm shifting.

Remember to shift through all the gears at both low and high engine speeds to check for any synchro wear, graunching or grinding. If the car has worn synchros it could indicate that the vehicle has been driven hard on a regular basis. 

While Ford claims that there is no service interval for the transmission in these cars, we feel that changing the gearbox oil/fluid every so often is good practice. Many owners have found that changing the transmission fluid has made their RS Mk1 shift better.

Additionally, if the owner changes the fluid every so often (every 40 – 50,000 km for example) it shows that they care about the car. Oils like Millers CRX 75w-90 NT, Gulf Competition, Motul Gear 300 or Red Line MT90 are perfect for the Mk1 Focus RS.

First or Reverse Selection Problems

A few high mileage models have had problems getting into first or reverse. This is usually down to a poorly adjusted gear selector or if the transmission has been filled with too much oil.

Testing the Clutch

Worn clutches can lead to expensive bills, so make sure the one of the Focus RS you are inspecting is in good condition. Here are some ways to test a clutch’s health:

Clutch Engagement – Put the RS you are test driving into gear on a level surface and let the clutch out slowly. It should engage around 7 to 10 cm (2.5 to 4 inches) from the floor. If it engages immediately or near the end of the pedal’s travel, there is a problem.

Clutch Slippage – Shift into a gear that is too high for the speed you are going and then plant your foot on the throttle. If the engine speed jumps but there is no acceleration the clutch is slipping. Clutch slippage can be caused by the following:

  • Worn clutch
  • Clutch covered in oil
  • Clutch cable is too tight and is not releasing properly

Clutch Drag – Put the Focus on a level surface with the clutch pedal pressed to the floor (when you are stationary) and rev the car hard. If the cars moves, then the clutch is not disengaging when you shift and parts will wear prematurely.

Juddering or a stiff pedal also indicates that the clutch needs to be replaced. The life of a clutch will depend on how it has been treated and how the car has been driven. They can last a long time or wear quickly if the car has seen repeated high rpm shifting. However, a general rule of thumb is that they last around 65,000 km (40,000 miles).

Aftermarket Clutches

You are quite likely to come across Mk1s with aftermarket clutches, especially if they have other modifications fitted. Something like AP Racing’s 6 Paddle Clutch Kit is a popular choice and comes highly recommended. For cars with lots of power, Sachs Unsprung Clutch comes highly recommended. Avoid RS Mk1s with a cheap or no-name brand clutch.

Bodywork and Exterior

Body and exterior issues can be an even bigger problem than engine or transmission issues, so inspect the vehicle thoroughly. It is very difficult (and in some cases impossible) to find some of the Mk1’s body panels and exterior components, making them expensive to purchase.

Rust

While rust isn’t as much of an issue on Focus RS Mk1s as some other older sports cars, they can still suffer from the problem. This is especially so for cars that have lived in countries that salt their roads (for example the UK), cars that have lived by the sea, or those that have been stored outside for lengthy periods of time. Here are some places you may find rust/corrosion on a Focus RS Mk1:

  • Door Sills
  • Below the door mirrors – the plastic can rub against the bodywork leading to corrosion
  • Bottom of the doors
  • Wheel arches and inside the wheel wells – very common for the rear arches to rust where the liner holds water/moisture
  • In the engine bay
  • Underbody
  • Around the windows/windscreen
  • Under the bonnet and in the boot/bootlid (lift up the carpets in the boot)

If you do find rust, it could be an indicator of poor maintenance. Good owners will regularly check their cars for problems such as corrosion, so be mindful of this.

Rust Repairs

It is important to not only check the car for present rust, but also for past rust. Look for any areas where rust may have been repaired in the past (inconsistencies in the paint, non-standard parts, etc.). Additionally, check the service history and ask the owner about any past rust problems (remember that not all owners will tell you the truth).

Use a magnet on steel sections of the car or a coating gauge thickness tool such as this one to find any areas that may have been repaired.

Accident Damage on a Ford Focus RS Mk1

More than a few RS Mk1s have been in contact with things they shouldn’t have been. Accident damage is a major problem for these cars, especially as the body panels are hard and expensive to source. Ask the owner/seller about any past accident damage, but don’t always trust their word. Here are some things to watch out for.

  • Misaligned panels or large panel gaps– Make sure the bonnet fits correctly and the gaps on either side are even. Look at the doors, tailgate and around the lights. If the panels are uneven it could suggest an accident has occurred.
  • Doors that drop or don’t close properly – If the doors drop or they don’t open/close properly the Focus RS you are looking at has problems.
  • Inconsistencies such as waving, rippling or different coloured panels– This is a good indication of crash damage or rust repair.
  • If the bonnet/hood looks like it is popped when it is not– This is usually a sign that the vehicle has been in an accident and that the owner is careless. This problem can be fixed but can be a nightmare to get right.
  • Bent or broken parts underneath the car –Make sure everything is straight and check for any parts that may have been replaced. Take a good look at all the suspension, steering and exhaust components for damage.
  • Rust in strange locations –indicates that the RS you are looking at has been in an accident or has some other problem.
  • Paint runs or overspray –This could be a factory issue or a sign of a poor repair.
  • Missing badges or trim – can be due to repair work (body shop couldn’t find replacements) or a number of other things (stolen, etc.)
Paintwork

Every Focus RS Mk1 that left the factory was finished in Imperial Blue, so if you find a car in a different colour it has been resprayed.

Don’t be surprised if you come across a Mk1 that has had some paintwork done as the front end and rear arches are particularly prone to stone chips/rash as the paint from the factory was so thin.

Suspension and Steering

While there are no specific issues to watch out for when it comes to the suspension & steering, make sure you inspect as many of the components as possible. Suspension & steering components can be expensive to repair or replace, so make sure they are in good working order. If they look worn, damaged and/or corroded they will need to be replaced at some point. Here are some things to watch out for:

  • Dipping and swerving when the brakes are applied
  • Excessive Rear-end squat during acceleration
  • Tipping during turns
  • Instability at high speeds
  • Excessive vibration coming through the steering wheel (could indicate alignment issues or failed ball joints)
  • Delayed or longer stopping distances
  • Uneven tyre wear
  • Excessive tyre bounce after hitting a bump
  • Leaking fluid on the exterior of the shock/strut
  • Knocking or creaking sounds during a test drive (remember to drive in a tight figure 8)

The bushes on these cars wear out surprisingly quickly, so check with the owner to see when they were last replaced.

Wheel Alignment

If the Focus RS you are test driving does not drive straight without you correcting the wheel, the wheel alignment is probably out, or it may have been in an accident. Check with owner/seller to see when the wheel alignment was last done.

Brakes

The brakes on the Mk1 Focus RS are more than adequate for road use, so if they feel spongy or underpowered there is a problem. During an inspection look at the brakes and check for the following:

  • Pad life
  • Pitted, scored or grooved discs
  • Corrosion
  • Modifications
  • Any leaks in the brake lines (get a helper to press on the brake pedal while you inspect the lines)

Replacing the calipers and/or discs can be expensive depending on where you live in the world. If anything needs to be replaced, try to get a discount on the vehicle if you intend to purchase it.

During a Test Drive 

On a test drive make sure you test the brakes both under light and hard braking conditions. If the Focus RS you are driving pulls to one side it may have a sticking/seized caliper. Seized calipers can occur if vehicle has been left standing for a period of time. If a brake caliper has seized, you may notice a load thud when you pull away for the first time.

A judder through the steering wheel under braking may be an indication that the discs are warped and need replacing. This will probably first become apparent under high speed braking.

Any other loud or strange noises should be investigated closely as they can be a sign of a number of expensive issues. Additionally, if the brakes feel weak or struggle to stop the car properly there is a problem.

Brake Modifications

Brake kits such as AP Racing’s 343mm Big Brake Kit are a popular option for those looking for more stopping power. Owners looking to improve braking performance for less outlay can opt for EBC Redstuff pads that are a direct replacement for the original ones. Another popular option for track or performance use is Ferodo’s DS2500 pad. You may also come across a Focus RS with uprated brake fluid, but the original Ford fluid is more than adequate for road use.

Wheels and Tyres

Check the wheels to see if they are curbed or damaged as the 18x8 OZ wheels are unique to the Focus RS and are difficult to source. If the wheels fitted to the Focus you are inspecting are aftermarket ones check with the owner to see if they still have the originals. Additionally, take a good look at the tyres and check for the following:

  • Tread amount
  • Uneven wear (Can be a sign of alignment or suspension issues)
  • Brand (make sure it is a good one)

The original 225/40 R18 Michelin Pilot Sport tyres are no longer available and have been superseded by the Michelin Pilot Sport 2. As a weight saving measure the Focus RS Mk1 does not come with a spare wheel. In its place should be a polystyrene blank with a recess for a Ford tyre puncture repair kit.

Interior and Electronics

The interior on these cars is fairly durable but expect to hear some rattling and see some worn material, especially on cars that have not been maintained well.

Mk1 RS specific interior trim pieces can be very difficult to source, so make sure they are still there and in good condition. The original Ford RS Mk1 mats and leather document wallet are not available anymore, which makes them expensive to purchase second hand.

Look out for any rips, stains or tears on the seats and other parts of the interior. Replacing the material on the seats can be expensive, so make sure they are in good condition. Pay particular attention to the Alcantara trim pieces.

Early build RS Mk1s suffered from collapsing seat cushions. These were replaced under warranty by Ford, so if the car you are looking at has this problem it has either been maintained poorly or the cushions were never replaced.

Take a good whiff of the interior, does it smell like somebody has smoked in it? Additionally, look at the headliner above the driver’s seat, if there is a stain or it is a slightly different colour to the rest of the headliner it indicates a smoker has owned the vehicle.

It is important to check that the seats slide on the runners correctly and that they do not move under braking or during acceleration. If they do move it is incredibly dangerous and it will lead to a MOT/WOF failure.

Remember to check the steering wheel (this wears particularly fast), gear shifter, pedal and carpets/mats for wear as they can indicate how far a Focus RS has travelled. Excessive amounts of wear for the distance travelled could indicate that the car’s odometer has been wound back.

During a test drive and inspection of a Focus RS Mk1 make sure all the buttons, switches and toggles work correctly. Inspect the dash for any warning lights. If there are none during start up the car may have an issue, or the owner may have disconnected them to hide an issue.

A turbo boost gauge is located on the left of the rev counter in place of the water temperature gauge. The temperature gauge was replaced with a warning light, so watch out if this comes on during a test drive. A gear shift indicator and the “RS” logo in the centre of the dash should light up when the engine reaches 6,500 rpm.

Aftermarket components need to be inspected closely to make sure they work and are installed correctly. Poor workmanship here can be a sign of a careless owner.

Ford Focus RS Mk1 Modifications

We have already talked a little bit about the modifications available for the Ford Focus RS Mk1, but we thought we would go into a bit more detail in this section. Many owners upgrade their Mk1s for track use, so be mindful of that. Additionally, many owners/sellers will revert their cars back to the original spec for sale as they can often get more money for original Mk1s.

The engine in these cars can be tuned to produce in excess of 450 horsepower, however, most modified Mk1s are tuned to produce around 250 – 350 hp. Too much power can cause reliability issues, so keep this in mind if you are looking at a modified Focus.

If the car you are looking at has any modifications (even if they are simple), make sure you inspect them thoroughly. Find out who did the work and see if they are competent. If the owner has carried out the work themselves, try to get an idea of their expertise and knowledge.

It is not uncommon to find modified Mk1s for sale that are only half finished or have enormous issues. The seller/owner may be trying to palm their problem off to you, so watch out.

Common Modifications:
  • Exhaust system (de-cat, Milltek exhaust, etc.)
  • Upgraded brakes (AP Racing Big Brake Kit)
  • Intake system & new front mounted intercooler
  • Re-map
Engine Swaps on Focus RS Mk1s

There is really not point in swapping the stock 2.0-litre engine out for anything else, so we would recommend that you avoid any Mk1 RS with a different engine. If the engine has been swapped with one from another Mk1 one (for whatever reason), make sure all the work has been carried put properly. Engine swaps should be done by Ford specialists or those with significant experience.

General Car Buying Advice for the Focus RS

How to Get Yourself the Best Deal On a Mk1 RS

This information applies to both dealers and private sealers. Knowledge is power and it can save you a lot of money when purchasing a vehicle.

  1. Do your research. Before you start your search for a Focus make sure you know what model and condition you are happy with. Are you okay with a highly modified RS Mk1 or do you want something that is completely stock? Do you want a low mileage example or are you happy with a car that has travelled far?
  2. Shop around. Don’t limit yourself to just one dealer, seller or location. Check out various different dealers and sellers to find the best car and get the right price. Limiting yourself to just one area will make it more difficult to find your dream Ford Focus RS.
  3. Test drive multiple cars. Don’t just take one Focus out for a test drive and then buy it. Drive as many RS Mk1s as you can get your hands on. This will give you a good idea of what makes a good and what makes a bad Focus RS.
  4. Adjust your attitude. Don’t rush into purchasing any old RS. If you are desperate to buy a car you are more likely to get ripped off. Take your time looking through all the different vehicles available and then go inspect the ones you think look promising.
  5. Use any issues with the car to your advantage. Take a mental note of any issues you find with the vehicle. When it comes to discussing the price, use these problems to try and drive down the price. For example, if the car needs new tyres or brake pads make a point of it and try to get the seller to reduce the price.
  6. Don’t trust the owner. While some owners/sellers are honest about their cars, many will lie to get a quick sale. Take in what the owner has to say, but check out the vehicle thoroughly and inspect all the car’s documentation.
  7. Bounce between sellers/dealers. If you are looking at multiple Mk1s, let the owner/seller know. This way they will know that you have other options and they may try to undercut the price.
  8. Be prepared to walk away. If you are not happy with the deal, simply walk away. You may miss out on the car or the seller may get back to you with a better offer.

Mileage vs Condition 

Mileage vs condition is always a big debate, but we recommend that you should always buy on condition and then on the mileage. There are quite a few RS Mk1s out there with low mileage but in poor condition, while some high mileage examples may be perfectly fine.

Lots of owners make the mistake of believing that they are preserving their car by not driving it. In reality, this is completely false and not driving a vehicle can actually do more damage than good. Short distance trips are not kind to a car’s engine as they do not have enough time to warm up and get lubricated properly.

Rubber seals and plastic parts will fail regardless of mileage and can even deteriorate quicker on cars that don’t get used often. Letting a car sit will not prevent rust or stop the electronics from failing.

Mileage will never decrease with age, so go out and drive your car!   

Service History and Other Documentation

It is incredibly important to check any vehicle’s service history and any additional paperwork that goes along with it. The service history will give you a good idea of how the Focus you are inspecting has been maintained. In addition to this, receipts and paperwork for modifications can help you determine whether they have been done by an experienced tuner or a bad one.

If the owner can’t or won’t let you see the service history, you should probably pass on the vehicle. A complete service history will only add value to any Focus RS and will make it easier to sell the vehicle in the future.

Additionally, you can check websites such as CarFax or a MOT checker for more information about the car you are thinking of purchasing. These sort of websites can be incredibly useful, but there is usually a cost associated with them.

Questions That You Should Ask the Seller/Owner 

  • How often do you drive the car?
  • When was the last service and who was it serviced by?
  • How much oil does it use?
  • What oil do you use in the car?
  • What parts have been replaced (engine, catalytic converter, etc.)?
  • When were the coils, spark plugs, leads changed?
  • What’s the compression like?
  • What modifications have been made to the vehicle?
  • Has the vehicle overheated at any point?
  • Has the car been in any major or minor accidents? Is so, what repairs were made?
  • Is there any money owing on the car?
  • Have you got any information on the previous owners and how they treated the vehicle?
  • Is there any rust?
  • Has rust been removed at any point?
  • Has the car been used for track use at any point?
  • When were the brake pads replaced and have the calipers seized at any point in time?
  • Where do you store/park the car usually?

There are loads more questions you can ask the seller, but we feel these are some of the most important.

Things That Would Make Us Walk Away from a Focus RS

Sometimes, the best option is to simply walk away from a vehicle. While you may be happy with a vehicle with these problems, we are not.

  • Overheating problems
  • Significant Crash Damage
  • Money owing on the car
  • Stanced
  • Modifications with no paperwork or carried out by a poorly reviewed tuner
  • Excessive amounts of power
  • Bad compression
  • Bad resprays
  • Significant rust problems
  • Engine swaps with non-standard engines
  • Significant track use
  • Major engine or transmission issues
  • Owner who is not forthcoming with information (could be trying to hide something)

Notes on the Owner 

The owner is one of the most important things to think about when viewing any vehicle. You need to ask them plenty of questions when inspecting their Focus RS Mk1 (however, don’t trust their answers completely). Remember, it is your problem if you wind up buying a dog of a car. Below we have listed some things to consider about the owner.

  • How long have they owned the vehicle? If it is less than 6 months it tends to suggest that the car needs major work done to it that they can’t afford. It also could be a sign that they deal cars as well.
  • Do they thrash the car when it is cold or continually launch the vehicle? If so, you are better to walk away.
  • Why are they selling the vehicle? Could be a genuine reason or they may be trying to offload their problem onto an unsuspecting buyer.
  • What sort of area do they live in? Is it a good area or a complete dump?
  • How do they respond when you ask them simple questions?
  • Do they know anything about the Focus RS and the model they are selling?
  • What can they tell you about previous owners?
  • Do they have lots of cars on their drive? If they do it may mean they are a dealer.
  • What is their reaction when you ask them about money owing on the car? Tell them you are going to do a check and see how they respond.
  • What is their reaction to you asking for details for HPi check?
  • How do they react if you ask to do a compression test on the vehicle?
  • How do they respond when you ask them to show you the service history and paperwork for the car?

If you get a bad feeling about the owner, move onto another Focus. While there aren’t that many examples of the RS Mk1 out there, you should still be able to find a good one.

Where to Find a Focus RS Mk1 for Sale

Auction/Classifieds Websites

Websites such as Craigslist, Kijiji, TradeMe, Piston Heads and GumTree are great places to start your hunt for a Focus RS. You can usually find a few different Mk1s for sale at different prices and in varying conditions.

Dealers and Importers

Most dealers and importers will have an online presence, so make sure you check out their website for any Focus RSs for sale. Dealers tend to be a bit more expensive than private sellers, but sometimes you can get some extras thrown in or better protection.

Social Media

Websites such as Reddit, Facebook and even Instagram can be excellent places to find cars for sale. Check out some of the many Ford enthusiast groups or subreddits and let other users know you are interested in buying a Ford Focus RS. Additionally, social media groups are often great places to find spare parts or get advice from other owners.

Owners’ Clubs

This sort of ties in with the above, but many owners’ clubs have their own website or they may not even have a website at all. Look to see if there are any Ford or Focus clubs in your area as these are often great places to find cars for sale or ask for advice.

Conclusion

The Ford Focus RS Mk1 is an excellent car and will only appreciate in value with age. This buyer’s guide will hopefully give you all the information you need to know to make an informed purchase.

3 thoughts on “Ford Focus RS Mk1 Buyer’s Guide & History – 2020

  • February 29, 2020 at 9:36 pm
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    Thank you for the perfect guide and description of the Focus RS. It is a big help for me and makes looking for the perfect RS easy. There is not a single point missing in the topic. Excellent job!
    Greetings from Austria Hannes

    Reply
  • March 10, 2020 at 8:39 pm
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    Hello, I’m from Poland and want to buy Ford Focus RS MK1. This article is amazing, wonderful and very good. Thank you very much. Good job. Best regards Grupa Senso Gregory

    Reply
  • April 14, 2020 at 2:09 pm
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    Thank you for best buyer guide!!! BEST, including all infos, trick. I am owner FOC RS MK1 from Czech rep.
    Thank you Ben.

    Hynek

    Reply

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