Ford has earned the right to hold its head pretty high right now. They took a big gamble several years ago, taking out loans against every factory, idea, and even the Blue Oval logo itself to completely remake the company. That gamble has paid off, as Ford was able to avoid a government bailout, completely update their entire lineup of cars, and allowed them to begin implementing their “One Ford” global design strategy.

But the One Ford strategy raises some important questions for performance enthusiasts like ourselves. America, Europe, and Australia are three vastly different markets. America loves muscle cars. Europe loves tight handling and turbochargers. And Australia is home to the twin-turbo V6 and sport utes. Three different markets, three different performance divisions. How will Ford walk this high-horsepower minefield without alienating their core devotees?

Hannu Mikkola's winning Escort RS1600, the genesis of the Rallye Sport division

Picture: Mike Roberts

RS Devision - Rallye Sport

Of the three marques, the RS, or Rallye Sport, is the oldest, having its roots back in the late 1960’s alongside Ford’s Advanced Vehicle Operations (AVO). In 1968 the original Twin-Cam Escort made its racing debut, racking up an astonishing number of victories in its inaugural season including the 1,000 Lakes Rally in Finland.

The RS brand was born with the Escort RS1600, a rear-wheel drive European coupe. The car found success on the rally circuit almost immediately, with Finnish driver Hannu Mikkola winning the 1970 London to Mexico World Cup Rally. There were two versions of the car; a 1.6 liter DOHC engine featuring up to 160 horsepower, or the more durable 1.8 liter pushrod engine with about 90 horsepower. It was the latter car that actually won the 1970 race, and also took the number 3 and 5 positions as well.

The AVO moniker would fall out of favor soon enough, though RS stuck around. Since 1970, 20 different cars have been badged with the RS moniker. This would also give rise to the famous Cosworth Escorts, but alas, America never got any of these awesome cars. European only, and it looks to be that way for the foreseeable future. The only way to get a new Focus RS is to import one, or find it for sale in Mexico. Team RS recently got a new leader too, Jost Capito, whose job it is to bring all the Ford performance divisions together.

Ford SVT Raptor

Pictures: Ford

SVT Devision - Special Vehicles Team, formally SVO

Which brings us to the second oldest performance division, the Special Vehicles Team, or SVT. SVT actually got its start as SVO, or Special Vehicle Operations, whose most famous contribution to the Blue Oval lineup was the mid-80’s 4-cylinder turbocharged Mustang. SVO eventually became SVT. The SVO Mustang was the only SVO vehicle, though they did make a number of performance parts marketed through Ford Racing.

SVT became a household name (at least among gearheads) in 1993 when the marque debuted the F-150 Lightning and the Mustang Cobra/Cobra R. These vehicles solidified SVT’s position as a performance leader. While they mostly have stuck to modifying V8 engines, SVT has dabbled in four-cylinder performance with the SVT Contour and SVT Focus (both of which have been discontinued). Right now, SVT is offering a performance package for the Shelby GT500, as well as the Raptor off-road truck.

Ford Falcon XR6 Sport Ute

Last but not Least - FPV - Ford Performance Vehicles

Finally, there is FPV, or Ford Performance Vehicles, the Australian arm of Ford performance. This brand came about as a partnership between privately-owned Trickford Vehicle Engineering, who produced two high-powered variants of the popular Ford Falcon (rumored to be on its way out), the XR6 and XR8. Whereas RS stuck with four cylinder engines, and SVT mostly worked on V8 engines, FPV has always walked the middle ground.

While they offer their own version of the Boss V8, arguably their best engines are the turbocharged 4.0 liter inline-six cylinder engines on the XR6 Falcon. With 360 horsepower and 410 ft-lbs of torque, six-speed manual transmission, and better gas mileage than its V8 counterpart, it is possibly the best Blue Oval vehicle we don’t get in America. Then there are the sport utes, something unique and popular in Australia, but a fad that most of the rest of the world has failed to embrace (yes, America had the El Camino and Ranchero…25 years ago).

Ford Focus RS

Which leaves us wondering; as Ford implements the One Ford strategy, which brand will survive? Will they find a way to allow all three divisions to maintain their unique identities? We’d like to have the option of all three. Ford has the unique advantage among the Big Three of dabbling in all these areas, so we could end up with the best of all three worlds. The Blue Oval has been expanding its racing teams recently to include Ken Block and a new Fiesta rally racer, and the new Mustang has nearly as much horsepower as the 2010 Camaro SS. There is also the Boss 302R working its way around road courses across the country, and the EcoBoost line of engines likely borrowed a bit of know-how from FPV. Still one has got to wonder what the Ford performance vehicles of the next ten years will look like.

We can’t hardly wait.

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