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Driving the SVT Ford Focus Reminds Me It's All About the Fun

To my friend Eric: Thanks for the reminder.

My friend Eric is crazy—he simply never grew up and never will. We've driven from Michigan to near Guatemala for the La Carrera Panamericana Mexican rally multiple times, where Eric has served as a mechanic and video camera operator. I remember passing our Jade Pig Racing team's truck and trailer at a high rate of speed in a 1955 Ferrari 250 GT Europa rally car only to see Eric perched atop the trailer with video camera in hand and zero safety gear. He also ran a motorcycle racing series and served as a mechanic for offshore powerboats. Funnily enough, he also had a stint early in life working as a UPS driver. I'm told he was safe, but I don't believe it for a second. Eric is now 60 years old, and a couple of weeks ago, my work was interrupted by a blue 2003 Ford Focus SVT sliding sideways in front of my office window. No surprise, Eric was behind the wheel—and then I ended up in the driver's seat. The experience reminded me about the importance of simply having fun.

I selected first gear, revved the Cosworth-fettled engine and dumped the clutch. The worn front tires scrambled for traction and the 170-hp engine revved toward the 7200-rpm redline. As I sat at a traffic light and checked out the interior, I recalled that the first-gen Focus uses the same wiper and signal stalks as the contemporary Ford GT—and thought back to when my daily driver was a first-generation Focus. It was such a great car and a groundbreaking product for Ford, one that made a MkIV Volkswagen Golf feel like a Chevy Malibu. The high-performance SVT version's steering is full of feel, and the front-wheel-drive Ford can be easily adjusted with the throttle. It also brought me back to the huge fun I had with the latest Euro Fiesta ST in England this past summer and reminded me about the unfortunate lack of affordable fun in Ford's current U.S. lineup.

A direct competitor for the Focus SVT in period was the Mini Cooper S, and I owned two of the BMW-developed British hatchbacks, too. I bought a brand-new Cooper S when they first landed in the U.S. in 2002—the first example that landed my local dealer, in fact—and I sold that Chili Red, white-roofed car later that year for more than I paid. In reality, I was waiting for a Pure Silver Metallic with black roof 2003 Cooper S I had ordered with my exact spec preferences. There's no doubt that hindsight is 20/20, but after spending time in the Focus SVT, it's clear that I should have skipped that second Mini Cooper S and bought one of the Fords instead. But I was more image-conscious at that point in my life and spent more time polishing my Mini than thrashing it. I should have had more fun. Eric and his son aren't remotely concerned with image, though. They love driving and wrenching on the SVT Focus—and they actually own two. Their goal is to put together one excellent example with all the best parts including the trick bits from the European Appearance Package such as the Recaro sport seats, 15-spoke wheels, and HID headlights.

https://vimeo.com/69421805

Thanks to Eric, I'm now hunting for an SVT Focus, which isn't a big surprise. My son will soon be 13 years, and, as he's into cars, he's helping. Of course, most examples of Ford's aging hot hatch have been beat to within an inch of their lives and lack decent service records. Rust is also a concern. And finding one that hasn't been modified is particularly tricky. Eric is far less uptight about the pedigree of a vehicle than I am. Well, he's far less uptight about everything. I'm sure I'll someday find him clambering out of a Focus SVT that's sitting on its roof; he'll no doubt be laughing, asking me to help him turn the Ford back over onto its tires, and claiming the damage doesn't look too bad. Then he'll suggest that we go back to Mexico for La Carrera Panamericana. I think it's time I started living life more like Eric. First and foremost, life needs to be fun. Thanks for sliding past my window and giving me a reminder, friend.

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