The cars we loved.
A lot of my friends laugh at me when I tell them that the Ford Escort from the 80’s and early to mid 90’s was one of my favorite cars. There were really two cars: ours and theirs. There’s was the European version. Although it shared some mechanicals with ours, most of it was a different car altogether.
They both shared the same boxy styling, but somehow ours was chunky in appearance while the Euro version managed to look sleek with the same basic styling. You could blame that on our fetish for big safe bumpers. The range of engines available in the US was different too. When the Escort replaced the Pinto in Ford’s US line up, it also coincided with the release of the MK3 Escort in Europe and other parts of the world. The term “first world car” was used by Ford for it’s release in America, even though it was a world car from it’s start in 1968.
The Fiesta was actually Ford’s first world car in the US, but it was never marketed that way. The US Escort made due with a 1.6l four cylinder engine with 69hp when it launched in 1980. Later the GT version made 80hp. All Escorts (even in the US) featured a fully independent suspension, rather rare for any domestic car being sold in America at that (or any) price range. In Europe, the engine sizes ranged from 1.3 to 1.6l fours. The XR3i/1600i was the sporty version that was the equlivant to the American GT.
It had 105hp, but unlike American cars, had no power steering. The ultimate Escort from 84 to 86 was the RS Turbo with it’s 132hp. It got favorible press and help usher in the hothatch craze in Europe along with VW’s Golf GTi.
It was too bad that the European Escort was so different from it’s American counterpart in performance. Appearance wise, the US version’s big bumpers was a design feature that could not be avoided. Mercury’s version came the closest in apperaence to the Euro version. Mercury even used European terminology in denoting it’s sporty version the Lynx XR3. Escorts evolved in the US and Europe to the point where it was close to Supercar status in Europe with various Cosworth all wheel drive turbo versions. In the US, it split off into the ugly (at first) Escort EXP. The US Escort was reborn with a shared platform from Mazda’s 323 in 1991. Other versions were called the Laser in some markets in Asia.
The 4 years after that were considered the golden years of Escort performance in America with the GT winning over the press and boy racer public. The Escort name puttered along until it was replaced with the Focus in 1999. It’s interesting to note that the formally hatchback Focus in America is now available in a coupe as of 2009. While the Escort name is gone, it’s spirit lives in this variation. Who knows, it may be just a matter of time before Ford brings back the name Escort.