Autopolis

The cars we loved.

1983 -1985 Ford Escort GT Turbo: The Trickle Down Effect


1985 Ford Escort GT Turbo

1985 Ford Escort GT Turbo

The term pocket rocket conjures up images of quick econoboxes tuned to run with the big boys. Names like Omini GLH, Rabbit GTi and Corolla GTS are dropped by those old enough to remember when the term coined in the 80’s. An often overlooked  canidate for inclusion into this club came from an unlikely source.

Fords homely Escort ‘world car’ was new to the US market in 1979, but despite the family ties implied by the world car title, it was quite different from its European cousin. It would retain the familiar hatchback shape and even have a independent suspension (almost unheard of in small cars at that time). As nice a car as the new Escort was on paper, it was develop a reputation as nothing more than the cheapest rental or starter car.

1983 Mercury Lynx Turbo

1983 Mercury Lynx Turbo

Ford’s Mercury division would have its own version of the Escort called the Lynx. The Lynx by virtue of being a Mercury was slightly more upscale and better optioned, but offered no real distinction. They looked so much alike that closer inspection would be the only way to reveal the Lynx verticle grile (vs. Escort’s horizontal) and Mercury logos. The differences in the sporty versions of these cars were not so pronounced either. Introduced in 1983, the Escort GT would be the top performance oriented Escort. Mercury soon followed with the Lynx RS, a car that would feature its own take on the Escorts looks, inside and out, but once again remained almost identical. The look was racy enough, but substance lagged. The boxy shape was aided by aero enhancements that included a chin spoiler and a large flat rear spoiler that assisted in the Escorts shape defying drag coefficient of .38. The Escort GT were the second car from Ford to get the new metric designated tire sizes with a 185/65-14 Michelin TRX.

1983 Mercury Lynx Turbo Interior

1983 Mercury Lynx Turbo Interior

The Escort GT and Lynx RS were merely adequate small sporty cars when  introduced. They sported “Euro Inspired” blackout trim and sports stripes, but did have a slightly more powerful 88 hp 1.6 litre engine. Normally aspirated, it produced 88hp thanks to electronic fuel injection and a hemispherical combustion chamber with angled valves. Compared to the base cars with their 68 hp, the Escort GT (and Lynx RS) was a step up in performance but still had the image of basic transportation that the base cars had established due to their enormous popularity. Ford was looking for a way to capitalize on the Escorts popularity with a variation that would surpass even the GT’s standard performance.

The answer would come with turbocharging. The Mustang’s bigger four cylinder got turbocharging in an attempt to bridge the gap left in the wake of emissions regulations. It was a marginal improvement over the V8 in only a few performance categories. When packaged in the smaller lighter Escort, the turbo made for a altogether different and more exciting little car. The turbocharged engine started with the 1.6 litre four from the GT.  A special oil cooler, exhaust manifold and intake would further distinguish the turbo models from the GT. Unlike the European Escort Turbo, the US cars had no intercooler. All the modifications resulted in a healthy increase to 120 hp. The power to weight ratio that was actually better than the 84 Mustang GT equipped with the turbo 2.3 engine (145hp). Like the turbo Mustang, the Escort GT Turbo was only available with a 5 speed manual transmission.

While a manual transmission might have turned off some pretenders, the Turbo represented a serious performance car intended for those who took driving more seriously. When equipped with the TRX handling package, the Escort offered similar performance to the Rabbit GTi, but was much faster. Typical 0 to 60 runs were in the low 9 second range while top speed was 115 mph. We laugh at that now, in a time when even the most pedestrian cars can top 120 mph.

For its day the turbo Escort was an impressive little machine. Sure they were a bit scrappy and fit and finish was not up to the emerging standards being set by Honda and Toyota, but the Escort Turbo was a fun car to drive. By contrast, the base Escort was capable of no more than 90 mph at top speed, so a Escort Turbo was stealthy in its own right. This level of performance did not come at the expense of fuel economy. With highway mileage in the high 30’s the Escort stayed true to its economy car heritage.

The inside was perhaps where the Escorts modest origins would betray its upmarket aspirations. Even with a slightly tarted up exterior, you knew you were in an Escort. Cloth seats were standard, although some had fabric patterns that recall Recaro-like designs.

Subtle inconsistencies in fit and finish quality would haunt all Escorts of this era. The media in general was not so forgiving. The Escort would often rank behind import cars with a similar mission due to the lack of refinement. When compared to cars like Honda’s Civic S, the Escort seemed less fun to drive when the road became curvy. With a starting price of $8,680, sales of the turbo cars were never really all that good to start with. The price premium they demanded over the standard GT was within a thousand dollars of a turbo Mustang. That was too close for most buyers when the Escort GT Turbo was after all still just an Escort. The Escort GT and Mercury Lynx XR3 would have turbo options for only two model years. These would be the best performing Escorts until the Mazda sourced cars arrived in 1991. By that time the ‘old style’ Escort was all but forgotten in the wake of the 90’s cars class leading performance.

1985 Ford Escort GT Turbo

1985 Ford Escort GT Turbo

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8 comments on “1983 -1985 Ford Escort GT Turbo: The Trickle Down Effect

  1. dave alley
    February 22, 2012

    I PURCHASED A NEW 85 ESCORT TURBO FROM BILL WALLACE FORD IN DELRAY BEACH FL. IT LISTED AT 10500.00 HAD EVERY OPTION AVAILABLE INCLUDING TRX TIRE AND WHEEL PKG. WHAT A GREAT LITTLE HOT ROD. WOULD RUN WITH THE MAZDA RX7 TURBO DOWN I-95 ALL DAY. I EVEN GOT 35 MPG ON LONG RUNS IF I KEPT MY FOOT OUT OF IT. SADLY THOUGH IT DID GIVE ME ALOT OF PROBLEMS AFTER THE FIRST YEAR. LUCKILY ALL WARRENTY COVERED RIGHT UP TO A MAJOR REBUILD AT 49990 MILES. EMISSIONS RELATED PROBLEMS SO FORD COVERED IT. INSURANCE WAS CHEAPER THAN 5.0 ALSO. IT TURNED HEADS ALL OVER PALM BEACH COUNTY. D.ALLEY

    • autopolis
      February 25, 2012

      It’s too bad that these cars are so rare nowadays. I really liked them when I was growing up.

  2. George
    June 15, 2012

    I am doing a full restoration, creating a 1984 Ford Escort GT Turbo “Tribute” or “Clone” out of a 1984 Mercury Lynx L model. I’m starting with a rust-free Texas car and moving up the options list from there. Here’s the link at the Ford Escort Owner’s Association web site: http://www.feoa.net/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=78497

  3. Bill Right
    May 20, 2013

    Whoever wrote the article never had an Escort Turbo or the Gen 1 American Escort GTs; they still run circles around modern Civic SIs as far as handling. Check your history. Tested by Car and Driver as well as Motortrend. Only the ZR 1 beat them in the skipad with the TRX 365s and Konis. That car held the triple lane change record and lap records at several tracks for almost ten years (for their category). In 1987, I raced a ZR 1 thru Merricopa Canyon in Cali and passed it on every curve, while the ZR 1 would accelerate ahead in the straits. Too bad, that road and area are now over developed. Additionally, the top speed was 152 mph (outran IROC Z28, 300ZX, etc on I5). 0-60 time and 60-120 time were within 2 seconds of each other. The main issue I had with my GT Turbo was inferior parts (made in Japan) failed electronic parts that cause minor engine failures. Yes, the engine was assembled in Germany and they forgot the intercooler. Yes, it had a crappy gearing (changed after development because the same tranny that went into the later GTs and similar to the SHO’s allowed the protoypes to hit 0-60 in a little over 7 seconds…so why buy a Mustang GT or SVO?). The car was able to average above 40 mpg between 75-85 mph, due to how the turbo package was set up. Only 32-35 at 55-65 mph. When I traded it in (mistake), It had 60K and didn’t use any oil or smoke and I thrashed it daily…but ran Mobile One and oil changes every 3 K. The only big issue was it overheated once going thru Colorado because several made in Japan parts failed. If you think that I hate rice burners-think again- I have had rare Japanese cars as well (and should have kept them) to include one of the last 200 of the 240Z in Cali…the last 200 were fuel-injected and tested by Car and Driver in 73, 0-60 in 6.8 seconds. The seats in my GT Turbo actually had Recaro tags on them, not look-a-likes. Stop reading articles by haters that have never owned some of these cars (new).

    • autopolis
      May 21, 2013

      I read quite a few car magazines and get my info directly from old issues and other sources like car brochures (which I have more than 300). You may have confused the European Escort RS or Turbo with the American one – they were two different cars altogether aside from the CVH engine. How else could you have come up with those performance numbers. You compare a ZR-1 to an 1st gen Escort GT – really? I don’t doubt that a properly set up one could be a true performance machine, but were talking stock here with a top speed barely in the three digit range. The very best US Escort GT was a second gen that was basically a Mazda 323. The 1st generation car was closer to Ford’s domestic parts bin for North America. I’ve only owned one Escort personally (a 1994 GT) and it was a well built car. My only personal experience with the American Escort GT before that was in High School. I remember it handling rather well, but was slow around town and cheaply built. Either way, its nice to know that someone out there is actually passionate about the 1st gen Escort, even if your view of it is distorted.

  4. Pingback: 2012 Mustang Kammback - Page 2 - Fuel Economy, Hypermiling, EcoModding News and Forum - EcoModder.com

  5. Robert Carroll
    February 12, 2014

    Once upon a time I re did a 1985 Ford Escort GT Turbo with 1500 watts…5 1/4’s in front doors with 1 inch tweeters overhead, two sets of 6×9’s…one set in back doors and another set in upper rear panels, two 10’s that were bolted to floor behind front seats, and a 12″ sub that was boxed in trunk area. Alpine headset and Equalizer, with two Rockford Fosgate Amps under the front seats for small speakers and 10’s, and another Amp in trunk area for 12″ sub. Everything was ran through crossovers for ohm settings for speaker sets and 10’s , as well as, 12″ sub. Ran two batteries and an oversized Alternator. We removed and replaced most panels to add sound proofing and to stop outside rattle. The car was lowered 2 inches and refitted with ground effects from a newer model, then painted a sweet cherry red. I have some pictures somewhere. I have to really dig them up…this was done in 1990…a fun summer project when I was 19 yrs old!! The car started out like this….very different when we were done with it!! I guess once upon a time I was very into car tuning, and bumping sound!!

    • autopolis
      February 13, 2014

      That would be neat to see. It seems like many cars from that era missed on the big tuner craze, or there just weren’t that many around when it first became popular to tune your car Fast N Furious style.

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This entry was posted on December 21, 2011 by in 80's Cars, Ford Motor Company and tagged , , , .
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