The cars we loved.
It’s no secrete that I’m a big fan of the Ford Escort. The mention of it to my friends usually evokes laughter based on the (sometimes undeserved) sordid reputation of the first generation American car. By some measures, that was never really an Escort by global definitions. The US got its own and the rest of the world had a true world car.
For the Escort, there was life before America as the first ones rolled off assembly lines in the UK in the late 1960s. When Pintos were exploding (quite literally) in America, the popular Escort MkII had become rallying and race favorite as well as a popular Matchbox toy in Europe. It was entirely possible that my love affair with the Escort started with a 1/64 version that came from K Mart.
The MK II version of the Escort was jointly developed in the UK and Germany whereas the Mk I was developed by Ford of UK and was sold almost everywhere except America. The second generation shared the mechanicals of the old car but on a larger more modern styled body. It came in multiple configurations that ranged from 2 door coupe to panel van.
The Escort during this time was rear wheel drive and came in a variety of engines that ranged from 1 liter (Italy only) to 2.0 liters. While I personally prefered the look of the single pair headlight designs of the Mexico, Sport and RS1800 models, the later RS2000 are the most sought after. The RS versions were generally the top performers but the distinctive slanted polyurethane nose of the RS2000 looks the most aggressive. Initially offered with a 1.8 inline four cylinder engine, the 1975 to 77 RS1800 made 115 hp and could reach a top speed just shy of its power rating.
The RS2000, the final evolution of the Mk II in sporting dress was actually less powerful than the 1800 variant. Depending on where it was sold, it could be had as a four door sedan. RS models featured a four speed manual or three speed automatic transmission, but it was not uncommon to find them modified with 5 speed gearboxes from the Sierra in racing applications. Other mechanical attributes like the pinto engine and rear leaf spring suspension were a bit old-fashioned even when the cars were new, but they were efficient, lightweight and fun to drive.
The Mk II Escort lasted until the new ‘world car’ took its place in 1980. Although the Mk III Escort would not arrive in America, we did get a similar car (at least in appearance). In addition to having a fully independent rear suspension, there was a new range of engines and a modern hatchback design. Hatchbacks had become all the rage in Europe and were slowly becoming associated with performance in addition to efficiency.
In America the Escort would diverge further from the one in Europe to the point of looking like a different car altogether. Fortunately we got the better car when Mazda stepped in to iron out the original American Ford formula. Ironically the Escort name would be laid to rest in America as a proper coupe, it’s most popular initial form in America when sold in late 1980.
The Escort name has garnered a lot of brand recognition that Ford is not ready to discard just yet. A concept was shown in China that may resurrect the name once again. Unfortunately the car is boring and lacks all the dynamics of previous designs (even the American one). It’s not scheduled to be sold anywhere except China, so that may be a good thing.
For now if Ford were to make a two door version of the Focus, they could get by with calling it an Escort. If they did it right, there might be a Matchbox made of it and some kid somewhere might fall in love with the next generation of Escorts.