29 01 2018

Ford Escort at 50 - Our Top Ten Early Escorts

January 1968 saw the official debut of the Ford Escort in the UK and to celebrate the brand name that came to define an entire class of car, here are ten of our favourite early Escorts.

Ford Escort Mk. I 1100 De Luxe & Super

A gem of a television advert from Australia promised Escort owners a world of grooviness but the prosaic reality for countless motorists was more of a car that would safely convey them to Fine Fare or the local post office. The coke bottle styling of an Escort looked far more up to minute than the staid lines of the Anglia 105E while the gear change was ‘short and racy’ but the mechanics of the ‘small car that isn’t’ were reassuringly straightforward. It was to prove a winning combination.

Ford Escort Twin Cam

Roger Clark’s victory in the 1968 Circuit of Ireland Rally was a major factor in establishing the reputation of the Escort Twin Cam. The exterior was comparatively low-key but under the bonnet was the DOHC 1,558cc engine with twin Weber 40 DCOE carburettors and the eight-valve Lotus head. As the story goes, it was nicked named ‘The Blimey Car’ at the factory after Ford’s motor sport engineer Bill Meade saw an Escort prototype in early 1967 and made the immortal observation ‘Blimey, one of those things would go like hell with a Twin Cam in it!’.

Ford Escort Mexico

After Hannu Mikola and Gunnar Palm won the 1970 London to Mexico World Cup Rally in a modified 1,850cc engine Escort, Ford introduced their logically named tribute model in November of that year. The Ford Escort Mexico was a product of the new Advanced Vehicle Operations (AVO) Centre and combined the ‘Type 49’ bodyshell as seen on the Twin-Cam with an 86 bhp 1.6 litre Kent crossflow engine and lower suspension. ‘The road version of the rally winner’ cost a very reasonable £1,150 and over the next five years, the Mexico was to become the club racer’s Escort par excellence.

Ford Escort RS2000

The final production car from AVO production range was introduced in the June of 1973 and the Ford Escort RS2000 was intended to be ‘the sort of car a doctor, dentist or newspaper executive might buy’. The 2-Litre OHC Pinto engine was a tight fit under the bonnet, but the suspension was very well set up and the top speed was 110 mph. Inside there were fully reclining front seats while those unmistakable stripes drew attention to your professional status.  ‘The RS2000 is probably the best Escort model yet’ opined Car magazine – high praise indeed.

Ford Escort Mk I 1300E

This was the Escort Mk. I that was firmly aimed at the ‘medallion man’ sector of the market, combining a 1.3 litre engine with the all-important “E” (for “executive” of course), a cigar lighter, a tachometer, cut pile carpets, fabric upholstery, halogen auxiliary lamps, a heated rear window and reversing lights amongst its extra fittings.  ‘A head turner on the road and in the showrooms!’ claimed voice-over king Patrick Allen in a Ford PR film. For a price of just £1,182, who could resist a 1300E finished in Amber Gold or, best of all, Metallic Purple?

Ford Escort Mk. II Popular

The Popular badge had last been seen in 1962 adorning an exceedingly low specification version of the 100E, and the latest entry level Escort looked fit to carry on the tradition of no-frills motoring. ‘Ford Value for Money Starts Here’ claimed the brochure and for only £1,299 you gained a car devoid of hazard warning lamps, door mirrors, carpets, adjustable front seat backrests, a passenger parcel shelf – or virtually any other form of distracting luxury. For quite a while the Escort Popular was the Ford of choice as a police Panda Car or as company transport for the unfortunate sales executive who had managed to incur the wrath of the fleet manager.

Ford Escort Mk II Ghia

‘The Escort with everything’ boasted fittings and furniture a world removed from the Popular, from the black vinyl roof and the wood veneered dashboard to the chrome gear lever and the ‘Savannah’ trimmed seats. Ford had acquired Carrozzeria Ghia in 1970 and five years later the distinctive shield-shaped badge had replaced Executive status as denoting the flagship models. To take delivery of a new Escort Ghia finished in Oyster Gold or Jupiter Red was to tell the world – or at least your cul de sac – that you had ‘arrived’.

Ford Escort RS1800

Could this be the most desirable of all early Escorts? It was almost certainly Ford’s most successful rally competitor with 1975 victories from Roger Clark in the Granite City and Welsh International Rallies followed, at the end of that year, with Timo Makinen winning the RAC rally. The RS1800 went on to win this event an incredible four more times, and only 109 examples of the roadgoing version were sold before production ceased in 1977. Today, there are possibly more examples in existence than actually left the plants in Halewood and Saarlouis – a testament to the impact of a truly great Ford.

Ford Escort RS2000

From January 1976 until 1980, the second generation RS2000 was the perfect Ford for the junior cost & management accountant who delighted in being the first away from the lights. The decals and the colour schemes - Carnival Red and Java Green are my own favourites- were as unmistakable as the engine note. Meanwhile, a certain Diamond White example bearing the (false) registration PNO 641T would become forever associated with a certain CI5 agent who delighted in a Harpo Marx inspired hairstyle and pursuing Jaguar XJ6 Series 1s or Vauxhall Victor FDs of dastardly villains. Cue dramatic incidental music and moody docklands locations

Ford Escort 1300L and 1600L

A 1978 1.6 litre model was, of course, the winner of the much coveted Concours de l'Ordinaire prize at the 2016 Festival of the Unexceptional and a now rare example of the form of Escort that once an essential aspect of everyday life. In the late 1970s, you were far more likely to encounter an L than a Sport or Ghia while the RS2000 was more associated with The Professionals than the weekly shopping trip. In the words of the chaps of Car magazine, it was a ‘pleasant and very easy little car to drive. Women will like it and yet it handles well enough.’ The 1970s really were a very long time ago!


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3 reader comments

  • 1
    Peter Craggs Cheshire February 03, 2018 at 3:47am
    Hi Great memories, shame more haven't survived the dreaded "rot bug". Thought you might have included another superb Escort,. the Mk 2 1.6 Harrier with the 1.6 GT Kent engine.I was fortunate to borrow one from the local Ford dealer, while my Cortina mk5 was in for bodywork. I returned the car a few weeks later (sadly), and asked if the Harrier was for sale, only to be told it was already reserved for a client. "there is a queue a mile long for these" I was told by the Salesman. Not surprised, some motor car,.
  • 2
    Robbie Allen Southport February 03, 2018 at 5:27am
    Why no mention of the RS1600? One of the best.
  • 3
    Loyd Herts February 04, 2018 at 6:51am
    I still own my 1978 Mk2 RS Mexico I purchased back in 1979! Now very rare car, less than 200 left on road from 2200 built. The best car I've ever owned, and no, she's not for sale!