History of the 1968 - 1974 Ford Escort
Introduced in January 1968 at the Brussels Motor Show, the new two-door Ford Escort saloon with square headlamps replaced the 105E Anglia. In March the estate version followed, with 1300 automatic versions in May. Two engines were initially offered: the 1098cc and 1298cc overhead valve crossflow forms known as Ford’s ‘Kent’ engine. In a deliberate introduction to Ford’s intention to march into Europe with a new plant at Genk in Belgium from September 1968, the Escort was first exhibited in Europe.
Meanwhile production had started at Hale in the autumn of 1967 to cater for initial demand. It was a best seller in the UK, at £666 in 1100cc/50bhp form and 58bhp 1300 and 1300GT saloon and estate forms. More than 1,000,000 examples sold in the UK and a further 2,000,000 in Europe. The car featured a monocoque shell, MacPherson strut front suspension and a live rear axle located on 1/2 elliptic springs. 0-60mph was achieved in 22.3 seconds for the 1100 saloon, and 20.6 seconds for the 1300 saloon, with 79 and 83mph top speeds respectively. A brand new light application 4-speed gearbox was also introduced.
Sportier versions were also offered. The 1.3 Escort GT was available from the start with a bit more power, having 75bhp and a Weber carburettor and a 4-door version from 1969, now equipped with brake servo and front disc brakes, including wider wheels and a close-ratio gearbox.
The 1558cc twin cam Lotus engine from the Lotus Cortina went straight into the new Escort as the 2-door Escort Twin Cam at £1171. This car had a stronger bodyshell and with the double overhead camshaft engine a healthy 110bhp at 6000rpm.
The Escort Twin Cam also featured uprated suspension, front disc brakes, wider rim wheels and flared wheel arches. All the running gear came from the Lotus Cortina, so engine, gearbox and back axle were all squeezed into the smaller Escort shell. From June 1969 cars were made with round headlamps rather than the square ones. 60mph came up in 9.9 seconds with a top speed of 113mph, carrying 1730lbs. Initial production went straight to the Works Race & Rally teams before any cars were offered to the public. Only 1263 Twin Cam Escorts were built from 1968-71, making it extremely rare from the start and sought after today.
The new RS1600 Escort was produced from mid-1970 until 1974, with improved performance over the Twin Cam. Fitted with the new 1599cc double overhead cam 16-valve Cosworth BDA unit, it featured a cogged belt drive to the camshaft rather than a chain. Faster, with 60mph in 8.9 seconds, 113mph was again the top speed, but it was heavier at 1920lbs. Initially built at Halewood, production moved to the South Ockendon AVO plant, with just 947 cars built in total.
The simpler and very popular Escort Mexico (1970-74) ran alongside the RS1600 and sold 9382 units. Equipped with the less powerful push-rod 1599cc Kent push-rod engine, the Mexico was named after the Escort's greatest win of the 1970 London to Mexico World Cup Rally. Similar in looks to the RS1600 apart from the contrasting stripes, it had the same reinforced body, suspension and brakes. The engine was the less powerful 1599cc pushrod Kent engine with 86bhp, giving just on 100mph, 10.7 seconds to 60mph and a reasonable 28mpg, all for just £1150.
The £1568 Mk1 AVO RS2000 Escort was introduced in July 1973 alongside existing RS1600 production with the 2-litre overhead cam Pinto engine and a German transmission. With a maximum of 110mph, 60mph arrived in 9 seconds. It was and is still loved as a great road car, and had a much smoother engine than the RS1600 with a better interior. 4324 examples were built in just over a year before production halted.
The 1300E Escort was added to the 1300GT and 1300 Sport in 1973 and had a more comfortable upmarket interior with limited edition paint, including that extraordinary purple many people remember, the model having a minor following in later years.
Mechanical parts availability is good, while Ford specialists will look after careful restoration of many rusted bodyshells. With rack and pinion steering, a brilliant gearchange and rear wheel drive, the Mk1 Escort on cross-ply tyres of the time was (and continues to be) a fun car to drive.
Ford clubs operate for most Escort models, each offering huge support to enthusiasts, with newsagent magazines supporting the model. Clubs include the Mk1 Escort Owners Club, The Ford Escort 1300E Club, The Ford RS Owners Club, The Sporting Escort Owners Club, and many regional clubs with regular monthly meetings.