Curbside Classic: 1996 Ford Escort LX – A Salute To The Only North American Escort Worth The Powder It Would Take To Blow It Up

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Gads.  A Ford Escort.  There are infinitely more interesting cars in my photo archives I could write about, such as a 1972 Oldsmobile Toronado or 1973 Mercedes 280C.  Yet, much like flies are drawn to freshly dropped organic fertilizer, I find myself compelled to write about a Ford Escort that is nearly old enough to legally drink in most states.

Maybe I’m lured in as this petite Ford is likely near the end of its two decade existence and being viewed by people around the globe may be its last hurrah before getting shredded up to make dishwashers; it has a handful of parking tickets under the wipers, leading me to think it may be abandoned.  Some people celebrate life after one has ended so maybe this is just feeding my inclination to be proactive.

Or maybe this Escort hits way too close to home.

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It doesn’t really matter – I didn’t own one.  Mrs. Jason did.  And, like her neutered and overweight tomcat, it entered into our marital property pool subsequent to our nuptials in 1998.

Mrs. Jason had been determined to buy an Escort and would seriously entertain nothing else.  When we met, she was driving the 1985 Escort her parents had purchased new and it had accumulated a mere 212,000 miles by that point; it was still puttering along quite remarkably well at 252,000 miles when she went to work after college in August 1996 soon before her shopping commenced.

Her rationale was, unlike multiple other makes, no Ford had ever left her sitting and in its entire life up to that point the old tan ’85 had required nothing but a few timing belts and a voltage regulator.  The only real gremlin with that ’85 Escort was its desire to partake of 20W-50 weight motor oil that was thin enough to lubricate but thick enough to not perpetuate a few minor leaks if driven over 65 mph.

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Forking over $9,600 dollars for a leftover white 1996 two-door LX, the future Mrs. Jason helped make room on the lot at Pundmann Ford in St. Charles, Missouri, for the latest, greatest, all-new 1997 Escort.  I have always preferred the 1991 to 1996 Escort over the 1997 Escort as to me it looked like a dumbed down Taurus.

Did the future Mrs. Jason care her new Escort was based upon Mazda underpinnings?  Not a bit.  Did she care its 1.9 liter engine had a Jekyll and Hyde persona, triggered at about 3000 rpm? Negatory again.  She had strong reason to have trust in the brand and the price was better than the competition at the time.  Money talks.

The future Mrs. Jason’s only concern was it had a five-speed manual transaxle and she wasn’t well versed in driving anything with a clutch.

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This is where my respect for her Escort started to sprout.  A few days and several hundred miles after she bought it, we went for a ride – my first time in it.  With Mrs. Jason having taken the well-meaning but totally asinine advice from her friend Laura on how to operate such a critter (“rev it up until the tachometer is pointing at the 2, then let out real quick on the clutch”), I quickly realized this Escort was deceptively stout in the areas that mattered most.

That, and I needed to politely coax this behavior into something less harsh for everything and everyone involved.

Thankfully, Laura now lives in San Diego, meaning she is too far away to do any harm.  The first time I met her (and her newest in a string of boyfriends) at a restaurant she said something profoundly snotty to Mrs. Jason.  Not batting an eye, Mrs. Jason later settled the score by asking Laura quite loudly if she had overcome that nasty case of crabs somebody gave her.  How can anyone forget such an encounter?

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It’s as likely to be forgotten as the little white puddle-jumper that carried Mrs. Jason (and I) from being singles to being parents.  The Escort served flawlessly through that special time in life that quickly whisks a person from being a carefree young adult into bearing great responsibilities.

There was the time shortly after we married when we were driving up I-55 in a profound thunderstorm.  We were startled when lightning hit that huge tree adjacent to the right-of-way and unable to avoid the major chunks of tree blown onto the interstate.  The sound of a large clump of wood hitting the side of the car was deafening, lessened only by the relief it had not hit any of the glass that gave the Escort such admirable visibility.

Inspection at the nearest interchange outside of the rain yielded nothing but a small indentation in the metal near the fold-out rear window.  It hadn’t even broken the paint.

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What really triggered this flood of long-dormant memories was the third brake light, which seemed to be sticking up like the thumb on a hitchhiker.  Looking quite awkward as she sits, at some point in the past this Escort had a factory mounted spoiler enveloping this light.  Removing the spoiler on these Escorts isn’t very difficult; I managed to do so with nothing more than a garage door.

Having returned from the grocery store, I had the hatch open and hit the button to close the garage door motor.  The horizontal ribs of the abnormally short door connected with the spoiler on the Escort.  This touch was accompanied by a loud pop and it yanked the spoiler right off.  Witnessed by Mrs. Jason’s father, he speculated in amused concern about the degree of peeved Mrs. Jason would be.  The repair took less than five seconds; I lifted the spoiler and popped it back into its mounting holes.

With a distinct plasticky snap, the spoiler went back on and stayed put until the bitter end.

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Such obviously hasn’t been the case here; the spoiler is resting on the front seat of our red and black Escort.

For an inexpensive car, this interior was always a surprisingly pleasant place.  The seat cloth wore like iron and the console was polite – unlike contemporary consoles that are nearly as invasive as a prostate exam.  The 1990s were a good time for Ford – well, most of the 1990s, anyway.

Looking further at this finger laden picture reminds me of the only foible Mrs. Jason (and I) ever had with her Escort.  Early on, it was finicky about going into second gear.  A trip back to the dealer mostly fixed it.  Going into second gear was never as effortless as the other gears, yet this smidgeon of resistance never got better nor did it ever worsen.  By the time we married, the car was two years old and its journeys into second gear had simply become a part of its personality.

Perhaps that would be unacceptable to some, but it was a quirk of its being.  It was rather like your main squeeze having a freckle that amplifies their physical attributes.  Yes, I have become quite fond of the car now that I sit here writing this.  Like a recent article about a 1968 Ford LTD, it has simply taken me a while to feel the love affection.

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But I’m not viewing the past through rose-colored glasses.  My memory is intact and this is perhaps my least favorite angle of this generation of Escort.  I spent a long time looking at Mrs. Jason’s from this angle when replacing the timing belt one long evening many years ago.  It was a preventative maintenance maneuver on my part, but replacing that belt was a first-class pain.  That pain wasn’t just located in my hands, either.

Unlike this poor forlorn Escort, the spare tire on Mrs. Jason’s version never saw the ground.  For that matter, it may have never seen daylight under our tutelage.

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When we sold this car around 2004, it was the last four-cylinder car we owned until late 2014.  While the Escort was a highly reliable car with delightful driving dynamics, the general lack of power infuriated me one too many times and Mrs. Jason had tired of putting an infant in the rear car seat.  For my part, I swore I would never again possess a four-cylinder powered car.  Why?  At that point in time I had yet to experience any four cylinder by any manufacturer that adequately powered the car it was propelling.  I was tired of driving underpowered cars plus was I was no longer willing to place my family in one.

Regrettably, we sold the Escort to Mrs. Jason’s oldest brother.

After his wife promptly sideswiped the bollards around a gas pump, he then proceeded to put another 200,000 trouble free miles on the car, overworking it nearly every step of the way.  The old Escort gave up the ghost one day a few years ago, suddenly losing power and struggling to pull herself home.  After a tortured sabbatical being parked in his driveway, it went away to some fellow who had some type of plan for the old Escort.

Little Escort, may your destiny surpass that of your white hued sibling.  Happy trails, little feller.

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Found April 2016, adjacent to the Cathedral Basilica, St. Louis, Missouri