In a delayed post this week we have one of the brighter points of Ford Australia’s small car history in the TX3 Turbo all-wheel drive Lasers. As with any affordable performance car, many have fallen by the wayside but recently I’ve seen a couple.
The Ford Laser was built in Ford’s Homebush, Sydney plant as a replacement for the European rear-wheel drive Escort, and based on the Mazda 323. Needless to say it was a massive change, but one that was popular and became the best-selling small car in the country.
The second-generation KC model in 1985 introduced the TX3 nameplate to replace the earlier Sport model which had featured a twin carburettor engine. The TX3 became the range-topping model above the luxurious Ghia trim level, and had a fuel-injected 1.6L 61 kW (82 hp) engine instead of the standard 53 kW (71 hp). The three-door bodyshell was imported from Japan as opposed to being built in the Homebush factory. Interestingly the related Mercury Tracer in the USA came from Mexico while Canada apparently imported theirs from Taiwan! In Central and South America you were more likely to see Ford Lasers rather than contemporary Escorts.
The 1987 KE facelift added a TX3 Turbo model making 101 kW (135 hp) as well as 50% more torque as well as an all-wheel drive model that, well it should be pretty obvious! This model also featured quad headlights inset in a body-coloured housing that would be echoed on Falcon XR models in a few years.
The basics of the third-generation KH model of 1990 were now shared with North America, although there were still differences such as engines with Australia only getting upgraded 1.8L Mazda units. One addition to the range was a mild ‘S’ trim level with minor cosmetic and suspension upgrades.
The TX3 continued with power now at 92 kW (123 hp), a useful 18 kW (25 hp) more than standard Lasers, while the Turbo had 117 kW (157 hp). The fwd Turbo model was dropped, which was probably sensible given the torque steer affecting the less-powerful 1.6 of the previous model.
The key external difference was a sticker just behind the door, which can just be seen in the lead photo, advertising the 4wd Turbo. The Turbo AWD cost $26,245, a quite reasonable increase over the $22,400 TX3 and only $330 more than its 1987 predecessor – incredible given the inflation of the time.
1991 Bathurst 12 Hour race where the team of Kent Youlden, Ken Douglas and Brett Youlden brought their Laser TX3 Turbo home in second place having covered 239 laps, just 3 laps behind the winning Toyota Supra Turbo. Not bad for a last-minute converted press car! The feat was nearly repeated the following year as the car was in second place until a CV joint failed with half an hour to go due to excessive suspension travel through the infamous Dipper corner. That race was won by a Mazda RX7 Turbo, from a BMW M5 and Saab 9000 to give an idea of the calibre of the competition!
The TX3 Turbo was available through to 1993 (by which time the cost had increased $31,528), although presumably sales were pretty low due to the early-90’s recession.
Overall it was a pretty good little pocket rocket, and it is a shame that it has taken until recent for Ford to come back with a ‘normal’* 4wd turbo road car with the Focus RS.
(*Not including the homologation-special Escort RS Cosworth which was far from a normal car.)