My dad pinched his pennies so hard he had Lincoln thumbs. It had galled him deeply to borrow money to buy his 1983 Renault Alliance (see my COAL on this car here). Knowing Dad, he paid off that note very early. He submitted to those payments only because Mom fell in love with the Renault on the test drive and insisted he buy it. She knew she could play that card only so often – like, once each decade. But the Renault was, to her, a slam dunk: attractive, comfortable, well equipped in top-line trim. Then in 1987, when Dad was driving 50 miles round trip to and from work, Mom fretted as the Renault piled on the miles. “I don’t want you to be stranded on some back county road!” So Dad went car shopping – and didn’t take Mom along so he could get what he wanted. Dad returned to his first love, the blue oval, and made his signature move: a leftover new 1986 Ford Escort as the 1988 models were about to be delivered to the showroom. He got it for a song and paid cash. He was so tickled by that deal that he talked about it for years.
It wasn’t a Pony, as the pictured Escort is. But it might as well have been: the same utility white color, manual transmission (though a five speed rather than the Pony’s standard four), styled steelies, AM radio. It had cloth seat surfaces where the Pony was all vinyl, but it had the same plain interior door panels with the most perfunctory armrests I’ve ever seen. I’m pretty sure it had AC, the one nod to luxury Dad would allow himself as humid summer commutes were pretty brutal without it. But no wonder this pig had languished on the lot so long.
I drove Dad’s Escort a few times. It had good power for the time. I remember the shift lever being a little vague and rubbery but the clutch being sure. I always turned off the radio – can my memory be right, that the only speaker was in the center of the dash? It sure sounded that bad, anyway, and I didn’t need the resultant headache. But the Escort left an indelible impression on me as the only automobile I’ve ever driven where you could hear the gas sloshing around in the tank when you made a turn.
Dad drove that Escort until 1993. He’d have cheerfully kept driving it, but it had racked up the miles and Mom began to fret anew. So Dad returned to his Ford dealer and came home in an Escort LX four-door hatchback. It was so much better a car than its forebear – more comfortable, more fuel efficient, more lively – that even Dad had to allow it was worth spending the money.
Southside Indianapolis, April, 2018
Related reading: Paul Niedermeyer’s magnum opus on the first-gen US Escort