CC Outtake: 1990 Ford Escort GT (And Nissan Juke) – Red Sporty Cars; Then And Now

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These two red sportsters sitting together at the curb gave me a hearty shout-out: Don’t think you can walk by without stopping to shoot us! They were right, of course. As different as they might seem at first blush (and most of us probably blushed or had some other neuro-vascular response the first time we laid eyes on the Juke), they really are a lot more similar than not. They’re both special versions of rather dull mainstream cars for those looking for extra zip and a bit of flair, of one kind or another.

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This 1990 is the very last of this generation Escort, which got off to a rather shaky (literally) start in 1981. The early ones were somewhat knock-kneed and wobbly on their feet, and their engines asthmatic. And they felt a bit on the tinny side, all-round. But like most American cars of the non-classic era, they did get better with age.

The initial Escort’s 1.6 CVH (“Compound Valve Hemispherical”) engine betrayed its hemi-head design with all of 69hp. By 1990, it displaced 1.9 liters, and belted out 90 hp in standard trim, and whopping 110 hp in this GT. Happy days are here again, almost. The new gen2 escort that arrived in 1991 was Mazda 323 based, and a much better car in every respect, especially so in the DOHC 127 hp Mazda-powered GT.

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But compared to the early ones, this 1990 GT felt a lot more planted on the ground, and its performance was at least decent, if not genuinely exciting.

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Gone was the wretched four-speed overdrive manual, which in essence was a three-speed with overdrive fourth. With 69 hp on tap, it was a perpetual exercise in frustration, most particularly so in the Rocky Mountains where I had one as a rental in 1981. Yes, the overdrive fourth was great on long fast downhills…

But by 1990, that was a distant (bad) memory.

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While the North American version of this generation Escort never equaled the rather nice Euro version, this final GT was at least a semi-reasonable facsimile.

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We need to squeeze the Juke in here for its 15 seconds of fame at CC. I know folks just love to hate on it, but I’m rather more amused by its design antics. It just screams: don’t take me too seriously! Got it! And it’s apparently a ball to drive, with its 188 hp turbocharged engine and six-speed manual. And it’s actually been reasonably successful here; even more so in Europe.

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It’s a bit hard to pin down just what category it fits in. I’m sure it would rather not be put into a box.

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In any case, not the box that the Escort came in; it would never fit.


CC 1981-1990 Ford Escort: You Never Get A Second Chance To Make A Good First Impression   PN