Curbside Outtake: 1981 Ford Escort Wagon – Di-Noc Twilight

1981 Ford Escort Country Squire

I was almost home on a Friday evening in February when I spotted this Escort Squire Wagon.

I was pretty tired from an eventful week at work, and I could feel the first indications of a pretty severe head cold. I needed desperately to fill myself full of various cold medications and fall quickly asleep in my new reclining chair while watching TV.  Nonetheless, I parked Betsy at the corner and got out the camera that I keep in the glovebox.

The batteries in the camera were dead, of course. I sighed at the inevitability of Murphy’s Law as it applied to cameras and car-spotting, and resigned myself to using the camera on my admittedly-cheap cell phone.  I wasn’t going to let this little red wagon be The One That Got Away.

1981 Ford Escort Country Squire _07

I could tell right away that the Escort and the camper van behind it were a matched set; that’s a towbar beneath the black vinyl cover in front of the bumper.  Perhaps the owner of the Escort was in the camper, wondering why some idiot was taking pictures of his old station wagon.

1981 Ford Escort Country Squire _02 lighten crop

The idiot in question saw something he could identify with when he took a closer look at the front; that’s one battered mug, and I was feeling a bit beat up myself.  Based on the absence of a blue oval Ford badge in the center of the grill, I came to the conclusion that this was a 1981 model, the first year for the Escort in North America.

I was getting more and more interested.  How often do you see a surviving example of the first year of anything?  It’s like seeing someone still using an original iPhone.  Early Adopters are all too frequently Beta Testers.

1981 Ford Escort Country Squire _05

In contrast with the front, the rear of the car was dent-free.  I could see that the wagon was full of junk miscellaneous items, but in deference to the owner’s privacy, I only glanced at the interior out of the corner of my eye.  I didn’t notice what kind of transmission it had, but since this car is a tow-behind, let’s go out on a limb and assume that it doesn’t have an automatic.

1981 Ford Escort Country Squire _06

The globe badge went hand in hand with Ford’s marketing strategy for the Escort at that time; it was touted as “The New World Car,” and “Designed To Take On The World,” among other things.  It did indeed share much with the European Mark III Escort, but the American version had a bit more chrome and the battering-ram bumpers favored by our beloved Nanny State.  In this particular case, the car even displays that very American indicator of a Luxurious Wagon, Di-Noc Vinyl Exterior Simulated Woodgrain.

I really didn’t know how to feel about this car.  I was of course happy to spot it, but it was such a study in contrasts, and such a combination of things that I love and things that I can’t abide.

On the one hand, it’s the sort of small, practical car that I’m drawn to, and it’s a wagon to boot; you could haul a lot of junk in this wagon and not use a lot of gas doing so.

On the other hand, Ford took this simple, honest car and slathered it with the aforementioned Simulated Woodgrain, with Ford’s trademark white borders.  The girl next door is wearing a bit too much make-up!  Honey, in my universe, there’s no such thing as an Escort Country Squire.

Besides, I’m the son of a Chevy Man, and this is a Ford.  I devoted considerable energy to ridiculing Fords when I was a child.  Ford wagons in particular were targets of my scorn.

Whenever I see a Ford wagon covered with Simulated Woodgrain, I smile a bit and remember the 1961 or 1962 Country Squire that belonged to a slow-driving alcoholic who lived in the hick town where I grew up.  He was constantly getting into minor fender benders and having arguments with mailboxes, but in that time and place the police frequently looked the other way regarding that kind of behavior.  I’ll never forget the moment I noticed that the driver’s side headlight on the drunk’s wagon was held in place with a couple of nails.  We called it the Country Squirrel, on account of the owner’s addiction to Squirrel Juice.

But on the other hand, why should a grown man hang onto the prejudices preferences of his childhood?  Grow up, Michael R. Hayes!

1981 Ford Escort Country Squire _04 bright contrast

This rear view makes for a pretty desolate scene, and it’s admittedly fairly typical of Western Washington in the wintertime.  A faded old car on a gray February evening!  But perhaps I’m getting a bit carried away with the dark imagery here; this car is in very good shape for 33 years old; for cars and dogs, that’s a pretty impressive age.

With any old car that has survived to an advanced age, the most intriguing question is always, “Why did this particular car survive when most of its contemporaries have long since been turned into soup cans and washing machines?”

One clue is that awful Di-Noc.  An older person, who would equate Simulated Wood Grain with Luxury, was probably the first owner of this car.  Chances are this car’s first owner babied it and gave it a nice, cozy garage to sleep in, and kept it for several years.  A baby boomer such as myself would have laughed at the thought of owning a woody station wagon; that’s what our parents and the town drunk in a town full of drunks drove.

Everything considered, I’m glad this car has survived so long, and I’m glad I took the time to take that second look. Hopefully, it’s nowhere near the twilight of its useful existence; I’d love to see it again, when I have a better camera to use.

Related reading:  1981-1990 Escort CC