It’s a nice coincidence that Roger Carr’s excellent history on the first two generations of Ford Escort went up recently, as I happen to have owned one of them.
This car came into my life completely by accident. I was driving the Beetle quite happily at the time (mid 2007 ) and wasn’t exactly flush with cash, so another project car was the last thing I needed or wanted. Nevertheless, this tired looking old Ford turned up at a garage right next door to my office one day and of course I had to take a look. Turned out that it was actually for sale, which immediately set the wheels turning in my head (because I’m dumb like that, probably).
Before we go into the story proper, a brief detour into history is in order. This Escort was of course a product of Ford Europe and was a pretty big hit for them from the moment it was introduced in 1967. It is best remembered for the rally bred Mexico, RS1600 and RS2000 versions, but the majority of production were the much more pedestrian 1100 or 1300 models in various trim levels. The sportiest model that was initially available was the 1300 GT, which was fitted with a Weber carb, higher compression and somewhere between 65 and 70 ground pounding horsepower (compared to 53 on the standard 1300). This model was set apart by having a six dial dash and other trim differences. Based on the model year and the options the car had, I have always assumed that my car was a 1300 GT, but it was missing the Weber and had a standard Ford carb when it got to me, so I can’t be 100% sure. Perhaps the collective CC brains trust can help pin it down?
The engine bay. That’s definitely not a Weber in there.
Anyway, after having a poke around I convinced myself that this car NEEDED to be mine and I would be the one to bring it back to its former glory. Although Mark 1, 2 door Escorts had not yet gone through the huge spike in interest they saw in the 2010s, thanks to a steady diet of Classic Cars and Classic and Sports Car magazines from the UK, I knew the car had potential and could be something special. The dream was to turn it into a snarling rally replica, with a 1.6 Kent or 2.0 Pinto Motor, Webers, wide arches, fast road spec suspension, the works.
The asking price was actually quite cheap: only 50,000Rs (about 500$), but I didn’t really have that much cash on me, so what could be done? After giving it some thought, I ended up going hat in hand to my grandmother and negotiated a loan on very favorable terms, and the car was mine! It ran and drove well enough, so I parked it in a shed at the back of my office and took stock of what I had bought. The body was grey but it didn’t seem to be covered in paint, more like some sort of primer that had the thickness and consistency of concrete. The underside was encouragingly rust free, but I worried whether the layered on primer concealed severe body rust. Since the Escort was a unibody and was not exactly put together with top level precision in 60s England, this was not an idle concern. Of course to find out for sure, I’d have to strip down the substance that was on the body panels, then deal with whatever would be found, and finally paint it properly. All of this would cost money and I didn’t have much; remember I was 19, wasn’t making very much (something like 25,000 Rs a month at that point) and had a reasonably active social life. So I figured the best course of action would be to fix anything that seemed really broken and just drive the thing.
Taken on the day I got it. As you can see, it needed work.
After an inspection by my mechanic the car was given a mostly clean bill of health. The only work needed was a tuneup, some repairs to the steering rack and new balljoints, so those were done and the car was on the road. It drove very differently from my Beetle of course; quicker steering, a lively rear end, and an appetite for slides on any loose surface. As for speed, well it didn’t have much, felt about the same as the Beetle, give or take. Because the interior was devoid of carpets or even rubber mats it was a very stark place to be, and predictably my girlfriend refused to be seen anywhere near it, so I didn’t end up using the car very much at all.
If we’re being charitable, the interior could be called “well worn”
The only times it would get driven was on weekends when me and a couple of friends would haul it out and go to a nearby field to do donuts and generally engage in 4 wheeled buffoonery. Those times were loads of fun, but I was always worried about breaking something expensive, so I didn’t enjoy them as much as my friends did. For reasons I no longer remember, we christened the car “Mrs Robinson”, after Anne Bancroft’s character from The Graduate.
Messing about in a muddy field — where the Escort was happiest.
After about a year or so I started thinking it was time to move the Escort on. It wasn’t really costing me much to keep, but I felt it needed to be properly restored and it was quite clear I didn’t have the capacity to do it at the time. So a friend of a friend who was looking for an Escort to restore came along one day, took a good look at it and offered to take it off my hands for the total amount I had in it (60,000 Rs). Naturally, I said yes immediately and he hauled the car off to his workshop and immediately started stripping it down, expecting to find a lot of rust and other horrors. To his (and my) amazement, it turned out the car was rust free and arrow straight too! I was pretty excited to see how it would eventually turn out but a few weeks after picking it up the buyer found another Escort that seemed to be in much better shape, so he used that as the basis for his build and put this one up for sale. It was picked up by a guy from out of town who ended up giving it a full rally replica makeover, but kept the standard 1300 engine for some unfathomable reason. It looked good, but the looks wrote cheques the mechanicals couldn’t cash.
I believe the expression “All hat, no cattle” applies here.
I kept track of the car via Facebook for a few years, but then it changed hands and I haven’t heard of it in a long while. Since hindsight is always 20/20, I wish now that I had stashed it in a corner and slowly saved up the funds to build it the way I wanted it to be. This ends up being a recurring theme for some of my COALs, as you’ll see in time.