COAL: 1982 Ford Escort – Status Symbol in Beater Clothing

Note: None of the images in this post are of the actual car

When I arrived in the parking lot at work one morning, I met a co-worker who was getting out of his car.  It was a 1982 Ford Escort and it had “For Sale” signs in the windows.  The sign said “$300” so I asked him if he’d take $100 for it.  He replied “No, I want the $300.”  OK, so no sale and we both entered the building.

The car was a 2 door stripper model, with only power brakes and an AM/FM radio.  Nothing else.  4 speed manual transmission and 1.6L engine.  It was a two tone car, which seems to be a recurring theme for me in my COAL collection.  It was dark gray metallic on the horizontal surfaces and light gray metallic on the vertical surfaces.  Both front fenders had severe rust through over the wheels and the right door was dented with a piece of hard plastic taped over the window opening.  The door opened, but didn’t look very good.  The seats looked like the one in the picture above, but only the passenger seat was in good condition.  The driver’s seat had a cheap indian blanket style seat cover to hide the fact that the stuffing was coming out of the upholstery.  The question is: Why did I offer $100 for this car?  I didn’t really want or need it, but there was always the possibility to flip it cheaply and make a few bucks.

Why indeed.  The Escort was a big seller when it was new and there were still many on the road.  About a week later, my co-worker approached me and asked “Will you still give me $100 for the car?”  Sure, I replied.  OK he said.  I’ll deliver it to your house on Saturday morning.  Wow!  Not only did I get the car for my price, but it came with free delivery.  Later, I found out that his family was having a high school graduation party that weekend and his wife demanded that he get rid of the car.  Can’t say I blamed her, as it was not the most attractive car around.  On Saturday morning, it was mine.

Naturally, a $100 car doesn’t come without issues.  Once I figured out what all of them were, I proceeded to fix most of them.  The fender rust was not a priority, but fixing the passenger door was.  I removed the plastic panel that represented the window and took the door apart to see what the story was.  Interestingly enough, the glass was still intact in the door.  I removed it and using a bumper jack and a length of pipe, managed to pop the dent out of the door.  Put the glass back in and everything was good.  It certainly looked better than the plastic panel with duct tape.

Next on my list was the engine.  Upon cold start, a blue cloud appeared at the rear of the car.  Investigation revealed that the valve stem seals were shot.  I removed each plug one at a time, attached a hose connected to my air compressor, and removed the spring to change the seal.  Now the car didn’t smoke on cold starts.  I had a set of used spark plugs left over from a flipper Ford Tempo and they looked better than the ones in the Escort, so I installed them.  Engine ran fine so these efforts could be called success.  Remember this later in the post, as these spark plugs would haunt me as I tried to sell the car.

Since the passenger seat was intact, I decided to switch it with the driver’s seat.  It looked and felt much better.  Now onto the next issues.  When you drove the car, there was a low pitched rumble coming from the rear wheels.


Both rear wheel bearings were the source of the noise.  I removed the drums to change them, but couldn’t get the old inner bearings off of the spindle.  I had to take some crankshaft grinding tape that I had and polish the spindle until I could get the bearing off.  After about an hour per wheel, I was successful.  No more noise.  At least from the rear of the car.

Once I got the car roadworthy to my car flipping standard (ie. no noises, no suspension issues, no major physical damage, everything functional within reason) I was ready to go to market.  Before I started the marketing campaign, my wife’s car was damaged in an accident.  In typical married life fashion, she commandeered my car for her use until her car was replaced.  Since I had the Escort roadworthy, it was now my daily driver!  I drove it for six months until her new car was received and it almost never let me down.  Not  bad for a $100 car.  I never bothered to close the windows and lock the doors at work.  Total freedom.  During the time that I drove the car, my wife refused to ride in the car.  Her father had insisted that she learn how to drive a stick shift and she still resented that.  She also turned her nose at the looks of the car, figuring that I could do better than this piece of junk.  Several co-workers told me the same thing.  Wow, I had a true status symbol.   Plus, it beat walking.


One thing that was interesting was the Motorcraft battery.  On a $100 car, you don’t expect infinite battery life and the Escort didn’t let me down.  As I attempted to leave work one afternoon, the car wouldn’t turn over.  No lights either, so I knew it was time for a battery.  I push started the car to get home and then went out to look for a cheap battery.  Not so fast.  What I didn’t know at the time was that the Motorcraft battery was the opposite of other OEM batteries.  The location of the negative and positive terminals were reversed.  You could turn the non-Motorcraft battery 180 degrees, but of course the battery cable for the ground would be too short.  It also required that the battery cables be routed over the vent caps.  Also, the Motorcraft battery had a lower profile to fit in the space.  Other batteries were too tall to fit with the hood closed.  So, I went to the auto parts store with a tape measure.  I found the right size of battery to fit with the correct cranking amps.  Then I reached into my stash of spare parts and found a longer battery ground cable.  Problem solved at half the price of the Motorcraft battery.  The FoMoCo boys must have thought this through to increase spare parts income.

Now, you may be wondering why there is a picture of a Plymouth Horizon TC3 in this post.  It is related to way I sold this car and is probably the best part of this story.  On the flipper side of my life, I acquired the Horizon for $100.  Ran good, but the clutch slipped badly.  So, I replaced the clutch and posted it on the local car trader newspaper for $500.  Sold it to a young man who was planning to use it for a 200 mile per day commute.  One drawback to the purchase was that he’d never driven a stick.  He brought a friend along who did know how to drive it and they completed the purchase.

Simultaneously, my wife’s new car was in and the Escort needed to go.  I used the car to park at the airport whenever I went on a business trip.   I priced it at $500 to cover my repair costs and acquisition cost.  Since the ad for the Horizon was still running and paid for, why not offer the callers my beloved Escort.  Most callers didn’t care if I was selling a Plymouth or a Ford, the price was their prime interest.  Upon arriving home late one Friday night from a business trip, my wife told me that she had good news and bad news for me.  The good news?  She sold my car!  How did you managed to do that when the car was at the airport?  The teenage girl who bought it was tired of looking and decided to take the next one that sounded good.  In the $500 range, there aren’t many choices.  The bad news?  The purchaser was coming the next day to pick it up.

On Saturday morning, I went to get the last emissions test that this car would ever need.  It was old enough to be time limited.  Of course, Murphy being who he is, the car failed.  Why was the question and what would it take to pass it?  Early in ownership, I had an extra set of Motorcraft spark plugs left over from a flipper Ford Tempo.  They looked OK so I figured what not install them in the Escort.  The car ran fine, but obviously the plugs were the incorrect heat range.  How did I get it to pass?  I retarded the timing to the point that the car was almost undriveable and took it for a retest.  It passed!  In the service station parking lot, I then put the timing back to the correct position.  The sale would go on!!

The buyer arrived later that afternoon with her father and her friend, who knew how to drive a stick.  Didn’t the buyer know how to drive a stick?  Of course not.  When they arrived at my house, her father and her friend stopped to look the car over.  The buyer ran up to my front door and told me not to tell her father that she had never seen the car until today!  Her father looked the car over and proclaimed it good.  I trusted the Escort and wished her well.  Cash transferred and off they went.

The $100 beater is long a thing of the past, due to high Chinese scrap metal prices.  The Escort filled my need for immediate transportation at a cheap cost.  The ability to leave windows open and the car unlocked during the day was a plus.  I never had to worry about someone scratching the paint or parking too close.  Beaters have a lot of downside, but the joy of not having to worry about the car was wonderful.