Is it really twenty years since Ford ended production of the Escort van? Like the larger Transit, in the UK it defined its sector to the extent that vans became either Transits or Escorts, as in “Transit” was and is accepted as a generic noun, in the same way as “Hoover”, or “it was an Escort van but the Vauxhall/Austin/Leyland/insert your brand here one”. Every street corner would have one, either waiting to join traffic or stopping in the course of the driver’s business, be that a courier, plumber, electrician, gas fitter, butcher, baker, or candlestick maker. Major owners bought them by the thousand. And few vehicles seemed faster on the motorway.
The first Escort van came in 1968, as part of the then new, Europe wide Escort range. This was simplest of simple vehicles – OHV engine, four speed gearbox, rear leaf springs. It was, however, more than an estate car without windows – the rear body work was all bespoke to the van, with a taller space oriented load bay and twin rear doors.
When the Escort went to the Mark 2 in 1976, the van stayed effectively the same but with new front wings and bonnet grafted on, seemingly matching the style of the saloon, and the newer interior. But look carefully, and you’ll spot that the longitudinal crease on the front wing is reversed, to match the unchanged rear panels. The same device was used on the estate.
The Escort went front wheel drive in 1980, as part of the Project Erika, with a car related and visually similar, but not that close or alike visually, to the 1980 North American Ford Escort. A van followed in 1981, with a much simpler rear axle on leaf springs and a volume centric rear space. Unusually, it had small windows over the occupants’ shoulders, presumably so the shorter doors from the five door Escort could be used. Maybe cheaper, but long enough and needing less space to open. This ran for ten years, with updates as the car was evolved.
In 1990 came the Escort Mk4 (or Mk 5, depending on how you count the 1985 facelift) and while the car was underwhelming and soon extensively revised, the van carried on where the previous one left off. There were revisions in 1992 and 1995, visually in line with the hatchback, saloon and estates. Payload wise, the van consistently went up to ¼ ton, and engines ranged 1.1 to 1.6 litre, and latterly diesel options on the front wheel drive models. This example, spotted by Roshake77 in Budapest, Hungary, is one the final 1995-2002 generation.
Production for Europe was always in Halewood in Liverpool, home of the Escort and now home to the Land Rover Discovery Sport and Range Rover Evoque, and the van endured to 2002, four years after the car had been replaced by the Focus. Its place in now taken by the Turkish assembled Transit Connect.
I like this form factor. Nothing like this was ever sold in the states. I might have bought one if somebody sold one here.
My first thought when seeing the first picture was “BLOB!”
It’s just so unapologetically wide and blobby in that photo. Cute but concerning like a very overweight dog.
And the last one is handling dogs, cŵn = dogs in Welsh
Another design Ford destroyed in the 90’s as they did in the Taurus, Scorpio, Mondeo…
Funny how Ford used to get away with recycling parts in the ’70s. While the Mk.2 Escort van is obvious, less apparent is that the rear doors actually started out on the back of the Anglia van in 1961, so by the time the Mk.3 van came along the old rear doors had lasted 20 years almost unchanged.
I was fortunate enough to get a couple of comparison photos of the Connect against the Escort a couple of years back. While the Escort is lower and sleeker at the front by the time you get to the rear end there’s not much difference in size.
Good work Roger! I drove one quite frequently in the second half of the nineties. A 1994 dark green metallic van, 5-speed manual, naturally aspirated 1.8 diesel with 60 hp (the turbodiesel version was 90 hp).
Its main job was being a service van, driving to poultry farms throughout the country. But it was also perfectly capable of carrying doors, boards, dogs, livestock, debris, loaded wheelbarrows, whatever comes to mind.
And it often had to tow a tandem axle trailer too. Of course, nobody ever gave a damn about the van’s legal or factory towing capacity.
A tough diesel beastie it was! Never mind its 0-100 km/h acceleration. Once it rolled, it rolled and it kept on rolling. The only thing that matters.
Interesting that the Transit name is used for a generic large van in the UK, though I know it’s been sold they’re for decades. When we bought our Transit here in the US a few years ago, many people called it a Sprinter. One person, when I corrected her and said it was a Ford, said they didn’t know Ford made a Sprinter. Of course the Escort van was never sold here. I think the Chevy HHR was the last factory paneled small wagon, though we do have the Transit Connect which at least locally seems outnumbered by its Ram (Fiat) competitor.
In Uruguay, a Combi is any kind of van, obviously based on the ubiquitous VW Kombi. For some time the same was true in Brazil, and probably still is. In Argentina something similar happened with the Renault Traffic.
“Few vehicles seemed faster on the motorway” – in my mind, it was always the Astramax van that was the speed merchant. Both vehicles in exactly the same segment, but the Astramax seemed to have more committed drivers, somehow…
We briefly had a B13 Nissan Sunny van on the company fleet here in Ireland in the 90s, and I wound it up to 115 mph on a downward gradient on a motorway ( not in Ireland ). Such was the gearing, uphill gradients were a different matter, it would see a hill several miles before you did. Isuzu 1.8 diesel motor, with no turbo…
The Astramax* was a relatively short-lived van though, based on the Mk.2 Astra, replaced by the Combi which was Corsa based. The lower roofed Astravan lasted much longer from Mk.1 to Mk.5 Astras, basically an estate car without side windows. Ford did briefly do a similar ‘van’, but unlike the ‘proper’ van, it didn’t sell very well.
* Known as the Opel Combi in Continental Europe.
> Like the larger Transit, in the UK it defined its sector to the extent that vans became either Transits or Escorts, as in “Transit” was and is accepted as a generic noun, in the same way as “Hoover”
Calling any brand of vacuum cleaner a Hoover is mostly a British thing by the way; I almost never hear it used generically like that in the U.S., nor do I hear Americans say “I need to hoover the carpet”. Interesting thing is, while the literal use of “hoover” as a verb remains rare here, over the last five or ten years the figurative use of “hoover”, (i.e. “I thought it was a fun app until I learned it was secretly hoovering up my personal info and sending it to advertisers”) has become common in the US. No doubt because of the international intermingling made possible by the Internet and social media, a whole bunch of words, usages, and expressions that used to be considered Britishisms have crossed the pond recently.
I can’t think of an American brand of van that has quite become generisized like “Transit” or “Escort” did in the UK though. Until a few years ago when Ford finally brought the Transit to the States, the big Ford van was the Econoline; it was the best seller but never quite reached the level of ubiquity that every big van was called an Econoline (Ford actually renamed it the “E series” in 2001 but that didn’t catch on at all, nearly everyone still called them Econolines). And there’s simply nothing in America like the Escort vans, at least not since the “sedan delivery” body style disappeared by the end of the 1950s. There were some attempts to sell small 2 door wagons/estates as commercial vehicles in the 1970s but these were just passenger versions with the rear side windows replaced by a steel panel and the rear seat removed – no raised roof or barn doors – and they didn’t catch on. It’s only fairly recently that smaller Transit Connect sized commercial vans became a popular alternative to big vans here (well actually it’s the second time around – mid-sized vans were popular in the 1960s but then Detroit’s obesity epidemic kicked in and all of the American vans fattened up by the early ’70s). Someone should give an Escort-sized van a chance here, surely there must be a market.
Here in the U.S., I had no idea of these, and I’d *love* to have one. I suppose I could import a 25-plus-year-old one from the UK, but I’ll guess all those will have been well worked over. Ah, well…..
The oldest ones would now be 31 years old, the newest 20 but their numbers have dropped dramatically in the last 5 years. Later ones are probably better rustproofed. There was an electric version too with it’s own grille:
Not exactly Tesla performance.
The little side windows on the 3rd gen Escort van required a change in UK legislation since prior to that any side windows aft of the door got it classed and taxed as a car. Subsequently a lot of hard top Landrovers sprouted an inverted triangular window behind the door to help visibility. This is in sharp contrast to Italian and French practice where small van with windows was popular as a dual use vehicle.
I thought these mini panel trucks were cool, partly because we didn’t get them in the US (thanks Chicken Tax). Now we get the Transit Connect and had the competing Fiat Doblo (Ram ProMaster City) for several years.
I don’t remember the year, but a hump-back escort van was briefly considered by Ford to be imported and sold in this country. As a fan I wrote the company and urged them to do just that.
I got a letter back from the exec at Ford who, internally, was working hard to convince upper brass to import them. He got little support. But he said my letter “made his day”.
By now, of course, Ford mini cargo vans are everywhere. Fittingly, I drive one.
I drove both the last Escort van and its replåcement, the Transit Connect. The Connect improved on a good product – roomy, light, comfortable and robust. Then I drove a Transit (probably a 2000 model) and loved its laid back style. It was car-like to drive and incredibly user-friendly. Whenever I see one I feel affection for a thoroughly useful and charming machine.
The Escort vanished after the MK2 model downunder but NZ got the 5th generation however by just reading this post Im now trying to remember when I saw a 5th gen last they seem to have all gone worked to death.