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.