The Ford Escort is a sub-compact car manufactured by the Ford Motor Company. Although it was originally a European model, the Escort badge has been applied to several different designs in North America over the years.
The European Escorts
Ford Escort Mk I
The Ford Escort was a British automobile launched at the end of 1967 as a replacement for the Anglia. It was not in fact, the first use of the "Escort" name - it had been used previously in the 1950s on an estate car version of the Ford Popular.
It had conventional rear-wheel drive and a four-speed manual gearbox. The suspension consisted of a simple live axle mounted on leaf springs, but with rack-and-pinion steering. The Mk.1 featured contemporary styling cues in tune with its time - a subtle Detroit-inspired "Coke Bottle" waistline and the "dogbone" shaped front grille - arguably the car's most famous stylistic feature. Initially, the Escort was sold as a two- and four-door saloon (with angular or circular front headlights) but a three-door estate and a van were later available.
Underneath the bonnet was the low Kent Crossflow engine. Diesel engines on family cars were a thing of the future, so the Escort's engines were all petrol - in 1.1 L, 1.3 L and 1.6 L editions. A 950cc engine was also available in some export markets, but few were ever sold.
The Mk I Escort's biggest success was as a rally car, and it quickly went on to become the most successful rally car of all time. The Ford works team was practically unbeatable in the late '60s/early '70s, and the Escort's greatest victory was in the 1970 London-Mexico rally being driven by Finnish legend Hannu Mikkola. This gave rise to the famous Escort Mexico special edition road versions in honour of the rally car. Even today Mk.1's are still popular in the amateur rally scene. The road going version quickly became one of Britain's most popular cars and was also a success on export markets (the car was built in Germany, Britain and several Commonwealth countries).
Ford Escort Mk II
The square-edged Mk II version appeared in early 1975. Unlike the first Escort (which was solely a British effort), the second generation was developed along with Ford of Germany. Codenamed "Brenda" during its development, it used the same mechanicals as the Mk I, although the unpopular 950cc engine was dropped. The station wagon and van versions used the same panel work as the Mk.1, but with the Mk II front end and interior - giving the car a slight "identity crisis".
Mk 2 RS Escort
During the second half of the 1970s, the Escort continued to prove hugely popular with buyers in Britain and other parts of Europe. As with its predecessor, the Mk II had a successful rallying career. The 2.0 L RS2000 version, which featured the Pinto engine from the Cortina, was available with a top speed of 110 mph (177 km/h). The 2.0 L engine was also easily retro-fitted into the Mk I, and this became a popular modification, along with the Ford Sierra's 5-speed gearbox, for rallying and other sports, especially given the Pinto's tunability.
The RS2000 was more distinctive, having a slanting plastic nose housing four round headlamps.
Ford Australia also built Mk II Escorts. The two-litre models were more common, and were sold with the two- and four-door body shells. Unique to Australia was a two-litre, four-door sedan that featured the plastic nose of the RS2000. The two-litre engine, however, was not in as high a tune as the European one. It was replaced in that market by the Ford Laser in 1980.
Ford Escort Mk III
Codenamed "Erika", the third generation Escort was launched in September 1980. The code name alluded to the leader of the product planning team, Erick A. Reickert. The North American Escort introduced at this time was a derivative. The two vehicles were intended to share component designs, but separate engineering organizations and government regulations made this impractical.
Mk 3 Escort in Ghia trim
The Mk III was intended to be a hi-tech, high-efficiency design which would compete with the Volkswagen Golf, and indeed the car was launched with the advertising tagline "Simple is Efficient". The Mk III was a radical departure from the two previous models, the biggest changes being the adoption of front wheel drive, and the new hatchback body, which introduced trademark styling cues which would be later seen in the forthcoming Sierra and Scorpio, most notably the "Aeroback" rear end - the "sawn off" boot lid stump which was proved to reduce the car's drag coefficient. Also new were the overhead camshaft CVH engines in 1.3 L and 1.6 L formats, with the Valencia engine from the Fiesta powering the 1.1 L derivative. The suspension was fully independent all around, departing from the archaic leaf spring arrangement found on its predecessors. The Escort Mk.3 was voted Car of the Year in 1981.
However, the car attracted criticism from the motoring press at launch on the way its suspension was set-up - with positive camber on the front wheels and negative camber at the rear giving rise to the Mk III's infamous "knock-kneed" stance. Although this gave the car acceptable handling on perfectly smooth roads, once the car was tested on bumpy British roads the effects of this decision was obvious and the Mk III soon had a reputation for a harsh, unforgiving ride, with questionable handling. The shock absorber specification was to blame also, and it was not until 1983 that the suspension gremlins were finally ironed out.
In order to compete with Volkswagen's Golf GTI, a "hot hatch" version of the Mk3 was created from the outset - the XR3. Initially this featured a tuned version of the 1.6 L CVH engine fitted with a Weber carburettor, uprated suspension and numerous cosmetic alterations. Despite the initial lack of a 5-speed transmission and the absence of fuel injection, the XR3 instantly caught the public's imagination and became a cult car which was beloved of "boy racers" in the 1980s. Fuel injection finally arrived in 1983 (creating the XR3i), along with the racetrack-influenced RS1600i. The final performance update arrived in the form of the turbocharged RS Turbo model in 1985.
In 1983, a saloon version of the Escort, the Orion, was launched. It used the same mechanicals as the hatchback, but had a more upmarket image and was not available with the rather underpowered 1.1 L engine. The Orion name would continue in use through until 1993, when it was dropped and the Orion simply called "Escort". A convertible version, courtesy of coachbuilder Karmann appeared the same year, significant as it was the first drop-top car produced by Ford Europe since the Corsair of the '60s. The Escort Cabriolet was initially available in both XR3i and Ghia specification, but the Ghia variant was dropped after a couple of years.
A pickup version of the Escort, the Bantam, was produced in South Africa, while Brazil had a two-door sedan known as the Verona.
Ford Escort Mk III˝ ("Mk IV")
The Escort received another facelift in early 1986. Codenamed within Ford as Erika-86, and sometimes referred to as the "Mk IV" (although it was not officially the fourth generation), it was instantly recognisable as an updated version of the previous model, with a smooth Scorpio style nose and the "straked" rear lamp clusters were smoothed over. New features included a mechanical anti-lock braking system and the option of a heated windshield - features which were at the time unheard of on a car of this size and price.
Mk 4 Escort
As well as an all-new interior, a new 1.4 derivative of the CVH engine was introduced, as well as numerous suspension tweaks to address the long standing criticisms of the Escort's handling and ride quality, although these had limited success. In 1989, the diesel engine was enlarged to 1.8 L, and the lame-performing 1.1 L version was finally dropped from the range.
The Orion was also proving popular with the motoring public, and Ford also gave the Escort-based saloon a similar makeover.
At this time, the Escort was dropped in South Africa and replaced by the Laser and Meteor, although the Escort-based Bantam pickup remained in production, face lifted, and also sold as a Mazda Rustler.
This Escort continued production until 1995 in some foreign markets, especially Latin America.
Ford Escort Mk IV ("Mk V")
The fourth generation Escort arrived in September 1990 with an all-new body shell and a simplified torsion beam rear suspension (instead of the Mk III's fully independent layout). Initially the 1.3 L, 1.4 L and 1.6 L CVH petrol and 1.8 L diesel units were carried over from the old model, and were starting to show their age in terms of refinement. However, this model was heavily criticised at its introduction for seemingly cut-price approach to its design (the biggest thing Ford could boast about was the design of its door sealing), and the car was quickly condemned for its mediocre ride and handling, cheap interior and archaic engines. To improve matters, the new Zetec 16-valve engines in the XR3i and the 2.0 L, 16-valve unit (based on the Pinto engine) in the RS2000 appeared in 1992, but specification, however, was higher than before. The Escort was now available with items such as power steering, electric windows, central locking, airbags, antilock brakes and even air conditioning.
Mk 5 Escort
1991 saw the launch of the Escort RS Cosworth. Intended to replace the Sapphire RS Cosworth as Ford's stalwart rally challenger, it used a turbocharged version of the 2.0 L, Cosworth 16-valve engine, generated some 220 bhp (164 kW) and was capable of 150 mph (240 km/h), as well as having four-wheel drive. It's most memorable feature was its outrageous "whale-tail" tailgate spoiler. The Cosworth ceased production in 1996 but the 2,500 road-going examples sold (required for homologation purposes) have already achieved classic status. However, the car wasn't really an Escort at all, being based from a Sierra floor pan and mechanicals, and was merely clothed in body panels to look (supposedly) like a standard Mk IV.
1.4 CFi CVH 52 kW
1.4 EFi CVH 55 kW
1.4 G CVH 54 kW
1.6 EFi CVH 79 kW
1.6 EFi Zetec 66 kW
1.6 G/H CVH 66 kW
1.8 D 44 kW
1.8 EFi Zetec 77/85/96 kW
1.8 TD 66 kW
2.0 EFi DOHC
Ford Escort Mk VI
The Mk IV Escort received facelifts in 1992 and again in 1995, but the same basic design continued throughout the decade. The 1995 redesign is commonly called "Mk VI", however. Dynamically, the handling was improved, but by the late 1990s it was being left behind by the likes of the Golf, Vauxhall/Opel Astra and Peugeot 306.
In 1998, Ford announced that an all-new car, the Focus, would be launched as an eventual replacement for the Escort. However, the Escort would continue to be produced as a move to keep the Halewood assembly plant busy until the Jaguar X-Type was ready for production two years later.
With the arrival of the Focus, the Escort range was dramatically cut back and repositioned as a budget entry-level model. The 1.3 L, 1.4 L and 1.8 L petrol engines, and the three-door hatchback and four-door saloon body styles, were dropped (except in mainland Europe, New Zealand, South Africa and South America) and the only versions remaining were the 1.6 L petrol and 1.8 L diesel. Prices were made more competitive and this managed to keep European Escort sales going until the last one rolled of the Halewood assembly line at the end of 2000.
1.3 CFi HCS 44 kW
1.3 CFi/H HCS 44 kW
1.3 EFi HCS 37/44 kW
1.3 EFi HCS 37/44 kW
1.3 H HCS 44 kW
1.4 CFi CVH 52 kW
1.4 EFi CVH 55 kW
1.6 EFi Zetec 66 kW
1.6 G CVH 66 kW
1.8 D 44 kW
1.8 DT 66 kW
1.8 EFi Zetec 77/85/96 kW
2.0 Cosworth 162 kW
2.0 EFi 16v DOHC 110 kW
North American Escorts
The Escort was one of Ford's most successful models in the 1980s. In fact, the car was the single best-selling car in the United States during that decade.
Introduced in 1981, the first US Escort (and sister, Mercury Lynx) was intended to share common componentry as the European Mk. 3, and was launched as a 3-door hatch and 5-door wagon, with the 5-door hatch following a year later. It had considerably more chrome than the model sold elsewhere, and although the basic silhouette was the same, it was almost completely different from the European version, apart from the Ford CVH engine. There was a 1.6 L engine, 4 or 5-speed manual or 3-speed automatic transmissions. A 1.3 L engine was designed and prototyped but did not see production due to lack of power.
1.6 L CVH, 68 hp (51 kW)
There was a facelift (less chrome, flush headlights, 1.9 L engine) for 1985. The Lynx was retired for 1987, replaced with the Ford Laser-derived Mercury Tracer, which formed the basis for the next-generation Escort.
1.9 L CVH, 86 hp (64 kW)
1.9 L CVH, EFI, 108 hp (81 kW)
In the 1990s, the US Escort and Mercury Tracer, were replaced by models based on the Mazda B platform also used by the Mazda 323. Ford, which owned a 25 per cent stake in Mazda, already sold a version of the 323 in Asia and Australasia, called the Ford Laser, which replaced the old rear-wheel-drive Escort there.
After designing a "world car" Escort a decade earlier which used localized engines, Ford took the opposite tack with the "CT20" Escort for the 1990s. This time, the car would be very similar worldwide, differing only in appearance.
The Mazda-based model sold sluggishly in America at first, but was popular later in the decade. At one point Ford offered it on a "one price" basis, with the same price for a three- or five-door hatchback, sedan or wagon (the three-door had alloys in this version).
1.9 L (1868 cc) CVH, SEFI I4, 88 hp (66 kW) 108 ft-lb (146 Nm)
1.8 L (1835 cc) MPFI I4, 127 hp (95 kW) 114 ft-lb (154 Nm) GT
The 1997 restyle dropped the hatchbacks and added a new sporty coupe for 1998, the Escort ZX2. A much lower-slung and rakish car than either the sedan and wagon, it was aimed squarely at the youth market as a replacement for the American-version Escort GT (although lacking the latter's rear disc brake setup) and was built exclusively at Ford's Hermosillo, Mexico assembly plant. The interior was refreshed for 1999, and the model was retired after 2000.
The 1998 Escort ZX2 featured the 2.0 L, 130 hp (97 kW) Zetec dual overhead cam four-cylinder engine as standard equipment, an option unavailable on the sedan or wagon. Intended for use as the base engine in the larger European Ford Mondeo and their American cousins, the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique, the Zetec gave the ZX2 more-than-respectable performance, further enhanced by the 143 hp (120 kW) versions in the limited-production 2000 ZX2 S/R.
1997 2.0 L (1986 cc) SPI2000, SOHC I4, 110 hp (82 kW) 130 ft-lb (169 Nm)
1997 2.0 L (1991 cc) Zetec, DOHC I4, 130 hp (97 kW) 127 ft-lb (183 Nm) ZX2
For 2001, the wagon was discontinued, the sedan limited to fleet sales only and the Escort moniker was quietly dropped, making the car officially just ZX2.
The writing was really on the wall that same year with the North American début of the Ford Focus. Though not without its fans, both then and now, and still fairly well-represented in the automotive aftermarket, the ZX2 was replaced by the Focus. Though the two cars shared the same "Zetec" engine, there were a few differences. The Focus lacked the exhaust-side VCT, and contained less aggressive cams that pushed the power band down a few hundred RPM. They both shared the same block, but due to the different cams and the different head the torque output for the Focus was bumped up by eight torque. Thanks to better gearing and less weight the ZX2 continued to outperform the Focus. While the Focus would go on to become the new "darling" of the import tuner set, much to the consternation of Honda, the ZX2 continued with little more than 15 inch (381 mm) alloy wheels and rear defroster now offered as standard equipment and, for 2002, a revised front fascia. Production ceased at the end of the 2003 model year.