Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: Ford Press | posted May 21, 2012 14:01
World Car meets other World Cars
By 1980, Ford divided its empire between the Atlanticists [Europe and the Americas] and the Pacifists [Asia and Oceania]. It decreed that with its share in Mazda of Japan, Ford was to fight the Corolla juggernaut with one from the same land of the Rising Sun. The Mazda 323 was to cary the Ford oval under the name of the front wheel drive Laser. Over in Europe, the Escort Mark III of 1980 to 1986 was to be the first front wheel drive compact for Ford.
Erick the Erika
Codenamed "Erika" - as Erick A. Reickert was the head of the product planning team - the third generation Escort was launched in September 1980. It is from this source code that the North American Escort was to be derived from. By this time, Ford Europe, which becoming increasingly German, was targeting the VW Golf. Thus the Escort Mark III was intended to be a hi-tech, high-efficiency design even if the launch advertising tagline was "Simple is Efficient". The Mark III was a radical departure, ditching rear wheel drive for front, and the new Aeroback hatchback body, which introduced trademark styling cues which would be later seen in the forthcoming Sierra and Scorpio.
OHV, OHC to CVH, knock-kneed
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 leaf spring arrangement found on its predecessors. The Escort Mark III was voted European Car of the Year in 1981 and was launched Base (Popular), L, GL, Ghia and XR3 trim, which mirrored VW Golf variants, model for model. The first gen had a horrible ride, due to its suspension set up, with positive camber on the front wheels and negative camber at the rear, giving rise to the Mark III's infamous "knock-kneed" stance. Still, the Escort was to overtake the aging Cortina as Britain's best selling car in 1982.
Keeping up with the times
The Escort followed the trend of adding greater complexity into standard trim, including a tilt-and-slide sunroof, central locking, and electric windows. All models except for base and L were fitted with a check-light system for low fuel, low oil, low coolant, low screenwash, and worn out brake pads.
To compete with Volkswagen's Golf GTI, a hot hatch version of the Mark III was created from the outset - the XR3. 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 beloved by boy racers in the 1980s. Fuel injection in 1983 created the XR3i, along with the racetrack-influenced RS1600i. The final performance update arrived in the form of the turbocharged RS Turbo model in 1984.
Diesel comes of age, but not yet
Developed in Dagenham, the 1.6 liter diesel it was remarkably economical for its time, managing over 70 mpg but with only 54 bhp and a top speed of barely 140 km/h, it was not yet a trail blazer. By 1983, the Aeroback Escort grew a trunk which was now christened Orion. This model was to prove popular with the sedan out living the Escort in some markets up to 1993.
The Mark IV of 1986-1990 was instantly recognizable as an updated version of the previous model, with a smooth style nose and the ridged rear lamp clusters smoothed over. Optional new features included a mechanical anti‐lock braking system (standard on RS Turbo models), a fuel computer on fuel injected models, and a heated windshield. In 1989, the diesel engine was enlarged to 1.8 L, and the poorly‐performing 1.1 L version was finally dropped from the range. In the same year, a Ford developed electronic fuel injection system replaced the Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection system in the XR3i and Orion Ghia injection models, and a central point fuel injection system replaced the carburetor on models with the 1.4 L engine. The Orion inherited the CTX stepless gearbox as first used in the Fiesta a couple of years earlier. Escorts for European markets continued to be assembled at the plants in Halewood and Saarlouis. Sales were strong through the decade, and during the later 1980s Escort production also commenced at the Ford plant originally established for Fiesta production in Valencia.
The final Escort
The Escort MkV platform of 1990 came with an all-new body shell and a simplified torsion beam rear suspension. 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. Its uninspiring internal and external styling and its disappointing handling were the main reasons for initial bad press. Despite this, the Escort remained hugely popular with buyers, coming second in the British car sales charts in 1990 and 1991, before topping the charts in 1992.
Matters improved in 1991 when the all new Zetec 16-valve engines were launched. The 150 PS (110 kW) RS2000 also appeared in 1991 with a 16v version of the Sierra's I4 2.0 L engine and also improved ride and handling meaning a Mark V Escort finally delivered on the road. Specification, however, were also higher than before. The Escort was now available with items such as power steering, electric windows, central locking, electronic antilock brakes and even air conditioning.
1992 saw the launch of the Escort RS Cosworth. Intended to replace the Sapphire RS Cosworth as Ford's stalwart rally challenger, it used the turbocharged 2.0 L Cosworth 16-valve engine, generated some 227 PS (167 kW) and was capable of 225 km/h (140 mph), as well as having four-wheel drive. Its most memorable feature was its extremely large "whale-tail" tailgate spoiler.
The Escort Cosworth ceased production in 1996, but it has already achieved classic status and has a huge following. However, the car wasn't really an Escort at all, being based from a Sierra floorpan and mechanics, including its longitudinally mounted engine, and was merely clothed in body panels to resemble a Mark V.
Stung by the criticism of the original Mark V, Ford face-lifted the Escort and Orion in September 1992, giving the revised cars a new grille, bonnet and, in the Escort hatch's case, a new rear end. The crash structure was also improved, featuring side impact bars, improved crumple zones and later on, airbags. The face-lifted Mark V Escort is sometimes referred to in error as the Mark VI, with the Mark VI in turn wrongly being called the Mark VII, which never in fact existed.
Ford Escort Mark VI (1995–2000)
The Escort was thoroughly revised in January 1995, although it was still based on the previous model. This version had new front lights, bonnet, front wings, front and rear bumpers, wing mirrors, door handles and 4 different front radiator grilles (slats, honeycomb, circles and chrome). The interior of the car was hugely revised too, featuring an all new dashboard arrangement of competitive quality. However, the underlying car was now five years old and most of its rivals were either new or to be imminently replaced. Dynamically, the handling and ride were also much improved with revised suspension set up from that on the previous Mark V / Vb models.
In 1998, Ford announced an all-new car, the Focus, which replaced the Escort and superseded the "Escort" name that had been in use for 30 years.