The Ford Escort hit the worldwide market with a flourish in 1968. Designed to replace the Ford Anglia it enjoyed significant success before being introduced to Australian shores in 1970. It benefitted from an enhanced profile thanks to its drive in the London to Mexico rally that year and its choice as the featured car in the popular TV series The Professionals. It was assembled at Ford Australia’s Homebush Plant in Sydney using a combination of locally sourced parts and imports from the UK and France.
The Escort underwent several restyles during its reign as one of the most popular cars on the road, the first of which took place in 1975 with the introduction of the MK2 model.
The Escort was available as a 2-door and 4-door sedan and a 2-door panel-form van. While it was also available elsewhere as an estate version, this was not produced for the Australian market. It was marketed as the L, XL (which was later renamed GL), and Ghia models along with a 1300 and 1600 Sport pack option.
Particularly after its first restyle in 1975, the Escort offered attractive, modern styling that has withstood the test of time. Its eventual replacement by the Ford Laser marked the end of an era for the Escort, but for those in search of a solid classic there are thankfully plenty more still to be found on the road.
In terms of performance, few can match the Ford Escort. Following its success in the London to Mexico rally it went on to win most of the major rally titles on the world circuit, leaving its mark in the annals of history. Perhaps its biggest selling point is the Escort’s versatility – it can be driven as a comfortable slow-road cruiser or a wild rally machine, performing equally well whatever it is asked to handle.
The base model Escort comes with a 1.3-litre or 1.6-litre engine, which offers a surprising amount of poke for the 46 kW of power, along with a 4-speed manual gearbox or 3-speed automatic. The 1.3-litre was dropped in 1977 due to emissions laws and a sportier 2.0-litre engine was introduced from the Ford Cortina model. This proved to be a popular choice for some brisk urban driving and a fast getaway at the lights.
Given its rally credentials, it is no surprise that the Escort matches its performance with some seriously good road handling, making it the perfect choice both on urban roads and open freeways.
The Sundowner panel van was given a facelift in 1978, aiming at the burgeoning youth market both in looks and in performance, and the 2-door and 4-door cars followed suit in 1979 with the RS2000 model which, although it had the same 2.0-litre engine under the bonnet, certainly packed a punch on the presentation front.
The driving position in the Escort is excellent, with plenty of adjustment available to secure the perfect fit. The steering itself is responsive, as are the brakes, and the overall ride is comfortable. Top speed in the basic model 1.3-litre is around 145 km/h, rising with higher-spec models. The same 1.3-litre engine delivers a combined fuel economy of around 7.6L/100km with a combined driving range of approximately 726 km.
The Ford Escort is classified as a compact/small family car and offers a decent level of kit as standard. The RS2000 series boasts super-comfortable seats and a nice sporty feel to the interior, albeit with little else inside to distinguish it. Outside, however, it commands plenty of attention with its bold paint colour options, distinctive slanting nose, and sporty finish. Optional extras include alloy wheels to replace the pressed-steel style, and tinted glass on the windows.
Unlike other markets the van, too, comes with a choice of trim and as a sport pack, with some good-looking steel hubcaps and comfortable, high-backed front seats.
In looks at least, the Ford Escort is without doubt a cut above many of the small cars that rolled off the Japanese production lines of the era. Thanks to its rally heritage and sporty looks it has become something of a collector’s item in recent years. Its competition comes within the Ford brand from the Ford Laser, which replaced it when production ceased in 1980, along with the Meteor 4-door sedan. Elsewhere, the Mazda 323 also gives it a run for its money.