A Photo For Sunday: 1974-1980 Ford Escort

Geologists, and specifically palaeontologists, have concerns about the degree to which the fossil record represents the variety of life that has existed. Something similar applies to those interested in older cars.

1974-1981 Ford Escort

This Ford Escort might be compared to the fossil of a plant-eating dinosaur, a representative of a class that was quite numerous, but which has left a unrepresentatively small trace in the fossil record. For your information, the meat-eating dinosaurs were known for their preference to live on muddier, softer ground which was good for leaving evidence in the fossil record whereas the plant-eaters lived on harder ground (and drier) and that lowered the chances of bones and traces being preserved. Thus meat-eaters were rare in life but more common in the fossil record.

As we know here at DTW, exotic cars have a disproportionately large presence in the automotive “fossil record”, the survivors. This mid-spec Escort is a comparative rarity (seen at that Aladdin’s cave of fine old cars, E-Z Biler, Them). I will call that reversal, “preservational inversion”, a term which feels suitably technical and impressive because you don’t quite know what it means until it is explained.

1974-1981 Ford Escort interior

More exciting again for we fans of paradox and puzzle (DTW cleaves to a metaphysical tack), this exact car is unrepresentative of the Mk 2 Escort group as a whole, so this is in a way a sub-group of the representative inversion. It is a higher-value car – of which fewer were sold relatively – but is with us today to skew our perceptions of the Escort a bit.

But are they not skewed anyway because we look at the Escort as a fore-runner of the Focus (competes with Golfs) when it could so easily be a fore-runner of the Mondeo (competes with the 3-series, or did once). The present colours our view of the past, doesn’t it?

The vendor describes this as a Ford Escort Sport, an example which has been off the road for 12 years. It has a 1.6 litre engine. Two 1.6 litre engines could be had in the ‘Scort: a 1.6 litre L4 crossflow and the Pinto TL 16G L4 but that only saw service in the fancy Mexico versions (1975-1978).

This car has the higher-spec cloth trim in a light beige which is not a material made for long-term survival. Hence it’s really unusual to see it as this one in such good condition. I failed to get a good image of the ashtray, a semi-cylinder rotating about a vertical central axle.

1977 Ford Escort 1.6 Sport: source

Notice the headlamp wipers and the yellow fog lamps, neither of which I suspect are original but which are a relic of the car’s previous life in Sweden. And the colour is green: in my own mind Mk2 Escorts were always white or beige.

A white Escort*: source

The Mk2 Escort is a moderately puzzling design. I can’t quite place it in the Ford scheme of things. It’s an interim kind of car, landing in the middle of a turbulent period when Ford of the UK and Ford of Germany were being integrated administratively and market-wise. Ford Dunton and Ford Merkenich developed the Escort Mk2 jointly. It was a reworking of the Mk1 so that’s nothing new when we see Opel or Ford recycling their Corsa and Fiesta underpinnings as they do.

The Escort Mk1 came out in the middle of this run (late1974/ early1975).  Granada 1972, Capri 1974, Fiesta and Cortina 1976. Its appearance owes something to the 1972 Granada and its predecessor. That means it has more modern styling, very much the “modern vernacular” mode, applied to the 1960s architecture of the Mk1. Isn’t it interesting that the car is unlike the Golf, which has come to define the middle-sized car class?

The Escort is a compact saloon which could just as easily be compared to a BMW 318 or 2002 of the same time (RWD, two-doors but cheaper) and about the same size. Yet the Golf bent the middle-class to its will and defined it in its image.

Notice the car behind and to the left of the Escort in the title picture (up at the top). Irony, oh, irony.


*I notice this white Escort 4-door has chrome trim around the upper part of the side glass but not on the lower part. Today’s green car has chrome all around the edge. I must confess that I had never noticed that some cars had partially chrome on the upper part only. I had imagined there was either no chrome, chrome on the base of the DLO or chrome all around. It seems odd to me to have it on the upper edge only.  But it occurs.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

56 thoughts on “A Photo For Sunday: 1974-1980 Ford Escort”

  1. Good morning, Richard. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Escort Mk2. It’s a very “quiet” design, plain and rational but, to my eyes at least, not at all bland. Even in the most basic “Popular” trim, it looks smart:

    In fact, the additional ornamentation of the higher level versions (chrome trim around the DLO and along the waistline and, occasionally, a vinyl roof) arguably do not enhance the design, but distract from its purity.

    They were so ubiquitous in the late 70’s that the warranted barely a glance, but I think the design has aged very well. I like the way the rear window flows into the boot, the symmetrical slope of the front and rear ends, the wonderfully slim pillars. I don’t think there’s a single detail I would change to improve it. The style was reprised in the Mk1 Fiesta released in 1976, another quietly successful design:

    1. One detail can have a disproportionately strong effect. The “bump” where the vent and trsiling edge of the DLO meet (in the image of the orange car) is very unsettling. I feel the rear window and angle and boot angle are in between being fastback or clearly a saloon; it seems more like one line, bent vaguely, than something distinct. It is indecisive, in my view. When I look at the white car in profile I see the suggestion of a bolder shape. It remains annoyingly above the threshold of subliminal and not clear enough to be helpful. I think they hedged their bets too much with this. Other cars in the class had more clearly enunciated design themes: the accursed Golf, the stodgy Opel, the wierd Renault 12, the rustfizzler Sud and, I suppose, the majestic Mazda 323.

    2. While I can see and even appreciate that the Escort Mark 2 was and remains a very competent and ‘neat’ piece of styling for its time, I find it impossible to disassociate it from the fact that the confounded things were everywhere in Ireland during my youth. As such, they come freighted with memories of stultifyingly dreary streetscapes during the early ’80s – of the incessant rain, the endless general elections, the carnage of the Northern ‘troubles’, the grinding sense of the futility of it all. That’s a lot for one car to bear, I know, but that’s the Mark 2 ‘Scort in distillate…

      An aside. I’ve never noticed this before, but isn’t there a marked similarity between the ’75 Escort and the 1976 Bristol 603 – especially in overall silhouette? Although if anything, it is the Ford which appears the more refined design. Given the timelines, it’s unlikely one influenced the other, which perhaps reinforces Richard’s assertion towards vernacular design. Anyway, judge for yourselves.

    3. I was thinking the same as Eoin, that the Escort was like a scaled down Bristol 603, although, more accurately, the Escort was first so the Bristol is more like an oversized Escort.

  2. I don’t think it is a Sport.
    I’m not Ford expert but more likely an “L” trim looking at the pics.

    1. James: you are most likely right. I Googled some sport versions and they looked more sporty. Could it be a GL? It has cloth and chrome.

  3. The car in the picture is undoubtedly a Bitsa. The Sport had no brightwork, special sporty decals on the sides, sports style wheels, round headlamps and “driving lamps”, black interior with dodgy deckchair pattern on facelifted cars, non reclining front seats with head restraints and a tachometer. It came with either 1300 or 1600 cc engines.

  4. I think GL had waistline brightwok and full door cards (unless the Swedish spec trim varied)

  5. A ten year old very rusty and rusty red in colour 1.3 GL was my first car in 1988. Bought for £250 from a guy my dad knew. The Escort started my motoring journey. I loved it then. In time it became something of an embarrassment being so tatty but it did seem mechanically sound for nothing broke. No heater, skinny tyres and finally, motoring freedom! In the thirty years or so since, I’ve grown to love ‘em and would happily give another a most welcoming home. Though I’m not venturing to Denmark, however interesting this green example looks.

  6. ** Brightwok is a traditional Cantonese method of highlighting body features and not to be confused with brightwork.

  7. Goodness, E-Z Biler has an extensive and fascinating range. And what appear to be reasonable prices. Apart from the Escort, there’s a nice Citroen XM – I might be a bit home tomorrow, dear…

    1. The XM has been on sale for three years, or maybe 4. It is there everytime I pass. It is quite tatty, has huge miles and needs a lot of work. It is not worth much more than scrap value. Only a dedicated DIYer or someone with deep pockets should consider it. They have a Lybra which has also been there for years. I think the main business of EZ is used Mercedes 124s and 126s and routine mid-age commodity used cars (Mondeos, 406s, Mazda 6s and such like). They also have those wierd oddities like an Autobianchi, a very tatty DS and various American things. At one point they had a Volvo 780 ES.

  8. Granted, the curved treatment of the trailing corner of the DLO on the four-door is more satisfactory than the angular equivalent on the two-door. Regarding the rear screen to boot transition, a good comparison is with the contemporary Hillman Avenger, a remarkably similar concept and design to the Escort, apart from a more “fastback” tail treatment, necessitating wider C-pillars:

    What do you think, better of worse than the Escort?

    Regarding the “majestic Mazda 323”, did you (seriously!) mean this one?

    I actually owned one for a couple of years in the late 70’s, a five-door in that same Kermit green colour. It was a pleasant enough car, carefully and expertly designed in Japan, but literally thrown together in Dublin from CKD kits by the Irish importer, Motor Distributors. So careless was the assembly that the tops of the front wings and bottom if the tailgate had rusted through in less than eighteen months. “Majestic” is not an adjective that comes to mind when I remember It!

    1. Maybe “majestic” was not the word I had in mind. The Hillman works much more satisfactorily. The Escort looks like a rough copy in some ways.

  9. These Escorts must have looked very dated indeed by 1981. The Mk 3 Granada GL had chrome on the upper part of the side glass only.

    1. That didn´t stop them selling a huge number of them. The image shows what a striking car the Granada must have been when it came out. And it still is a great looking vehicle.

    2. Yes, it’s sometimes difficult to recall how much impact certain cars had when launched given how familiar they subsequently became. I remember the following as having an impact on me when launched: Qashqai, original Ka, original Galaxy (far more than Espace for some reason), Renault 21, Granada (as above) and Sierra.

    3. The Qashquai never attracted my attention, big and all as it was for Nissan. Looking a long way back: Austin Princess, TR7, Citroen CX, Saab 9000, Infiniti J30, Citroen XM, Renault 25.
      The Renaul 21? That´s a puzzle. Really?

    4. I should clarify what I mean. All of these stood out when launched – in my memory at least. I don’t like the Qashqai but all of a sudden it was there, and different from just about everything else. Now it’s just old hat and anonymous of course.
      The Renault 21 always struck me as being (rather like the Mk 2 Escort actually) strangely devoid of character but really quite distinctive at the same time – it stood out when launched. Keep it between ourselves but I do sort of rather like it actually -particularly in its early form, with the grille badge off centre.

    5. The Scorpio, as it was called over here, was one of the car design that impressed me the most growing up. I remember vividly the day we received in the post one of those games where you could win a car and that car was a Scorpio. I was entranced by the picture of a white version pictured on the letter. I think I already knew the car before my parents got the game in the post, because I was already into cars by then but I guess I never realised how truly beautiful and moody I thought this car looked at the time until I saw it in that game. One of my favourite design for a good few years.

    6. For me, that Scorpio looked like you didn’t want to mess with it. I wouldn’t say it looked mean but….assertive maybe ? And that almost non-existant D pillar looked super cool to me.

    7. Btw I always thought Granada to be an awful, awful, name. I don’t know, maybe it sounds bad just to my foreign ears but I always hated that name. And I just realised I never made the connection between Escort the car and Escort the profession. Maybe nobody did. Good for the Escort then, the car that is. At least it hasn’t been sullied by these harlots.

  10. The thing I most remember about the Mk2 was the Mk ‘1.5’ estate – wherein they grafted the front wings, bonnet, grille and valance of the two onto what was clearly still the Mk1 shell. (I believe they also did this with the Mk4 Cortina wagon, and also VW with the ‘Mk4 Golf Cabrio’ which was a Mk3 with the new bits up front.)

    These hybrid cars intrigue me as the wings must be neither fish nor fowl fitting and transitioning with parts of old and parts of new. I’ve always hoped to see a Mk1 ‘Scort Mexico with a Mk2 front end (looking probably something a bit like the Mini Clubman [ ’70s modernist’ nose on an older car] did at around the same time) just for the fun of it – seeing as how it could be done with the parts, but sadly one of these fan-specials has never graced my path.

    The Mk2 always seemed pretty unique to me too – seemingly designed on Mars compared to all other cars at the time. It’s familiar (See Avenger) but somehow modern for its time, but somehow not as well. A real curate’s egg.

  11. Adrian, I understand exactly what you mean about the Renault 21. It’s extreme plainess, angularity and restraint, unrelieved by any stylistic flourishes, make it the perfect expression of “car as domestic appliance”, especially in its original form and low-line trim, with unpainted bumpers and flush plastic wheel covers:

    The only hint of personality is the unusual clamshell boot lid design, although that simplifies its intersection with the D-pillar, so remains a perfectly rational choice. It looks to me like a car that an engineer might design. It’s an “anti-style” statement and that makes it unusual and interesting.

    Regarding the Escort Mk2, it’s intriguing that such an ostensibly plain car can prove so hard to read and provoke quite divergent views amongst the DTW constituency. I still like it!

    1. The bootlid on the 21 perplexes me. It adds noise to the rear wing. Given the car´s simplicity that´s inconsistent. It´s not that I dislike the 21. It is however, plain in the wrong way. Customers didn´t take to it. In higher trim levels (but not the sporty ones) the Escort is charming enough, better as a four-door than a two.

      I am alarmed no-one is reacting to the point that in making the Escort a competitor for the Golf they strategically left themselves one rung down the size hierarchy. The Escort was properly a cheaper 4-door than the 2002 and the Taunus a cheaper 4-door than the 5 series. With the Escort positioned as a Golf it left the Taunus up against what became the 3 series and the Granada up against the 5 which was not a good set of pairings. Imagine if the Escort had stayed a 4 door saloon and Ford had sold the Fiesta against the Golf then they´d have been much better off.

    2. No, I meant that in my plan the Escort would have stayed a saloon and the Fiesta would have been made Golf-sized and hatchic.
      What happened to the Escort was that unlike other cars getting bigger with each generation, the Escort stayed smallish and came to match the Golf when it was fwd-ised in 1980. That looked liked making sense but really didn´t.
      The Escort should have shadowed the 2002/316 as a small saloon, not the Golf- That would have required that Ford created a smaller class under the Escort but bigger than the Fiesta. When the Escort “dropped” a class to shadow the Golf it pulled the Taunus and Granada down a class as well. Regardless of price, people always should have seen the Taunus/Sierra as in the same size class as the 5. But when the Sierra was compared to the 3 there was always the temptation to say “I´ll take the badge over the space for the same money”. If the choice was “Sierra versus the Five” then the choice is easier: I will take the same space and features for a lot less money”.
      I feel I have had a sudden and major insight.
      By the way, Opel made the same mistake as Ford when the Kadett when fwd.

      The decision to move the Escort down to match the Golf was a lethal mistake.

  12. Why would a prospective Golf buyer have bought a Fiesta, which belongs to the size class below?

    1. In my brilliant plan the Fiesta would have been a chopped down Escort like the Talbot Horizon and not a front-drive supermini. That would have left a space below for a supermini.

      My point is that the Escort dropped a class when it went front drive and hatchy.

    2. Isn’t that what Rover later tried to do, positioning the R3 200 against the Focus and the HH-R 400 against the Mondeo, with optimistic pricing to match? It was a dumb thing to do, especially as the R3 anticipated the growth in size of superminis and would have been an effective competitor in that class. MG Rover eventually saw sense and repositioned the renamed 25 correctly.

  13. Ford Escort Mk2 (1974) : 3,975 mm
    Ford Escort Mk 3 (1981) : 3,900 mm (stayed the same)
    VW Golf Mk1 8 (1974) : 3,700 mm
    VW Golf Mk2 (1983) : 3,985 (increased by 30 mm)
    BMW 316 (1975): 4,300 mm
    BMW 318 (1983) 4,300 mm (stayed the same)

    So, the Escort was right between the Golf and 316 in length. But the Escort was more like a BMW 316 than a Golf.
    This requires further study.

    1. Size-wise the Escort perfectly fitted its EUropean competitors like Simca 1100, Fiat 128, Alfasud and Citroen GS which all more or less were rougly four metres long. Only the Golf Mk1 was significantly smaller at 3,700 mm, growing to the size of the others in Mk2 form. The Kadett C was a bit larger and got smaller when it went fwd.
      The Escort never was a serious competitor to the BMW 02, let alone to E21 or E30 (on the race track maybe, but not in the market). BMWs were a completely different kind of car appealing to a completely different type of customer.

    2. Overall length is an unreliable indicator of a car’s interior space, hence positioning, as RWD three-box designs are nothing as space efficient as transverse-engined FWD hatchbacks. Even back in the 1970’s, the ’02 and 3-Series were aspirational in a way no Ford could ever hope to be. The same still applies today, where the 3-Series comfortably outsells the Mondeo, despite the Ford offering so much more car for the money.

    3. If you had set your mind on a 2002tii, E21 323i or E30 325i what car would have been an acceptable alternative? Certainly not a tin box like Escort RS2000 with agricultural underpinnings. I can’t even imagine somebody buying an Escort 1600 instead of a 316.

      The BMW 02 already was a car that had only one serious competitor in Alfa’s Giulia. When Alfa disappeared in the Seventies there was a long time without a true challenger to BMW’s unique postion in the market until the Benz W201 and (even later) Audi A4 appeared.

    4. My point was not to suggest that the Escort was a direct alternative to the 316; it was only to say that in alligning the Escort III with the Golf, Ford let the Escort drop a class and in the end said our Escort (long a mid-sized saloon) was only worth a super-mini sort of hatchy thing from Golf. The Escort should have stayed an Escort and they neeed a car to match the Golf directly, with a new name. Then sizewise at least, Escort matches 3, Taunus matches 5 and Granada matches 7.

    1. `fraid not, John. By then the damage was done. The much-loved Orion simply countered VW´s Jetta, itself a booted Golf.

      I have only understood this whole shift in car sizes and equivalences now. I´ve always considered Escorts to be fore-runners of the Focus and as such Golf/Astra competitors. The more I think about, I realise how the Golf distrupted Ford and indeed Opel´s product ranges. And also, the present is not the key to the past (despite what geologists say) all the time. No doubt Ford and Opel were non-plussed by the hatch phenomenon too. The Fiesta was meant to be a supermini and correctly matched the 127. The Golf was a size up but not equivalent to the Escort or Kadett.

      Which reminds me: there was no booted Kadett D (1979).

    2. Yes, true. I suppose that was a consequence of them making it look Golfy. There ought to have been a real saloon version, with a boot.

    1. Doesn’t it look neat and small compared to that lump of jelly that is parked next to it?

      No real saloon for the Astra 1 / Kadett D then, but didn’t the Nova / Corsa take up the territory that the Chevette / Kadett C occupied?

    2. Given its very makeshift looking external hinges, I’ve always wondered if this version of the Kadett D resulted from GME having a bout of anxiety late in the development process concerning the lack of a booted version to appeal to more conservative buyers? Earlier RWD Kadetts were all saloons, coupés or estates, although the Kadett C did have a three door hatchback version sold as the Kadett City. This used the body developed for the Vauxhall Chevette, with a Kadett engine and front end, and was a late addition to the range.

      Subsequent Kadett/Astra models had a “proper” saloon version with an extended tail, although this is no longer the case since the current Astra K was launched in 2015.

    3. Daniel: I am impressed about your Opel knoweldge. The Kadett City is a car I´d forgotten about and I certainly had no idea about its origins/basis. I had all those lumped under the banner “Kadett”. Yet again I am staggered at Opel´s ability to proliferate Kadett variants. Everyone can smile politely when yet again I note Opel had some spit hot designers working for them at this time. The Kadett C has a lovely surface treatment.
      The Kadett C GT/E was a fine looking car too.
      I have simply got to visit the Opel museum at some point really soon. I will have to allow one full day with plenty of time to go in and come back out to calm down. I just had a look at some images and began to hypervenilate. I saw the boot of a 1964 Admiral and had to close the page.

    4. I appreciate what you are saying about it being a good piece of industrial design Richard.

      There is, however, something that makes me intensely dislike egg shaped cars – original Megane Scenic, original Picasso and this generation of Meriva. It’s as completely irrational as sticking up for the Renault 21, I know, and what’s even more irrational is that I quite like the Corsa of the same era (2000 ish?) stylistically.

    5. When the Kadett D came out Opel was indeed afraid to alienate its traditionally extremely conservative customer base by offering something widely perceived as “French” in form of a hatchback. Cars like this weren’t that uncommon at that time, just look at early Suds (with exposed hinges, too), GSs or Fiat 127s with small boot opening.
      The E with conventional bootlid had considerable sales success in its home country.
      The introduction of the Kadett City was a knee jerk reaction to the Golf’s success (for some time it was sold in parallel to the Chevette through some German Opel dealers) but wasd largely ridiculed by the press because its boot was so small you couldn’t even fit a create of mineral water in it. It was a sales flop and quickly became a decontented “City J” that sold (not) at rock bottom prices:

    6. Opel sold almost 250,000 Kadett City cars between 1975 and 1979 – that is not bad given the small investment in the effort before the Corsa came along in 1982.

    7. Opel certainly did proliferate multiple versions of its models back in the 60’s and 70’s.
      Donning my trusty geek’s anorak, I can share the fact that the Kadett B came in a bewildering array of eight different bodystyles:

      As I understand it, all of these ran concurrently, apart from the two coupés, where the “LS” replaced the “kiemencoupe”. That might be some sort of record.

      Agreed, the Kadett C GT/E coupé was a cracker. Here’s a photo of a non-GT/E version, a very nice looking car:

  14. NRJ: As I grew up in a rather insulated cultural environment, I didn´t really twig Granada was a place in Spain. And since I have seen more Granadas than Granada, the name still means a car not a Spanish city. As for Escort, there´s a harmless name that got overtaken by shifts in meaning. The intended meaning was some kind of naval vessel. Odd that, since Opel also had naval terms in their range.

  15. Interesting, I didn’t know about the naval connection, even with Opel I never realised it. I can only think of the Kadett though. As you’ve just explained it’s often very personal the way a name is perceived. Altough I was aware of the Spanish connection, Granada always had a food related ring to it inexplicably. An orange flavoured food stuff even. Just doesn’t gel with the idea of a flagship sedan.

    1. ….like in a parallel universe Jaffa cakes are probbly called Granadas…. 😀

  16. I just had an epiphany. I think my liking of car games might stem from that day, as a kid, when I opened the letter with the Ford to win. I’am uncounsciously still trying to win that damn Scorpio !

  17. Late to the party. The Escorts sold in Sweden where all 1300 until 1982 when the 1600 came on offer too.
    All Escorts sold in Sweden where built in Germany as off Mk II.
    The headlight washers where mandatory in Sweden at the time, the yellow daytime running lights where a popular accessory.
    And the naval connection in Opel names are both Kadett, Kapitain and Admiral. Might also include Commodore.

    1. Hi: Yes, commodore is another naval-linked word, which makes sense as a ranking system for the cars.
      Do you mean Ford sold only 1300s and nothing with more displacement until 1982?

  18. Escorts where either 1100 or 1300 before that, yes. In Sweden at least.
    When the Escort III started selling it was 1,1 and 1,3 mostly in Denmark, while Sweden had almost only 1,6.
    The Escort III sold in Denmark where LX made in Brazil for the first year.

    1. They sold Granada’s with more displacement, though 🙂

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