Ford Escort MkIII 1.6D

Cakes. Shoes. Paint. The naming of shops in the Communist era was done with such directness that it brings a certain charm to them. No peering through gaudily-dressed shop windows in a desperate bid to ascertain what this place sells; it's written for you in foot-high letters; Alcohol. Even now, you can stroll down any street in any town and find, though faded and peeling, the Polish word for something mundane like "Doors" or "Insurance" or my personal favourite, "Foodstuffs." It's delightfully practical, and brutally honest.

Of course, come the new millennium a large amount of those shops were swept away; without the protection of a totalitarian state, "Shoes" had to compete with the far more modern "World Of Shoes"; a delicious idea that a globe's worth of footwear could be crammed into a dingy little shop on a Polish high street. Similarly, the Barber had to give way to the Health Salon, and all the little delis, cobblers and locksmiths have been forced out and replaced by branches of a foreign bank of some kind. And all those shop fronts are being clad in violent tones of perspex and lightboxes, slick advertising posters and one actual product, with the price-tag removed. Such is the price of progress.

In the midst of all this contemporary slickness and drama, the honest block of an Eighties motor stands out like the tower blocks around it. Slotted neatly into an endless row of silver blobs sat a tomato-red boxy saloon with a quiet, unassuming presence. "I'm a car," the Ford Escort says. "I'm not pretending to be a rocket ship or a sofa or your new best friend, I'm a transport mechanism. See? Four wheels, five doors. Job done." It might as well have been called the Ford Vehicle.

The history of the Ford Escort does not need to be elaborated upon by me; in the UK alone it sold over 4,000,000 units over its six-and-a-half revisions, so you can guarantee that there are nearly as many fan clubs, forums and websites dedicated to every minute detail of the car's existence, from the dog-bone-faced MkI all the way up to the final MkVI Gti in 2000.

In between came every variation possible; two-door, four-door, cabriolets and combis, from the most thrifty of trim levels to the best moulded plastic money can buy. It was a car that utterly dominated the market it was aimed at, and you were as likely to see an unwashed student rattling to university as you were a pin-striped estate agent on his way to a million-pound transaction, and for all the alloy wheels and go-faster stripes that adorned any particular unit, its honest working-class attitude shone through. There was no pretension about the Escort, unless you requested it from the factory.

Those distinguishing features that marked out the models of "discerning customers" were the small, blocky chrome letters stuck on the back like fridge magnets. XR3, RS 2000, Mexico; obscure digits to everyone else, but to those of us who grew up in a McDonald's carpark sometime in the last twenty years, these little badges were as direct as the signs for "Shoes" and "Paint". They spoke volumes to us about fuel injection, cross-flow heads and all the other auto-erotica that drives male teenagers wild. Boy racers dreamed of getting their hands on bodykits and fat exhausts; we stuck food trays under the back wheels to practice doing doughnuts; our first foray into "tuning" was fitting our first air filter to one of these things. As as we dreamed about handbrake turns and screeching away from traffic lights, we scratched away the "1.3 Popular" stickers that belied the humble mechanics of the only models we could afford, and looked on in envy at the young office worker who had saved up for a real, genuine XR3i.

With the current trend towards Eighties nostalgia, those rarer models are now collectors items, with satin black and red-trimmed models commanding serious money among the matured ex-car-park crowd. But with so many of these old cans still rattling around, the bog-standard models can't even be sold; I swapped my old one for a couple of pints before moving to university, despite being completely rust-free.

For all the memories those "straked" rear lights (yes, straked, that's what Ford call them) invoke in us ex-owners, for Escort novices there's not much appeal. There's no more reason to love these old Fords than you would love an umbrella or a doormat; handy to own, but immediately replaceable. They were simple four-pot motors that let you lurch and jerk your way through suburban traffic, with the occassional motorway cruise, all accompanied by the nasal drone of an English-built engine. Reliable, economical and comfortably dull. Nothing cute or quirky, just a means to an end.

To find an immaculate, rust-free example of a car that's at least 25 years old usually marks out that the car is a particularly cherished member of the family; its black number plates denote it hasn't changed owners within the last ten years. And yet the model isn't a rare one, or a collector's classic; in fact, those three little digits of 1.6D represent the most economical of engines imaginable; a diesel that could comfortably achieve 70mpg. Seventy. Look at that. A car with absolutely no resale value at all, that can propel you a hundred kilometres in just 4 litres, or a thousand kilometres to a tank. Admittedly, it would do it in a sluggish and deafening manner, but that level of fuel frugality makes this, one of the rarest of all the classic Fords, arguably the most valuable, and undoubtedly the most practical.


epok said...

Very well said.These cars seemed to be everywhere 30+ years ago,but now they have become an increasingly rare sight,especially the non sporting models.These,seemingly 'mundane' 'basic' Escort MK3 models are the ones that interest me the most when i happen to see them at car shows.The appreciation of the original,non sporting Escort MK3,is increasing rapidly as people see them as collectable,and rare,more so if you are lucky enough to find an unrestored,un modified example.Great cars,and a very important,and significant car in Ford's history.