It cannot be denied that the Ford Escort has become a British motoring icon, and most people in the UK have encountered one. Either by your parents owning one, your mate’s dad owning one or having a ride in one to be dropped off into town. Since the launch of the Ford Escort in 1967 more than 4.1 million were built but now the Escort is becoming more of a rarity on our roads, but this should come as no surprise as the last one rolled off the production line in 2001 in the UK.
The MK5 Escort was first launched in 1991 to replace the aging Mk4 variant and despite having a whole new body the mechanicals were transferred over from the Mk4 which meant buyers still made do with the HCS or CVH engines. As can be expected neither the motoring press nor consumers were fooled and as such the Mk5 got some negative press, excluding the RS2000. Ford set to rectify this in the later part of 1992 when the Mk5b escort was launched, which boasted the brand new 16 valve Zetec engines as well as slight cosmetic tweaks and a stiffer body. This meant the Mk5b ended up with a similar front to the Mk5 but a rear that resembled the Mk6.
In 1995 the Escort received its final facelift which became known as the Mk6 which included newly designed bumpers, bonnet and headlights. The alterations weren’t just cosmetic as the Escort gained a new interior including, dashboard and seats but equally as important improved handling. Throughout the Escorts production run both manual and automatic gearboxes were available, and in manual form the Escorts with the 105bhp Zetec or less had the IB5 gearbox which was taken directly from the Mk1 Fiesta. The 130bhp Zetec and RS2000 were fitted with the MTX75 gearbox which is believed to be tougher.
Over the Escorts 10 year production run there were various models and special editions produced, a brief summary includes:
L – entry level with wind up windows and no power steering on early cars
LX – gained electric windows and power steering
Finesse – gained air conditioning instead of the sunroof as well as alloy wheels.
Mexico – only available on the Mk6 and unfortunately was just a special edition with special interior trim and white dials.
Ghia – plusher seats, rear headrests, air con, electric mirrors, electric windows and electric sunroof
Ghia SI - only available on the Mk5b and was designed to be a sporty 5 door, with RS2000 wheels, wooden inserts on the dash and door cards.
Ghia X – Only available on the Mk6 and boasted leather seats and wood dash inserts on top of the usual Ghia trim.
XR3i – only available on the Mk5/Mk5b and fitted with a 1.8 Zetec engine which either came with 105bhp or 130bhp and sporty interior.
GTI – only available on the Mk6 and replaced the XR3i trim and gained half leather interior, sideskirts and rear bumper spats as well as Cosworth look alike alloy wheels.
RS2000 – available in Mk5, Mk5b and Mk6 forms and in 4x4. They were all fitted with a 2.0 litre engine, upgraded gearbox and suspension on top of having disc brakes fitted front and rear.
Driving the Escort
Now I appreciate that the Escort will drive differently depending on the model and engine but on test I have a 1993 Mk5b LX 5 door model, which is fitted with the 1.6 Zetec 90bhp engine and IB5 5 speed gearbox. I have to admit this particular Escort is in very good condition for a 25 year old car, and with no visible signs of rust which is surprising as the Escort was notorious for rusting on the rear arches and sills.
On unlocking the car manually by placing the key in the door I slide into the brightly coloured driver’s seat. On getting into this car it is amazing how our tastes have changed as beside the black dash the seats are a vibrant colour, but I appreciate not all Escorts were like that. It also amazed me how airy this car is, thanks to thin pillars and large windows which helped greatly with all round visibility. The dashboard is simple but well laid out, and you can see where switchgear has been taken from Fords from the 1980s.
After putting in the immobiliser key I turn the ignition and the Zetec engine bursts into life, that for me is testament to the Zetec engines build quality. I wonder how many older Ford engines start on the first turn of the key? And to make it clear the engine on this Escort has never been apart and has covered 112,000 miles.
On the open road you have to drive the Escort as there are no electronic aids to help you, not even Anti-Lock Brakes unless selected from the options list. The benefit of this is that it gives you a greater feel of what the car is doing but it can become slightly fidgety if you hit bumps in the road too hard at speed, as the suspension doesn’t absorb the bumps as well as a modern car. This may have well been improved on the Mk6 model but some care is required as the steering can be slightly vague, but this is almost to be expected as the car is a quarter of a century old.
The 1.6 Zetec naturally aspirated engine being revolutionary in its day isn’t going to win any drag races against modern cars as I found it accelerated the same as a modern 1.2 Fiat 500. None the less it made a refreshing change compared to the small turbocharged engines you find in modern day hatchbacks and it had no problem travelling at motorway speeds. However, at higher speeds wind noise becomes prevalent which requires the radio to be turned up. But then again, I am not surprised due to the age of the window rubbers. The gearbox was smooth, but it could have benefited from a 6th gear to help quieten the engine at motorway speeds.
Overall, I enjoyed driving the Escort as I felt more involved with the driving experience compared with modern cars as I found it bare bones motoring. To buy one as an appreciating classic will depend on the spec and condition, but I would expect prices to rise in the next few years once the Mk4 Escort prices rise the same way as the models before it. But until that time I feel the Mk5 and Mk6 Escort are still considered as disposable but in light of that, now might be the perfect time to buy one.
The Escort models that I consider will become desirable and classic are:
GTI – both 3 and 5 door but more so the former.
Early mk5 models – early production run
Final production run cars
Most cabriolet models
Please note I have deliberately excluded the Escort Cosworth from this article as it is a guaranteed future classic.