Ford Escort Mk1 Review
From family saloons to collectable, race-bred track and rally cars there’s a Mk1 Ford Escort to suit any classic buyer’s tastes
1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol
86PS (63kW) @ 5,500rpm
125Nm (92lb ft) @4,000rpm
What Is It?
Launched in 1969, from a technical point of view the Mk1 Ford Escort looked more a product of the outgoing decade than a rival to the modern, space efficient, front-wheel drive hatchbacks rival manufacturers were developing for the one coming. A replacement for the Anglia, the Escort stuck with a longitudinal engine, rear wheel drive and leaf-sprung live rear axle, launching as a relatively impractical and outdated two-door saloon. But, once again, Ford struck gold and if the engineering was traditional the application was pitch perfect, the combination of distinctive ‘Coke bottle’ styling, gutsy engines and sharp handling meaning all Escorts drove brilliantly. The potential to make this the car’s defining attribute was quickly realised as well, the Lotus-engined Twin Cam there from the start and providing the foundations for giant killing success on track and in rallying alike.
Inner wings and front suspension turrets
Lower windscreen edge, A-pillars and bulkhead
Sills and lower door edges
- Regular Escort sales started in 1968 with 1.1-litre and 1.3-litre Kent-engined models in Standard, De Luxe and Super trim levels, all with the two-door body
- The Twin Cam launched soon after and is obvious for its quarter style bumpers, wider wheels, lower stance and additional sporty trimmings
- Estate and four-door versions from 1969 onwards and available in all but Twin Cam form
- 1300GT and 1300E are the first ‘warm’ variants with a higher-compression 1.3, wider front arches and more generous equipment – both are desirable, the E combining the sportier drive with a more luxurious cabin
- Twin Cams and other sporty two-doors use the so-called ‘Type 49’ bodyshell upgraded by Ford’s Advanced Vehicle Operations (AVO) with various reinforcements and modifications for motorsport use; if you’re looking at a car claiming to be an original Twin Cam, RS or Mexico it should have the Type 49 shell, one ‘tell’ being double-skinned reinforcements on the top of the suspension turrets
- Bear in mind these and other more obvious Type 49 features may have been added retrospectively to boost value – if you’re paying extra on this basis make sure you know what you’re looking at and the car is genuine rather than an engine swap and some RS trimmings
- The Lotus Cortina engined Twin Cam was the first hot Escort, with little over 1,200 made
- While production overlapped this was then replaced by the RS1600, distinguished by its more powerful, Cosworth-developed ‘Belt Driven series A’ engine, commonly known as the BDA
- The Mexico featured many of the RS body and suspension upgrades but used a less exotic single-cam Crossflow 1.6 – around 10,000 were made and, while values have risen steeply, all things relative it’s still a more attainable hot Escort than a genuine RS
- The RS2000 used a 2.0-litre Pinto engine in place of the crossflow-derived Twin Cam and RS1600 motors and is a bigger, more torquey unit than the buzzy 1.6s
- In all cases many regular two-door Escorts have been dressed up as RS or Mexico models so if you’re after a genuine example check carefully for originality and seek expert help as required
- Twin Cam and RS1600 engines demand specialist care but the single cam Crossflow engines in standard Escorts are generally tough, easy to work on and reliable, though check for noisy tappets, smoke and the normal signs of gasket failure
- Transmissions are also tough and will keep going even if there are grumbles
- Exterior chrome trim parts can be very difficult to source
- Rust will be a major consideration on any Escort so check inside and out, paying particular attention to inner wings, front suspension turrets, sills, rear suspension mounts, boot floors and valances
How Does It Drive?
Ford’s proven talent for building sharp-handling cars found its perfect expression in the Escort, and even the base models drive brilliantly. Rack and pinion steering means sharp, faithful reactions to inputs while the gutsy Crossflow engines deliver strong performance across the board. A slick gearchange and perfectly balanced handling add to the delight, while on modern roads the compact size and excellent visibility make it easy to exploit. This all gets better the more power you add into the mix of course, the Mexicos with their 1.6-litre engines the first rung on the hot Escort ladder that stretches all the way to wide-bodied Twin Cam and RS models. The fact that with a few upgrades these are still competing successfully at the frontline of modern club rallying tells you all you need to know about how fundamentally sorted the Escort’s handling is.
With its curved flanks and distinctive dog-bone front grille the Mk1 Escort is a more attractive shape than its squared off 70s Mk2 successor, and has a timeless simplicity that still looks good. Launched as a two-door an estate (also two-door, curiously) and a four-door saloon soon followed and opened up the Escort to a wider audience, these cars an option if you want to opt out of the rally rep rat race that consumes the rest of the market. Any Escort is a practical car to run, though, and something you can share with the family should you wish. Mechanical simplicity and parts availability also add to the appeal, the proven engines and other bits both dependable and easy to work on for the DIY mechanic. And if you do fancy a more exciting driving experience the world is your oyster, the options for restoring (or even building from scratch) your ultimate hot Escort supported by a huge network of enthusiasts and specialists.
It’s a car designed in the 60s and built (most likely) in the 70s, so inevitably rust is going to be a major factor in deciding whether or not the Escort you’re looking at is a viable purchase or project. It could be worse on the basis body panels are widely available, up to and including brand-new shells for two-door race or rally projects, so with the necessary time, money and inclination corrosion can be fixed. But it won’t be cheap. Thankfully the mechanical bits are generally tough and reliable but interior and exterior trim parts can be very hard to source, especially brightwork, bumpers and other components.
Sky high values for original Twin Cam, RS and Mexico models are a blessing and a curse as well, and mean there are plenty of standard cars dressed up to look the part but not necessarily what they claim to be. Fine if you know what you’re buying and put usability before provenance but before putting big money down on a supposedly matching numbers investment classic make absolutely sure you’re not being hoodwinked.
Which Model To Choose?
In the clamour to bag the ultimate rally rep Escort there’s a danger the ‘civilian’ versions get forgotten but the four-doors and estates offer much of the same driving pleasure in a more affordable and practical package. Lesser known models like the 1300GT or Sport may also offer a more accessible entry into the Escort world, though these too are sought-after and originals will command a premium. Given original Twin Cam, RS and even Mexicos are now in the realms of big-ticket classics what does that leave? If you have the liquidity to invest in one you know to be original it’s likely a safe place to put your money. Or you could buy a project to restore and ‘build your own’ homage to your chosen favourite. There is another option, though. If you’re after one to drive and enjoy to the full Welsh specialists Motorsport Tools can do you a bespoke, new-build restomod Mk1 to the spec of your choosing for the price of a new BMW M3. Which is tempting…
1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol
86PS (63kW) @ 5,500rpm
125Nm (92lb ft) @4,000rpm
Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive