Top Marks

24th March 2018

Fifty years ago this September, the first Ford Escort arrived in the UK, destined for vast sales, rally triumphs and a starring role in The Professionals. Small wonder it became the car of choice for boy racers everywhere.

Words by Alex Moore

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The 1971 Escort Mexico, complete with go-faster stripes. The owner could expect to be whisked from
0 to 60mph in 22 seconds

Picture the boy next door proudly hosing soap-suds off his car bonnet on a sunny Saturday morning in 1983 and your mind will almost certainly conjure up an image of the Ford Escort. The second-highest-selling car in UK automotive history, Ford sold 4,105,192 units over the model’s 34-year lifespan – which first began 50 years ago – an achievement trumped only by its little sister, the Fiesta.

Hark all the way back to September 1968 and the birth of the Escort, and you might recall the original TV advert featuring Ronnie Corbett haring around the streets in a Mark 1 Sport claiming to be “King of the road”. The ultra-modern replacement for the Ford Anglia was brilliantly designed and surprisingly quick for the era (it had a top speed of 78mph, creeping from 0-60mph in 22.3 seconds). Ford gave it the catchy tagline: “the fun car”.

The second-highest-selling car in UK automotive history, Ford sold 4,105,192 units over the model’s 34-year lifespan

And fun it was, not least because of its unexpected success as a rally car. The MK1, and even more so the MK2 (built in conjunction with Ford of Germany from 1975 onwards), were the most prolific rally cars of their generations, making household names of Hannu Mikkola and Roger Clark, among others. This racing success also saw Raymond Doyle, one half of the nation’s favourite crime-busting duo The Professionals, adopt the Escort as his motor of choice. He drove an MK2 RS2000 during episodes filmed in 1978 and ’79, coincidentally around the same time the term “boy racer” was coined.

Within a few years, the MK3 (1980) and MK4 (1986) had become the boy racer’s go-to mode of transport. Young men around the country had a bit more disposable income and were keen to spend it on making their cars fast and noisy. From 1983 until ’95, the Escort was Britain’s most popular car – helped, perhaps, by its appearance on two notable driveways. David Beckham’s first car was famously an Escort MK5 – bought for £6,000 from his teammate Ryan Giggs – as was Alan Shearer’s.

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David Beckham’s first car was famously an Escort MK5 – bought for £6,000 from his teammate Ryan Giggs – as was Alan Shearer’s.

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Sadly, by 1997 the car’s reputation was beginning to wane, not helped, perhaps, by a Leeds University study that identified a “boy-racer corridor” from Essex (Escorts were built in Dagenham) via north London to Milton Keynes.

A year later, our automotive hero made a cameo appearance in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels – but by now the writing was on the wall. Ford unveiled the Focus, and the Escort’s unceremonious demise was quick to follow. In 2002, much to the dismay of Escort fans around the country, Ford ceased production of its erstwhile stalwart.

But the story doesn’t end there. Mint condition Escorts have since gained cult status, selling for exceptionally large sums at auction. In 2017, for example, a 1996 RS2000 went for over £91,000, while a 1980 Escort MK2 made just under £100,000 (£97,875). Even more impressively, an Escort MK1 once loaned to the Alan Mann Racing Team in 1968 was auctioned by Bonhams at the Goodwood Members’ Meeting sale last year and went under the hammer for a record-breaking £203,100. The Ford Escort may be gone, but it’s clearly not forgotten.

This article is taken from the Goodwood magazine, Spring 2018 issue

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