The European Escort
The Ford Escort got its start in the European market in 1968 and ran until 2002, making it one of the longest running marques in history. While it never quite reached the popularity of the Ford Focus in Europe, it was a perennial favorite for a very long time.
The first generation Escort ran from 1968 through to 1974 as the successor to the Anglia, giving it just less than 10 years of history. During this period, the model saw several significant updates. The greatest success for the first generation was in the UK. Inside just six years, Ford had sold more than two million cars thanks to UK demand (numbers unmatched anywhere but US sales of other models).
The second generation for the Escort debuted in 1974 and ran through to 1980. This squarer body style is perhaps more familiar to most people, and was heavily used as a daily driver, but also as a rally racer (many rally drivers made their way to the podium thanks to the Escort). Interestingly, the Mk II used the same mechanical components as its predecessor, although it changed things up where the power plant was concerned. There were also multiple types on offer for different needs. For instance, mainstream private buyers had access to the L or GL models. Those with performance needs could choose from the Sport, RS Mexico or the RS2000. There was even a luxury variant available – the Ghia.
The Escort’s third generation began in 1980 and lasted until 1986, which was several years shorter than previous generations. The third generation was actually Ford UK’s second ever front-wheel drive vehicle. The model eventually sent to the US was based on the third generation as well, although heavily modified for sale across the pond.
Third generation Escorts were designed to compete against VW’s powerhouse Golf and Golf GTI. As such, this production run was redesigned and re-engineered from the ground up, retaining virtually none of the Mk II’s equipment or style. Perhaps the biggest news with this generation was the introduction of the “hot hatch”variant, dubbed the XR3. This brought a twin-choke carb mated to a 1.6-liter tuned engine, as well as a higher end suspension and better steering.
Europe’s fourth generation debuted in 1986 and lasted until just 1990 and saw a continuation of the square body style as well as increasing similarities with the US model. It was also very similar mechanically and stylistically to the previous generation.
The Mark V came out in 1990 and saw immense demand immediately. It offered a completely redesigned body, as well as a new suspension and engine options. However, the company faced criticism of the vehicle’s body style, and mid-cycle revisions were provided in the form of a new front clip and grille. The final version of the Escort debuted in Europe in 1995 and lasted through the 2000 year model. This was not a true new generation, as it retained the base, engine and many other aspects of the previous model. Nevertheless, Ford did make improvements to the most in-need areas, including the suspension and the body styling of this final generation.
With the 2000 model year, production of the Escort in Europe (and around the world) tapered off and eventually stopped, signalling the end of an era.
The American Escort
In North America, the Ford Escort debuted in 1981 and was produced through to 2003. It shared a considerable number of features and styling cues with later European models, although it was manufactured in North America, rather than being imported like the Mercury Capris.
While the US Escort remained a budget model, it did attain bestselling status early on in its life (the second US production year). In the States, the first generation Escort was only available as either a two-door hatchback or a four-door sedan, at least initially. A four-door hatchback version was later made available.
In mid-cycle, the Escort got a facelift and refresh, bringing in new headlights, taillights and a new engine option). Another refresh came in 1988, which offered new bumpers and larger windows in the side/rear of the vehicle. The second generation got underway in 1991 and ran through 1996. The original Escort model was replaced by the Mazda B design, which took it away from the European family and made it almost identical to Mazda’s lineup. This was perhaps the reason that the second generation saw such little enthusiasm from the American public, at least in the beginning.
The third and final generation for the American Escort came out in 1997 and was available through 2002. While similar to the previous generation in terms of style, it did bring unique options to the table. In fact, it replaced the Probe as Ford’s sporty compact offering (the ZX2 did, at any rate). The hatchback variant was dropped completely during this time, and Ford only offered the ZX2, a sedan and a coupe version of the Escort.
The ZX2 S/R variant debuted during this generation, in response to the “tuner”culture now growing across the country. This model featured stiffer suspension and improved handling, as well as greater power and better braking performance. However, only 2,110 ZX2 S/Rs were ever sold.
The Escort was phased out of the American market after the 2002 model (actual 2003), although the ZX2 continued to be manufactured for another couple of years, finally winding down to a close in 2004, with just over 1,200 units sold in North America.