Saturday, October 15, 2022


The Ford Escort was the biggest-selling car of the 1980s, a statement that applies both the United Kingdom and the United States.


Whether that statement applies to one car is another question. Created as a “world car” between Ford’s American and European divisions, ostensibly to share both expertise and production costs, the Escort on sale in North American showrooms from 1980 shared little more than its engine with its European counterpart, and its design is different enough to call the effort of sharing its development into question.


I had not heard of there being a separate Ford Escort until a couple of weeks ago, but looking at pictures of it brings a sort of an “Uncanny Valley” effect – the European version was so prevalent on British roads, seeing something that purports to be the same thing, while looking almost like it, but not quite, produces an unwarranted feeling of unease.


Reading the 1982 brochure for the North American Escort reveals the difference in approach with Ford of Europe: placing emphasis on its “world car” status, and on having outsold every imported car in the US in 1981, Ford introduced the Escort to replace both the Pinto, a “subcompact” coupé-looking car with a poor safety record, and the Fiesta, Ford’s first attempt at a “world car” that was too small for the United States (and which I have talked about here: link). Both the targets and the stakes were set high, but this situation was only found in North America, and its half of the plan must have inevitably diverged to meet them.


The European Version

Meanwhile, the focus of the European Escort was squarely on aerodynamics, fuel economy and simplicity of design, having launched in the UK with the slogan “Simple is Efficient”. Unlike Ford of America, which attached a globe logo to every Escort sold there in its first year, Ford of Europe make no mention of having developed the car with anyone else. The European Escort’s straight line design was by Uwe Bahlsen and Patrick Le Quément, following it with the futuristic, for the time, Ford Sierra (also discussed previously: link).


The North American Escort could serve to indicate the main differences between American and European cars in general. It has the same wheelbase as the European model, but is nine inches longer, two inches wider, and one inch shorter in height, with a more sloped nose, and chrome trimmings on even the base L model. Only a 1.6 litre engine was offered initially in America, the largest of the engines offered in Europe, and the interior was entirely redesigned, with black, fawn and blue colour combinations joined by an all-interior blood-like colour known as “Medium Red”. The “Squire Option” of faux wood panelling was available on the estate car.


Contributing to the design changes to the North American Escort may have been differing safety standards. Many European manufacturers in the 1970s seen their sleek designs essentially ruined through the process of “federalisation” to meet US safety regulations, often through the addition of thick black shock-absorbing bumpers to protect the headlights and engine in a 5 mph collission – Ford would do this with the Capri coupé when it was sold as the Mercury Capri in the US. This led British Leyland to redesign the MGB and MG Midget to suit, but because the US was their main market, it had to be done.


The Escort would become more of a “world car” through the 1980s, adding production at Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela to the factories in the UK, West Germany, Spain and the United States. However, the Escort produced in South America was the European version – the North American version was only sold in North America, and was only made there too. When Ford of America updated their Escort in 1990, it opted to rebrand the Ford Laser, a car sold mostly in Asia and Australasia, and based on the Mazda 323. Meanwhile, successive updates of the European Escort continued until the Focus began replacing it 1998, the Escort name disappearing in 2002... until it reappeared in 2015, on a redesigned Focus saloon car sold in China and the Middle East. Perhaps the name travels further than the car.

"Medium Red"

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