With the launch of the Mk I Ford Escort in 1968, the European car buying public had a new prize to lust after. The curved lines of Ford’s new offering were vaguely sporty – even in the most basic package – and the two-door, family-sized model was a quick success.
In an era where the accessory catalogue was an important part of ‘improving’ and personalising your car, owners soon started to make the already sporty-looking Escort appear even more so, but Ford was keen to capitalise on their sound base product and quickly introduced the Escort GT with uprated 1297cc Kent engine, gearbox, suspension and brakes.
Squeezing a Lotus Cortina twin cam engine under the bonnet resulted in the launch of the Escort Twin Cam and the famed RS1600 with its Cosworth-designed 120bhp power unit added to Ford’s sporting ambitions, but it was arguably the launch of the Escort Mexico in 1970 that captured the public’s imagination.
The Ford Escort Mexico was introduced by way of a celebration of 1970’s major rally outing: the World Cup Rally. Spread over six weeks, the 16,000-mile run took competitors from London to Mexico and, instead of fielding the aforementioned Twin Cam or RS1600, those in charge at Ford decided to bet on the reliability and ease of maintenance offered by their standard model.
A total of seven MkI shells were fitted with uprated 1834cc Kent Crossflow engines, boasting 140bhp and the gamble more than paid off with Hannu Mikkola and Gunnar Palm taking the top spot at the wheel of their Ford. Rauno Aaltonen and Henry Liddon took third with Timo Mäkinen and Gilbert Staepelaere securing fifth. In the end, Ford Escorts occupied five out of the top 10 spots – a victory for the Ford Motor Company and one that they simply had to capitalise upon.
Whilst the newly-launched Mexico was never going to be afforded quite the same treatment as Mikkola’s trophy-winning Escort, the ethos behind the vehicle that eventually became available in November 1970 wasn’t too far removed. A mainstream and affordable car still provided the basis for the new badging and the 1599cc Crossflow engine wasn’t necessarily going to trouble true thoroughbreds in a drag race, but the appeal came courtesy of the complete package.
Uprated suspension, a gearbox identical to that in the RS1600, 13in steel wheels from the Mk2 Lotus Cortina, flared front wheel arches and an initial range of eye-catching colours certainly helped differentiate the Mexico from a standard MkI, but what really helped secure the orders were accessory options that would allow the new owner to feel like a part-time Aaltonen and for many, the addition of the rally-style lighting pack and four-spoke RS alloys was an essential first stop.
Of course, if you ask anyone other than a die-hard Escort enthusiast to describe a MkI Mexico, the visual will be largely the same: bold colour, white or black ‘Mexico’ stripe along the sides and over the roof and two doors. This immediately iconic look is certainly embedded in the psyche, but options were available: the white stripe of the original 50 or so Mexicos were hand-painted and the black sticker kit that followed could also be deleted from the order for those wanting a more subtle approach, but Ford also toyed with the option of other Mexico body styles.
Three estate versions were produced for evaluation purposes and just one van assembled, but perhaps the most extensive evaluation run was that of around six, four-door Mexicos that used strengthened Type 49 bodyshells. None of these ever made it into official production runs however, and arguably the limited run of Mexico-badged MkI Escorts helped secure the model’s place in motoring history.