When the Ford Escort was launched at the Brussels Motor Show in 1968, it took the UK by storm – revitalising a market that was beginning to look rather staid with its BMC staples, the Morris Minor and Morris 1100. The new lines of the Mark I Escort that came out of the Halewood plant immediately gave the two-door Vauxhall Viva a run for its money and by the mid-1970s, the UK arm of the Ford Motor Company was celebrating the two millionth example to roll off the production line, with no sign of its success letting up.
History dictates that the early two-door examples of the Escort would become the most prized – thanks in part to its balanced looks, but also to its runaway success on the rally scene. At the hands of such luminaries as Roger Clark and Hannu Mikkola, the Ford became a regular visitor to the podium both on and off track, but like any success story, the Escort needed to evolve…
1975 saw the first major update for the Escort; the squarer look of the Mark II lacked some of the charm of the Mark I and it was starting to show its age underneath where leaf springs at the rear remained where other contemporaries had changed to a more compliant coil sprung setup. Whilst the base model Mark II failed to ignite quite the same passion as its older brother, enthusiasts were still drawn to the performance end of the range and hardcore owners lusted after the RS2000, but just five years later, the Escort would be on the receiving end of a winning facelift and one that would further cement its place in history: cue the Mark III.
If ever a vehicle was to scream the 1980s, it was the Ford Escort Mark III. Instead of evolution, the board had been wiped clean and suddenly dealer windows were showing off a new, angular hatchback designed to compete head on with its peers from Volkswagen and Honda. In just two years, the new model claimed the crown as the UK’s best-selling car, but this was undoubtedly due to its clever market positioning; the range of hatchback, estate and van models offering economical simplicity for the masses, whilst the motoring press weren’t exactly blown away by the Mark III’s handling.
So, if the Mark III was open to criticism and marketed as an ‘austerity car’ at its base level, how come a mention of Ford’s later incarnation to any child of the 1980s results in a misty-eyed faraway look and a hot flush? The answer is simple: the XR3i. Developed to bring the fight to the Golf GTI, the XR3 came first but quickly became the car it was destined to be with the introduction of fuel injection. The XR3i moniker would continue on through subsequent incarnations of the Ford Escort, but for many, it is the Mark III that remained a bedroom wall poster dream in an era where sharp lines and a simple black, white and red colour palette summed up an era.