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The History of the Ford Escort

The First Generation

1981 Ford EscortFord's first "World Car", the Escort, was introduced in the North American market for the model year 1981. The Ford Escort (a totally different version) had been available in other parts of the world as a rear wheel drive car from 1968-1980. The North American launch of the Escort coincided with the European release of the MK3 Escort. Ford Motor Company needed a new subcompact car to replace the outdated Pinto. The  first Escort, and Mercury's version called the Lynx, was powered by a carbureted 1.6L 4 cylinder sporting a 2 barrel carburetor that produced 69 horsepower. The engines were SOHC (single overhead cam) designs and called the CVH, which stood for "Compound Angle Hemispherical" combustion chamber. This was "basic transportation" and needed more power under the hood. These cars were all front wheel drive, had independent 4-wheel suspension, rack & pinion steering, and a choice of a 3-speed automatic or 4-speed manual transmission. They were available as a 2-door hatchback or a 4-door wagon. Initially, there were a lot of recalls and build-quality problems. These engines suffered many head gasket failures due to having an aluminum cylinder head on an iron block. The fix was stretchable (one time use only) head bolts and a new cylinder head gasket design.


1982 Ford EscortFord decided to expand the product line for 1982 making a 4-door hatchback. The other cars were primarily unchanged in appearance except for minor trim details. The choices were a base, L, GL, GLX models. This was also the first year for the higher output Escort. An "SS" package was offered. This vehicle, had graphics package, a high output version of the 2bbl 1.6L CVH. This "H.O." engine produced 80 horsepower.  Late in the model year, the SS package was dropped and was replaced with the GT package. The GT package was pretty much the same as the SS in the fact it was pretty much an appearance group. As for why the SS package was dropped, It is my belief that General Motors may have held a trademark on the SS terminology. The EXP coupe was introduced this year. The EXP was a 2-seater hatchback powered by the same 1.6L and the same 4-speed manual as the Escort. The Escort was America's "best selling car" for the 1982 model year.


1983  Ford Escort EXPThis year saw the elimination of the base model. The GT package received numerous improvements over the 82 model receiving a multi-port EFI making 88 horsepower, a 5 speed manual transmission, the TRX handling package, front & rear spoilers, alloy wheels, and fog lights. The other manual transmission cars still had the 4-speed. A Turbo GT model featuring a 120hp turbocharged version of the 1.6L EFI engine was introduced this year. The EXP and Mercury's LN7 fastback were upgraded also.


The Turbo GT carried over into 1984. A 2.0L diesel engine (produced by Mazda) was also offered this year but neither of the two versions sold well.  The Turbo GT was dropped at the end of the model year and the diesel was discontinued in 1987. The GLX trim package was replaced with the LX and came with the GT's engine. The dash was also redesigned and the horn moved back to the steering wheel from the turn signal stalk.

The EXP could be ordered with  the optional 1.6L turbo engine for 1984. The turbo EXP received quicker handling, sport wheels, and a ground effects package. But once again, it lagged a bit in performance due to its increased weight.


85-1/2 Ford EscortThe Turbo GT version of the Escort was a carryover during the first half of this year. There were some minor trim changes but not much else. Then in 1985-1/2 the car was redesigned with a longer nose, flush-mounted aerodynamic headlights, different tail lights, and a different grill. The 1.6L engines were all replaced by the 1.9L CVH with a 2bbl. carb. It had 86hp, and about 16% more torque. The base model Escort returned at this time.


The Escort remained basically the same except the addition of a third brake light in the hatch. The base model was renamed the Pony. The Escort GT resurfaced this year with a 1.9L EFI engine producing 108hp. It had an improved suspension, 15" alloy 8 spoke wheels, an asymmetrical grill opening, front and rear spoilers, lower body sills, and a front air dam with integral fog lamps. The GT's were all painted 2-tone. It should be noted that a lot of people consider the 86 GT to be a 1985-1/2 model as it was introduced late in that year. The EXP was not produced during the start of the 1986 model year.  Rather it resurfaced late in the model year as a 1986 model. The EXP was now called the Escort EXP and it received the same aero headlights and came in two models, the luxury and the sport. The luxury had the 86hp engine whereas the sport had the 108hp engine from the GT.


1990 Escort GTNo major engine or powertrain changes were added with the exception of replacing the carburetor with a throttle body (CFI) fuel injection system and reducing the valve size. The power was upped to 90hp in the standard engine and 110hp in the GT. The diesel engine was dropped mid year. There were some minor body changes though for the 1988 model year and the entry level Pony model was available with an automatic transmission in addition to the 4-speed manual in 1988 as well.  The only other models available were the GL and GT. The Escort EXP was discontinued in 1988. Automatic seat belts and the split-folding rear seat were introduced this year.

Ford did a mid-year update again. For 1988-1/2 the nose and tail were redesigned along with front fenders, rear quarter panels, and completely new taillights. The car had a much more smooth appearance than the older versions. 14 inch tires were now standard. The LX trim level was brought back as an upgrade over the GL. The GT version also received a new grill, lower body molding, and a new rear spoiler. During this time Ford started to put roller hydraulic camshafts in the CSI and EFI (GT) engines. Also cars after 3/90 had the Distributorless Ignition System (DIS).  There were other no major changes through 1990 except the trim levels. The only versions were the Pony, LX, and GT. The Pony and GT were 2-door hatchbacks while the LX came as 2-door hatchback, a 4-door, and a station wagon. The Escorts still remained the best selling cars in their class.

The Second Generation

1991 Ford Escort LXFord completely redesigned the Escort for 1991. It had all new sheet metal and flush fitting glass. The wheelbase was extended by 4" to help smooth out the ride.  The 1.9L stayed, but Sequential Electronic Fuel Injection "SEFI" with "mass airflow" metering was added along with the Electronic Distributorless Ignition System (EDIS) and a roller hydraulic camshaft. Even though the horsepower was only 88, those changes resulted in a much smoother running engine with better performance. For some unknown reason, the 91-96 CVH engines still had the smaller valves of the CFI engine. The car had a lower hoodline due to the engine being tilted forward. The automatic transmission was replaced with a new 4-speed overdrive electronically controlled unit and a lockup torque converter. The cars again came with 13" tires as standard equipment and had a new suspension system equipped with a rear anti-sway bar for much improved handling over the earlier cars.

The 1991 Escort GT was also revitalized. Leading the list of improvements was the addition of the Mazda 1.8L Double Overhead Cam (DOHC) engine making 127hp. This engine, when mated to a 5 speed manual, offered swift acceleration that has not been seen since the Turbo GT of 1984. Also, a sport tuned suspension was added along with 4 wheel disc brakes. Now the GT was able to handle and stop competently as well as be a street sleeper. 0-60 times for this GT with a 5 speed were about 8.3 seconds. This was the first model year the Escort GT was really taken as a serious performance subcompact.


1992 Escort GTIn 1992, Ford introduced a 4 door notchback sedan for the first time in the history of the Escort. The LX-E version of the sedan received the 1.8l DOHC GT engine. No major changes were done to the GT. Mercury brought out it's version, the Tracer, only available as a 4-door notchback sedan or a station wagon. They also had a 4-door version of the Escort LX-E called the LTS. This "Tracer" is in no way related to the earlier 1988-89 models that were based on a Mazda design. The Escort Pony was dropped this year.



1995 Escort There were no major appearance changes to the Escort or the GT during this time period. The Escort got a revised grill. There was a "Sport Appearance Package" that looked like a poor man's GT. It had alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, the full width GT tail light lenses, and a tach in the dash. The LTS received a rear spoiler. A driver's side air bag became available in 1994 and the passenger side in 1995. The "Sport Versions" of the Escort 4-door hatchback and notchback were available in 1996. Also, the engines came with platinum tip spark plugs and revised transmission ratios.

The Third Generation

1998 Ford Escort SPIIn 1997 the 1997 Ford Escort and Mercury Tracer underwent another complete change, both to the body and to the powertrain.  The suspension design remained primarily the same but was refined. The most noticeable difference is the body. Gone is the angular hatchback. In its place is a more curvaceous sedan inspired by the styling found in the 1996 Taurus. The hatchback body style was gone and this generation Escort was only available with 4 doors. The wheelbase is the same as the 91-96 cars but the overall length grew by nearly 4 inches. This chassis was stiffened by 25% and the understeer that had plagued previous Escorts was greatly reduced. It was also powered by an all-new 2.0L 4 cyl SOHC Split Port Induction (SPI) engine that put out 110hp. This engine is heavily based on the older CHV designs and gained the added displacement by a larger bore. The added power was somewhat offset by the added 120 lbs weight gain of the car.

This sedan was as fast as the GT from 10 years prior.  Many have said this is the best Escort ever. Unfortunately, a GT version was not available for 1997. All the cars came with 14" wheels. A "Sport" package was available but had nothing to increase the power. Just decals, alloy 14" wheels, a chrome tip on the exhaust, a gauge package, and slightly different seats. The only two versions were the base (again) and the LX. The LX also came as a wagon.


The base Escort sedan remained unchanged but is called the LX and the LX called the SE, but available with more option packages. There were some minor changes in the automatic transmission electronics and for some reason, Ford left the front door trim inserts as cloth but changed the rear to plastic. In 1999, all 4 doors were plastic. New lower powered air bags were used this year.

Escort ZX2

The biggest news was the introduction of the sporty ZX2. Finally there was a worthwhile successor to the GT. Unlike the GT, the ZX2 bears no resemblance to its sedan siblings. In an attempt to entice the younger buyer into the Ford showrooms, the ZX2 received totally different sheet metal and styling compared to the sedan, giving it a more youthful design to it. The ZX2 has an even more rounded appearance to it and even though it sits lower than the sedans, the ZX2 is slightly wider and longer.  The only powerplant is the same 125hp 2.0L DOHC Zetec engine found in the Contour/Mystique twins, but with 5 extra horsepower, for a total of 130hp. The power curve has also been specifically tuned to the ZX2. Horsepower is only up by three compared to the former 1.8L DOHC in the GT, but this engine receives variable valve timing on the exhaust cam which flatten the torque curve.  This results in an engine that revs much smoother and pulls throughout the entire rpm range. It is quite easy to rev this engine to 7000 rpm. When the ZX2 is ordered with the 5 spd gearbox, the result is a car that bests many others in classes, as well as price ranges, much higher than the Escort. Motor Trend tested the ZX2 and found out it outperformed the late Probe GT and even beat the Taurus SHO in everything but braking. For some reason, most likely to keep costs down, the ZX2 is currently only available with drum brakes on the rear. This is not that big of an issue because the drums used are large for a subcompact and perform quite well.

The ZX2 coupe is offered in two trim levels, the Cool Package and the Hot Package. The Cool version has limited options and is only available with a manual 5-speed transmission.  The Hot Package allows for greater optioning such as different wheels, a Sport group with a spoiler and 15" aluminum wheels, and a driver door remote entry, as well as rear defroster and air conditioning standard.


From what is coming out from Ford, it looks as if 1999 will not see a major change in the Escort and the ZX2.  The wagon was dropped leaving only the sedan. The backup lights were incorporated into the taillights on the sedan.

Ford Escort ZX2 S/R

The rear fascia on the ZX2 only says "ZX2" and the "Escort" badging is located just below the left rear brake light. Also, leather seating will be available in the Hot Package and the cassette player will be standard equipment in the Hot Package as well. Ford introduced the limited production ZX2 S/R package. This consists of a revised intake and exhaust, reprogrammed engine computer, lowering springs and performance struts, rear disc brakes, and a performance clutch and pressure plate. Other interior goodies such as a leather shifter boot and silver gauge faces round out the interior. P205/55ZR15 tires on custom wheels finish the S/R package. Production was only limited to 250 vehicles available only in the Southern California area. "Thanks, others of us may have liked to buy one!"


Ford decided to keep the Escort sedan available to the public for the model year, 2000.  However, it is only sold in one trim line and available options are greatly reduced. The Escort sedan has been replaced by Ford's new world car, the Ford Focus. In a move to bring back the hatchback buyer, the Focus will be sold as a hatchback named the Focus ZX3. A sedan and a station wagon round out the lineup.

The ZX2 will remain in the lineup for the 2000 model year as a 2-door coupe The "Hot and Cool" versions were dropped. Also, the S/R package is now a regular option package that is available nationwide and not just in Southern California, but limited to just 1,700 vehicles I believe.


2002 Ford Escort SPI

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 The Escort sedan was produced only for fleet use in the 2001-02 model years. The only external difference is a slight change of the emblem in the grill opening. The engine gets the Focus SPI valve cover and a few minor changes in plumbing under the hood. It is possible to find a few on the used car lots.



2003 Ford Escort ZX2

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Ford is reported to be dropping Escort ZX2 production after the 2003 model year. They did redo the front facia and wheels. The rear of the car still looks the same. The torque output was raised 8 ft/lbs to 135 but the horsepower remained the same at 130.




The Ford Focus Lineup

The Ford Focus lineup is now our only choices for the economy class cars. The CHV / SPI engine is still available in the base Focus. The Zetec is the optional engine, standard in the ZX3, the sporty ZTS 4-door and the ZTW wagon.

Finally, an SVT version of the ZX3 with 170hp is produced along with the same package in the ZX5, a 4-door hatchback.

Ford Focus ZX3
Ford Focus ZX5
Ford Focus ZTW
Ford Focus SVT
Ford Focus ZTS

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