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The Ford Escort was a compact car that was manufactured by the Ford Motor Company. The North American Escort adopted both the badge and the general design of a redesigned European model, and the name has been applied to several different designs in North America since its introduction as Ford's first successful world car. This platform was also known in Australia, and Asia as the Ford Laser and also sold as the Mazda 323, as the exterior dimensions and engine displacement was in compliance with Japanese regulations. It was sold at Mazda "Autorama" dealership sales channels.

The Escort was Ford's first front-wheel-drive car built in North America, replacing the dated Ford Pinto subcompact car (1971–80) with a modern front-wheel drive design popularized by the Volkswagen Rabbit. It also effectively replaced the smaller Ford Fiesta which was imported from Europe from 1978–80.

The Escort was one of Ford's most successful models in the 1980s, earning a much better reputation than the Pinto, which faced widely publicized safety issues. In fact, the Escort was the single best-selling car in its second year in the United States and during most of that decade.

First generation (1981–1990)

Introduced in 1981, the first American Escort was intended to share common components with the European Mk III Escort (as with its sister, the Mercury Lynx), and was launched as a 2-door hatchback and as a 4-door station wagon, with the 4-door hatchback following a year later. It had considerably more chrome than the model sold elsewhere (except for the 1981 SS model/1982- GT models which featured blacked out trim). 1981 models never had the Blue Oval logo; on the front fenders there was an Escort badge which included a globe representing the earth, which implied this was a "World Car". The car was freshened in 1982, and added Ford's Blue Oval logo for the first time along with a newer grille. In 1982, the base price of the Escort 3-door was $5,518. In 1984, the GLX model was dropped and replaced with a fuel injected LX model (5dr hatch and wagon; GT engine and blackout trim), the interior received a new dashboard, including a new rubber shift boot for manual models and a new gear selector lever (with a straight line of gear selection as opposed to the twisting ? mark pattern) for automatic equipped models and "Butterfly" styled cast aluminum wheels. Flush headlamps, revised taillamps and restyled steel wheels appeared when the Escort was revised and introduced as the 1985.5 Ford Escort. There was also the Ford EXP, and sister version Mercury LN7, targeting the sports car market, essentially a two-seat hatch with lower roofline which was not as successful as other body styles.

Although the basic silhouette was the same, it was almost completely different from the European version, apart from the Ford CVH engine. There was a 1.6 L engine, a 4-speed MTX-2 and a 5-speed MTX-3 manual transmission that were standard with a 3-speed ATX/FLC automatic transmission optional. A 1.3 L engine was designed and prototyped but did not see production due to lack of power. Beginning in 1983 a GT model offered a multi-port EFI version of the 1.6 L 4-cylinder that increased power by 20 hp over the base carbureted version. It also came with a 5-speed transmission, TRX handling package, front and rear spoilers, metric-sized alloy wheels and fog lights. Also beginning in 1983 the Ford EXP had the option of the turbocharged 1.6 litre four-cylinder rated at 120 hp (89 kW) and matching torque, a fairly sporty package, considering that the Mustang GT of that period was only rated at 175 hp (130 kW) and was much heavier.

Engines

  • 1981–1985 1.6 L CVH I4, 68 hp (51 kW)
  • 1983–1985 1.6 L EFI CVH I4, 88 hp (66 kW)
  • 1983–1985 1.6 L turbocharged CVH I4, 120 hp (89 kW)
  • 1984–1985 2.0 L RF diesel I4, 52 hp (39 kW)

1985–1990

There was a facelift (less chrome, restyled taillamps, flush headlights, 1.9 L engine) as a 1985½ model. The Lynx was retired for 1987, but was replaced by the Mazda 323-derived Tracer model in 1988. [That Mazda platform was revamped in 1990 and debuted as the 1990 Mazda Protege. The updated platform would form the basis for the next generation (1991–1996) Escort/Tracer.

The Escort saw another minor facelift in mid-1988, which smoothed out the front and rear fascias. New plastic bumpers, larger rear side windows, a more rounded rear-end design and larger (14 inch versus 13 inch) wheels modernized the look of the cars. Three door hatchback models had a curving windowline along the side towards the rear of the car. The engine was also updated with a slightly revised camshaft, and roller lifters. The new design is commonly referred to as the "88.5" year, and existed until the end of the 1990 model year.

Finding some popularity during the final three years of this generation was the Pony model, which was the least-expensive U.S.-built Ford at the time. Pony models used plainer interior trim with greater use of vinyl and plastic instead of cloth, and a 4-speed manual transaxle was standard, although buyers could opt for the 5-speed found in LX models or the 3-speed ATX automatic. The list of available options was very limited, to the extent that such luxuries as power steering and factory-installed air conditioning were not offered (a dealer-installed A/C system was available). Given their lighter weight, Pony models were known for their ability to deliver excellent fuel economy—mileage upwards of 40 mpg-US (5.9 L/100 km; 48 mpg-imp) in highway driving was not uncommon.