The Mk1 Ford Escort is a car that’s become a genuine cult hero. The archetypal everyman performance car, with countless wins on the world’s rally stages and a whole fevered subculture growing around the RS sub-brand, it’s easy to forget that this was first and foremost a utilitarian proposition. At launch in 1967, the Escort wasn’t conceived as a flame-spitting competition machine, but a family car, a commuter, a workhorse.
As a direct replacement for the 105E Anglia, this was designed to be an affordable and practical means of transporting folk from A to B as frugally as possible – launch models included the bare-bones Standard, the slightly-less-spartan De Luxe, and the Super; 1970 saw the spec levels expanding into the L, XL and, crucially, the Mexico and RS1600 – road-going manifestations of Ford’s growing motorsport successes with the Escort.
The model was rising in stature as a performance machine, with 1973’s RS2000 really sealing the deal, and the legacy today is one of speed and agility: sure, there are plenty of people who remember the lowly-spec four-door De Luxe and what-have-you as the functional transport of their childhood, but it’s the memories of race and rally prowess that are really pushing the market for rear-drive Escorts today.
These are machines that have always enjoyed a strong aftermarket for competition-derived upgrades and enhancements, and there’s a massive scene around restoring, modifying and enjoying these iconic automobiles.
If you take a look at the VIN plate in the engine bay, you’ll spot something interesting about this Escort: it’s a South African car. Escorts were big business in the SA market, originally imported for a short while before full domestic production commenced at Ford’s plant in Port Elizabeth.
A percentage of locally-produced components were mandated by law, so South African Escorts were extremely similar to European ones but with a variety of differences in spec. The model range was unique to the territory too, and the top-tier model was this one, the 1600 GT.
Based on the lesser 1300 GT, which came with such thrilling add-ons as a rev counter and optional side-stripes, the 1600 GT had AVO-type front quarter bumpers (actually sourced from Escort vans) along with 13” Rostyle wheels and a 93bhp version of the 1600 crossflow.
The example we have here is a genuine GT, recently imported from South Africa and remarkably solid. That’s the benefit of its geographical history – having not spent a lifetime in downpours on salted roads, it’s a lot more corrosion-free than many British equivalents…
The paperwork wasn’t available to view at the time of our shoot. The seller has submitted all required documents to the DVLA and are awaiting response regarding registration. All import duties have been paid.
The cabin of this Escort is exceptionally tidy. Perhaps not one for the concours purists, but complete and decent with a lot of character. That steering wheel is actually a Mazda item, most likely from a Mk1 MX-5, and behind it sits a six-dial dash which all appears to be in good order.
The carpets and headlining are complete, and we’re fascinated by the seats: we can’t quite place their provenance, but suspect they might have come from some manner of 1980s Toyota (although we could be wrong). They’re in good condition, whatever they are, with the front recliners matching the rear bench.
Inside the boot it’s all dry and tidy; the carpet is good, the floor beneath is solid, and so are the hinges.
The bodywork is this car’s real trump card. Resplendent in its original-spec GT stripes, the mustard paint is extremely good throughout, and the body panels are highly impressive. Each one is straight and free from dings, dents or scratches, and all the panels sit nice and evenly. The correct chrome trim surrounding the windows is in place, and all the window glass and light lenses are good.
There are a few deviations from standard specification: a full-width front bumper is fitted, the bonnet is secured by pins, the front panel is drilled for improved airflow, and – most notably – the 13” Rostyles have been replaced with a set of 15” A-Line alloy wheels.
Well, when’s the last time you saw a Mk1 Escort engine bay as tidy as this one? Solid strut-tops, solid heater bowl, excellent paint and all eat-your-dinner-off-it clean.
As far as we know this 1600 crossflow is in standard SA GT spec, save for the pancake filter on the carb and the big-bore exhaust system which looks to be a very recent addition. It all appears standard spec beneath the car as well, aside from a set of lowering blocks on the leaf springs, and shorter front springs to match.
The appeal of the Mk1 Escort really speaks for itself. The fact these cars were so central to so many lives for so many years is what’s keeping values on a consistently upward trajectory; whether your mum had an L, your tearaway neighbour drove a Mexico, or you used to hang out in Welsh forests watching RS2000s haring by, the memories are visceral and near-tangible.
And this particular car? It’s a rare find indeed: an example with outstanding bodywork, that hasn’t been chopped about to fit wonky bubble arches, and generally offering a huge amount of potential. You could return it to stock specs, use it as a base for a custom or motorsport project, or simply enjoy it as it is.
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