For over 3 decades Ford’s Escort was a top selling car throughout not only Europe but much of the world (although admittedly not the same model), yet when the company this week revealed a concept under the Escort name at the Shanghai Auto Show, it was met with apprehension at not the questionable styling but more the use of a name tarnished after years of neglect and substandard engineering.
But is this really a fair legacy for a car which was once one of the UK’s best selling models? Originally launched in 1968 as a 2 door saloon (and later estate and 4 door models) the car was an instant success in the UK and went on to sell 2 million examples worldwide within just 6 years. A Mark 2 model followed and built on that car’s success and its platform, a trend which Ford would continue for the Escort’s whole life and ultimately contributed to its discontinuation. The Mark 3/4 followed and took customers through the 1980’s with a model which was more practical and better equipped than ever before, and in the process became Britain’s best selling car. Building on the Escorts pedigree in rallying, the famous XR3 models started a trend for fast Fords which continues to this day, although this means that many of the Escorts from this era have been modified beyond recognition!
The MK5 (and very similar MK6) were the cars which really ruined the Escort’s previously decent, if common, image. Despite a hefty investment by Ford the car appeared to be lacklustre in almost every aspect; styling, interior and handling, the car fell behind rivals to the extent that Ford immediately invested in a facelift model to be launched just 2 years later. Whilst Honda has just done this in the State with their latest Civic, 25 years ago this was unheard of and even now it is uncommon. But neither the facelift nor tarted up MK6 model launched in 1995 did anything to make the car competitive, even against lacklustre rivals such as the Astra or Renault 19, although the RS2000 hot hatch did at least leave a lasting impression in the minds of many car enthusiasts.
When Ford launched the Focus in 1998 there were rumours that they had all the decor and badges ready to switch at the last minute, as the move away from the Escort brand name was seen by many as too risky. To be honest the general public probably did not care a massive amount as the original Focus was such a good car that it would still have sold in the numbers that it did, but it did at least mark out the huge step which was taken not just for Ford, but for the hatchback market in general. The choice of the Escort name for the concept in Beijing also seems to have received a similar reaction from Ford executives, with apparent pressure to change the name to something less controversial. Whether it was the right decision or not to launch this new model with such an iconic name seems to seen, but it is unlikely that any model launched by Ford with the Escort name would live up to the original(s), unless it were unwisely stuck on a Focus replacement at some point.