By on April 30, 2012

In 1990, budget-conscious car shoppers who wanted to buy American-built (if not American-designed) could pick up a Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon America for $6,995, a Pontiac Sunbird coupe for $7,858, or a Ford Escort Pony for $7,423. The Escort had penal-colony-grade amenities and was on the final model year of a very elderly platform (though not as outdated as the Omnirizon), but its simplicity and gas-sipping ways made it a fairly good seller, especially after things got crazy in Kuwait.
The 1981-90 North American Escort (based on— but nowhere near identical to— its European namesake) was the replacement for the Pinto and was very successful in that role (cue hate mail from the Pinto Jihad). By 1990, even the most diehard blue-oval zealots had to admit that the dated-looking Escort reminded them of Jimmy Carter and Live At Budokan.
But so what? Most of the maddening build-quality bugs had been worked out of the not-exactly-known-for-reliability Escort by 1990, and this 1.9 liter four was good for 40+ MPG on the highway. Power steering? Air conditioning? Who needs that stuff?
I’ve never heard of a “Pony Sport,” and the very idea of such a thing seems so implausible— even by the standards of Detroit marketing gurus— that I must assume that Manny, Moe, and/or Jack provided these decals.
Ford was still using 5-digit odometers in 1990, which suggests either a lack of confidence in the Escort’s ability to hit 100 grand or a lifetime supply of 5-digit odos purchased in 1978. Or both. Note the simple two-gauge instrument panel. What else do you need?
Back to the ’90 Escort Pony’s $7,423 MSRP: In 1990, car shoppers could get a base Honda Civic hatchback for $6,635, a Nissan Sentra two-door for $7,299, a Mazda 323 hatchback for $6,599, a Geo Metro XFi for $5,995, a Toyota Tercel EZ for $6,488, or a Subaru Justy DL for $6,295. Masochistic car shoppers could opt for the $5,499 Hyundai Excel. Of course, rebates and discounts made the real-world price of the Ford was much more competitive with the imports, but the Civic and 323 sure looked like good deals.

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38 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1990 Ford Escort Pony...”

  • avatar

    I think the stickers were tacked on by the dealer. Probably cost 50¢ to attach, added hundreds of dollars to the price.

  • avatar

    I knew a classmate at a community college who had an ’87, I think it was Escort Pony, though in dark blue.

    It was a replacement for her aging and not so reliable Maverick she was driving at the time and this WAS around 1989 or ’90.

    Despite not being much, if at all mechanically related to the Euro version, I’ve always liked the looks of these cars, especially up through 87-88, I didn’t like this rear end treatment on this car at the time, still don’t nearly as much.

    It looks like a timing belt perhaps took it out finally as the photo of the gear looks to be, perhaps the camshaft pulley and a tensioner. Otherwise, though quite a bit faded, the body looks very straight.

    Ford continued to use the 5 digit odometers up through at least 1992 as my ’92 Ranger had it too. I was able to verify the mileage on my truck in 2009 thanks to CarFax when I pulled the report on it (a local truck!) The last known mileage noted on the report before my taking ownership was in 2001 when the truck had, I think 126K, right before it aged out and the odo readings weren’t required by the state (After a car’s 10 years old, you don’t have to report the mileage anymore) so I was able to determine that I bought it in 2006 with 189K miles on it, traded it in at almost 237K miles back in January.

  • avatar

    I had an 81, that I flipped into a tree with 120k on the clock, and a 90 with 90k on the clock when my ex totaled it. Never had a single machanical issue with either that was not self induced. I was remarkably hard on those cars. After that I bought a 93 Tracer, Mercury’s version of the Escort off the lot with 9k on it. This was after the Mazda tie-up and they had the 323 which was basically the same car. The car never really ran right, the auto tranny went at 60k, then again at 80k, then it went to the junkyard.

  • avatar

    The Kuwait war happened in 1991, and this car was a stripper of a 1987 updated Escort, so the War probably had little effect on a 1990 Pony.

    That said – Ford had coasted through the 1980s with their best selling Escort. During that time, small car sales were not robust. Good cars were being manufactured during this time, but there were too few buyers of these, finally decent, small cars. Small cars were good because auto manufacturers accepted the idea that they were the immediate and distant future in the industry by the late 1970s, during the Carter Malaise years. Gas prices tripled under President Malaise and he preached that we were to all start accepting that America’s best days were behind us and we had to accommodate the Status Quo of the era.

    So Detroit finally got off it’s duff and began putting out small cars that didn’t rust in showrooms, disassemble themselves while being driven, or explode in accidents.

    Ford had enough money to sink it into the Escort. The 1980s were unkind to Ford, and before the Taurus, the Escort was their only ray of sunshine. It took years to pay off the bad things that happened to Ford during this time, so it was understandable that they didn’t do much but merely refreshen the Escort in 1987.

    Ford supplimented this situation with the Festiva, which was the Mazda 121 built by Kia. But with the lack of interest in small cars, even good small cars during this time, the Festiva and the dated Escort awaited an entirely new Ford to replace them within the year.

    Who bought this car? Anyone who had a parent that demanded a reliable new car that was cheap to buy, insure and operate. Anyone who couldn’t get the credit for a used car, but could under Ford.

    This car was very reliable. Cheap. Obsolete. Functional.

    • 0 avatar

      Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. Just finished reading Yergin’s “The Prize,” with its entire chapter on the invasion’s effects on oil prices, so it’s fresh in my mind.

      • 0 avatar

        We invaded in January 1991. This car was produced a year earlier. It is doubtful that a 1990 car purchase was effected by what Iraq did to Kuwait in August. We didn’t even cobble together a coalition til later. Jimmy Carter was busy trying to sandbag the US effort to do that and there were many Democratic party leaders fighting any attempt to do something to Kuwait, claiming that any involvement would result in a blood bath by the Iraqi army.

        One of the reasons there were so many major Democrats staying out of the 1992 election was because of their anti-Iraq war public stand the year earlier, and why so many Democrats later supported the Iraq war in 2003, expecting it to be as short as the 1991 war.

        Gore supported the 1991 War, so ended up on the 1992 ticket with Clinton.

        Kerry voted against the 1991 War but in favor of the 2003 War because he planned to run in 2004. The vast support for the 2003 Iraq war from the Democrats was due to political positioning in 2004. They didn’t want a repeat of 1992. After 2004, they opposed the War to win Congress in 2006. In 2008, we see John Edwards apologize for this 2003 vote so he could run. We also see other pro-Iraqi voters also walk back their 2003 votes to position themselves as against the War.

      • 0 avatar

        Re “The Prize” – Damn good read. It took me four years to read it (I only read it on planes) but still damn good read.

        Now on to “The Quest”, which I imagine I’ll finish somewhere in the middle of President Martin O’Malley’s first term in office.

      • 0 avatar

        “We invaded in January 1991”.

        Actually the air assault over Kuwait started in January (Desert Storm) but the ground invasion didn’t take place until late February. I never read that book. I was there in Comm Co, HQBN, 2d MarDiv, FMFLant, USMC.

        Anyway, we owned a ’95 Escort for 10 years, and while the quality wasn’t quite up to par with the Corolla of that era, it did OK.

    • 0 avatar

      If I recall correctly, gas prices started to rise when Iraq invaded Kuwait, which, in turn, threw an already weak economy into a full-blown recession (which would end up costing George W. Bush the White House in the 1992 election). Those factors would have boosted sales of this car.

      • 0 avatar

        According to the manufacturer’s sticker, this vehicle was made in either January or February, at least six months before Kuwait was invaded.

        It is entirely possible that it sat in a dealer lot all that time, but unlikely.

        This is a pre-Kuwait War Escort.

        And you have a typo, you forgot the “H” in the president’s name – but we all know whom you mean.

      • 0 avatar

        Vanilla ‘everything must be literal dammit’ Dude.
        It’s called a literary device, go have a beer.

      • 0 avatar

        “Those factors would have boosted sales of this car.”

        Actually, this ’90 was out of production, and the Mazda based ’91 was at this time. Many car buyers waited it out and there was no 2008-like panic to buy small/hybrid cars. The war was a lot shorter and by summer 1991, gas was back to about $1.20-ish. And, Explorers were in their first year of hot sales.

    • 0 avatar

      It being a “stripper” would explain why some one would badge it as a sport,like what Dodge did with the Caravan.

    • 0 avatar

      “the Escort was their only ray of sunshine”.

      Wrong. The ’83 aero T-Birds were very popular, as well as the return of the Mustang GT in 1982.

  • avatar

    Once Ford got the bugs worked out and debuted the refreshed 1985 1/2 version, the Escort was a reasonably reliable machine that got the job done. My father had a 1986 Pony, and my aunt had a 1988 station wagon, and both went for well over 100,000 miles without any major problems. My father didn’t take very good care of his Escort, and it still ran and ran.

    The problem was that while Ford was making a good small car, Toyota and Honda were making GREAT small cars with the Corolla and Civic, respectively.

    Why did these sell? One has to remember that GM was still selling the doddering old Chevette through 1987, and Chrysler was selling the Omni/Horizon through 1990. If you wanted to buy domestic, and didn’t want to buy a small car that was a complete embarrassement, you bought a Ford Escort or (after 1986) maybe a Plymouth Sundance/Dodge Shadow. The Escort, however, was the better choice.

    • 0 avatar

      You are spot on about the (lack of) affordable, small, new car choices in the mid-80s.

      In 1985 I needed cheap, reliable transportation due to a lot of traveling. The ’85 1/2 Escort Pony was really the only choice. IIRC correctly, it’s MSRP was $5995. It took the word spartan to a whole new level. But, it did what it said on the tin, and took a good thrashing for the three years I owned it. I saw it on the road years later (recognized due to a Bones Brigade sticker I had affixed to the rear deck lid) and it was still kicking.

      At the time, the Chevette/Pontiac T1000 twins, as well as the Omni/Horizon duo, looked archaic next to the Escort in the styling department. It was simple, but had a somewhat clean design.

      While I would have loved to have had a Civic Hatchback, they were simply out of my price range. Costing probably a good $2-3K more. However, I rectified my Honda lust by purchasing a brand new Barbados Yellow CR-X Si in 1988. I still wish I would have kept that car.

  • avatar

    Cars like these appeal to me because of their simplicity and an implied promise that if something does break, it will be cheap and easy to fix.

    I always thought the Escort had a certain dignity to its stylng the Omni/Horizon lacked. That being said, I had an 88 powder blue on powder blue Dodge Omni handed down to me by my parents, and dignified or not, I LOVED that freaking car. It remains one of my all time favorites, 3-speed auto and all.

  • avatar

    I’ve had a couple Escorts. The very late 80’s early 90’s cars were pretty good, actually. One of the things I liked is they were ‘free running’, so if your timing belt went, you didn’t end up with a broken motor. Ran good, didn’t break. Took some serious abuse, too. Not bad offroad, either. You didn’t want the air conditioning, because these cars simply didn’t have enough power to run the compressor. Even on the highway the AC would kill ’em.

    The Escort GT was kinda fun. I’ve always thought of these as good little cars.

    But I liked the Sunbird much more. More fun, MUCH better looking, and the little 2.0 ran pretty good. My ’91 could brush the ragged edge of 40mpg on the highway, and routinely gave me 35+. Yes, the dashboard peeled away like all the GM trash back then. The Ford interiors seemed to be much higher quality. But I do wish I could find a clean SE V6 Sunbird with the 5-speed.

    • 0 avatar

      You North Americans were lucky in that you got the 1.9 and 2.0 CVH. They were both non-interference designs. Over in Europe we got lumbered with the smaller engines, all of which were interference designs and meant changes of cam belts were a must.
      Worse than that were the hydraulic lifters. If any one owner of the car skipped even one oil change, the lifters got full of crud and they never worked properly again, leading to a top end rattle that reminded me of a bag of spanners being jingled about. It was horrendous on a cold morning, but even when the engine was warm it didn’t really quieten down.
      Other than that, yeah I loved all my Escorts – cheap, cheerful, and easy to fix.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    My grandmother remarried in the mid 80s and when we journeyed down to Florida in the early 90s to visit the new relatives one of them had an Escort Pony… totally unremarkable to my teenage big V8 sedan loving eyes except the cheap dash calender featuring topless buxom beauties. (Much to my rigorously Catholic mother’s horror.)

    When we returned a few years later he had traded the Pony for a Pontiac Grand Am. While the Grand Am was no race horse it was so light years ahead of the Escort he complained about having gotten several speeding tickets with it because it was difficult for him to tell how fast he was going in it.

  • avatar

    The Escort replaced not only the Pinto but also the kick-in-the-pants to drive Fiesta. What a let down. When Car and Driver, or maybe Motor Trend, first reviewed it, as I recall every paragraph ended with “We gave up the Fiesta for THIS?” Fortunately Ford continued to sell the Fiesta in Europe for a while, I rented one in 1986 and it was a great car for tooling around the English countryside.

    • 0 avatar

      If I recall correctly, those 1970s Fiestas weren’t available with an automatic transmission, which killed the car’s chances for mainstream success in this country. Enthusiasts didn’t care, but John and Jane Carbuyer wanted the option of an automatic.

      The Escort outsold the Fiesta many times over in this country, while giving dealers something to sell in this segment besides the tainted Pinto, which made Ford, its dealers, its workers and its shareholders very, very happy.

    • 0 avatar

      “Fortunately Ford continued to sell the Fiesta in Europe for a while…”
      Ford never stopped selling the Fiesta (or ‘Fester’ as some of the earlier, more rot-prone marks are nicknamed) in Europe. I’m pretty certain they’ve sold over 10 million of them over the years.
      Like you said, they are a hoot to tool around in. I once ‘briefly’ owned (I destroyed it) a Mk2 XR2 which had the 96bhp 1.6 engine from the Escort in it. Later Fiesta’s (MK2, 3 & 4) were able to take pretty much any engine that went into the Escorts, including (with a bit of work) the 2.0 148bhp zetec. Now there was a potent combination – a car that weighed nothing (750-900+ kg), cost nothing, yet went like fecal matter off a digging implement. The Escort was a fat and boring (if not reliable) tub by comparison.

  • avatar

    I had an 86 Pony, 86 Wagon, an 86 Escort L and and 88 Pony. All were decent basic cars. They were good cars on the whole and were reliable. They had distributor problems as a pattern failure and I had one blow a head gasket. They were cheap on gas and were easy to fix. The first generation cars were good but rusted out fast in Maine. This one has a great body on it as compared to some up here. I had a 1997 Tracer and 2000 Focus with the same engine and both ran well. Have a 2007 Focus today so I guess I am a Ford subcompact person.

  • avatar

    Yep as others have noted there was a Pony model. The sport wording though is suspect and likely from a parts store. Pony signified a base car with virtually no options. I had a 1988 and a half (the half signifying the new rear lights and bumpers) Pony…purchased new.

    Great gas mileage, cheap interior, suspect handling. But for the right person it was a good car. Unfortunately I was coming out of a VW and was very disappointed with the handling. I will say the Pony was much quieter than most any VW at the time, for better or worse. And again, the gas mileage was really nice.

  • avatar

    I’ve outlined my Ford Escort ownership on these pages before, an 81, an 82 and an 86 Pony which was very similar to this one but different taillights IIRC, but it definitely had a six digit speedo (Canada only perhaps?)
    The 86 had the 1.9/ 4 speed and was a tentative step forward from the 1.6 – quicker (just), quieter, and better mileage. But after 160000 km it all started falling apart; seat frames, door handles in and out, window regulators, tranny would pop out of gear when it was cold, and seemed to take longer and longer to get up to speed.
    I bought them because they’re cheap and familiar and learned to fix them, which is what you do owning an Escort or go broke in the process.
    The fact they’re acres of them in the junkyards also kept the costs of repairs down
    Finally sold in 1998 and bought an 86 323, which is a far better in too many ways to count.
    That 323 I still miss, the Escort, not a backward glance even after putting over 100000 km on it.

  • avatar

    The 1990 Escort was out of production by March of ’90, and the first Iraq war was still to come.

    The 1991 Escort came out spring 1990 and for the first year had a ‘Pony’ model, then called just plain Escort til 98. With standard steering [91-96ish] it cornered well, and has a ‘cult’ following.

    My brother got a ’91 Pony in June ’90 and put 110K miles on it in 5 years! Only had the alternator die at that point. He wishes Ford still made a strippo like it. Only one in my family who can tolerate no A/C in a car!

    I had an 86 E-GT and a 91 Tracer LTS with Mazda 1.8 DOHC motor.

    The Pony name was used for entry level Pintos and Mustang II’s in mid-late 70’s. But Escort Pony didn’t arrive til 1985 1/2.

  • avatar

    Here’s the skinny on the 5 vs 6 digit odometer: 100K KM is only about 63K miles. So cars that read in KM, you know, imported cars, always had the sixth digit because if they didn’t, the car would “roll over” every 63K miles. When cars were imported to the States, they were just recalibrated to read in miles and they retained the extra digit. Foreign car fans of the day often said that the extra digit was there because the car lasted longer, which of course may or may not have been true, depending on the make or model….Detroit just added the digit to match. Of course, cars began to last long enough to justify the extra digit, even when reading miles….

  • avatar

    Never much liked cared for the Escort, probably due to the styling. It was sort of like a boring Toyota without the quality. Even though they were likely not built as well, if I were going to pick something of that size class from the Big 3 during that era, I probably would have went with an Omni/Horizon or even a Chevette. Even later, the fact that all those other, better cars from 1990 were priced significantly less than the Escort, I wonder how they were able to sell any Escorts at all.

    OTOH, I seem to recall that the Escort was usually in the top 5 or top 10 best selling cars year after year.

  • avatar

    I have had a few Escorts back in the day, and overall had pretty good luck with them. I must be a fan of the stripo models since one of my cars is a 06 Canyon reg cab, 2wd with 100k trouble free miles. I also bought my son the last new 2010 Cobalt they had on the lot – 2 door, manual everything, no air, but kind of fun and just over $12k. He also needed something reliable for the 10 hour drive to MI Tech through the remote, wilderness of the UP.

  • avatar

    My dad bought an ’85 Escort wagon brand new.

    It lived through 3 teenagers learning to drive a manual in it.

    My Mom ended up giving it to my youngest brother at some point, he drove it for a few years and then traded it in on a used Dakota.

    It wasn’t a great car but it ran forever, the car had well over 200k miles on it when it was traded in and was still on the original clutch.

  • avatar

    Escorts are some of the best cars Ford doesn’t make any more.

  • avatar

    I always thought compact cars from that era had a somewhat industrial and very depressing aesthetic to them, as if to constantly remind you that you’d made a value purchase.

    Regarding the 5-digit odometer, was there ever any legislation forced car companies to switch to 6-digit?

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