By on April 27, 2016

1988 Ford Escort GT in California Junkyard, RH front view - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The first-generation North American Ford Escort looked a lot like its European namesake, but was a very different machine under the skin. For the 1991 model year, the Escort moved to the same platform as the Mazda 323, so the late-’80s models are the last of the all-Ford American Escorts.

Here’s one that I spotted in a Northern California yard.

1988 Ford Escort GT in California Junkyard, decklid spoiler - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

For some reason, 1988 model-year Escort GTs are the ones I find in these self-service yards; so far in this series, we have seen this first-half-of-1988 red one and this post-mid-model-year-refresh white one. Today’s Escort is another “1988.5” version.

1988 Ford Escort GT in California Junkyard, engine - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The 1.9-liter CVH engine in this car made 110 horsepower. This would be considered intolerable in 2016, but wasn’t bad back then.

1988 Ford Escort GT in California Junkyard, disco ball - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Poor bedraggled junkyard mini-disco-ball.

1988 Ford Escort GT in California Junkyard, emissions modification sticker - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

I hadn’t seen one of these Ford-issued EMISSION CONTROL SYSTEM MODIFIED stickers in a California car before. Since the California emissions check involves a ball-bustingly strict, factory-equipment inspection, this probably authorizes a different type of EGR valve or similar minor change.

1988 Ford Escort GT in California Junkyard, bumper stickers - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

A much worn, late-1980s-vintage KEEP ABORTION LEGAL sticker is a very San Francisco Bay Area-appropriate accessory.

1988 Ford Escort GT in California Junkyard, rear emblem - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The list price on this car was $9,093, which was a lot cheaper than the 132 hp, $12,058 Mazda 323 GT Turbo. However, the 1988 Dodge Omni GLH (which was lighter and had the same horsepower as the Escort GT) sold for a mere $8,226.


Weedly-weeee guitars and a trip to Club 911? Take the Escort GT!

[Images: © 2016 Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars]

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53 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1988 Ford Escort GT...”


  • avatar
    dividebytube

    There was a time – early 90s – that I wanted one of these with a manual, natch. Back when I had to depend on my parents to buy me a used car since I was still in college and poorer than anytime in my life. Instead of the Escort GT I got my dad’s 200k+ miles MY87 Nissan Stanza.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    Always preferred the later one with the weird asymmetrical diagonal hole grille.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Agree. Those seemed special to me as a child, so unusual to see something with offset logo. I liked the European influence on the 91+ model in general, whether it was Escort or Tracer.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    Oh dear. I remember test driving one brand new in ’89. Seemed ridiculous fresh and I liked it, but felt that the Z24 was better (but a lot more expensive) and that the Shadow ES was faster (but not as well made).

    Look at this thing now. It got completely used up and then discarded like an old Nike (though props to the owners for not sullying it with Pep Boy add-on crap like most of these suffered). Time is unpleasant. Ugh!

  • avatar
    John

    Guitarists now spend hundreds of dollars for digital simulations of the tape wow in that recording, or over a thousand dollars for a real magnetic tape machine.

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      John…
      You post reminds me of way back in 1978 Los Angeles.
      My friends had a great band called Division St. Rick, the lead, had a wonderful tape loop and I often helped set up on stage.
      However…one pre-concert I was helping bring in equipment and setting up when I dropped his tape loop box.

      Just gonna say…never saw such pain and a guy cry like that before.

      Still haunts me today.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Judging from the bumper stickers, I’m guessing this vehicle was owned by an older Mary Moon…

  • avatar
    Joss

    The next generation Mazda based was a bigger improvement.
    It gained 17hp, a 4-sp auto and independent rear suspension.
    Much more relaxed on the highway.

    • 0 avatar
      gsf12man

      The Mazda-based Escort GT was indeed a big improvement, but first-gen Escorts did have independent rear suspension.

      • 0 avatar
        mattwc1

        The 1988 1/2 Escort LX was my first new car. Part of what sold me (an impressionable 18 year first time car buyer, whose parents were of the “only buy American cars” variety until they were thoroughly screwed by American indifference by a series of craptastic cars until the mid 1990s, but I digress…) was the new improved “deluxe” 14 inch wheels and independent suspension. By the way, my father had talked me out of buying a MKII Golf for this.

        I had this crapbox for 6 years and hated every minute of it. It would randomly shut off on the freeway until I finally isolated a broken aircraft connection to the ECU. It blew up (2) batteries. The transmission sucked and was in the shop several times for fixes that never fixed it. NVH issues abounded. My then girlfriend/now wife hated it. What really set me off was none of these issues, but buyers remorse. I remember driving a friend’s CRX and my best friend’s equivalent year Sentra. For roughly the same money (especially in the Sentra’s case), I could have had a much more reliable, refined car.

        However, I do owe this rotten car some due. It taught me to buy Chiltons/Haynes manuals and to teach myself how to fix many problems. It also helped me (a struggling college kid and later starting out on my own) how to maintain a car a prolong my car’s life and avoid new car payments. It also did several East coast trips (averaging 40mpg) and the engine (while crude compared to the Japanese rivals) never had any catastrophic issues. This was still the time that buying an American economy car was strictly based on rebates and money on the hood rather than competing directly with better rivals.

        Ironic, that I actually saw one recently still moving under its own power.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    The gall of them to call a 57HP/L engine “high output”. Even in 89 that was pretty lazy. Honda and Toyota got the same HP out of 1.6L and I’m not even going to get into the boosted stuff. They were still shellshocked from smog it seems.

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      Yea, it was weak even for the times, with a mere 110 HP on tap per my old American car encyclopedia. I remember it feeling pretty slow. While it wasn’t heavy by today’s standards, it still weighed 2,500 pounds, which was about the same as the Cavalier Z24, which had more power. Ford should have put the 2.2 liter turbo from the Probe GT into it, which would have made things a lot more interesting.

      But, on the flip side, the Escort GT was cheap. About a grand cheaper than the Shadow ES and a full $2,000 cheaper than the Z24. That was significant money back then to the target market of these things. Probably why they sold pretty well despite their pathetic power output. For its price, you justified it as a sporty economy car basically.

    • 0 avatar
      cbrworm

      The reality is, with the 5 speed, the GT didn’t feel weak at the time. I preferred these to the higher horsepower Omni. I ended up buying a ’91 GT, which was worlds better with the Mazda powertrain.

      The revolution was when the Sentra SE-R arrived. It was generations ahead of any small car available in the late 80’s. So smooth, ridiculously strong (~140hp), 7K redline, etc.

  • avatar

    I owned one of these. My wife and I had small children and at 30-something decided to quit working and go back to school. We needed a cheap small car that she could navigate a college campus with and this car fit that description perfectly. We put about 80k miles on the thing and it was very reliable. It drove OK, rode OK and got good gas mileage. Just what we needed it to do.

    Note that I said it was “OK.” OK described the whole car and the entire ownership experience.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      My sister owned one of these. I confess it was at my recommendation. When I drove it, I was struck that it wasn’t really any kind of “GT,” but it was a pretty credible impersonation of a mini T-bird or Monte Carlo-type upscale coupe with nice appointments, a comfortable ride and a decent level of equipment for the time, and the price was right. She got over 100,000 good miles out of it before somebody piled into it.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    As a lifetime salt-belt resident, I always marvel at these sun bleached but oh so solid chassis. A good mechanic could ride one forever if they didn’t get bored to tears with the same car in perpetuity.

  • avatar
    rpm1200

    I love the “LED Test” button in the fourth picture. Wouldn’t want to run out of washer fluid and not know it due to a burned out LED.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Aside from the “EFI HO” graphics, that motor sure looks like the 1.9 that was in my wife’s ’93 not-a-GT Escort. Did they make it the standard engine later?

  • avatar

    My dad’s ’89 Escort GT – purchased new – was a dud. It was plagued by idle, hesitation, bucking, and no-start problems, and rode to the dealer on the hook several times.

    Not only was it the last all-American Escort GT, but it was the last all-American vehicle in my family for quite a long time.

  • avatar
    kinsha

    I made the mistake of buying one of these brand new. Mine was a 87 like the one in the video. All black with biege interior. Do not know where you came up with that price for the 88. They all came with the same options ( really none ) no power windows or locks. Mine stickered for over 11,000 so unless they got cheaper the following year IDK? Anyway it was a POS. Brought it home with 20 miles on it. Do not know what I was thinking on the test drive. Oh well I was young, and it looked cool. Immediately if you drove it over 100 miles straight it would start to buck, and the guages would be all over the place. Ford finally figured out it was something with the emissions. Took them forever almost went to the lemon law. The whole steering shaft vibrated as you went down the highway. Hated that car! After a tierod was knocking and had to be fixed at 35000 miles I traded it in for a 1990 GEO Prizm LSI. Kept that car fro 16 years. Still one of the best cars I ever had.

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      “Mine stickered for over 11,000 so unless they got cheaper the following year IDK?”

      My auto encyclopedia shows the MSRP on an ’87 Escort GT was $8,700. That’s a long way from $11,000, especially in 1987 dollars. So my guess would be yours had a lot of dealer gingerbread on it like pin striping, window tinting, fabric protector, VIN etching, and a bunch of black nasty undercoating hosed onto the bottom?

      Judging by what you’re saying, yours also might have been a dealer demo with 2,000 hard and carefree miles rolled back to 20 miles. That wasn’t all that difficult to do with the old odometers and dealers had no qualms about rollbacks if they felt they could get away with it. On a “sporty” car likely to be purchased by a young driver and abused anyway, why not?

      Times have changed. Car dealers were pretty unscrupulous back in those days, and were much more about making money by beating up the individual customer and less about moving inventory and developing long term relationships.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        $11K is a little high. The base Mustang was under $8K and stepping up to the 5.0 V8 including “GT” suspension, brakes, tires, 15×7 alloys, etc, was still under $10K.

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    Does “GT” stand for Giant Turd?

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    See these around the streets in the Ozarks all day long.
    In fact, my engineer (real train ) has one he drives 2 to 3 hours each way to his train.
    Over 200K on it. Red and bumpers hanging on.
    He LOVES his little beater.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    I remember test driving one of these Escort GTs in 1986. I was partial to Mustang GTs (pricier, thirsty, and more to insure) and VW GTIs.

    I was impressed with how the car cornered and how quick the car was (I was used to driving malaise era cars…). However, it was thrashy and rough when you wound it out.

    However, subjectively, the VW was better in every area. The steering, brakes, clutch and shifter felt a lot more precise, the car sounded much better.

    After my Escort GT drive, I didn’t bother test driving an Omni GLH, and wound up buying the VW.

  • avatar
    montecarl

    The escort gt was on the list to buy in 1988 but ended up with a caviler z24 because my ex wife couldn’t drive a stick….If I remember correctly you couldn’t get a automatic in the gt..

  • avatar

    I’m always curious about the markings on junkyard cars, like the AG next to the wheel. Attorney general?

  • avatar

    All you funny people moaning about your terrible Escorts and other random vehicles you were stuck in. You, my friends, never had back to back Ford Tempos in your families. My first car in high school was a hand-me-down ’89 Ford Tempo GL.

    Pitty me.

  • avatar
    rocketrodeo

    I shopped one of these in ’87 when I got my first real job out of college, mainly because my boss was best friends with the local Ford dealer. For $1500 more I ended up with an Acura Integra, after also testing a GTI, a Scirocco, a Celica GT, and a Prelude. Along with the Cavalier Z24 which I didn’t even bother to drive, these weren’t even in the ballpark in the late 1980s. The Escort GT drove more like my old Mustang II than it did a contemporary FWD Japanese or German coupe. I ended up getting more than 220,000 miles out of the Integra, which I drove abusively hard but maintained well. I don’t think the Escort would have put up with that.

    Thirty years later there are two Fords in my garage. I wouldn’t have seen that coming.

  • avatar
    matt3319

    I had a red 1993 GT with a 5 speed that I bought in 1993. It was a demo and had 6000 miles on it. The ford dealer also had a ’92 Berretta GT in a light blue but was an auto. I like both but my girl friend at the time said get the escort. So I did. I liked it a lot. Other than being red it was a sweet ride. I don’t think it had an airbag though. The rear spoiler faded a bunch. The Mazda 1.8L was revvy and overall it was quite reliable. I traded it in a few years later and got another ’89 Honda CRX SIi with only 30K on it. It was yellow and my second one. I loved all he Mazda powered fords including a’96 probe GT I had

  • avatar
    06V66speed

    My folks had an ’89 Escort GL (yes, GL) after my stepfather lost his job and they hit a rocky financial patch.

    I remember they got their ’95 teal Buick Skylark (the one with the pointed nose, yes) repossessed. And that navy blue ’89 Escort was the only car that the lot could finance for them at the time.

    The car was reliable for the couple of years they had it, sans the air conditioning quitting.

    I do recall, however, that on sub-freezing temperature days, that if you would lean on the back doors, the doors would fly open due to the latches getting frozen and not securing properly.

    Good times!

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    Modify the Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) System. Clean the Engine Throttle Body, Adjust the Engine Initial Ignition Timing, Reset Engine Hard
    Stop Idle Setting, Attach New Vehicle Emissions Control Information (VECI) and Authorized Modifications Decals, Provide State of California Vehicle
    Emission Recall – Proof of Correction Certificate.

  • avatar
    laserwizard

    I bought the first of the 1988 1/2 Escort GT’s to hit the largest Ford dealer in Virginia.

    I was smitten.

    I didn’t need a new car – my 1987 Escort GL was just fine – black exterior and a sharp red interior with red pin stripe. It was dependable and economical.

    But it wasn’t sporty.

    Being a foolish young man, I bought the 88 1/2 GT just like the one above. I’ll admit to being a Ford fanboi, but this GT pushed my limits on my first worthless Ford ever.

    At 12k miles, the fuel pump left me stranded on the way to work.
    At 18k miles, it would eat front tires with regularity. Tie rod ends were failing.
    At random intervals, it would blow out the headlight switch. It also ate MAP sensors.

    All of the repairs were done at the same dealership from which I purchased the car. They faithfully replaced the parts that went bad. But nothing more.

    So, I get promoted and now have a small town Ford dealer to deal with.

    And like clockwork the car developed its hungry gremlins but this time was my first with the new dealer. I crept onto the dealer lot with 60,001 miles with a car that had a 60,000 mile warranty.

    I figured I was dead meat and I’d be paying through the nose.

    The service advisor at the new dealer came to me and asked me about the history of the car and why it had so many parts replaced over and over. After about an hour, he came back to me and said the parts were indeed failing because of related quality issues.

    Tie rods were failing because of bent struts.
    Light switch was failing because of improperly installed harness causing shorts that could also explain MAP sensor failures.

    I knew I was toast.

    The service advisor informed me that the work was already underway and that this was going to be done under warranty and nothing was going to cost me a dime.

    There was never a reoccurrence of any of the prior issues though the alternator later became problematic – replaced once at my cost – dealer replaced at his expense and solved the problem.

    Takeaway – yes, there are problematic cars, but a great dealer fixes more than a broken part – he finds the root cause. I ended up buying my last new car in 1997 from the same dealer and that Ford has been trouble free through its 170k life save for clutch slave cylinder and timing belt (had water pump replaced at same time for preventive maintenance).

    Don’t condemn a car if you don’t change dealers first. You’d be surprised how a bad car soon becomes a good one if you take the time to change dealers that work on it (under warranty)!

    My 1997 Escort has more power and gets better mileage and is more fun to drive than that 1988 GT. All told, I still wish I had that 1987 Black Escort. It was my first new car.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I am happy to hear about your good service experience. I had a 85 Mercury Lynx that was the worst car I have ever owned. Four speed manual 2 door charcoal grey with matching interior. The electronic carburetor went which was very expensive, the 4 speed manual transmission seized which I had replaced with a junkyard transmission (the only manual that I ever had that went out). the heads went, and then at the bottom of the firewall the car was rusting out to where it was unsafe (the only place where there was rust). I didn’t want to sell the Lynx to anyone so I traded it in on a new 1994 Ford LX wagon with a 5 speed manual which was excellent and a trouble free car. The Mazda based Escorts were a much better car than the earlier Escorts. The Ford Ranger was vastly improved when it became Mazda based.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    What was the name of the sportback version? I remember the son of the Police chief in my hometown got one new. Looked fast but my MK1 GTI was faster( 0-60 9.5 sec.?)

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