Junkyard Find: 1981 Ford Escort L Liftback Coupe

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1981 ford escort l liftback coupe
The automotive industry’s shift from rear-wheel-drive to front-wheel-drive was in full swing by the late 1970s, and the folks at Dearborn knew that the successor to the Pinto would need to get with the space-and-weight-saving FWD program. The North American Escort appeared in the 1981 model year and sold very well to buyers with strong memories of gas lines in 1979 and 1973.Rapid depreciation condemned nearly all of these early Escorts to The Crusher well before the end of the 1990s, but a few miraculous survivors managed to hang on for extra decades. Here’s one of those cars, spotted in a Denver-area self-service yard last winter.
The L trim level was the second-from-the-cheapest available for the Escort in its first model year, but the original buyer of this car opted for two-tone paint and these trick tape stripes. It’s still a 4-speed-manual car with no air conditioning, but at least it had a bit of style.
This junkyard is just a couple of miles from the dealership that sold the car new, nearly 40 years ago. Sometimes the Circle of Automotive Life works that way.
The interior looks decent, suggesting that the car spent most of its life garaged (the mile-high climate is rough on car interiors).
1.6 liters, 65 horsepower. Curb weight was just a hair under a ton, making this car not quite as slow as that lackluster horsepower number might suggest.
Base price came to $5,494, or about $16,175 in 2019 dollars. Meanwhile, bargain-seeking 1981 car shoppers might have considered the the Honda Civic 1300 ($4,599), the Fiat Strada ($5,689), the Chevrolet Chevette Scooter ($4,700), the Mazda GLC ($5,095), the Toyota Corolla Tercel ($4,748), the Subaru STD ($4,669), the Plymouth Horizon Miser ($5,499), the Plymouth Champ ($5,263), or the Volkswagen Rabbit ($5,765). Man, the Civic looks like a steal in that crowd!
Look out, world!
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  • -Nate -Nate on Jul 29, 2019

    The were true 'penalty boxes' yet at the time there still plenty of buyers for uber cheap motoring and they were _everywhere_ until the 2000's when even a $350 repair would send them to the junkyards . They ran and ran fine in spite if seriously cheap carbys and other ancillary bits . The only front suspension adjustment was toe - in . The horn button was pushing in the turn signal leaver ~ cheap to the extreme but they ran, and ran, and ran...... -Nate

    • See 2 previous
    • Golden2husky Golden2husky on Jul 30, 2019

      @-Nate The aftermarket came to the rescue for all those '80s cars that had no front wheel adjustment other than toe. Special fittings and other parts allowed for camber/caster adjustment. And lest everyone think that only the domestics were like that, pretty much all Hondas were like that, too. K-cars, notably, had cam bolts on the struts for adjustment. Nicely done, Lido.

  • Geozinger Geozinger on Jul 29, 2019

    Seeing the two tone paint reminds me of helping my mother buy a car in 1981. We looked at a Mustang Ghia and an Escort GL (IIRC). I had seen the Escorts around for a while, and thought it would be good for mom. We got in the Escort and started driving around, but it was just dreadful. In contrast, even though the Ghia had a 2.3L Pinto motor and an autobox, it was much peppier and she seemed to like it better. Bonus for her, it was dark blue over sky blue with a nice pinstripe like the Escort in Denver. She had the car for 17 years and my niece drove it for a few more after mom was done with it. About 1991, my FIL wanted to get my younger brother in law his first car. He found an Escort L super cheap. It was as dreadful to drive as the one I drove with my mother in 1981. IIRC, that car had all kinds of issues, with head gaskets, tie rod ends, etc., etc. After it was totaled in a minor crash, he bought a nice Chevy Lumina after that.

  • Jim Bonham Thanks.
  • Luke42 I just bought a 3-row Tesla Model Y.If Toyota made a similar vehicle, I would have bought that instead. I'm former Prius owner, and would have bought a Prius-like EV if it were available.Toyota hasn't tried to compete with the Model Y. GM made the Bolt EUV, and Ford made the Mach-E. Tesla beat them all fair and square, but Toyota didn't even try.[Shrug]
  • RHD Toyota is trying to hedge their bets, and have something for everyone. They also may be farther behind in developing electric vehicles than they care to admit. Japanese corporations sometimes come up with cutting-edge products, such as the Sony Walkman. Large corporations (and not just Japanese corporations) tend to be like GM, though - too many voices just don't get heard, to the long-term detriment of the entity.
  • Randy in rocklin The Japanese can be so smart and yet so dumb. I'm America-Japanese and they really can be dumb sometimes like their masking paranoia.
  • Bunkie The Flying Flea has a fascinating story and served, inadvertently, to broaden the understanding of aircraft design. The crash described in the article is only part of the tale.
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