By on July 29, 2019

1981 Ford Escort in Colorado junkyard, RH front view - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

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.

1981 Ford Escort in Colorado junkyard, stripes - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

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.

1981 Ford Escort in Colorado junkyard, Courtesy Ford emblem - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

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.

1981 Ford Escort in Colorado junkyard, front seats - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The interior looks decent, suggesting that the car spent most of its life garaged (the mile-high climate is rough on car interiors).

1981 Ford Escort in Colorado junkyard, engine - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

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.

1981 Ford Escort in Colorado junkyard, RH rear view - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

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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[Images: ©2019 Murilee Martin]

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74 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1981 Ford Escort L Liftback Coupe...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Say what you want, but these Escorts ran poorly for a long, long time. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t see one still sputtering along

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      The third generation escorts (97-03) are like cockroaches, and the second generation (91?-96) weren’t bad either. A local housecleaning firm still has MY2k-ish wagons in their fleet, and I’ve chatted with the owner and she’s bummed she can’t replace them. The first generation was terrible and I haven’t seen one in years.

      • 0 avatar
        ect

        I once had a first-generation Lynx wagon for 10 days or so as a rental in California. The very definition of “cheap” in the nastiest sense of the word. It couldn’t maintain speed on even the shallowest grade, and the glovebox latch literally shattered in my hand one day.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      Lie2me,

      Do you really see first generation Escorts or Lynxes anywhere? The Mazda-based ones were still around a decade ago, but I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw a first-gen. They really improved over their run too, and early ones were quite short lived.

      These were typical used or hand-me-down cars driven by my high-school peers. Even with a manual transmission, they were slower than my automatic, 1.7 liter VW-Audi engined 1979 Plymouth Horizon in a drag race. Throw a corner into the course and they’d lose to pickup trucks. Ford sorted them out pretty well by the 1985 model year, but early ones were much worse than they looked.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    I don’t think the Honda Civic price is correct. It’s TOO low relative to the competition.

    If a 1981 Chevette Scooter was $4700 relative to the $5494 Escort L and a Tercel was $4748 (these numbers make sense), no way the Honda was that low.

    1981 was a recession year, but by 1983, buying a new Honda meant paying MSRP–if you were lucky. Typically, you had to get “fabric protector, paint protector”, another $150-300 ON TOP of the MSRP.

    What’s amazing is the inflation in car prices, from 1976 to 1981. In 1976, a Chevette “Scooter” was advertised as $2999..just under $3k. If a Mustang II was $3500, a Pinto was about $3200 (vs the 1981 Escort). In 1976, a basic Corolla 4-speed was probably around $3300. 5 years later, a Tercel was 50% more.

    THe cheapest base Ford Fairmont was $3663 at its debut in 1978. Three years later, you’re paying almost $2k more for an Escort. OK…and Escort “L”, pardon me.

    In 1980, MSRPs rose several times during the model year.

    No wonder sales were down–MUCH higher prices for slow cars and higher unemployment.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      …and now for the same inflation-adjusted 16k, you can get a Kia Rio with more than double the power, better mileage, airbags, power windows, AC, a 7″ touch screen, a reasonable sound system, power door locks, remote keyless entry, and what, triple, quadruple the warranty? People complain that cars are expensive now, but really they just mean “Cars that people want to buy are expensive”. The general standard of living has risen a lot vs what was expected in the early ’80s; by any reasonable assessment we’re doing pretty well!

    • 0 avatar
      65corvair

      The Honda price was correct BUT, you’ll never find the base Honda, so the one you find will have a higher base price, then the dealer will add some worthless things like fabric protection and lastly the ADP. (added dealer profit) So the $4600 Civic will cost like $6K. I remember going to Japanese dealers in the ’80’s, it was screwville. In 2014 when I did actually finally buy a Honda, they were happy to see me and I paid well under sticker!

      • 0 avatar
        Felix Hoenikker

        65,
        You are correct, but my experience with Honda/Toyota dealers was worse in the late 70s early 80s. As a result, I boycotted them for a long time. As you did, I purchased a 14 Honda at a discount. I didn’t even work too hard to get money off MSRP and no add ons despite the FI guys goofy attempts to sell me a 3rd party warranty. “But it’s the sensors” he cried after I told him I wouldn’t buy the car if the drive train was that unreliable. All I wanted to do was kick him in the nuts, but the desk between us had a front cover. WHile a lot of fellow citizens would have let me off for severing his male parts with my pocket knife, there was too much jury risk to go that route. So I told him to stop the sales pitches and just get the paper work done. I am a very peaceful person unless provoked.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      You had to live through the 1970s to understand the rampant inflation of that decade. When the US went off the gold standard in 1971, the decade became an adjustment in the value of the dollar, with two middle east oil embargoes thrown in. 1981 was when the fed decided to wring inflation out of the economy with 20% interest rates.

      The rate went down slowly – US treasury bonds were paying 10% interest in 1985, and almost every bank was paying 5% on passbook savings.I knew a guy who retired in 1983, and had a 401(k) that had to be zeroed out in ten years inder the rules back then. He took 11% of the principal the first year, and the IRS told him he had to double the amount – the interest on the principal had replaced his distribution amount and then some, in just one year.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      “I don’t think the Honda Civic price is correct. It’s TOO low relative to the competition.”

      There were certainly times in the ’80s when Honda had loss-leader Civics that they advertised with super low prices. When you went to the dealer to buy one, at least some of the dealers would tell you that the DX in question couldn’t be driven on the highway with no fifth gear, had a serious lack of power, wasn’t in stock, were all spoken for this model year and can’t be ordered for next year yet…ad infinitum.

  • avatar
    DedBull

    I wonder how many of those 65 horses are actually present at altitude in Denver….

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      Probably not a lot, but seeing how it was originally sold in Denver, it should be a high altitude car (larger jet in the carb, different timing, etc.)

      • 0 avatar
        indi500fan

        Don’t you go leaner at altitude because less air density?

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          No, carburetors naturally go richer as you climb.

          It’s common knowledge for piston engine pilots that you have to lean the mixture the higher you go (that is, progressively adjust the mixture control to a leaner setting). This is true in most small planes, except for the ones built with a system for automatic mixture control.

          • 0 avatar
            indi500fan

            Yeah, the OP said “larger jets” for altitude and my post meant need smaller jets (or larger needles) to maintain the A/F ratio.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            @indi500fan, “Yeah, the OP said “larger jets” for altitude and my post meant need smaller jets (or larger needles) to maintain the A/F ratio.”

            Ah, I reread it and I see that you were gently correcting @dukeisduke.

            :thumbsup:

          • 0 avatar
            Featherston

            If I’m inferring things correctly from this thread, JimC2 flew with the 475th Fighter Group. ;-)

            http://www.charleslindbergh.com/wwii/

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    Who was the voice-over guy in that commercial? It sounds like Alan Alda.

    Whoever it was, that guy had a LOT of work since he was probably in at least one commercial every break on every show in the 80s and into the 90s.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      “Who was the voice-over guy in that commercial? It sounds like Alan Alda.”

      It’s Casey Kasem! How could you not recognize his voice with the first syllable???????? As someone who grew up in the 1980s and listened to American Top 40 every week, I just had an aneurism when I read your question!! Auughhh!!!!!!

      Just kidding… sort of… the video title also has his name in it.

      • 0 avatar
        Land Ark

        Well jeez, how could I miss that???

        Thanks for pointing it out. I dunno, I guess I’m more attuned to hearing his voice when he was reading some sad letter someone had mailed in than when his voice is up and energetic.

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          “some sad letter someone had mailed in”

          [chuckle]

          Or telling everyone out in radio land some strange fact about the band who has this week’s number xx song. Until next week, keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.

    • 0 avatar
      Mike Beranek

      Or telling Scooby it’s time for some “snacks”.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Awful cars, especially because of the early CVH four.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      My sister bought one, a first year 81 in 83 when she was in college. It had the 4 speed, AM/FM no AC but the nice pop out sunroof.
      The CVH started to act up within months of ownership with coolant issues. Me and my dad took the head off and replaced the gasket as well as the bolts as recommended by Ford. How could a head bolt go bad?
      It ran fine after that but then other issues cropped up which for a relatively low mileage 60k or so vehicle were unusual like axles and CV joints. A starter and an alternator. Oh and the heater core went bad. That was an easy fix, just access through the glove compartment.
      Another instance of Ford not giving us or incorporating their better European vehicles. Cortina vs Pinto? Europe’s Escort vs the US “World car”?

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        The US Escort was essentially a European escort with American 5 mph bumpers, door beams, sealed beam headlights, and emissions controls. The European Escort seemed like a strong performer because it was a defenseless beer can that polluted as much as a 1967 Fairlane.

        • 0 avatar
          Featherston

          “that polluted as much as a 1967 Fairlane”

          Amen to that, ToddAtlasF1. I always roll my eyes a little bit when people pooh-pooh 1970s and ’80s emissions controls in US market cars as if they were there for no reason other than to punish enthusiasts. The exhaust from traffic in 1980s Brussels and London gave me a headache that traffic in 1980s Chicago and London did not. Clean air is a good thing, people.

  • avatar
    spookiness

    Don’t let the Civic MSRP fool you. Civics in the early 80’s had massive “market adjustments”. Family bought a new ’82 and we had the pick of what was left on the lot- Jalopnik brown, 5-sp hatch, 1300FE model. I later had a 83 1300FE, bought used with 100k miles on it, and traded it at 205k. I also had an ’83 Escort. They were light years apart in most every sense. For an early Escort to have made it to this recent, it must have had regular timing belt changes and been very lucky electronics. Mine had constant problems with the engine control electronics and emissions equipment. Terrible car that turned me off Ford for 25+ years.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      I bought an Accord in 81 and felt like I negotiated a good deal getting it for sticker and no ADM. Those cars were in demand. Big dealers like Hendrick were bribing the Honda execs to get extra cars.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    The next-door neighbor (WWII vet) bought an ’81 L four-door, four-speed with a/c. The clutch pedal take up was like an on-off switch, not progressive at all. He ended up trading for an ’82 Cavalier four-door with auto and air, his last car before he passed away four years later.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    “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.”

    I seem to remember these had very, uhhh, spritely pickup between about 0-20. These cars were meant to get you around town, something for which they were quite adequate.

    These cars came out right about the same time as the “Quality is Job 1” campaign. Does anybody remember if the Escort came to market before that ad campaign or did the ads show up first? A better question for the Ford experts would be what was the timing of all the details? I mean from the car being on the drawing board, to the ad people finalizing their side of things for print and TV/radio, to the production people doing their behind the scenes work to get real results, to the folks at the corporate head shed coordinating all this stuff.

    Another question for the Ford experts- how many different ignition keys were there for the Escort? I’ve never found out if it was a myth or true, but I’ve heard that as late as the sixties or seventies, there were only about a dozen or so unique keys for most Fords. Can any B&B confirm or deny this?

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Not sure about this but it seems that Chrysler used very few different types. In the spring of 1976 I walked out the local plaza, up to ‘my’ Cordoba, got in, started it and then realized that it was not my car.

      GM at that time used one key (oval) for the door locks and another key (rectangular) for the ignition.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        Yeah, it might not have been just a Ford thing at all.

        Ignition locks also wear out, eventually enough that they don’t need the original key (a precise replica) to function, as was the case of your ‘second’ Cordoba.

        In an extreme case, my younger brother’s 15 year old first generation Taurus barely needed the key at all. He used to delight in pranking his passengers by removing the key, while driving at highway speed, and tossing it into their laps. Hehehe good times!

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          @JimC2: You are probably correct. However this episode happened in the spring of 1976 and the Cordoba had been released less than a year prior to that. So these were new or nearly new cars.

          Even worse were early/mid 70’s GM’s with tilt/telescope steering. When the ignition switch had considerable wear (or you could just strip them with a vice grip) then you would no longer need a key and could just turn them with your hand to start the engine.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        Even earlier, probably around the time that GM had to comply with the rules with locking steering columns, that the square-headed key operated the ignition and the doors, while the round-headed key opened the trunk.

        In fact, I just recalled a childhood incident which brought this difference into focus!! My Mom had a 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass “S” Coupe with the square-headed key for the ignition and doors. At some point in the fall of 1980, my Mom and I had picked my Dad’s company car, a 1980 Olds Cutlass Sedan (base, newly-released notchback sedan, equivalent to the base Cutlass Salon “aeroback” coupe) from the gas station where it had been serviced; there were strict rules about who could drive the company cars, and for personal or business use, so it was rare for my Mom to drive Dad’s car, and it was still new to her at that point. But as a 10-year-old car nut, I had read the new Cutlass’ owners manual cover-to-cover! (The first night my Dad had the car, much to his chagrin (I could probably almost call him an “Old Man,” @Arthur), I schooled him in operation of the headlight dimmer, since my Dad only had experience with headlight dimmer switches on the floor!)

        So my Mom and I stopped at a drugstore maybe a mile from home, and for some reason, the car’s keys weren’t on a ring. The round-headed key was sitting on the transmission hump below the radio when my Mom and I got out of the car, and we both locked the doors! (No power locks, windows, or even a stereo—tinted glass, A/C, rear-window defogger, heavy-duty suspension, and a two-speaker AM radio comprised the options list!) Immediately, I realized what happened, but I was too scared to speak up! Sure enough, we walked back out to the car, and we were locked out! After a few minutes, we started walking home, until we were spotted by our neighbor from across the street, and she crammed us into her Grand Prix with her two kids!

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          “the square-headed key operated the ignition and the doors, while the round-headed key opened the trunk.”

          Chryslers had the pentastar key for the doors and ignition and a round one for the trunk.

          Kids these days don’t know what they’re missing!

          @sgeffe- knowing what you know now, instead of walking home when you were locked out, you might have tried rolling down the windows just by pressing on the outside and pulling down to make the glass slide in its tracks. That trick worked on a few cars back then…

          • 0 avatar
            sgeffe

            IIRC, my Dad’s ‘77 Volaré Wagon (with the SuperSix—didn’t have much of a stalling problem, but did have the front fender rust, and my Dad lost a few ballast resistors) had one key that unlocked everything.

            My Grandmother, her sister-in-law, and my Dad’s cousin were Ford people, and if I recall, square key for doors and ignition, round key for trunk. (‘77 LTD and Granada, ‘83 LTD and T-Bird, ‘91 Taurus and T-Bird for my aunt and her son; ‘78 Fairmont Futura and ‘91 Tempo for my Grandma, and I think that’s how the keys worked—the ignition keys on the Tempo had black bows to match the black color of the ignition switch. Wait..the Taurus’ ignition switches looked different from the earlier-style switches—maybe that had one key for all locks, and perhaps an RKE fob.)

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          Only had 2 experiences locking my keys in the car (touch wood).
          One in the Cordoba which was a pain because there was a panel in the interior which protruded against the glass making it nearly impossible to fit a coat hanger in there.

          The 2nd with The Old Man’s Lincoln, in a parking lot in a 7-11 in Florida, late at night. Got a rude surprise from a large police dog while fishing the door lock.

          And in reality My Old Man was only 23 years older than me. If he liked you, then you called him by his first name. Even my brothers and me and my close friends once we reached voting age. Otherwise, everyone including our school principals, elected officials, etc called him ‘Sir’. If you saw him, you would know why.

          • 0 avatar
            sgeffe

            Just by your descriptions over time, I probably have something of a picture!

            My Dad just wouldn’t hear of a ten-year-old telling him how to operate stuff! We had gone to some family friends’ house for an early July 4th celebration the day he picked up the car, and the car had been delivered with the brights engaged! So that evening, my Dad and two other guys were stomping on anything that resembled a switch on the floor! I kept asking my Dad to try pushing the turn signal switch, but was blown off!

            So we drove home, my Dad furious! One final attempt at saying something might have gotten me a swat to the backside, or certainly being told to go to bed immediately!

            Fifteen minutes later, my Mom stuck her nose in my bedroom door and said to go out to the garage—Dad’s got something he wants you to see!

            Down in the garage, I found my Dad, Owner’s Manual to the new car in his lap, clicking the turn signal lever back! Snick-snick, snick-snick!

            Didn’t let him live that one down for years! Fortunately, he was able to laugh about it! Three years later, his 1983 Regal Sedan came the same way, with the brights engaged, as he discovered while driving away from the same house; my brother, myself, Mom AND Dad all had a chuckle at it!

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      You know, “spritely pickup from 0-20” isn’t much of a selling point. A VW bug would beat it – for the first ten feet. After that, well, the bug was shorter and narrower, so it could probably win a trashcan slalom through a narrow alley, but the Escort time would be close.

      Neither would beat my 1963 Chrysler Newport that I salvaged -intact- from a junkyard for $200. The Newport would have flattened everything in its path, but for a long alley, it would need a full tank.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        I dunno- for a grocery getter in 1981, that would have been one of the main selling features:

        It’s good on gas
        This lift back is like a big trunk
        It “feels” fast [even though it is not]

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        @Sgeffe; Great story regarding the high beam/brights. One worth re-tellling when/if there are grandkids.

        And I am upset about the cost cutting regarding not having keyholes. Inherited a sedan (not from The Old Man) whose trunk had not been used/opened for more than a year. The ‘electric’ switch would not work and without a keyhole there was no way to manually open it. Sometimes I believe that auto designers/engineers are getting less intelligent and forgetting things that their predecessors knew/learned.

        Then there was the cost to replace a key ‘fob’ that got broken. Highway robbery!

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      A friend and I had beater early 90’s Escorts at the same time, and my key absolutely started his car.

      Still, I only paid $100 for the thing, so that’s still the best value I’ve ever gotten, car-wise.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Yes there weren’t as many permutations as they could have done with 5 leafs, but there were more than about a dozen. That said I ended up with two Fords that shared the same door key. Grabbed the wrong set of keys once, got in and then the ignition wouldn’t turn. Wiggled and jiggled for a bit before I noticed they were keys to the other car.

      Now they do have only 8 keys in their keyed alike fleet key system.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        Always wonder if the municipalities or whatever jurisdictions have to pay to have a car’s locks re-keyed before auctioning them. Even with a keyless ignition and no trunk lock, there’s still the driver’s keyhole to consider.

        • 0 avatar
          -Nate

          No, they don’t .

          There’s usually a mobile key guy thee who’ll cut you one key for $35, figure that into your bidding….

          -Nate

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          So you do potentially have civilians running around with fleet keys!

          So if you happen to know that the cops in the next town over are running a little older vehicle fleet, in theory, you could purchase the same year vehicle at auction, and had some way to access the yard in the other jurisdiction, potentially, you could jump right into one of their cruisers and off ya go!

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    Dumb question alert, but I have to ask…how is Denver’s climate rough on car interiors? To single it out doesn’t make a lot of sense. I can see how living near salt and sand just nukes your paint, but I’ve been to Denver and there isn’t any of that around!
    Just curious…

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      Because the atmosphere is thinner at altitude, the sunlight is stronger (less filtration). And they get quite a few sunny days. I remember the top of the rear cloth seat cushion in an Opel (the part under the back window) would be toast in 3 yrs.

      • 0 avatar
        theflyersfan

        Gotcha – all of my living as been sea level to nothing close to a mile high! Now if you’re curious about what West African tropical climate and weather can do a car and the UV rays of being on the equator, I’m your guy!

  • avatar
    CaptainObvious

    In 1981 I was in high school and pumping gas on the weekends at a local shop.I had read about the Escort in C&D – but when one finally came in – it truly looked like the future. Especially compared to the Pintos, Mavericks and Granadas that were still running around.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Same here – 81 graduate, pumping gas, running credit cards on carbon paper, adding oil to Novas, Darts, LTDs, and Cadillac 502s. Those were the bad old days.

      I learned to drive on a 78 Ford Fiesta (German import), but owned a 71 Pinto at the time. Later, I had a 76 Pinto and an 80 Bobcat. The family also had a 74 Maverick 302 back then.

      The Escort was sold side-by-side with the Fiesta for a year or so, but it was really the replacement for both the Fiesta and the Pinto – and a tremendous improvement over both. Agreed on how the Escort looked like the future in 1981.

      In the xenophobic car days of the late 70s and early 80s, Ford’s “world car” theme was a bit of a scandal.

      • 0 avatar
        CaptainObvious

        I’m an 82 grad. Remember very well the carbon paper credit cards. But most of the transactions were cash. I DO remember when gas first went over $1 a gallon and the mechanical pumps weren’t able to be set for more than 99.9 cents a gallon. So they were set at .50 cents a gallon. If someone asked for $10 of gas – you had to stop the pump at $5. For fill-ups you had to double the price on the pump. A real pain!
        I made $3 an hour – all cash!

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          Shell back the decided to sell gas by the liter to “solve” the missing digit problem on the gas pumps. So they recalibrated (damn, I almost said reprogram) the pumps to display liters. This was not popular with buyers so that did not last.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Some of you might remember what interest rates were like in 1981/82. The U.S. prime rate hit 21.5% in June 1982. We knew young professionals/newly married couples who were having to walk away from their houses due to rising mortgage rates.

    In the fall of 1981 my then girlfriend, now long time wife, newly graduated was looking for a vehicle to take her to and from her new job. Replacing her air cooled Beetle.

    Anyhow, after some research, I negotiated the purchase of a base 1981 Civic 3-door hatch. 4 speed manual. Zero options. These Civics still had a manual choke.

    Her father had been trying to convince her to purchase a used 4th generation 4 door Nova. But he was a committed GM guy and never owned a Japanese car.

    The Hondas were indeed light years ahead of their competition. Better handling, more fun to drive and much more robust/reliable. Until they rusted out. They also had a good ‘greenhouse’ and considerable usable space. It was only a dozen years later, after being passed around from cousin to cousin that her car left the family, and it was still running reliably.

    As for the Escort, I had a part-time job at a Ford dealership during the early 80’s. The Escorts may have been more advanced than the Pinto, but I would never recommend them.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    In 1989 I worked driving a tow truck for Menzl’s Towing in Milwaukee. I towed A LOT of these Escorts to Best Ford–almost always due to a “no start” scenario. Honestly, it seemed I put a hook on one of these almost every day.

    While anecdotal evidence should never be used to make generalizations, I must admit that my time as a tow truck driver in 1989 revealed Ford products of that era to spend the most time dragging behind my truck. I honestly can’t remember towing Toyotas, Hondas, or Nissans/Datsuns much at all (except from accident scenes!) …though Subarus (I got to know XTs pretty well!) and a few German marques were close to Ford in this regard. As much as Chrysler K-Cars are the butt of lots of jokes here, I rarely put a hook on those….and they were EVERYWHERE at that time.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    The tin worm did a lot of these in.

    The rear shock towers would rot out because water would get trapped in there and…the end. Not worth fixing and massively unsafe.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    These – back when I was a teenager – were everywhere. My college roommate had two of them, one that burnt to the ground.

    He once borrowed my ’84 Nissan (720) truck to run an errand and said his Escort was better. I laughed at him, thinking that his car was a real penalty box. Not that either were great.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    He was driving home from college, smelled smoke and pulled over to figure out what was happening. The car was engulfed in flames in short order. Took a while for the fire department to get there – only the metal bits remained by the time the fire was put out.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    Wow. someone specified the L version (the lowest on the price list), yet sprang for the two-tone paint!

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      And sprang for a rear wiper, the passenger side mirror (remember when those were an option), and I believe the tachometer (which I don’t think was standard on the L). It appears to have intermittent wipers too – which would have been an option.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        That’s what happened back then when ala-carte ordering was possible!

        So you get stuff like an Ace-Of-Base Ciera with V6, power mirrors, cruise, and three-speed automatic, but no A/C or tinted glass! I’ve given the example in this forum of the guy at church whose daughter graduated with me from high school, and who would dutifully order a top-trim Oldsmobile Cutlass or Ciera Brougham every few years, but would put A/C, tinted glass, and maybe a stereo in it, but no power windows, locks, tilt wheel, cruise, etc.! Buying from dealer stock was just coming into vogue around that time, and the domestic makers were starting to restrict options groups.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          My family has had cars from several manufacturers and several price strata. I have to say that our 1979 Horizon: a car available with one engine, two transmissions and two body styles; had an option list as long as the last five new cars I’ve been involved in buying combined. There were colors that Crayola has forgotten about. There was optional fake wood exterior trim. There were three varieties of 13 inch styled steel wheels, two varieties of 13 inch alloy wheels, full wheel covers, chrome fender trim, a blackout trim package, no standard exterior trim, belt level trim, door handle level trim, hood mounted turn signal indicators, white wall tires, black wall tires, white letter tires, rear defogger, rear wiper/washer, trunk carpet, cargo cover, high back buckets, low back buckets, high back buckets with adjustable headrests, vinyl seats, cloth seats, velour seats with metal pleats, color coordinated interior trim, black trim, carpets, rubber floor, consoles, AM radio, AM-FM radio, two speakers, CB radio, AM-FM and tape deck, fake wood for the dash, steering wheel rim, and door cards, left side manual mirror, left side remote, left and right side remote if you could reach the remote on the passenger door, instrument panels with without tachometer, roof racks, thee spoke steering wheels, four spoke steering wheels, A/C was optional, heavy duty cooling, and I think halogen headlights were an option. Our car had almost everything except the exterior wood tape and the trim strip through the door handles.

          Several years later, Chrysler was able to make almost everything standard and add a 50% more powerful engine with a 5-speed transmission for less than we paid in 1979. I’m not a fan of à la carte car configurations. You pay more for less up front, and you end up with something that you can’t sell for a decent price when you come to your senses. It’s funny that EU Porsches are sold like 1965 Oldsmobiles. West German cars weren’t like that. My mother’s 1987 Porsche had a sunroof and an over-priced Blaupunkt stereo receiver. Radio prep was standard, as was everything else that matters. My 1988 BMW had an optional limited slip differential. Everything else was standard, including ellipsoid low beams and fog lights, power sunroof, and ABS. It was almost as well equipped as a top end 2007 Honda.

          • 0 avatar
            sgeffe

            Except the German manufacturers will charge for things others throw in — either now and/or later (like CarPlay in BMWs).

            Of course, Porsche is the king of pricey extras, but people still fork over for it, so “what the market will bear” applies.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            The German manufacturers are masters of taking advantage of modern day narcissists. I was just pointing out that before West Germany was ruined by absorbing long-time socialists, they were not building the same car a thousand different ways for special folks. They had a limited number of colors, and a very limited number of options. Often times if you wanted a loaded West German car, the way you bought it in the US was by stepping up to the most powerful engine. There were some options, but they were much closer to Honda’s packaging model in the ’80s than the duplication of late-’50s and ’60s GM the EU Germans act like today.

          • 0 avatar
            APaGttH

            My current 1985 Isuzu Impulse (JR) came with “everything included.” The only two options in 1985 was an automatic transmission and carpeted floor mats.

            Power locks, windows, mirrors, full climate control, cruise control, intermittent wipers rear defrost, rear wiper, tinted glass, cargo cover, full gauges, AM/FM stereo with 11 band graphic equalizer (the EIGHTIES!) and 80-watt amp that still sounds darn good today, digital clock, full trip computer, limited-slip differential (yes, it was a live axle RWD car), and more.

            $9998 in 1985, that would be $23,800 today.

          • 0 avatar
            Featherston

            “My 1988 BMW had an optional limited slip differential. Everything else was standard, including ellipsoid low beams and fog lights, power sunroof, and ABS.”

            Can confirm: My parents’ ’82 BMW was offered with only three options: automatic transmission, leather seats (standard upholstery was a nice herringbone velour, not vinyl), and limited slip differential.

            Features that typically would’ve been options on Detroit cars of the day were:
            – power locks, windows, and sunroof
            – cruise control
            – air conditioning
            – AM/FM stereo with tape deck
            – passenger side mirror
            – higher-end wheels

            No doubt, stripper models and different options could be had in other markets, but all US market cars came nearly loaded at the time.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    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

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      “The only front suspension adjustment was toe–in. The horn button was pushing in the turn signal lever”

      Same as the 78-80 Fiesta.

      When I wrecked my dad’s 78 Fiesta into a curb in 1980, the body shop had to pull the unibody out and weld it into place, basically hoping the camber and castor would work out ok. It worked, but it revealed an unpleasant engineering compromise.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        Older Mechanics will recall that frame clamps were a normal thing in those years, you’d clamp to a pinchweld and t’other end to a chain pot in the shop’s Concrete floor, apply torque and the unibody would flex as needed .

        _NO_ “engineering compromises” ~ they were built to spec. cheaply, co$t being the only criteria .

        I’ve saved quite a few “junk” unibody vehicles by carefully applying pulling force thisa-way and that .

        -Nate

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          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.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    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.


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