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.

  • ToolGuy "At risk of oversimplification, a heat pump takes ambient air, compresses it, and then uses the condenser’s heat to warm up the air it just grabbed from outside."• This description seems fairly dramatically wrong to me.
  • SCE to AUX The UAW may win the battle, but it will lose the war.The mfrs will never agree to job protections, and production outsourcing will match any pay increases won by the union.With most US market cars not produced by Detroit, how many people really care about this strike?
  • El scotto My iPhone gets too hot while using the wireless charging in my BMW. One more line on why someone is a dumbazz list?
  • Buickman yeah, get Ron Fellows each time I get a Vette. screw Caddy.
  • Dusterdude The Detroit 2.5 did a big disservice by paying their CEO’s so generously ( overpaying them ) It is a valid talking point for for the union ) However , the bottom line - The percentage of workers in the private sector who have a defined benefit pension plan is almost non existent - and the reason being is it’s unaffordable ! . This is a a huge sticking point as to have lower tier workers join would be prohibitive ( aside from other high price demands being requested - ie >30% wage gain request ) . Do the math - can a company afford to pay employees for 35 years , followed by funding a pension for a further 30 years ?