By on June 6, 2022

1986 Ford Escort GT in Colorado junkyard, LH front view - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsFord sold Escorts in North America from the 1981 through 2003 model years, with the ’91 and later cars based on Mazda designs. I’ve never been much interested in the 323/Protegé-derived Escorts, instead keeping a junkyard lookout for the increasingly rare Dearborndesigned 19811990 machines and especially the hothatch Escort GTs. Here’s a once-mean-looking black ’86 Escort GT in a Colorado Springs self-service yard.

1986 Ford Escort GT in Colorado junkyard, front view - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsFord started using the Escort name way back in the middle 1950s, with the name going on a cheap version of the Ford Anglia wagon. The true Escort hit the streets of Europe in 1967, and this small rear-wheel-drive car sold by the millions over there. For 1981, the Escort went to front-wheel-drive, and the idea was that everyone in the world would be able to buy what amounted to the same car. All of Ford’s competitors would just give up, and the Blue Oval would soon rule the globe.

1986 Ford Escort GT in Colorado junkyard, RH rear view - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsAmericans hadn’t much liked the extremely European Capri and early Fiesta, though, despite runaway success for those models on the other side of the Atlantic, and so the European and American Escort designs diverged early and often as changes were made to Detroit-ize the car we got. They look fairly similar at a glance and share powertrains, but the chassis and body differences mean that they’re first cousins at best.

1986 Ford Escort GT in Colorado junkyard, decklid badge - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe Escort GT first appeared here in 1982 (after a few minutes being sold as the Escort SS), and it had some suspension improvements plus cool-looking graphics.

1986 Ford Escort GT in Colorado junkyard, engine - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsBy 1986, the Escort GT had an engine with more power than the one in the regular Escort (108 versus 86 horses), though the “HO” 1.9-liter four was available as an option on non-GTs.

1986 Ford Escort GT in Colorado junkyard, wheel - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe sticker price on this car was $8,112, or about $21,400 in 2022 dollars.

1986 Ford Escort GT in Colorado junkyard, interior - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThat price compared favorably with that of the less powerful Civic Si hatchback ($8,349 and 91 horsepower) and Volkswagen GTI ($9,190 and 102 horsepower), though the Dodge Omni GLH blew it away on both price ($7,918) and power (146 horses).

1986 Ford Escort GT in Colorado junkyard, pedals - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe slushboxification of the American road had been underway for decades by the time this car was sold, and so plenty of ’86 Escort GTs rolled off the line with the 390-buck 3-speed automatic option. This one has the five-speed manual (which cost $75 extra on the four-on-the-floor-equipped lower Escort trim levels that year).

1986 Ford Escort GT in Colorado junkyard, interior - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe interior has been gutted by junkyard shoppers, so we’ll never know if this car had the $148 AM/FM/cassette audio system.

1986 Ford Escort GT in Colorado junkyard, Trump sticker - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsColorado Springs swings much more to the right than Denver, what with the Air Force Academy and headquarters for such evangelical organizations as Focus on the Family being headquartered there, so I see a lot more Trump stickers from the 2016 campaign— you know, before it was cool— in this yard than I do in the yards 70 miles to the north. Cannabis-related stickers on junkyard cars are equally prevalent in both areas.

1986 Ford Escort GT in Colorado junkyard, fuel filler door - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsCars in Colorado Springs junkyards also tend to have more stickers like these on the fuel-filler doors than their Denver counterparts; perhaps it’s a result of the heavy Juggalo influence on the culture there.

1986 Ford Escort GT in Colorado junkyard, spoiler - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsI always try to get at least one photo with Pikes Peak when I shoot discarded cars in this yard, so here you go— it’s the snow-covered peak in the clouds.

Car ads of the middle 1980s were heavy on the synths and whooshing noises.

[Images by the author]

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27 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1986 Ford Escort GT...”

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Having owned an 85 Mercury Lynx (Escort) and a 94 Escort I preferred the Mazda based Escorts which from my experience were more modern and more dependable. If I were buying a new compact car in 86 it would either have been a Civic, Corolla, Tercel, or Protege. Its no wonder the Japanese took over the small car market.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      You could generally get one of these with AC and some niceties like cloth seats and the like for what the stripped down imports sold for though. In Florida the AC was worth the hit in dependability.

      These werent too bad though if I remember. The girl I dated in High School had one which would have been around 8 years old at the time and she had no real trouble with it.

      I had a 94 at one point and it was more modern, but it was a generation newer too so It should have been. It was a non GT with a manual though and I had no trouble out of it.

      • 0 avatar

        My girlfriend-then-wife had a 93 hatchback, solid little car, reasonable economy, handling, and performance. Sold it with over 200K on the clock.

  • avatar
    Bill Henderson

    I owned a new 86 Escort GT and only sold it when we had kids. I LOVED that car. If I had kept it more than a couple of years, I might have a different opinion, but the 2 years I had it only bring good memories.

  • avatar

    A good friend of mine had one of these days during high school. At one point we managed to fit 10 of us in for a late night ice cream run. Like the Civic (which I had) and the GTI these 3 door, stick shift hatches were pretty much the ultimate car in the mid to late 80s. They were zippy to drive, got good mileage and you could fill the hatch with subwoofers. Pretty much nothing today compares.

  • avatar

    Sadly, we can’t zoom in on any of the pictures. I was trying to read the sticker on the timing belt cover. I guess it has the info on when and what mileage the belt was replaced?

    The thing that caught my eye is the fact that the arm for the clutch pedal is stamped steel (the arm for the brake pedal looks to be forged, or from a rolling process). Did these use a cable-operated clutch?

  • avatar

    Growing up in Livonia, MI (not far from Dearborn), these were common on the ground at the time as go-to lease cars for kids with parents who worked at Ford.

    They replaced the earlier Courier trucks, which I gathered were quite a deal to lease but didn’t last long.

    I liked how they looked, except for the rear wheel squat common to these and Tempo/Topaz models. They weren’t too quick though. My neighbor was a Chrysler powertrain engineer and had a string of GLHs and later Shadow turbos that were much quicker.

    I wouldn’t mind having one now as they are extinct in Michigan unless they were garage queens (likely Mustangs over Escort GTs)

    • 0 avatar

      I couldn’t feel the difference from a base LX. Probably the GT had taller gears for the EPA, but buyers weren’t looking to embarrass anyone at the drag strip. It had the right (swashbuckling) look though. But what manual FWD compact didn’t squat?

      Still I couldn’t justify it over the base Mustang that was a few hundred bucks less. Nor excuse it. Of course the 5.0 option was just a $1895 bump where the Escort GT was a few hundred bucks more than that over the base Escort. Except no fog lights, spoilers or sports buckets on the notch 5.0 Mustang LX at close to $10K.

  • avatar

    That brings back pleasant memories, as I had an ’84 GT (before the aero headlights and asymmetric grille) complete with sunroof (my first in a car) and those crazy Michelin tire/wheel setups (TRX?). Traded in a ’79 Fiesta S to get it, proceeded to do some minor hop-ups and cosmetic changes (clear lenses over the recessed square sealed beams). Enjoyed the car quite a bit. I somehow vaguely remember only having a four speed in it, though.

  • avatar

    The US Escort got a major reskin in 1985.5 for 1986. The longer hood, flush headlamps, and finally, 1.9 liter four to replace the anemic 1.6 liter CVH motor.

    As noted, the “GT” got the 1.9 High Output motor with 5-speed. In the spirit of “fairness” and to “buy American”, and because at age 21-22 I would jump at the opportunity to drive any car I had not driven, for any reason, I test drove one of these.

    I found the car to be peppy and corner well (cornering defined as how fast I could negotiate an exit ramp of US20/I-78 in eastern PA). I also found the engine noise and rough, not happy to be revved. The interior had Ford “big car” cues and modern cues, coexisting fairly well, but not as harmoniously as a Rabbit GTI (where the “Malibuized” US Golf/Rabbit interior got “GTI-ized”), let alone the new Golf GTI. In general, the Golf GTI subjectively felt so much better and richer–I WANTED to wind it out, it sounded and felt good.

    But these were not bad cars. They were a huge leap over the original US Escorts, and viable alternatives, though clearly less refined than the Japanese and VW.

    The next Escort GT, the Mazda-designed starting in 1991 one had a Mazda 16V motor, and other than the motorized seat belts, was as improved over the 85.5 as the 85.5 was improved over the 84.

    • 0 avatar

      Now I want a 91 Escort GT in Calypso Green

    • 0 avatar
      Funky D

      Yeah, motorized seat belts were never an improvement!

      I had an Escort and later on a 1987 VW Cabriolet, which by then was essentially a Rabbit GTI without a solid roof. While the Escort was much better than it’s US counterparts, it was also inferior to the VW in most counts. Man that 1.8 would run 3750 RPM @ 80 MPH all day long.

      Still the Escort was a very decent car for its time.

  • avatar

    The people I knew who had these Escorts all had “Pony” or “L” versions and bought strictly for price. Anyone who could have afforded a GT would have bought a Civic or Corolla instead.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      The Pony versions around where I live were big sellers and they were the basest of the base with no radio, no air, and nothing extra. A lot of them were bought for teenagers or as a commuter car. Cannot find anything on today’s market that stripped.

      • 0 avatar

        Two of my college friends had Ponys, both bought several years before because they were dirt cheap. Both of them proved reliable and cheap to run, but they were egregious penalty boxes even by the standards of the time.

    • 0 avatar

      Sure as long as you didn’t mind spending over $10K for a CRX or FX16. And good luck finding a base model. Japanese dealers were gouging hard, thanks to heavy import restrictions. Buyers likely paid lots over.

      • 0 avatar
        Jeff S

        Sounds like the overall car buying experience of today pay above MSRP or get on a long waiting list to buy a new vehicle. Back in the 80s it was the quotas on Japanese vehicles but at this time you had Hyundai and Yugo enter the market. Maybe history doesn’t repeat itself exactly but it rhymes.

  • avatar

    I’ve always loved the classic, timeless look of these. So 80s / vintage / retro-chic. I would totally rock one of these in great shape and wear neon-swoosh parachute pants. Love!

  • avatar

    Forty years ago cars were still made from stamped steel (heavy and prone to corrosion). By 2022 this technology would clearly be obsolete, as fuel economy became a much higher priority for U.S. consumers.

    But seriously, check out all the progress we’ve made:

    In 2022, you can purchase a Ford (more than one) which gets a whopping 11 mpg city on E85 — that’s Super Amazing.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s amazing how those 3 spd slushboxes contributed to poor MPGs (up to 6 MPG worse than a comparably equipped 4/5 spd manual) yet most people ignored it because gas was cheap and most likely they were coming from either a V8 or V6 RWD vehicle that got half the mileage of a brand new Escort.

    • 0 avatar

      @ToolGuy – you need to do an apples to apples comparison.

      A 1986 Ford F150 Pickup 4WD 5.0 L, 8 cyl, Automatic 4-spd, Regular Gasoline yielded 14 mpg combined.

      A 2022 Ford F150 4WD 5.0 L, 8 cyl, Auto 10 spd, regular gasoline yields 19 mpg.

      That may not seem like much but look at performance numbers of the 5 litre engine:
      1996: 185hp and 270 lb.ft. torque. A video I found put 0 – 60 mph at 10 seconds. Reg cab long box.
      2022:400 hp and 410 lb.ft. torque. A supercrew short box 4×4 0 – 60 mph is 6.2 seconds.

      The 2022 truck is roughly 35% more fuel efficient with over double the horsepower.

  • avatar

    I actually helped my little sister get into one of these. The value for money was very good, and while the looks wrote a sportiness check the car couldn’t cash, it succeeded as a surprisingly comfy cruiser with a nice level of standard equipment and gave her 100,000 good miles.

  • avatar

    Friend of mine had a black 87 just like this one, which I had plenty of opportunity to drive because he liked to drink, and he had already been pinched for a DUI. In an era when most cars were slow, it felt fast. Handling was pretty OK. 195/60HR15 tires on alloys were something special back then. Had my #1 scariest near miss in that car driving us home from a Foreigner concert. I was able to quickly evade a wrong way driver on a two lane road by escaping to the gravel shoulder. Yikes

  • avatar

    While it was a 95 and not the 86 of this article, I very much liked my Escort. It was a replacement for the 84 Shelby Charger I had at the time (early 2000s). My main criteria for the replacement was interior room for hauling sound gear and mpg that would match the Shelby. The 95 Escort wagon ticked both boxes. I really enjoyed driving it as my DD and only got rid of it due to the rear ‘shock towers’ showing the deteriorating effect of rust – gravity was the only true thing that was keeping the rear suspension in check. Don’t remember the mileage it had when bought used – from a policeman nonetheless, but it was well into the mid 200k miles when I somewhat reluctantly drove to my local junkyard which gave me something like $125 for it.

  • avatar

    I bought one new in the Fall of ’85. My first new car. Black with the gray interior like the one in the pics. I loved that little car. It felt quick and fun for the time period. Although the article lists 108 hp and an available AT, I thought it was 110 hp and you could not get the AT on the GT. Not totally sure on the hp but I never saw an AT on any of the GT’s at that time.

  • avatar

    I will make this quick – I was stupid enough to buy one of these new off the lot. I believe mine was a “87” model but looked just like this one – was even black and a manual. What a piece of crap it was. I do not even have it in me to flare up my ptsd buy talking anymore about it – What a turd!

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