1981 Ford Escort hatchback coupe

“Built to take on the world.”

Ford’s biggest news for 1981 was the all-new Escort. Marketed as a “World Car,” the Escort replaced the unloved Pinto and represented a three billion dollar commitment from Ford. The new Escort was shorter, thinner, taller, and about 400 pounds lighter than the Pinto it supplanted.

The Escort’s standard powertrain was the Compound Valve Hemispherical (CVH) 65 bhp 1.6 liter/98 ci inline four with Holley-Weber 5740 2-barrel carburetor paired to a four-speed manual transmission (a three-speed automatic was a $344 option). Mileage with the standard powertrain was impressive: 28 city/43 highway by the standards of the day (about 23 city/31 highway by 2018 standards). Acceleration was less so: 0-60 came in about 14 seconds in the approximately 2,000-pound car. With a 10-gallon fuel tank, Escort drivers could expect a range of from 240 to 320 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on the $5,158 base Escort (about $15,300 in today’s dollars and close to what a 2018 Fiesta SE hatchback costs) included front wheel drive, rack-and-pinion steering, fully independent four-wheel suspension, halogen headlamps, and P155/80R13 tires (a size still available thanks to Kumho) on 13-inch steel wheels. Inside, high-back body-contoured front bucket seats, fold-down rear bench seat, and an AM radio were included.

As was often true with 1980s Fords, there were many trim levels. L added bright headlamp surrounds and a bright grill along with other brightwork. Moving up to the GL gave the purchaser reclining bucket seats and a four-spoke steering wheel. GLX added dual color-keyed remote sport mirrors, digital clock, locking glovebox, and P165/80R13 tires on styled steel wheels—but started at $6,476 (about $19,200 in 2018 dollars).

Fitting between the GL and the GLX in price, the somewhat sporty SS included black grill and headlamp housing, tape striping, and handling suspension ($37 for other Escorts).

Exterior and mechanical options included power brakes ($79) and power steering ($163). Inside, air conditioning ($530), fingertip speed control ($132), a floor console ($98), cloth/vinyl seat trim ($28), and an AM/FM stereo radio with cassette player ($187) were all available.

Escort page from the 1981 Ford brochure, linked from the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochures pages.

The first-year Escort and its platform-mate Mercury Lynx sold well: 193,000 Escort hatchback coupes, 128,000 Escort liftback sedans, 73,000 Lynx hatchback coupes, and 39,000 Lynx liftback sedans, making for a total of over 430,000. First-generation Escorts and Lynx’s were once so prevalent on American roads, but have virtually disappeared by now. You do occasionally see Escorts for sale in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors, but there were none out there as I write this in June 2018.

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