Ford Escort MkII Buying Guide

Whether you’re looking for a cheap, family-friendly oldie, or you want something to take classic rallying, the Escort MkII should be right up your street

How much to pay

• Project £1000-8000 • Good £6000-18,000• Concours £20,000+•

Overview

Practicality ★★★★
Running costs ★★★★
Spares ★★★★
DIY friendly ★★★★★
Investment ★★★★
Desirability ★★★

The MkI Escort had been such a smash hit for Ford that the automotive giant could hardly fail when the time came for a sequel. The improbably named Project Brenda hit showrooms in 1975, and while it was little more than a refresh of its predecessor, predictably it went on to become another best seller.

The MkI Escort’s floorpan had been modified towards the end of its life and was then carried over for the MkII. There was a fresh set of outer clothes – although the estate was virtually unchanged from the B-pillar back. This really was a case of old wine in a new bottle.

Built in Saarlouis (Germany), as well as Halewood, more than 1.8 million MkII Escorts were produced, including over 10,000 RS2000s and around 2300 Mexicos. These are easily the pick of the crop now, along with the RS1800 – of which just 109 were made. If you’re looking for driving fun you’ll get it in spades, while these sporty Escorts are also a surefire investment – but there’s a whole world of Escorts beyond these.

Find a more mainstream saloon or estate, for which you’ll pay very little, and you’ll have a practical, comfortable classic upon which you’ll be able to depend. It’ll also be surprisingly unusual, because while everyone else has clamoured for the RS editions over the years, the versions that sold in real quantity are all but forgotten.

Your AutoClassics Ford Escort MkII inspection checklist

Engine

Most Escorts were fitted with a 1098cc, 1298cc or 1599cc Kent (Crossflow) engine, the latter appearing in the Mexico. The RS2000 featured a 1993cc Pinto unit, while the ultra-rare RS1800 had a 16-valve Cosworth-developed 1840cc twin-cam BDA. The Kent and Pinto are easy to work on and relatively cheap to rebuild, but the BDA motor is fiendishly costly to revive.

The Kent engines are straightforward. Just check for worn piston rings or cylinder bores; this is betrayed by blue exhaust smoke when the engine is running under load, indicating that oil is being burned. The only other likely problem is worn cam followers, so listen for tappet noise from the top end. Once the followers have worn it’s impossible to adjust the tappets properly, so a top-end rebuild is needed.

The Pinto’s rings and bores wear in the same way (with the same symptoms), but more important is the rubber timing belt. This should be replaced every three years; a new belt is cheap and easy to fit.

When it comes to the BDA engine, things are less easy. Maintenance is a job best left to a specialist, whether it’s setting up the valve gear or sorting out the fuelling.

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Gearbox

Most MkII Escorts came with a four-speed all-synchro manual gearbox, with GT, Sport and Ghia editions getting more closely stacked ratios. Some 1300 and 1600 models were also available with Ford’s C3 three-speed auto.

Because of the Kent engines’ modest torque levels, the automatic transmission is unstressed, so it’s reliable. Changes up and down the gearbox should be fast; if the ratios are jerky, the bands have worn and a rebuild is on the cards.

The four-speed manual doesn’t have any inherent problems, either. It should have a slick, precise change, but eventually it’ll wear out. Listen for rumbling from the first three gears, which will be from the bearings. These are the first parts to wear, but once they start making a noise they’ll soldier on for years without problems. If the gearbox crunches as you’re changing ratios, it’s probably down to a stretched clutch cable; new ones are very cheap.

RS models got a beefed-up transmission with a stronger gearbox, diff and clutch – the box is also mounted further back in the car, which is why it must be fitted with a quickshift selector. Even tuned engines shouldn’t cause transmission problems, although if the car is really thrashed it can result in stripped half-shafts.

Suspension and brakes

Under the front wheelarches, look for signs of leaking suspension struts; if the car has dry wheelarches the damp patches within the dirt on the struts will be obvious. While replacing merely the strut insert is possible, it makes more sense to replace the spring at the same time as they have a similar lifespan. New struts and springs aren’t expensive.

Wind down the window while driving, and listen for knocking sounds from the front suspension. This will indicate worn anti-roll bar bushes. The steering will also be very vague, but replacing the bushes is easy and cheap.

All MkII Escorts came with steel wheels, apart from most RS models – although even some of these were available with pressed-steel rims. Whatever is fitted, the key thing to check for is that the clearances are fine at each corner. There aren’t usually any problems, as even wheels up to 7.5 inches wide can be accommodated, although the wheelarch lips may need to be reprofiled to avoid contact with the rubber. Done correctly, 185/60 13 tyres will fit.

The braking system is completely conventional, with drums at the back of all cars; 6in items on ‘cooking’ models and 7-inch on RS derivatives. Most MkII Escorts feature discs at the front, but some early cars had drums instead. Most cars got servo assistance, and it’s this that can cause problems, because replacement servos aren’t available and it’s not possible to rebuild the original units. The only solution is to fit an aftermarket system.

Bodywork

These cars rust very badly, but there’s a large number of high-quality repro repair panels available. The classic Ford weak spot is the MacPherson strut top mount, on each front inner wing; repair panels must be seam-welded in place to give the necessary strength.

Also analyse the front inner wings, check the integrity of the bonnet mountings and look for corrosion in the seams between the inner and outer wings. If any is visible, there’s probably a lot more rot lurking underneath the outer panels.

Inspect the base of the windscreen; removing the vent will probably reveal rust, which may have led to water leaking into the footwells; proper repairs are tricky. Expect rust in the outer front wings, around the headlamps, along their trailing edge and along the seam with the front valance. The valance also rots, along with the spring hangers, floorpans and wheelarches and valance at the rear. The luggage area floor may also be holed because of perished boot-lid seals.

Interior

The Escort’s electrical system is simple, but contacts corrode within the loom, while fusebox contacts oxidise. If there are problems, the multi-connector that plugs into the fusebox is the usual culprit; this corrodes and leads to poor connections.

The switchgear (including the column stalks) can also work erratically – or pack up altogether. This is caused by contacts oxidising as well as plastic insulators within the rocker switches breaking up; sourcing decent used items is the only option. The instruments are usually reliable, but the front indicator lamps tend to corrode badly. Once the process is underway there’s no cure other than to fit new units.

Interior trim is generally durable, but it may have suffered damage such as splits or tears. There aren’t any new parts available, although some repro spares are available for certain models.

The problem with most of the external brightwork is that it’s chrome-plated Mazak, which pits over time. Once it starts to go there’s no way of restoring it effectively. At least the decals for the various sporting models are available, and they’re not expensive.

History

  • 1975: MkII Escort arrives in 1100, 1300 and 1600 forms. There are two and four-door saloons, a two-door estate plus standard, L, GL, Ghia or Sport trims. Later in the year, Popular and Popular Plus poverty-spec models are introduced.
  • 1976: RS Mexico arrives, and lasts until August 1978. The RS2000 also debuts, and survives until July 1980.
  • 1978: RS Custom arrives; it’s an RS2000 with Recaro seats, tinted glass and interior-adjustable driver’s mirror.
  • 1979: Linnet four-door saloon special is a 1300 Popular with body stripe and posh interior trim.
  • 1979: Harrier two-door saloon is a limited-run 1600 Sport two-door saloon with stripes, spoilers, sporty seats and tinted glass.
  • 1980: Goldcrest special has 1300 or 1600 engines plus a unique interior.

AutoClassics says…

The choice of MkII Escorts may be bewildering, but that’s because there really is something for everyone. From unfeasibly cheap load-carrier to eye-wateringly valuable, tyre-smoking sports car, there’s a MkII Escort for all occasions. Even better is the fact that tuning and upgrading the cars is so straightforward, with dozens of suppliers able to sell you bits to modify any of the mechanicals.

But you have to be careful; the most desirable MkIIs – and hence the most valuable – are the ones most likely to be faked. Confirm their provenance by checking for various strengthening panels incorporated into the bodyshell, plus RS-specific parts throughout, such as numerous engine and trim items. Don’t be worried about modifications if they’re not too far-reaching, as relatively few standard cars remain. The key thing is that you know exactly what you’re getting for your money, before you part with any cash.

Specifications

Escort 1300
  Power 57bhp
  Top speed 93mph
  0-60mph 13.5sec
  Economy 35mpg

Escort 1600
  Power 84bhp
  Top speed 98mph
  0-60mph 12.7sec
  Economy 33mpg

Escort RS Mexico
  Power 95bhp
  Top speed 107mph
  0-60mph 10.5sec
  Economy 30mpg

Escort RS2000
  Power 110bhp
  Top speed 112mph
  0-60mph 8.6sec
  Economy 25mpg

Escort RS1800
  Power 115bhp
  Top speed 114mph
  0-60mph 9.0sec
  Economy 27mpg

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