WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Unrestored cars are likely to be rusty but a surprisingly large number of panels are available. The classic Ford weak spot is the front MacPherson strut top mount. Repair panels cost £96.65 apiece; they need to be seam-welded to give the necessary strength. Also check the inner wings, the integrity of the bonnet mountings plus the seams between the inner and outer wings. Inspect the base of the windscreen; remove the vent to check for rust. Corrosion here will mean waterlogged footwells. Next scrutinise the outer front wings around the headlamps, along their trailing edge and along the seam with the front valance. The valance itself corrodes, as do the rear wheelarches while the boot fills up with water when the seals perish. The rear spring hangers and floorpans also dissolve.
Most Escorts have a 1098cc or 1298cc Kent engine, with a 1598cc version in the Mexico. The Kent engine is easy to work on and relatively cheap to rebuild – specialists charge around £1000 for a revitalised unit. Checks are straightforward; look for worn piston rings or cylinder bores, betrayed by blue exhaust smoke when the engine is running under load, indicating oil being burned – check the rear view mirror when accelerating hard. 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 topend rebuild is needed.
Some Escorts got a three-speed Borg Warner automatic transmission but most have a four-speed manual gearbox; both are strong. All regular Escorts have the same manual gearbox, with closer ratios in the GT and Sport. The auto should shift ratios quickly; if not it’s because the bands have worn and a rebuild is on the cards. The manual gearbox is strong too, but 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 a stretched clutch cable; a new one is £20.
Peer under the front wheelarches and look for signs of leaking suspension struts. While replacing just the strut insert is possible, it makes more sense to replace the spring too, which has a similar lifespan. Replacement Bilstein Capri struts cost £200+ each (they’re the favoured upgrade), and springs are typically £40 apiece. Knocking from the front suspension while the car is driven suggests worn anti-roll bar bushes. The steering will also be vague, but replacing the bushes is easy and cheap, with new units costing just a fiver apiece.
Electrical glitches are usually down to corroded contacts within the loom and oxidised fusebox contacts. 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 fail when the contacts oxidise and plastic insulators within the rocker switches break up; decent used items are the only option. The Escort’s instruments are usually reliable but the front indicator lamps corrode badly.
Interior trim is generally durable, but can split or tear. High-quality replacements are available from Aldridge Trimming. The window seals perish, but replacements are available. Unfortunately the Trico wiper blades originally specified aren’t so easy to find – so all sorts of poor substitutes tend to end being substituted. If you test drive a MkI Escort in the rain, you’ll soon see if original-spec items are fitted…
This is largely unobtainable, unless you stumble across something at an autojumble. The ‘hockey stick’ trim around the rear window is especially scarce. The problem with most of the external brightwork is that it’s chrome-plated Mazak (a zinc-based alloy), which pits over time. Once it starts to go there’s no way of restoring it effectively.