The car that de­fined fast Fords in the early 1980s, the Es­cort that was once a boy-racer’s dream is now a bona fide clas­sic Ford, with a price tag to match...

Fast Ford - - Contents - Words DAN WIL­LIAMSON / Pho­tos AS DE­SIGN

Top tips to buy­ing an '80s icon, the Es­cort XR3.

Few Fords have made as much im­pact on UK cul­ture as the Es­cort XR3 - the car that shouts out 1980s’ Great Bri­tain more than yup­pies, Mag­gie Thatcher or the Birdie Song.

Tak­ing over from a gen­er­a­tion of rear­wheel-drive Es­corts was a tough act for the Mk3 to fol­low, but the 1980 XR3 was an in­stant hit. It was modern, it was stylish and, most im­por­tantly, it could at­tack the hot hatch­back mar­ket led by VW’s Golf GTI.

Un­like the Golf or the RS2000, the XR3 was cheap and sim­ple. It used a ba­sic Es­cort three-door bodyshell, pumped up with aero­dy­namic spoil­ers and rear arch spats, and en­hanced with de­tail touches: the bumpers and door mir­rors were colour-coded; the tail­gate, sills and win­dow sur­rounds were fin­ished in matt black; on the bootlid was a funky XR3 de­cal.

But it was the XR3’s new al­loy wheel de­sign that turned most heads, fea­tur­ing a Porsche 928-in­spired ‘clover­leaf’ de­sign in 14in di­am­e­ter.

Un­der the skin, the XR3 was pow­ered by Ford’s then-new CVH en­gine, but with power upped from 79 to 96bhp thanks to a high-lift camshaft, twin-choke We­ber car­bu­ret­tor and sports ex­haust.

Okay, it wasn’t fast, but it com­pared well to the Golf when tak­ing ac­count of the XR’s sus­pen­sion tweaks, which boasted Bil­stein gas dampers and stiff springs.

The XR3 was also equipped with a ba­sic but sporty-look­ing in­te­rior; PAS was not an op­tion, but fac­tory ex­tras in­cluded elec­tric front win­dows, sun­roof and cen­tral lock­ing.

De­spite strong sales – it’s reck­oned that 25,550 were sold in Bri­tain alone – the XR3 lagged be­hind the fuel-in­jected, five-speed Golf. Fe­bru­ary 1982 saw an ex­tra cog added to the Es­cort’s gear­box, and by Oc­to­ber that year the XR3 had been re­placed by a quicker, bet­ter han­dling and more lux­u­ri­ous XR3i.

The next two decades saw XR3s slowly slip into a cliche of boy-racer rot, but now the badge brings mas­sive clas­sic ap­peal, and the value of sur­vivors is on the up.


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