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...
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 February 1982 saw an extra cog added to the Escort’s gearbox, and by October that year the XR3 had been replaced by a quicker, better handling and more luxurious XR3i.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.