XR3 suspension was widely praised when new, being compared favourably to the Golf GTI thanks to Bilstein gas dampers, stiff progressive-rate coil springs and awkward geometry – an original car should sit nose-up, with positive camber on the front wheels and negative at the back.
It’s not an attractive stance, so many owners over the years have fitted uprated aftermarket springs or XR3i versions, which make an Escort sit evenly and look loads better for being about an inch lower. XR3i coils also improve on the XR3’s stiff ride and improve handling, so unless you’re seeking a concours contender, don’t be dissuaded by the lack of originality.
Problems tend not to be XR3-specific – simply what you should check on any used car.
Rumbling may be from tired wheel bearings, vibrations suggest something loose or broken (check the steering column for play), and the coil springs could be snapped (you may hear noises when turning the steering wheel or going over bumps) or worn out, resulting in erratic handling.
Vagueness on the road may also result from tired dampers or soggy bushes – the rear wishbones and tie bars are most likely to suffer, especially if they’re the originals. Polyurethane replacements are the solution.
If the handling is poor, don’t discount the obvious (such as old or cheap tyres) or the serious – a badly-corroded XR3 will flex around its suspension mounting points. And don’t forget the steering will feel heavy – XR3s were never equipped with PAS, making the tiny two-spoke steering wheel tricky to turn at parking speeds.