Don’t buy a Mk3 Escort without checking everywhere – and we mean absolutely everywhere – for rust. Even the tidiest-looking XR3s may be hiding serious rot, which could reduce the shell to very expensive scrap.
Start with the obvious: doors, A-pillars, wings, sills, wheelarches, fuel filler, bonnet and tailgate. If fitted, look at the sunroof, between the glass and its frame, which is prone to rotting out. They can be refurbished, but good sunroofs are hard to find.
Sunroofs tend to leak and the drains get blocked, so feel the carpets in the footwells for dampness; moisture becomes trapped in the insulation, resulting in major tinworm. Take off the plastic inner sill covers, lift the carpets and inspect the floors – most likely you’ll find rust or repairs. Non-sunroof cars aren’t as prone to having holes in their floors.
Remove the back seat to look at the inner rear quarter panels, and unscrew the glovebox to check the battery tray and bulkhead. Look again from under the bonnet – the inner wings and fusebox area can completely crumble.
Underneath, shine a torch into every crevice, paying particular attention to the front floors, chassis rails, front crossmember, behind the headlamps, rear valance and boot floor.
Most panels are reasonably-priced as reproductions, but genuine Ford NOS wings are getting pricey, while rear quarters and doors are unavailable. Remember that, although almost anything is repairable, XR3s share most bits with RS Turbos and RS1600is, so you’ll be paying RS tax to restore an XR too.
The XR3 bodykit was identical to the later XR3i, so there are plenty of decent spats and spoilers on eBay; rear spoilers may be droopy when the metal structure bends, but replacements are cheap enough. Bear in mind early Mk3 Escorts had unique externally-hinged door mirrors, which can be tricky to source.
If you’re set on a particular-colour XR3, it’s worth noting that Sunburst Red is most common, while Midnight Blue is rarest – although it doesn’t carry a premium. Expect to pay more for a pukka Prairie Yellow XR3, but watch out for cars repainted from other shades – or even converted from XR3is…