The Escort Mexico

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We love modified Fords here at Performance Ford, but we also have a lot of time for the cars that started it all. Ford has always looked after the buyer with speed at heart via some amazing cars. Each month, PF will be getting behind the wheel to celebrate the greats!

The Mk1 Escort is ‘our’ car. Yes, when it rolled out of the factory in 1968 – in two-door saloon guise only – it was an instant success across Europe. But it was us, the Brits, who truly embraced it – something we’re still doing to this day!

In the late ‘60s, the motoring world was grabbing at the notion of front wheel-drive with both hands, but Ford chose to ignore the appeal and instead, stuck to its guns and maintained the conventional setup of front engine with driven rear wheels. A decision that, as it happens, couldn’t have been more right! The result was a car full of character and fun, something the motorist of the ‘60s seemed to be quite a fan of. Little did they know that the humble Escort would, in couple of years, be transformed into something even better. Something that would cement its legacy as being genesis for Ford’s range of performance Fords.

Beginnings

The Mexico actually came about because of football, oddly. After the success of the 1968 London-Sydney rally, The Mirror newspaper opted to sponsor a similar event in 1970. This time though, the route would be a chassis-smashing 16,000-mile journey from London to Mexico. Ford wanted in, but to do so, it would have to be satisfied that the car wouldn’t smash itself to pieces. A team of shells strengthened and modified by Ford’s AVO (Advanced Vehicle Operations) department in Essex were employed, as were a brace of enlarged 1,558cc Kent engines along with a whole host of rally paraphernalia to make sure the cars were fully kitted out for the journey.

In total, 99 cars or various type and manufacturer set off from Wembley, though by the time it was time to leave Lisbon a week later, only 71 cars turned up. Though the escorts were all accounted for. After shipping to South America, more cars fell by the wayside, but the Escorts powered on. Hannu Mikkola led the rally and by the time it was all done and dusted, Escorts had secured 1st, 3rd, 5th and 6th place. Not bad going!

The public outcry for the car was on Ford’s doorstep almost immediately, so the team at AVO were put to work building road-going replicas, namely the Mexico. Remember the advert with the red Escort sat in the docks under the tagline “We brought it back from Mexico”? That was because essentially, Ford did.

At that moment, a legend was born which would from the basis of some of the most incredible Escorts to ever hit the rally stages or the tarmac. Yes, there was the RS1600, the RS2000 and even the 1300GT (try finding one of those!), but as we all know, Mexico is the go-to name when it comes to well sorted Escorts.

Legacy

The Escort was, and for many, still is the poster child for Ford. It was the car that gave thousands their first foray into exciting rear wheel-drive motoring thanks to it being such a popular and common car. Okay, so the Mexico was a bit rarer in the grand spectrum of Escorts, but it served as inspiration to many who aspired to have a Mexico of their own.

By proxy, the Mexico helped to create a generation of petrolheads who were keen to tweak and modify cars in the name of speed and power. It became a visual synonym for exciting motorsport along with modification. Many professional drivers soon cemented it as the go-to machine thanks to its stiff chassis and exciting yet controllable propensity toward going fast. It was all things to all men, too. It was just as at home on a rally stage as it was on a fast, sweeping circuit. As we mentioned, there were other models of a performance ilk, but it was the Mexico that was perceived as the main point of inception for fast Fords.

Over the years the Escort, including the Mexico, went through the standard rollercoaster of being coveted as new, accessible to many hen second hand, ignored and often seen as scrap yard fodder years later, before once again becoming a coveted classic by those who may have missed out on the Escort’s first time around. Now, any Escort of this era is a thing to be cherished, as prices and the massive aftermarket business indicates. An original Mexico, well, that’s the Holy Grail these days. This car left an impression on the masses that has remained for decades, an impression that is only going to get stronger.

PF Drives

You’re reading this magazine, so you’re obviously a bit of a Ford nut. Well done you! As such, you’re probably aware of the Heritage Collection based at Ford’s Dagenham facility. If you’re not, it’s basically a shed with some cars in it. Well, over 100 cars. Nothing special though, just things like the only known surviving 4×4 Capri, number 0000 Escort RS Cosworth Monte Carlo, several RS200s, Supervan 3 and much, much more. Oh, and this utterly stunning and 100% original Mk1 Escort Mexico.

Sadly, the facility is closed to the public. On the flip side though, all the cars are on the road and have to earn their keep, that’s why we were able to get our hands on the keys to some of the greats.

The first thing you notice when you simply look at this Mexico is how damn clean it is, but also how perfectly proportioned it is. The wheels, the stance, the colour, they’re all perfect. You can see why people lost their minds when this thing rolled down the road in 1970!

Then, as you open the door, there’s the smell. All the cars at Ford Heritage seem to do a good job of holding onto their original odour, but this is something else. It’s a waft of nostalgia and as you slide into the pristine interior the nasal treat serves transport you back. This thing is an automotive time warp. It’s exactly as it was when new, and do you know what? It still feels tight and it still feels solid. Okay, so it has none of the creature comforts we expect from modern cars, obviously, but it doesn’t feel old. It just feels focused on the task at hand – driving.

Turn the key and the Kent crossflow barks into life without hesitation and it sounds great. Again, if you transport your mind back to when this car as new you can understand why it was so popular. It sounds keen and happy, but it still sounds sporty. It would have been a wondrous noise in 1970, hell, it’s a great noise in 2015.

On the road it is, as you would suspect, a joy. But not in the “ooh, doesn’t it drive nice for an old car” way. It’s good as a car, irrespective of age. It’s got a surprising willingness to be chucked around, and it doesn’t punish you for it. It’s got grip and the steering, while a sensory departure from that of modern cars, is still direct and precise. It’s just fun. Work it through the gears and you’re rewarded with a pretty impressive increase in speed as well as a lovely song from the engine. Run it down and the exhaust pops and barks as it spits out unspent fuel.

Yeah, the brakes are a bit on the recalcitrant side, but they do the job (and to be fair, this car hadn’t been used for a while – in fact, it had just come back from the Geneva Motor Show) and the crossflow engine isn’t the fastest thing in the world, but it powers the Escort along quite happily. This car is, as ford discovered in 1970, not just a badge or a marketing tool to cash in on the rally. It’s a sum of its parts, parts that work together to create one of the most honest and entertaining cars we’ve ever driven. This is the daddy of it all, and every performance Ford since owes it a huge debt of gratitude.

Tech Spec (original car)

Engine: 1,599cc Kent crossflow, pushrod ohv, chain-drive cam, two valves per cylinder, cast iron head and block, Weber 32DFM twin choke carb, mechanical fuel pump, five bearing crank. 86.9bhp @ 5500rpm

Transmission: Borg and Beck diaphragm spring clutch, four-speed manual all synchro gearbox, 3.77:1 final drive

Brakes: 9.6in front discs, 9in read drums, vacuum servo

Suspension: Ifs via MacPherson struts, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar, live rear axle with half-elliptic leaf springs with telescopic dampers and radius arms.

Wheels and tyres: 13 x 5.5in steel wheels with 165-13 radial ply tyres