Tuesday November 20, 2018
This year saw the 50th anniversary of the Escort as most of us know it, but back in early 1968, many British drivers would have been very familiar with the name. In the 1950s it had been applied to the sort of small Ford estate car that would typically double-up as transport for a jobbing gardener or tradesman; a vehicle as at home on a building site as it was on a school run.
The original Escort of 1955 was a station wagon version of the Anglia 100E and was partnered by the Prefect-based Squire. As the latter was the more upmarket of the two, it featured a more elaborate radiator grille, a certain amount of additional equipment and some external wood decorations to lend it that “country gentleman” image.
Unlike their rivals – the Austin A30 Countryman, the Hillman Husky and the Morris Minor Traveller – the 100Es featured a quasi-Detroit horizontally divided tailgate, which Dagenham regarded as a major selling feature.
Other merits of the Escort were its smart appearance, 41 ½ cu ft. of luggage space and a 1,172cc side valve engine that would be very familiar to almost any home mechanic all for just £591 12s 6d. If you wanted to save on Purchase Tax costs, one option was to buy a Thames 300E van, fit it with a rear seat yourself and still enjoy a saving of around £100. However, if your passengers were the demanding sorts who actually wanted a modicum of visibility, the Ford Escort was still your main choice.
The brochure promised ‘Whether you are wearing country tweeds or a ball gown, you can slip in and out of the front seat with ease’, although the latter outfit was rarely associated with the Escort.
The standard equipment list included two windscreen wipers (which were vacuum-powered and fairly useless when you were travelling at speed), an interior lamp and a driver’s seat with fore & aft adjustment; it did help if a front seat passenger was not especially tall. By 1956 there was even a ‘spanking new instrument panel’ with a parcel shelf for ‘gloves, handbag or last-minute shopping plus, of course, the benefits of “Glide-Ride” suspension.
As with all 100Es, there was three-speed gearbox (no British Fords had four-speed transmission until the 1959 Anglia 105E), and its top speed was around the 70 mph point, but few buyers were interested in performance.
What they required was a reliable dual-purpose vehicle and Escort lived up to Dagenham’s claims that it worked ‘hard and keeps working with minimum maintenance’. After the launch of the 105E, the Squire was dropped, but the Escort remained in production until early 1961, gaining some extra brightwork and the extravagance of opening rear side windows.
And almost seven years later, Ford ran magazine advertisements explaining ‘Why We Killed The Anglia’ – ‘recently one or two cars have begun to snap at our heels’ – but the “Coke-Bottle” styled new model boasted a not unfamiliar name.
By that time, the original 100E wagon already belonged to the previous decade of Teddy Boys and washboards but even now that first Escort more than lives up to the promises made in the 1955 launch campaign -
Although I remain convinced that the presenter of that advertising masterpiece is Harry Enfield...