Friday November 8, 2019
Growing up in a Hampshire village where the local newspaper would bear a headline such as ‘Chaos As Radical New Strawberry Punnet Design Is Unveiled’, a Ford Escort Ghia Mk. II appeared the epitome of high living.
The old 1300E Mk. I was glamorous enough but anyone who owned a car with seats trimmed in the finest “Savanah” cloth and a facia decorated with ‘Real wood veneer’ appeared the last word in sophistication.
Those shield badges and that vinyl roof were hallmarks of distinction in a car owned by one who lived the high life; the type of person who had a box of After Eight Mints in the sideboard and a Demis Roussos album playing in the Sanyo music centre.
When Dagenham and Cologne embarked on project “Brenda”, they faced the considerable challenge of replacing one of their most successful models. Sales of the Escort passed the two-million mark in 1974, and so Ford of Europe made the wise decision to employ the same formula, including transmission and suspension arrangement, in a new package.
Gone was the “Coke Bottle” styling that already seemed redolent of the previous decade, in favour of smart and understated coachwork with a larger glass area for the saloon.
Meanwhile, the estates retained the Mk.1 body but as they gained the new grille - and as ‘matt black windscreen wipers are now fitted to all models’ - they could still cut a dash in downtown Havant.
The Escort Mk. II debuted in January 1975, and one of its major selling points was that it was the tried-and-trusted Escort formula writ large; Ford proudly noted that ‘the boot is usefully bigger by near 10%, and there’s nearly an inch more legroom for rear-seat passengers’.
There was also the option of the 1.6-litre Kent engine and an elaborate array of trim levels.
An early brochure extolled the merits of the basic saloon; ‘if you want more the Escort L gives you extras such as hazard warning flashers, heated rear window, and reversing lights’.
Assuming the reader had not fainted at being offered such luxuries, he or she would be even more amazed at the L’s dipping rear-view mirror and ‘Loop pile carpet’.
However, some motorists craved even more, and such ambitious types would not be satisfied until they had reached the social heights of the GL: halogen headlamps, a cigar lighter, a clock and a ‘chrome gearshift lever’.
The next stage of Escort life was the Sport and the pictures in the early Ford catalogue were accompanied by a chap dressed for a diving holiday for no clearly defined reason.
Naturally, driving lamps, stripes and a crossed-flag motif on the steering wheel were all part of the specification.
But the Ghia stood apart from the lesser Escorts and the Rallye Sport models alike; the potential buyer of the RS1800 or Mexico was unlikely to have considered the merits of ‘the Escort with everything’.
Ford had acquired Carrozzeria Ghia of Turin in 1970, and four years later the shield badge adorned the top of the range Granada.
Applying this logo to the new Escort was an extremely shrewd marketing decision, lending the Escort a pseudo-jet-set air.
N.B. Readers should be warned that the following advertising film contains excessive amounts of fromage
As the range expanded, the Ghia continued to occupy a niche as modern-looking compact luxury transport.
Anyone allotted a Popular (incredibly Spartan) or a Popular Plus (at least it had a front parcel shelf) company car regarded an Escort with tinted glass as standard as an incentive to climb the corporate ladder.
As for the RS2000 Mk. II, that was speed merchants, red light jumpers and CI5 agents with an unfortunate taste in bubble perms, rather than respectable sorts.
The Ghia’s 1.3 and 1.6 engines may have been shared with the Sport, but in terms of image, it was more Abigail’s Party than yet another shoot-out in a derelict gasworks.
Motor Sport evaluated a Ghia 1.3 two-door in July 1975 and moaned about the price - £2,011 – and that the Escort was ‘Expensive, comfortable, characterless’.
But, as many a Ford dealer would tell you, fleet buyers across the UK equated ‘characterful’ with ‘breaks down a lot’.
A few months earlier Autocar was more appreciative - ‘Ford have renewed their challenge in a vital sector of the market and proved that the potential of the simple, conventional but carefully engineered car is not yet exhausted’.
In terms of rivals, a Ghia was unlikely to appeal to a driver who contemplated an Alfasud, a Citroen GS or a Volkswagen Golf, while the Mk. II looked a good deal more up to date than the Viva HC, the Avenger and especially the Dolomite 1300 and 1500.
The Triumph was aimed at retired bank managers and school teachers while the more expensive versions of Hillman and the Vauxhall lacked the Ford’s distinctive air of refined chintz.
In fact, the Escort Ghia’s principal British alternative would mean the average motorist entering the realm of front-wheel drive – i.e. the Vanden Plas 1500.
Car tested a 1.6 four-door opposite the ultimate version of the Allegro in October of 1976, the former costing £2,644, the latter £2,794.
The writer was downright snide in his conclusion. - ‘in the context of the mid-70s, we find it hard to take either car seriously’.
Motoring magazines of the 1970s did sometimes lack a sense of humour.
The FWD Mk. III replaced the Mk. II in the August 1980 but some of us never forgot the first Escort to bear the Ghia logo.
To see one now is to envisage the business world of the late 1970s; nylon suits, motels with an orange décor and breakfasts that tasted like fried cardboard.
But with an Oyster Gold Ford waiting in the car park, all still appeared right with the world.