What's it like to live with an Escort?

That title had two meanings, this is the car version.

This is the kind of car you can get for cheap off the side of the road, and have fun until it’s done. In my case specifically, it was the back parking lot of the Jacky Jones Lincoln dealer in Gainesville, GA, in this exact spot currently occupied by this Ford Taurus.

That was the start of the journey, a story of how a 1991 Ford Escort LX landed in my hands.

The previous owner was the mechanic at the aforementioned dealership, the car was just something to take him home from work, and back. Over 150 miles a day were dumped on this car, since he lived in North Carolina, and drove to Gainesville every day, before he moved to Alto, GA, still a half of an hour away. This is a story of a lot of cars, especially beaters. It’s something you can just dump miles on with absolutely zero given care.

This is what it looked like when I got it. The poor car was destroyed.

You can tell a lot about a previous owner by what happens to be in their cars, and a crystal clear impression of mine is well…... here.

Under the driver’s seat was four live hunting rifle rounds. The spare tire was a dry-rotted old trailer tire you can buy off the shelf from your local Tractor Supply Co. Trash had been shoved in the tire well to make it look OK to whoever happened to look at it, and let’s say the amount of crap in that tire well filled up a garbage bag. The joint between the dashboard was dry with runs of dip spit, and the list describing the various forms of grime goes on.

The radio he put in there massively exemplifies the 3-star rating on Amazon. I’m guessing it was something cheap to throw in for a CD player, which came with some rather trashy hip hop, about trappin’ in the southside. Not that this guy would care, as it served as background noise to the rackety 1.9 liter engine.

After an extensive clean, a RugDoctor-ing, and even pressure washing of the interior with industrial degreaser, it’s clean and not a biohazard. And the seats are restitched, which is nice.

But, what is a 25 year old penalty box actually like to live with every day? Not the adjective I just used, that’s for sure. There’s something about having a 2,200 pound lightweight to chuck around with no power. I guess it’s why people like Miatas. Except my Miata is front wheel drive, was whipped by its previous owner, and happens to be based off a Mazda, which I’m going to dive into some history about.

History lesson. From 1979 to roughly 2014, Ford owned a 34% share of Mazda, ramping down from 1996 to 2014. That’s possibly why you have ever driven, drifted, or even seen a Miata, and why the second-generation USDM Escort even exists. Big-daddy Ford gave Mazda enough money to make this happen, in turn for some engineering and technology prowess.

Credit to Autoblog for the image ^

This is why you saw so many Ford cars built on Mazda chassis in the ‘90s. My Escort and the Aussie Laser (the exact same car) were built on the BG platform. The Probe/MX-6/626 were on the same chassis. The list goes on. No wonder I see a Ford logo on my dad’s ‘95 626, huh.

Anyway, this ties into the whole “what is it like to live with my car on a daily basis” theme of this article. My car, although it has an American badge, name, and body, it’s secretly Japanese inside. Think about any Japanese small car from the past 25 years. Cheap, simple, good mileage, plus immortality. That’s what I have here, thanks to Mazda.

So, what can you get out of a Ford Escort for $300? Well, a lot. 88 horsepower and 108 pound-feet of torque attached to a 5-speed manual transmission, that runs with a sticking starter. Expect over 250 thousand miles, and a really grotty car, that happens to handle decently for worn shocks and old tires.

Although it doesn’t look like much on paper, the engine is actually decent. The Ford 1.9 liter CVH engine, stamped with SEFI on the valve cover, isn’t as bad as you think. Yes, it has a tendency to drop valve seats, and yes, it stumbles and vibrates and makes noises you won’t expect. But do expect to make it to wherever you plan to go, even if it’s halfway across the country.

Most of the power comes on in the midrange, and it’s rather predictable. It doesn’t seem like a lot of power, but you can light up the tires in first gear with a clutch dump. I’d call that adequate for a 2,200 pound car. It’s perfectly capable of going 90 MPH on the highway all day. Its duties as an economy grocery-getter are well served, but if you want to have a little fun in the back roads, the base engine is reasonably up to the task.

The chassis is rather balanced for what it is. Chucking the little 'Scort through some back roads at rather high speeds shows little understeer, and the rear end stays in place. You really can’t work the rear end to play around with pure throttle application mid-corner, unlike the stiffer-sprung GT model. This is a basic car with soft suspension, thin tires, and no reason to handle as good as it does.

That’s the performance aspect down, but how does the rest of the car fare north of the shock absorber mounts? Decently. You can fold the seats down, and hold quite a bit. We fit a junkyard transmission, two headliners, a dashboard, and a carpet in the car no big deal. With the seats up, it holds people too. I can fit in the back, but my 5’2 frame makes that a bit of a universal fact.

In the front, the seats don’t go back far, but with this being a 3-door model, the whole cabin is shifted back a bit from the sedan and 5-door models on the same wheelbase. My 6’6 dad can drive this car comfortably, which is a feat. The dash is cracked at the moment, but the aforementioned dashboard is going to be taken out, and all of the missing trim is going to also be replaced.

Yeah, it is a beater, but I’m working on it. All the missing interior bits are slowly being replaced, including me grabbing a stock head unit. Why do I actively seek out a cassette-bound, crap 1991 stereo? It’s actually better than what it has. If you don’t know the world of $45 eBay head units, don’t try.

Aside from all of that, I can sum up living with a beater Ford Escort as a daily driver in a phrase, or more a slogan. The Mazda tagline, from circa 1990 to 1995, referring to Kansei engineering, or engineering a product to a consumer’s emotion and feeling.

“It just feels right.”

And it definitely will feel right after I get through with my plans. Heh.