The Escort was one of Ford's most successful models in the 1980s, earning a much better reputation than the Pinto, which faced widely-publicized safety issues. In fact, the Escort was the single best-selling car in its second year in the United States and during most of that decade.
Introduced in 1981, the first American Escort was intended to share common components with the European Mk III (as with its sister, the Mercury Lynx), and was launched as a 2-door hatchback and as a 4-door station wagon, with the 4-door hatchback following a year later. It had considerably more chrome than the model sold elsewhere. The car was freshened in 1983.
Although the basic silhouette was the same, it was almost completely different from the European version, apart from the Ford CVH engine. There was a 1.6L engine, a 4-speed MTX-2 and a 5-speed MTX-3 manual transmission that were standard with a 3-speed ATX/FLC automatic transmission optional. A 1.3L engine was designed and prototyped but did not see production due to lack of power. Also, in 1983 and 1984, there was the option of the turbocharged 1.6 L 4-cylinder rated at 120 hp and matching torque, a fairly sporty package, considering that the Mustang GT of that period was only rated at 175 hp, and was much heavier. The sport targeted Ford EXP was essentially a two-seat hatch with lower roofline based on the Escort, but was not as successful as other body styles.
- 1981-1985 1.6 L CVH I4, 68hp (51kW)
- 1984-1985 2.0L RF diesel I4, 52hp (39kW)
- 1983-1985 1.6 L turbocharged CVH I4, 120 hp (90 kW)
There was a second facelift (less chrome, restyled taillamps, flush headlights, 1.9L engine) as a 1986 model. The Lynx was retired for 1987, but was replaced by the Mazda 323-derived Tracer model in 1988. [That Mazda platform was revamped in 1990 and debuted as the 1990 Mazda Protege. The updated platform would form the basis for the next generation (1991-1996) Escort/Tracer.]