Ford Escort Mk 3 (incl. XR3, RS & Orion)

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The third generation Escort platform was launched in September 1980.  It lasted the whole decade, with one major revamp in early 1986.  Front wheel drive, available in 3 and 5 door hatchbacks and estates, a 2-door panel van. A 4-door saloon - known as the Orion, and a convertible version appeared in 1983.  High-tech design compared to the old rear wheel drive Mk.1&2, it earned the European Car of The Year award in 1981, and consequently sold in massive numbers.  Was part of a ‘world car’ program - a loosely related US version (not covered here) shared the CVH engine, autobox and some styling similarites.  But the Escort Mk.III is remembered for the hooligan XR3i and RS Turbo versions, of course.


Many things.  Popular convention is to call the original 1980-86 car the “Mark 3” and the post-’86 facelift version the “Mark 4”., others argue they are all “Mark 3” since it’s the same platform - thus meaning that the 1990 platform is the “real” Mark 4., and not “Mark 5” as it is popularly known.  Sensibly, For d doesn’t recognise this confusing “Mark” business at all and internally refers to the Mark 3 by its development codename “Erika” , and “Erika-86” for the “Mark 4”. 

Confused yet??? - we will just call them the “original” and “post-86” versions for clarity.


XR3/XR3i, RS Turbo, Cabriolets are the most collectable and consequently account for most of the survivors.  The ultra rare Orion 1600E from ’89 is also worth having if you can find one.  Plush Ghia and the run-out Eclipse versions almost make it.  The short lived and rare RS1600i is the most valuable of the lot and mint ones attract a hefty price premium - approaching five figures for the best examples.  The bread and butter models sold in vast quantities, and still come up fairly regularly in the classifieds, despite their age - my advice is don’t bother with them unless absolutely mint. 


Crisp and beautifully proportioned Uwe Bahnsen/Patrick Le Quement styled body still looks good today.  Advanced suspension for its day gave it good handling - but the design was fraught with gremlins - works great on smooth surfaces, but nervous on rough roads.   The usual Ford pluses such as slick gearshift, well thought out interior and of course ultra-low running costs.


CVH engines are very, very gruff when pushed hard.  Harsh and choppy ride - particularly on the earliest pre-83 cars, was never better than average despite numerous suspension tweaks over the years.  Rust prone - in general the earlier German sourced cars are the best of a bad bunch.  XR and RS models still suffer from a naff image problem, although this is now fading as the cars attain “classic” status.  Cabriolets look good, but not very structurally sound and body flex makes for ‘interesting’ handling.


Most have the CVH (Compound Valve Hemispherical) overhead cam engine - original 1.3s, and 1.6s have this unit.  Post-86 version had a 1.4 version of the same unit with “lean-burn” combustion chambers.  Infamously harsh when pushed, they are however over-engineered, endlessly tuneable and go on forever if maintained.  Oil changes vital - the CVH hates infrequent changes, or poor quality oil otherwise it will sludge up with fatal consequences.  Hydraulic tappets - if the engine has top end rattle this is the first sign that maintenance has been skimped.  Valve stem oil seals go at high mileage, fortunately they can be changed without taking the head off with the help of a special and readily available tool.  CVHs are not renowned as serious cambelt snappers, but the belt and jockey pulley should be replaced after 36,000 miles without fail.

All 1.1s and post-86 1.3 Escorts have the ‘Valencia’ OHV unit (based on the venerable Kent Crossflow).  The same powerplant as found in the Fiesta, these are noisy but bulletproof motors.  Only issues are that they start to burn oil at about 80,000 plus due to valve stem oil seals, but the bottom end is good for 120,000 if looked after.  Top end rattle is normal, don’t be tempted to close the valve clearances to compensate… Original pre-86  1.1s use contact breaker ignition and are notoriously bad starters when damp. 

Post ’88 brought the overhauled “HCS” version of the Valencia which has a twin-bore Weber in place of the VV carb, hardened valves and inserts, new combustion chambers to allow it to run on unleaded, and partial engine management in the form of an EDIS ignition system.

All original Mark 3 Escorts use the infamous Ford VV carburettor, as does the post ’86 1.1 and 1.3 cars.  The problems with this carb are endless, from leaky diaphragms to auto choke issues and most surviving Escorts will have had it substituted for some sort of Weber conversion. Webers are standard on the XR3, and all post 86 1.4 and 1.6 cars.  XR3i and RS models up until 1989 use the Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection system which is bulletproof, only issue is that there were several redesigns of the crankcase breathing circuit to alleviate hot idling problems - but Ford never manged to fix the problem properly.  Ford EEC IV engine management appeared from 1989 onwards on the XR3i and Orion Ghia Injection models.

1.6 “Lynx” Diesel appeared in 1984 and is dog slow - it is slower even than the 1.1 petrol.  Jointly developed with Deutz, it is however bombproof and mileages of 500,000 miles have been reported.  Was sensibly enlarged to 1.8 litres for the ’89 model year which made it a lot more palatable.  Has a curious mixture of belt and gear drive for the injection pump and camshaft.  Belts should be changed every 36,000 without exception.


Escorts can rust anywhere - door bottoms, floorpans beneath the seat mounting points, wheelarches, rear sills and rear chassis legs are the most vulnerable areas.  Ford’s scant regard for rustproofing seems to be the biggest culprit.  Rear wheel arches can rust from the inside and by the time the bubbles appear, there is little structure left to weld repair sections onto. The biggest and most infamous area on these cars is the battery tray on the bulkhead, which disintegrates and allows water to leak in and soak the passenger’s footwell.  In the most extreme cases, the tray will collapse completely and the battery will end up in the glove compartment!!  Left unchecked, the rot will spread to the inner wing seam, by which time it is usually terminal and the car is beyond repair - not to mention the water trapped below the passenger carpet which will eventually rust its way through the floorpan.  Most surviving Mark 3’s will have had a new battery tray welded in by now.  Ford solved the problem on later cars by fitting a cover over the battery terminals, which allows run-off water to be diverted away.

In general, the German built cars (the VIN number starts with “W”) seem to be the most resistant to rust - which explains why it’s the high-speccers and Cabriolet versions (which were only built in Germany) which account for most of the survivors.  The biggest issue of the lot is Ford’s use of recycled steel between 1986 and 1988 to cut costs.  Escorts and Orions of this vintage can suffer from Italian-rivalling levels of rot - which can strike in the most strangest of places - like in the middle of the roof, or on door pillars.  The advice here is Caveat Emptor - if you are looking at a C, D, E or F registered car - assume it is laden with filler and welding until proven otherwise. 


All use the BC4/ BC5 transaxle which is derived from the Fiesta.  4-speed only from 1980 to 1982 (even on the XR3), 5-speed standard on 1.6 cars from there onward, optional elsewhere.  By 1989 the 5-speed box was standard on everything but the base “Popular” models.  In Ford tradition it is a slick shifting box, but the synchro on 1st can disappear at high mileage.  The gearbox oil level plug is prone to stripping out, and if this has happened - it is near impossible to fix properly. It was changed to a Torx headed plug on later cars to prevent overtightening.  The other issue is the differential bearings which can collapse - the 1.6 cars seem to be especially prone.  A wobbly or non-functioning speedometer is the first danger signal, eventually the bearing will grind away the gearbox casing until the whole unit is a write off - usually the vibration from the driveshafts will be patently obvious before this happens!!

Stiff gears are usually a trait of the clutch self adjusting mechanism about to give up.  It is a ratchet mounted onto the top of the clutch pedal, and the teeth strip with age and eventually fail completely, leaving you with no clutch.  The parts are about £5+VAT from a Ford dealer, but fitting them involves contortions below the dashboard. 

The automatic cars available from ’83 onward use the American designed ATX transmission - it is a solid unit, but jerky changes and its extra thirst means it was relatively unpopular.


Independent all round, with anti-roll bars on all but pre-86 1.1s, which use a more primitive Fiesta-type arrangement with tie rods.  A substantial suite of suspension modifications came in mid ’83 with new top mounts for the front shocks, overhauled suspension geometry, new dampers and Sierra steering rack.  All Orions have this set-up, it was quietly introduced on the Escort as a running change for the ’84 model year.

Power steering was never an option, which is a problem on the higher powered models with fatter tyres.  Lower ball joints on the front can go - look for a clicking noise on full lock.  On post 86 cars the rear wishbones are prone for rotting out near the spring cups - this is an MOT failure point.  Apart from this watch the usual troublespots - failing CV joints and split steering rack gaiters are common.


Utterly conventional - front disc/rear drums with ventilated discs on 1.6 models.  Early base and L spec 1.1s didn’t have brake servo as standard - standard from 1983 onward.  1986 version has the option of mechanical SCS anti-lock brake system.  Many XR3i’s had it as standard, elsewhere it was a pricey optional extra.  Not as painful to work on as a traditional electronic ABS system, but Ford specialists are the best people to contact if it goes wrong.


Generally sound. All CVH engined cars have electronic breakerless ignition, whilst rotating electrics are either Bosch or Lucas items, and last the distance.  Steering column switches on 80-86 cars clap out with age - fortunately replacements are still readily available.  Other problem area on the original cars is the auxiliary warning light system on GL spec and above- which gets grumpy with age.  Most people get tired of the orange lights flashing on the dashboard and disconnect the system completely.  It was dropped on the post-86 models.  Blower motors have been prone to giving up the ghost on later cars.  The biggest issue on these cars due to their age will be dirty earths caused by corrosion. 


Seats are hardwearing, although in 1980s fashion the interiors are rather plasticky.  The earliest base models were extremely primitive and had rubber mats and vinyl seats, no centre air vents and no glove compartment, but these sold in small numbers and are as good as extinct now.  Ghias are very plush even on the earliest’81 cars with standard sunroof.  Introduction of Orion in 1983 saw a marked improvement in the quality of trim and standard kit list across the entire range.  Post-86 models got an all new Scorpio-style dashboard, with wider availability of electric toys (E/W C/L and E/M all standard on the Ghia and XR3i  from this point forward).  Very last of the line 1989 onward cars had a very generous kit list with sunroofs standard all the way down to “L”, and the full electric pack now on the GL.  The special edition Orion 1600E was made in limited numbers between 1989 and 1990 and had a full leather interior and every optional extra as standard.


All service parts are still readily available from both Ford dealers, and motor factors.  The sheer number of these cars built means that all but the most obscure of items aren’t  that hard to come by second hand if you look hard enough although scrapyard numbers are fast dwindling, as more “Erikas” are saved for preservation.  Trim parts are hard to come by, naturally - but your local friendly Ford garage might just surprise you!


It’s an old car now, and you will need to accept its limitations.  Most people will buy an “Erika” Escort for reasons of sheer nostalgia - the 40 and 50-something ex-boy racers now make up most of the XR3i’s fan base for example.  Nobody will want to restore a 1982 Escort 1.1 base model, and this is reflected in the numbers remaining.


Numbers of these cars are dwindling, but its sheer popularity when it was new means they  will probably never be extinct.  Clapped out no-hopers can be had for their scrap metal value.  Low mileage “barn find” Escort 1.3L’s still turn up on eBay from time to time - don’t knock them if mint, if they haven’t already  been snapped up by a museum.

 XR3/3i and RS Turbos (both hatch and Cabrio) start at around £500 for a restoration project, rising to £4500 for a minter in original condition.  Don’t be duped into paying over the odds for heavily modded examples with body kits and naff alloy wheels, and assume all have been pranged, or stolen/recovered until proven otherwise.  Pay the equivalent for a standard, unmodified model or walk away.

On the other hand, professionally modified cars with uprated engines (conversions to Zetec engines from the Mondeo/Focus are particularly popular among Ford aficionados) and gearbox should be valued on their own merit.

The rare RS1600i and Orion 1600E are the rarest and most valuable therefore of all “Erika” derivatives.  If you can bag one, look after it and hand it on to your kids!



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