Launched in 1968, the Escort was everything and for everyone. From a trusty little commuter and affordable family car, to a feisty street machine, the Ford had all the bases covered.
The Mk1, which replaced the ageing Anglia, was an immediate sales success — and a large part of that was down to the sporty RS1600 and the legendary Mexico. The MK2 retained the same formula — it, too, was rear-wheel drive and terrific fun to throw around and it introduced a crisp new look — but for the 1980 Mk3, Ford made some massive changes, the biggest and most surprising being its transition to front-wheel drive.
Those who had grown up watching the Escort making a name for itself going sideways around corners at the World Rally Championship found the change in the layout hard to comprehend.
A fundamental part of the car had been changed while the second major difference was the body style — it went from a saloon to a hatchback. Some were put off by the radical Mk3, but Ford needed to give the Volkswagen Golf a run for its money, which it did, but the fun really started when a rival to the GTI, the XR3, came along. With a tuned version of the 1.6-litre CVH engine fitted with a Weber carb and an updated suspension, it proved a massive hit, but the Blue Oval knew it could do better, and did so with the XR3i, which boasted fuel injection. However, Ford had another trick up its sleeve. To the untrained eye, the RS1600i looked just like the XR3i, but with a striped bonnet graphic, front spoiler, seven-spoke alloys and a rear wing, it was extra special.
Only 5,000 units were planned for Group A homologation requirements but enthusiasts demanded more and so in its debut year of ’81, 8,659 cars were built and all found very happy homes.
It was a racecar for the road, ideal for short distances during which you’d fling it about and wreak havoc then scurry back to the garage before the law enforcement got you. The 1,597cc CVH engine (mated to a five-speed manual) with Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection and unique AFT twin coil electronic ignition made 115bhp but was easy to tune up to 160bhp.
The clutch was heavy, the suspension was stiff and it had a heavy steering. This might have made it a handful around town, but on the open road, there weren’t many cars at the time that were better than this.
It’s an appreciating classic now and a good one can reach the Dh75,000 mark.