Junkyard Find: 1981 Ford Escort GL Sedan

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1981 Ford Escort in California wrecking yard, LH front view - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
By the early 1980s, Ford needed a replacement for both the image-challenged and obsolete rear-wheel-drive Pinto and the minuscule, German-built Fiesta, and so a Detroitified distant cousin of the European Ford Escort came into being for the 1981 model year.

Here’s a rare ’81 sedan, photographed in a Northern California self-service wrecking yard.

I have seen quite a few first-generation Escorts in the Ford sections of junkyards during my travels, including this 1981 EXP, this 1984 wagon, this 1986 wagon, this 1988 GT, this 1988 GT, this 1988 GT, this 1988 EXP, and this 1990 Pony. In 1991, the Escort went to a Mazda chassis.

1981 Ford Escort in California wrecking yard, engine - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars This car has the 1.6-liter SOHC four-cylinder, rated at 65 mighty horses in 1981. Curb weight was just about a ton, so acceleration wasn’t as poor as you might think (though it still required a great deal of patience on the part of the driver).

1981 Ford Escort in California wrecking yard, gearshift - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars Most affordable econoboxes came with a four-on-the-floor manual transmission in 1981, though plenty of Toyota Corolla Tercels had five-speeds by this time.

1981 Ford Escort in California wrecking yard, HVAC controls - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars The original purchaser of this car wasn’t pinching all the pennies, in spite of the lack of an automatic transmission (still considered a luxurious option during the Late Malaise Era); this car boasts both air conditioning and cruise control.

1981 Ford Escort in California wrecking yard, cruise control buttons - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars Plenty of LTD and Granada buyers skipped the cruise control in 1981, but this Escort has it.

1981 Ford Escort in California wrecking yard, moss - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars The telltale moss and rust around the windows indicate that this car sat for years, maybe decades, before arriving at this place.

1981 Ford Escort in California wrecking yard, Friendly Ford Fresno sticker - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars Friendly Ford in Fresno no longer exists, but at least this car will die within 150 miles of where it was sold.

1981 Ford Escort in California wrecking yard, American flag decal - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars Before there was social media, the American ideal of a “United People” seemed possible. This junkyard is in San Jose, the capital of Silicon Valley, so there’s some sort of message here for the nearby employees of Google and Facebook.


Even though the North American Escort didn’t have much in common with its European counterpart, Ford played up the “world car” schtick in 1981.