Eight Escorts?! Ohio collector stokes the flame of this “throwaway” Ford

1985 Escort GT Turbo (left) with its Escort SS predecessor. Courtesy Danny Farcas

Danny Farcas has eight first-generation Ford Escorts. Eight.

There’s more to it but, seriously, that’s what you need to know about this 29-year-old Ohio father of two. Farcas has become a rescuer, preserver, and historian for a four-decade-old Ford that, to many, is a throwaway car.

As the images shown here indicate, we are talking about the U.S.-built Escort—not Ford’s rear-drive rally champ that Europeans got from 1967–1980. The American Escort did have some connection to the Continent, however, being developed in conjunction with Ford of Europe’s front-drive, third-generation version. The initial plan was to share resources and spread out development costs. Along the way, however, the two cars diverged and ultimately shared only a new four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission. Despite a similar appearance, every body panel was different.

Ford nevertheless touted the American-market Escort as a “world car,” and stuck a little globe badge on the front fenders of the debut 1981 models. The Escort became this country’s best-selling car in its second year, with hefty rebates helping to boost sales. Its best year was 1985, with about 440,000 Escorts finding homes.

Given how infrequently an Escort appears on U.S. roadways today, many of these cars met their end at the crusher. Not these eight.

Danny Farcas with 83 Escort Squire
Courtesy Danny Farcas

Farcas added his latest Escort this past September, a 1983 wagon with the Squire fake wood trim option and a Hollywood history. He bought it two hours from his home in Niles, Ohio, and says it had been rented out for films and TV. He was told the car was used in the upcoming Tom Hanks film, A Man Called Otto, due out in December. Before that, it appeared in the Netflix series, Archive 81.

Before we unravel how Farcas found himself surrounded by Ford Escorts, let’s set the wayback machine to the Malaisey days of fall 1980.

Replacing the troubled Pinto

Ford launched the Escort in October 1980 with a starting price of about $5500. It was a replacement for the Pinto, which had been making headlines for its propensity to explode in rear-end collisions. The Escort was a leap over the Pinto in many ways. It was smaller but roomier, thanks to front-wheel drive. With four-wheel independent suspension, the Escort rode and handled better than the Pinto, too.

The Escort arrived as a two-door hatchback and a four-door wagon for its first year, joined by a four-door hatch for 1982. Trim levels mirrored the L, GL, and GLX badges of the contemporary Mustang, a naming scheme picked up from European Fords. There was also a properly sporty 1982 Escort SS which was in fact not a cheesy, dealer-applied decal package. Mercury sold a version of the Escort as the Lynx, featuring more upscale interior touches.

1981 Escort SS advertisement
This couple thought SS stood for “super sexy.” Ford

The early Escorts gave 65 horsepower and 85 lb-ft of torque from a new 1.6-liter SOHC four-banger. Ford dubbed the engine “CVH,” for its “Compound Valve-angle Hemispherical” combustion chamber. So, yeah, that thing’s (technically) got a hemi, but performance was lacking. Original transmission choices included a four-speed manual (fourth gear was overdrive) and the three-speed ATX automatic. This was basic transportation, Eighties style, but with a long option list to enhance comfort and convenience.

Ford claimed up to 44 mpg on the highway for a four-speed Escort, which translates to 32 mpg using the more accurate current EPA rating system. An 80-hp “H.O.” engine was available for 1982 in the Escort GT (renamed from the Escort SS), and 1983 brought electronic fuel injection and a five-speed manual to the GT. For 1984, Ford covered both ends of the spectrum with a 52-horsepower Mazda 2.0-liter diesel option for max fuel economy and a 120-hp turbo option for top performance in the GT. The diesel gave an impressive 47 mpg highway with the current EPA formula.

Affordable, usable, fun

The Escort was not Farcas’ first automotive love. That would be the Chevy “square-body” pickup introduced for 1973. He remembers being able to pick up a “relatively rust-free” one-ton for $500. “Those trucks are about 18 grand today, and the parts are impossible for me to afford now that I have a family and a house,” he tells Hagerty.

He confesses an admiration for oddball cars, as if the octo-Escort situation wasn’t clear enough. “I remember as a kid, my brother had an Escort. It just stuck in my head. I always thought it was a good-looking little car.”

Farcas got his first Escort in early 2019—an ’85 two-door with just 30,000 miles. He bought from an original, proverbial “little old lady” owner in West Virginia. “That one got me into it,” he says. “I loved the body style, and I saw that parts were insanely cheap.”

Danny’s first Escort was this 1985 model with 30,000 miles that he bought in West Virginia. Jim Koscs

Next came a diesel Escort, another West Virginia car. “It was a super clean four-door five-speed. A young kid had it and was destroying it,” Danny says. “I took it off his hands before he could do any more damage. I did some work to the engine and one time got almost 70 miles per gallon on a long trip.”

He traded the diesel to a friend for a Mercury Lynx. Others landed in his lap via social media.

Farcas, who works as a tech for lawn, garden, and tree service equipment, learned to fix cars while growing up in an automotive family. “My dad did body work his entire life, and I was into the mechanical side of things,” he recalls.

Half of his Escorts are currently in running order. He uses those four to commute 50 miles to his job in Akron and take the family on outings. The others are works in progress, but Farcas aims to get all of them back on the road by next year.

Which brings up that funky Escort SS, again.

1981 Escort SS
Yes, Ford really made an Escort SS. Danny says he’ll never sell this one. Courtesy Danny Farcas

Escort SS saga

It may seem unfathomable today, but 40+ years ago, Ford product planners either didn’t know or didn’t care that “SS” was already a Chevy thing. They cooked up an Escort SS package that gave the car blackout trim, “Special Handling Suspension” with P-metric radials, and 8-inch rear drum brakes in place of the standard 7-inch brakes. It wore striping and “SS” decals and used the standard 1.6-liter engine good for 65 hp.

The Marti Report Danny ordered confirmed Ford made 6842 SS package Escorts for 1981. Danny figures that few are left. He found his by accident.

“I did a Facebook post looking for a Turbo GT, and somebody posted a photo of the SS. I paid $1000 for it,” he says. “The seller was in Minnesota, and he trailered it to Illinois and left it with a friend. I picked it up with a buddy.”

The SS cost $7641 new. For some reason, the AM/FM stereo and air conditioning were added as dealer-installed options. Danny knows at least some of the car’s history, including that the seller had acquired it from “Mr. Good Pliers,” a YouTuber who chronicles large barn-find collections. Mr. Good Pliers had purchased the car in Kansas and stored it for 20 years.

1981 Escort SS trailered
Danny’s Escort SS was owned and stored for 20 years by YouTuber “Mr. Good Pliers.” Courtesy Danny Farcas

“Basically, he saved the car,” Danny says. “It’s about 98 percent rust free. The paint had no sheen when I bought it. I got it shining again. The interior is in good shape, aside from the seats. The covers have a weird pattern that I can’t find. I’d like to find the original pattern or have someone make it. I never plan on getting rid of this car, even if I must sell the rest of them.”

Farcas would especially like to find an Escort SS wagon like the one shown in Ford’s ads. He traced one to a scrapyard in Spokane, Washington only to learn it had been sold. “Then it fell off the face of the Earth,” he says. He also wants to find a Lynx RS wagon.

SS to GT

What prompted the change from Escort SS to GT? You may recall that Ford had apparently planned to use the SS badge on the 1982 V-8 performance Mustang, as well. If you have any car magazines from spring and summer 1981, you might see photos of a preproduction test car wearing an SS trunk badge. Ford probably received a cease-and-desist letter from GM’s lawyers, because the V-8 Mustang had GT badges in 1982. As previously mentioned, the Escort SS was dropped and forgotten, replaced by a GT with the 80-hp engine.

For 1984, the GT Turbo’s engine, which did not use an intercooler, had 30 ponies over the Volkswagen GTI and 10 hp more than that year’s Dodge Omni GLH. Its 9-second 0-60 run and 16.8-second quarter mile put it a few tenths behind the GLH, which would get a turbo the following year. The Escort GT Turbo clobbered the VW’s 10.6 / 17.7-second times.

“The Turbo GT was fun, but unreliable,” Farcas says, adding that he believes Ford might have made just about 1000 examples in 1985.

1985 Escort GT Turbo rear
1985 Escort GT Turbo with 1980s-fashionable rear louvers. Courtesy Danny Farcas

The Escort engines had other issues. “They were known for dropping valve seats,” Farcas says. “It’s an interference motor. The timing belts were only good for about 30,000 miles if you were lucky. Then they’d break, trashing the motor.”

The GT models had Michelin TRX wheels and tires, a feature Ford offered on Mustang and Thunderbird, as well. (Ferrari used TRX tires, too.) Michelin made the 165/70 R365mm TRX specifically for the Escort GT and Lynx RS. They’re no longer available, but Danny managed to find a couple of used sets. Coker stocks NOS tires it sells “for display purposes only” due to their age. They’re about $100 per tire in this size.

The Farcas Collection

Escort GT Turbos
Danny’s little boy greets new arrivals. Courtesy Danny Farcas

Farcas collects only the 1981–1985 Escort models, preferring them over the 1985-1/2 design update with its more aerodynamic nose. He is also partial to the interior in the 1981–1983 models, which features a squared-off dash rather than the rounded look in later models. He plans to spend more time in the coming months and year getting more of his cars road ready.

His current fleet:

  • 1981 Escort GL two-door. Highly optioned car with 85,000 miles.
  • 1981 Escort SS four-speed.
  • 1981 Mercury Lynx base model, four-speed. “It’s rusty and beat up but still a cool car. It’s got a header and a cam.”
  • 1982 Escort four-speed wagon with low miles. “I got this in upstate New York from the original owner. Her son gave it to me for free. They wanted the car to go to someone who would care for it. It was basically spotless underneath.”
  • 1983 Escort Squire wagon movie car, automatic.
  • 1983 Mercury Lynx RS, EFI five-speed. This car has the Ford Premium Sound option that included a bass-boost button on the floor. Danny notes that it used different headrests, gauges, and door panels from the Escort GT.
  • 1984 Escort GT Turbo (blue car in photos): Showing just 19,000 miles, this car had been parked since 1988 and does not run. “I assume it needs a cylinder head,” Danny says, citing a common failure point for all Escort 1.6-liter engines, not just turbos. He blames this problem for causing many owners to simply park or get rid of their cars, since the repair could cost over $1000.
  • 1985 Escort GT Turbo (red car in photos): “This is a low-mile modified car from out West,” he says. “Someone did things to it that I wouldn’t have done. It’s got a bigger turbo, injectors, and throttle body. I’ve got the boost at 20 psi. I think stock was 8 or 10.”

Save the Escorts!

Farcas acknowledges that the Ford Escort does not have much of a following. He reports limited support for the pre-1985 cars. “If I have any performance problems or need troubleshooting help, I’m on my own,” he says. “There’s a guy in North Carolina I go to for help with fuel injection stuff.”

In addition to preserving Escorts for himself, Farcas has saved others left for dead. “I like to place them in homes where they won’t get destroyed,” he says, adding that he keeps a small stash of critical parts. “If someone is in dire need of something, I’ll sell it.” he adds.

That is the spirit that helps keep “throwaway” cars from going extinct. When it comes to niche machines like this, a labor of love is what it takes.

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    Was there at the beginning working at Wayne assembly,in Wayne Michigan.Made same decent money during those years…

    Dan came to the rescue when my ’66 Bronco Roadster broke as I stopped at his workplace. Great article and an Awesome young fellow.

    Hey Lynn nice to see you here buddy! I LOVED that bronco! Talked about it the rest of the day after you left haha glad I was able to help! Stop down anytime well go get some coffee or something

    I love this article. I had a light blue ’85 escort with a two piece louver on the back window. GT taillights and smoked headlight covers. It was a 4 speed manual. I had gt gauges but didn’t get around to i stalling a turbo. Someone traded me a Mercedes for it the car snd louvers abd rear bumper covers were all painted Ford part number 3M Blue! It was a show stopped. Interior was all gray. Rear deck loucer was painted same as body.

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