“Quality means doing it right when no one is looking”
― Henry Ford
Today, the company carrying Henry’s legacy and name builds cars ranging from entirely forgettable modern family econoboxes, through to attainable muscle in the form of the new Mustang and completely unattainable bedroom wall poster material in the form of the Le Mans-inspired GT.
But, in the glory-days of the 60s and 70s, family motoring and racing credentials were intertwined. The “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” approach to car manufacturing resulted in cars like this Escort MK II, which would have taken your granny to the shops and your mates to the local rally to witness similar-shaped beasts winning trophies on a regular basis (no fewer than 20 victories on the rally circuit between 1975 and 1981).
With a distinctly squarer-styled shape over the MK I, the second-generation MK II (codenamed “Brenda” during its development) was a collaborative effort between the United Kingdom and Germany, as opposed to the MK I which was designed purely by the Brits.
This particular car is a 1976 model and is powered by the much-loved 1600 Ford crossflow or “Kent” engine, arguably the mass-produced engine with the greatest influence on global motorsport. Manufacturers like Morgan, Caterham and TVR have used the crossflow technology. Many a Lotus 7 project has a Kent heart. The Lotus TwinCam engine for the Elan, itself one of the most influential British sportscars ever built, was based on the Kent block. Cosworth’s initial products were all Kent-based.
Heard of Formula Ford? Just in case you haven’t, it’s probably the most natural progression for a young driver from the kart circuit to open-wheel main circuit racing. Until fairly recently, the premier series was Kent-powered, with Formula Ford club classes continuing to keep the Kent cars on track.
The unique architecture and quiet Sunday roads of Cape Town CBD provided the perfect early morning canvas for a trip down memory lane. The morning sunlight dancing off the striking baby blue paint caught the gaze of many an admiring onlooker. The rear-wheel drive chassis and compact shape of the Escort promised great handling and didn’t disappoint.
With fewer than 100,000kms on the clock since new, this Escort MK II is a certifiable classic and a joy to behold. The period-correct hubcaps match the body colour. The interior looks as if the car was just driven off the factory floor. The Hella rally-style spot lights with black and white covers pay homage to the immense motorsport credentials of these cars.
The proud owner, Neville, sports an impressive beard that almost hides the smugness of a man who knows he is driving something that balances the budget just as well as it balances through corners. Yes, this car is a daily driver (unless it’s raining, in which case he takes his Morris Minor – what a legend!)
Due to a lack of garage space (a familiar problem for most of us), the Escort lives beneath two car covers, tied down in a specific way to avoid scratches on a windy day. No wonder the paint looks this good.
This car does have a few quirks.
The rims are widened, which improves the stance. Let’s face it, how many South African petrolheads don’t love a set of vet tekkies? Some extra grip doesn’t hurt either.
The factory-fitted gearbox was a 3-speed automatic. Although we haven’t driven one, conventional motoring wisdom suggests that the Sierra 5 speed manual now doing duty in this car must be a better choice. It certainly feels like the right approach as we shift through the gears on tight city roads.
The colourful district of Bo-Kaap beckoned. We simply had to find somewhere with heritage and appearance as colourful as this Escort. It says something that a group of American tourists stopped taking pictures of the houses and instead took pictures of the Escort parked on the side of the road.
A chance encounter with the participants in the Oily Rag Run provided a fitting end to our morning. Parked among machinery costing exponentially more than the Escort, it still managed to look fantastic and earned itself some admiring glances. The fancy stuff is great, but the working-class hero will always be special.
For the cost of a Corsa or a Citi Golf, you could have one of these in your garage (or under your car covers). Whilst we can’t absolutely guarantee that you’ll enjoy depreciation-free, fun-infused motoring, we can certainly guarantee that nobody at the Oily Rag Run would have admired our Corsa.