22k Mile Survivor: 1981 Ford Escort GL

Update 3/22/20 – After featuring this 1981 Ford Escort GL last fall, it’s for sale again, this time here on craigslist in Palm Bay, Florida for $3,900. Someone won the car on the eBay auction for $2,550 and at that time, it had a dent in the right front fender as you can see from reading Kevin’s post below. It has only traveled 180 miles since being sold last fall but it appears that it has had a lot of maintenance done since then. Let us know your thoughts on this one, it seems like a reasonable asking price given the amount of work that has been done.

From 10/20/19 – In the 1970s and 1980s, American auto manufacturers had no choice but to step away from their comfort zone and start producing compact cars and trucks.  With that being said, this 1981 Ford Escort GL that’s available here on eBay is a survivor-quality example of one of the first domestic compact vehicles.

This Escort is available in West Palm Beach, Florida with a clean title. The seller purchased the vehicle in Virginia from its original owner, who parked it for 25 years. Because of this, the seller claims that it might be the “lowest mileage 1981 Ford Escort in the USA.”

Unfortunately, there is noteworthy damage to the front passenger fender because of a fallen tree branch. The front fender will most likely need replacement, which is a shame because the rest of the exterior is impressive.

The interior, however, still looks like the day it left the showroom. I’m a big fan of the maroon theme – it looks very sharp, and it’s also a bonus that everything is in original condition. Additionally, the seller replaced the vehicle’s air conditioning system, which seems like a necessity in southern Florida.

There’s a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine under the hood, which pairs to a manual transmission to drive the front wheels. The drivetrain only has 21,548 miles on it, and it benefits from new parts such as a timing belt, water pump, carburetor, fuel system, and a fluid flush.

At the time of publication, the auction is at $2,500 with no bids. Could you see yourself cruising around in this old Escort?

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Comments

  1. Moparman Member

    Omigosh! In the late 80’s, I had an 82, 4 spd wagon in this same color, that I bought to flip, but ended up keeping, because 30 mpg was’nt nothing to laugh about. After having gotten it immaculate and driving it for 3 or 4 years, I was involved in an accident, and in the words of the body shop “the cost of repairs was more than the car was worth”! The other drivers’ insurance paid me well for it, so I bought it back, intending to utilize the drivetrain in another car. To be continued in the next posts! :-)

    Like 12
    • Howard Glockzin

      I remember that color in the 1982 as well. It is a beautiful color. However, for some reason, I remember those cars, in that color, being particularly accident prone. I live in Minnesota, but I kind of saw that anywhere. I started my military career in the Navy in Virginia, and found a beautiful 1981 4 speed wagon in this color. It sat at a mechanic without the wheels. I offered to buy it from him for the cost of repairing the engine, and replacing the transmission. I went on a cruise with my fighter squadron to save the money, but I was talked out of that, and got a bright red 1984 Pontiac Sunbird coupe. I still long to find an 81 or 82 Escort in this color to have as a collector car.

      Like 2
    • Joe Haska

      If possible I would have bought it. I live in a very nice age restricted community in Phoenix Az. I would drive it around the neighborhood and blend in, which I don’t do very well in my 34 Ford Coupe or 53 Ford P/U. This would be the next best thing to a golf cart in my neighborhood.

      Like 2
  2. Moparman Member

    Moved up to another Escort wagon, (’86, IIRC) this time a 5 spd, 1.9, but the same color as my first one. Pillaged a U-Pull-It Lynx version for the vent windowed door/rear air deflector, overhead console, wheels etc. etc. Still having the good drivetrain from the ’82, I went in search of a body to install it in and flip.
    Since I can only post one picture at a time, To Be continued! :-)

    Like 11
  3. Moparman Member

    Found an alledgedly non running 2 door body, but to my surprise, it only need minimal work to become a solid runner… ’82 body before…To be continued

    Like 13
  4. Moparman Member

    82 Body after I worked on it a bit.I drove it awhile and I eventually sold it, but I came to regret selling the ’86 wagon! The 2 door listed today is tugging at my hearstrings, as I had EXCELLENT service out of the ones that I had!! :-)

    Like 13
    • Howard Glockzin

      That is one very beautiful restoration.

      Like 4
  5. Moparman Member

    Don’t know what happened to the first picture, (hopefully) here’s a better one! ’86 5 spd, 1.9 Escort/Lynx combo!! :-)

    Like 15
    • David Ulrey

      Pick up this one and change your name from Moparman to MaleEscort. Lol. Seriously though, interesting story. Kinda brought back some old memories. They were never a great car but they definitely were a good car for their time.

      Like 8
      • Superdessucke

        Compared to the GM X cars, they were absolute marvels of engineering and execution. I think they were also superior to the K car.

        Not exciting but they got the job done and lasted a long time.

        Like 5
  6. Darrun

    I bought a light blue 81 model from a friend for $1000, in 87. He had just had the engine rebuilt and it was excellent condition. I had bought it thinking it would make my wife (at the time) an excellent car. It was by far better than what she was driving. She would have no part of it, Sold it to a guy I worked with for 1500, and his wife drove it for several years.

    Like 4
  7. Steve

    When I was in high school in the 80’s i had a 71 el camino with a 350. That was fine for my ten mile round trip. However when i started jr. college 35 miles away, i needed a cheap commuter. I came across an 82 2 dr and an unknown year wagon package deal for $400. The 2 dr had a mint body and interior but as was the case with most of the 1.6s, it had either overheated and warped the head or the timing belt broke as the engine was doa. The po had swapped the engine out if the wagon into the 2 dr. , but it wouldn’t turn over. Just a “thunk” when you turned the key. I got them both home in a 16’ lo boy trailer (behind the elco!- sketchy!!!) the things yo do when young and dumb… anyhow, my dad and i got to checking and figured out what was wrong. The guy had used the flywheel bolts from the wagon which had a 4 speed manual and were longer than needed for the auto trans flex plate. The extra length of the bolts was contacting the back if the block. We found the right bolts in a coffee can in the hatch and swapped them in. It started but had a miss. Dad suggested checking the compression. One cylinder was dead. He then continued diagnosing by unhooking the compression gauge and hooking the air compressor to the same fitting. We could hear air escaping the tail pipe. We pulled the head, and The machine shop found bent valve. The did a valve job on all and surfaced the head. We installed it with a new gasket and new bolts. It ran good after than. Next problem was steering rack was leaking ps fluid, so i swapped the manual rack from the wagon. (Who needs ps with 165/75r 13 tires?) I drove it for a while and Later on the 3 speed auto trans went out. I still had the wagon for parts but it had a four speed. I checked local wrecking yards and found a later model EXP with a five speed. I swapped it and the pedals into the escort and it was like a while different car. I later picked up the aluminum wheels off the same car (14” iirc) I kept it for a few more years and got a good deal on an tempo with a 5 speed so i sold the escort to my brother. Not sure what he ever did with it but it went away somewhere. I think he sold it when he bought a ranger. Funny think is we were chevy guys but the cheap fords did us well for a while. I miss the escort; manual trans manual steering manual windows and super simple. It had a tiny engine but was so light it handled and accelerated decent for what it was.

    Like 17
  8. gyates

    I had an ’82 Lynx 2 door. It was my Dad’s originally,but he passed along to me. Very solid car actually, It was blue, blue interior, 4 speed, a/c, power steering and brakes, and tat was about it. The engine was the 1.6 “HO” version, lol. It actually was a good car. The timing belt broke around 58k, but Ford covered it. Other than that and the water pump dying around 90k I never had any repairs, only regular maintenance. Let it go around 100k for a Mercury Tracer 2 door, which I really did enjoy driving.

    Like 1
  9. FordGuy1972 FordGuy1972 Member

    My ex bought a brand new ’81, blue on blue with a stick. It was a dependable car that never gave us any problems so we kept for a few years. Got rid of it for an ’84 Olds Cutlass Ciera wagon because we needed something bigger for us and our two large dogs. It was a good car but not good enough to want another. This one would be a perfect first car for your kid or for city driving. I do like the color combo, though.

    Like 2
  10. Mark

    Some friends of mine had a Lynx wagon and sedan. 5 speed DIESEL.

    Can you say 40 plus MPG??

    They lived about 35 miles from the big town I lived in

    Like 1
  11. Bob_in_TN Bob_in_TN Member

    It’s always great to see a surviving throw-away car. Even acknowledging the dented fender, this is a nice example. It would be fun to take to the local cruise-in and field the “my ______ had one like this, only it was ____” comments.

    It may or may not be the lowest mileage 1981 Escort, but I’m pretty sure the number of 1981 Escorts still alive, in any condition, is very low.

    Like 9
  12. big_d

    Never owned one but made literally thousands of those corner bumper guards. Hated running them.

    Like 1
  13. Wayne

    Being an ex-Ford parts manager had its benefits for “noticing” things that Ford had available at times for Escorts. They had a “performance cam” that was not used in the “Hipo” version, there was a head that used larger valves, and one year used a factory tubular header. I liked the Escorts, so I started collecting parts. And then the real strange find. The 2.3HSC short block used in the Tempo ( not an overhead cam engine) was the same as the Escort 1.9 with just a larger bore. I had United Engine make me up some early style ( interference) domed pistons in the right diameter and used all the “go fast” goodies that Ford never used all together. I picked up a neighbors 5speed wagon for $50 and installed the engine using a 32/36 Weber carb. Our babysitter down the street was in need of a car and my wife (now ex-wife) leaned on me to sell it to her cheap before I was even done with the car. I got running but was rather disappointed with the performance. A couple of weeks later they brought it by for me to look at something. While taking care of what ever it was I noticed that the throttle lever was hitting the steel fuel line only giving it about 1/8 throttle. I made the appropriate adjustment and took it for a ride. Oh my!, what a tire burner! It just flat screamed! I desperately wanted to buy it back, but the babysitter and my wife would not hear of it. 2 weeks later the car was totaled in a flood. I checked all the wrecking yards trying to find the car. But it never showed up.

    Like 17
  14. CanuckCarGuy

    This would be a great little car if you could get it at $2.5K. Always wanted a GT version, for an econobox they were a sharp looking car…or the dream car, an EXP/LN7 would be even better.

    Like 3
  15. Sam61

    What a blast from the past. Our family had a brown Mercury Lynx hatchback manual. Somehow the 5 of us fit in with luggage, small sale boat on the roof, bicycles on the bumper. What a clown car…we drove from Northwest Indiana to door county Wisconsin. My cousins would caravan up from Texas with their Escort wagon and a Ford Fiesta.

    Like 3
  16. Gary S.

    Ahhh the escort…..my first car. I had an 83 wagon with 1.6 and man.trans.It was white with blue interior that was immaculate!Bought it from a neighbor for $200.Her “mechanic” said it had all these issues and needed a bunch of work.needless to say,Gave it a tune-up and oil change and it ran great! He was either trying to rip her off,a moron,or more than likely both.So i got a great deal.I ran the crap out of that car..changed tires every couple weeks it seemed like from doing burnouts…loved the balance on it too…we used to jump these railroad tracks on a back road and it would land almost perfectly…my friends had a honda civic and a Vw rabbit so they would nosedive.. Also my escort would outrun both of their cars. I miss that car sometimes..would buy one like it if i ever run across one again!

    Like 3
  17. Barry Traylor

    I must have bought the only lemon Ford produced in 1985 as the Escort I bought new that year is what convinced me after owning 3 Fords in a row to never by one again.

    Like 1
  18. Ian C

    I think it is funny that when a 80’s GN or 442 is posted, the complaints run rampant. But post a ’81 Escort and you can just feel the love!!! HAHA

    I am not complaining at all. Just amused. ( I would drive the Escort too)

    Like 10
  19. Glenn Merithew

    My dad bought a 81 escort 4 door used from Bowditch ford in 85 I think, I still remember us going down I-64 and that 4 cylinder going for all she was worth, red with a red interior a week later I was pulling it out of the garage and it went puff smoke came out of the engine and that was it. Turned out there was no water in the radiator and the dealer took it back and sold my dad a 78 LTD 2 country squire with the 351 cleavland that car could pass everything but a gas station but that’s a diffrent story

    Like 1
  20. Ben T Spanner

    In 1983 my boss ordered a new Escort for me. I quit.

    Like 2
  21. Herman Z. Diddlemyer IV

    The next decent econobox car aside from a rabbit of that era. Better than any GM Citation or similar variant that’s for sure

    Like 3
  22. Fiete T.

    My dad was in the military, spent a lot of time growing up in Europe & such. Came back to the US and remembered seeing an Escort and thinking “That’s not an Escort…”
    Comparatively, this market got the “Poopy” end of the stick

    Like 2
  23. brian ach

    We had a powder blue one of these. Head gasket blew at 33k and I believe it was fixed by Ford as a recall or something. Horrible automatic, horrible car.

  24. Butchb

    In 1988 I got hired at a large engine re-manufacturing plant in St. Louis specifically to develop a program to repair weld cracked aluminum cylinder heads. They had pallet after pallet of cracked Escort heads and we spent months trying to successfully come up with a viable repair program, but the plant manager sabotaged it, buy not approving the purchase of the correct ovens required to properly heat and cool down aluminum heads for weld repair. I can still the sound of the aluminum heads re-cracking as they cooled down too quickly after the weld repair was done. Ultimately the plant closed shortly after and low and behold the former plant manager bought it at the bankruptcy auction, which was his plan all along.

    Like 2
  25. Stilbo

    Used car lot, Morgantown Indiana, on a Sunday, 1987.
    I had $2500 cash to pop on a used car.
    Car dealers closed on Sundays in Indiana so had plenty of time to look at the herd.
    Blue 1981 Escort with really low miles for $1200.
    A VERY clean dark green metallic Malibu SS with white stripes next to the Escort for $2400.
    Really… $2400.
    I needed a commuter car.
    Bought the Escort that week.
    Every time I see one of these things I still get queasy.

    Like 3
  26. PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

    Someone sniped it for $2550 at the very end of the auction.

    I wouldn’t call this one of the first domestic compact vehicles. Wouldn’t it’s predecessor, the Pinto, and the Vega, grab that honor?

    Like 4
    • Ralph

      Or the Henry J…or the Metropolitan…..or the Bantam etc etc.

      Though of course, in modern journalism, history started the year the author was born, nothing of importance happened before that date…….

      Like 4
  27. Wayne

    How about the Crosley?

  28. Mike

    The day my wife graduated high school (also the day BEFORE our wedding), she left $100 in her savings account and used the rest to buy a brand new 1987 Escort “Sun Sport”. She’d saved up for a car waiting tables at a local pizza place and, after a few test drives with her dad, she liked it best. I’d hate to even guess how many miles she put on that car over the years! It was her transportation through 4 years of college, then, at least another 15 years commuting 120 miles round trip for work as well as continuing her education and other running around. Just regular maintenance, keeping it perfectly clean and hot oiled ((Ohio winters its whole life) is all it ever recieved in all those miles. Obviously, a few timing belt replacements, but, those are regular maintenance and very simple. One new clutch too. She cried when the radiator split, causing it to overheat and crack the head. I winched it onto my trailer, dropped her off at work, obviously a bit late, and took the poor car home. It still occupies a corner in my shop. The body and interior are still perfect (we roll it outside for a wash/wax several times each year), and we’re also still looking for a good 1.9L head for it. We’ve never even considered selling or scrapping it. It’s a sentimental thing, but, that head IS out there somewhere! The guys n gals at our favorite cars n coffee have all seen it in the shop and know why we keep it. We can’t wait to see their reactions the day that we DO drive it to the coffee shop! Oh, a few other things…No, she wasn’t pregnant when we got married. Yes, all of our parents approved of us getting married so young. They approved even more of their 3 grandchildren, a boy first and 2 girls later. AND, the 3 that were left at the time, approved the most when their TWIN great grandsons were born 3 years ago. I don’t care what anyone says, that little car is also family!

    Like 10
  29. Wayne

    Mike, There are a lot of those engines (with cylinder heads) in good condition out there. That engine was used in the Generation II SCCA spec racer. Now known as Spec Racer Ford. It is the SCCAs most popular road racing class and the most competitive. (Google Spec Racer Ford to learn about the cars) My buddy and I have a hopped up Generation I car that uses Renault power that we use for track days.
    There is now a Generation III car now, so many are removing the Gen’ II engines and replacing them with the “newest” Gen III setup. You can start with your local SCCA and find out who in the club runs a Spec Racer Ford. That person will tell you who “locally” maintains and does the conversions for Spec Racers. That person will most likely be doing conversions and will probably have an engine or two lying around. The engines have to remain stock. (at least to SCCA original specs) So it is most unlikely to find one that has had “surgery”. If you can’t find a local guy. Get a hold of me and I can put you in touch with someone here on the west coast. ( allentires@att.net)

    Like 2
  30. VanillaDude

    –In the 1970s and 1980s, American auto manufacturers had no choice but to step away from their comfort zone and start producing compact cars and trucks.–

    Nonsense. Ever heard of a Falcon, a Cardinal, Metropolitan, American, Model T, Rambler, Nova, Dart, Valiant, Gremlin, Hornet, or Capri? Big cars were in when families were big, then families got small. So their auto needs changed, and Detroit changed with the market. To suggest that American auto manufacturers were forced out of their comfort zone is totally inaccurate.

  31. DKW

    Someone above talked about the 1.6L H.O. engine… In late 1983, just before turning 17, I withdrew my savings (from mowing lawns, cleaning pools, and washing dishes at the Howard Johnson restaurant) and bought an ’82 EXP that was basically the Escort chassis with the 1.6.L H.O. engine and 4 speed. I had Great car and good memories. I wanted to buy a ’67 Corvette that my neighbor was selling, but my father stood firm (not refusing, but telling me I would have to insure it on my own… which no one would cover).

    I sold the EXP about a year later for a few hundred bucks more than I’d paid for it to got a “real” sports car… With the neighbor’s Vette long gone, I eyed a ’62 Austin Healey 3000. Even though Dad was opposed, this time he didn’t block it. It broke down on me the third day after I bought it.

    I still have the Healey. Same car, though now restored. And as many memories that I have with it, I do wonder how much easier and less expensive my teen years would have been had I hanged on to the reliable EXP.

    Like 3
  32. DayDreamBeliever Member

    I’d be wanting to see how good of a job was done on that RF fender, but even at $3900 it doesn’t seem out of line for this car.

    Someone could DD it for quite a while, and save money while doing it.

  33. Jcs

    Someone should snap this one up with a quickness. What are you going to find any nicer for the money? Just be careful of scam possibilty.

    Like 9
  34. Lc

    Back in 2011, I bought a 76 Chevette with only 30k original miles. I spent a lot of money on maintenance as is expected. I traded it for a 85 Jeep Wagoneer in 2016. I was able to drive the Chevette as a daily, and got it up to around 46k miles from what I recall. Sometimes I see it being driven around by the new owner. This Ford Escort is worth it, but I think a little less on the money side. I paid $2250 for my Chevette, but ended up putting a ton of money into it.

  35. Patrick Anderson

    Mystifies me still that people get misty eyed and are willing to spend money on these boring meh-mobiles.

    • DayDreamBeliever Member

      $4K is not money these days, really.

      What kind of more modern car, maybe between 10 and 15 years old could you buy with that? And, expect it to be in any kind of decent condition, without 200K miles, and problems which would call reliability into question? Money pits.

      As far as being “misty eyed”, many people have a connection to machines which were significant during certain times in their lives. Part of being human, that. What the cars or trucks are which elicit that reaction is immaterial, and can vary across a wide spectrum. There is no requirement that such vehicles be widely, or even narrowly, regarded as cool or collectible.

      Like 3
  36. lc

    I did enjoy my 76 Chevette from 2011 to 2016. Yeah, it was pretty cool to me. Someone will say the same for this Ford Escort I believe.

    Like 2
    • T.Jay.G

      My second car was a blue 4 door ’89 Escort with a 1.9L & 5-speed transmission. My first car had been an ’86 LX Mustang with a 4 cylinder & no turbo. That Escort could blow the doors off that Mustang. I loved that Escort. It had plenty of zip & get up & go for such a small engine. Plus it had plenty of seating for all my friends. I had 7 people in that car on more than one occasion. I took it to Panama City Beach for my high school senior trip. But when we would cruise down the strip everyone would yell at us that I was driving my parents car. It upset me because not every 18 year old can afford a big 4 wheel drive pickup or a sports car. But it got me there & home safely. I had plenty of wild & good times in that car. It had it’s problems once it was about 8 or 9 years old. Most were minor. But it sprung an oil leak way out on a country road. I tried to drive it as far as I could to get to a phone. But I pushed the motor to far & it seized up. I left the Escort in the tow yard & didn’t go back for it immediately when they started asking for rent on the storage space. Some months later I went to look for it & it was gone. They had sold it for parts for the cost of storing it for several months. I regretted not going back for it or getting it fixed. I never had another car as nice as that one until I was grown & married. Recently I’ve been looking for an Escort in good condition. I’d like to find one I could modify to look like the UK versions of the Escort. They had a lot more love for the Escort in the UK. Theirs had different bumpers, lights, grill & hood shape. Plus they tended to have more powerful motors. But I know at least some versions of the Escort in the UK were rear wheel drive. I like front wheel drive personally. I’d like to take the best of both countries & put them into one car. Maybe one day someone will. But this Escort is a little to nice as it sits to change like that. This Escort is a time capsule that needs to be preserved. Not enough car people appreciate the small cars & what they meant to our changing world at the time. Everyone only wants the classic V8 muscle cars. Some of the smaller cars need saving too.

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