5-Speed Diesel: 1984 Ford Escort Wagon

Scotty GilbertsonBy Scotty Gilbertson

If a person were looking for a car that gets better MPG than a 750 Honda motorcycle, this 1984 Ford Escort Wagon diesel 5-speed is it. Or, it was one choice in the 1980s. This mpg king is on craigslist, or here on the CL archive, with an asking price of $4,500. It’s located in Bear Creek, Wisconsin.

EPA figures weren’t quite as accurate as they are today, and even today there are those of us who find fault with those numbers. Ford touted the diesel Escort as having better MPG than a Honda 750 with believe it or not 68 mph highway. I lived through that era as a lot of us did and I don’t remember a car getting even close to that number of miles per gallon of anything. But, the seller mentions “50 city and to 70 highway”. I may have to buy this for my business road trip car if it gets that kind of MPG.

Whether it’s 68 mpg or 58 or even 48, which would still be great, this car itself looks great. Actually, adjusted for the new EPA method those numbers aren’t quite as mind-blowing: 35 city and 47 highway. That’s still great mpg but it’s not Daffy Duck jumping up and down nutso. The good part is that I don’t see one flaw on the exterior of this car anywhere. The two-tone paint scheme is pretty elegant, if that can be said about a Ford Escort. This one has “4 Newer w/w winter tires (2 new all season($375) incld), new struts on rear,new front incld.($225), new 1,050 Cold Cranking Amp. battery($110), will include a box of oil filters and an extra injection pump ($250 value), new starter($125), new muffler/tailpipe($50), floor mats, etc.” And, a trailer hitch?! I’m guessing and hoping that’s for a hitch-mounted bike rack and not for pulling a trailer.

There’s a lot of stuff happening in the console area, I don’t quite know what that is, maybe an aftermarket radio/bluetooth/oxygen hose/who knows. The front seats look great as do the back seats. The seller says “No Rust-No Dents-No Smoke No Accidents. All oringinal [sic] panels, near perfect inside and out. Very clean door jambs and all door bottoms and tailgate bottom is perfect also.” It has “tilt, cruise, a/c(needs a hose, easy access, pump belt on), stereo radio, rear wiper/wash and def., lugage rack, rust proofed(Ziebart) when new, cargo cover, new OE Ford logo mud flaps, dash lights changed to LED’s. Reconditioned wheels and trim rings with new center caps.”

The mpg king is running Mazda’s RF 2.0L diesel that would have had a whopping 52 hp. The Escort and Mercury Lynx diesel lasted from 1984 to 1987 and this car paired up with that 5-speed would at least be somewhat fun to drive but obviously not quick in any way, taking almost 21 seconds to get to 60 mph. Sometimes life isn’t about a 0-60 number it’s about having an unusual, obscure but still useful car, one that you won’t see at every stoplight. Wait, that’s just my life, never mind.

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  1. Hoos Hoos Member

    I don’t remember diesel Escorts, but Escorts were not that memorable. I am amazed that I’ve not even heard about them. My father was a fuel economy geek, and he drove a Honda Civic 1300 DX. He got 51 MPG commuting on mostly expressways. It looks to me that the leading edge of the hood on this car has been hit.

    • Mike R

      I don’t either, but I can’t imagine it’s a real ‘high spot’ for 1980’s autos.

  2. KSwheatfarmer Member

    If this was a Lynx I would think it would be just the thing to park next to my 72 Colony Park wagon at the car show. Big and little.

  3. bdub

    the price is $5,500. not sure if it was raised or if your price is typo.

    • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      bdub, if you look at the “CL archive” it shows that they originally had it listed at $4,500.

  4. Jeffro

    I’d rather have the Honda 750!

    • LAB3

      There’s a guy that specializes in 750 restos and restomods close by, complete and incomplete project bikes and parts too. Iconic machines for sure!

    • Larry K

      I own that 750 Honda nighthawk. Sexy and loud. On the highway it’s revving around 4600 but nice street bike.

  5. Classic Steel

    I wonder how emissions are on it

    • Harrell


  6. Z1rider

    For anyone thinking they might buy this, be advised. These engines have belt driven overhead cams. Be sure to do the belt service or it can get expensive. Being a diesel, the required compression ratio for compression ignition will not allow a so called “freewheeling” engine design. Making enough clearance for the valves and the pistons to occupy the same space if the cam belt were to break would reduce the CR too much. The injection pump is also driven by a belt from the back of the cam. If that belt breaks it will only leave you stranded, no other harm done. I do note and am not quite sure why this has the turnbuckle between the injection pump and one of the valve cover bolts. That is not stock.

  7. Michael

    Did not realize they made a diesel. Would love to have this. My very first brand new car was a 93 Escort GT. Loved it. Eventually traded it in for a BMW 318 convertible. Should have kept the Escort.

    • Danno

      My recollection is that diesel engines from that era, is that they weren’t exactly top notch. Sounds like this is a Mazda engine, so perhaps its foreign sourcing makes a difference, not sure if they were already owned by Ford by then. I would be hesitant to count on this ol’ wagon for necessary things.

  8. Ben T. Spanner

    In 1983 I was offered a promotin and an Escort company car. I quit.

  9. grant

    Only thing I see going on in the console is a clip on cup holder and a phone charger. 2018, and all. Not sure why anyone would want this, but someone will. It is remarkably preserved.

  10. Jack M.

    Ford also made a diesel Tempo and diesel Ranger pick up in this era.

  11. Rube Goldberg Member

    Ah yes, the “diesel craze”. Everybody and their brother jumped on the bandwagon. Diesel was a lot cheaper than gas at the time( just the opposite now) and everybody thought this was the answer to their commuting needs. Not so. 1st, no freakin’ way on the fuel mileage. Maybe if you idled it all day. Small diesels like this generally got high 30’s, maybe low 40’s, almost unheard of at the time, but the problem was, they were so underpowered, drivers had their foot to the floor all day. I can’t even see if it has a/c in that spaghetti bowl under the hood, making matters worse. While dependable, small diesels are a pain to work on, and cold weather woes, diesels fell out of favor. Gas jobs were just so much more civilized. These were ok cars, but I’d pass on the diesel.

  12. Rich

    No clue why, but I really like this. Would be an interesting commuter car.

  13. Chris R.

    I actually had a brand new, 1986 Escort wagon with the diesel during my senior year in college. It was mighty slow, but got an honest 55 mpg, no matter how hard you pressed the pedal. You always had to press it hard. Drove from South Jersey to Fort Lauderdale and back on spring break, cost about $45.00. I didn’t hate it, and to me it proved that they could make real fuel efficient cars now, if they really wanted to.

  14. Mark Hoffman

    I knew a family that has a Mercury Lynx wagon and sedan. The family lived 40 miles away from the nearest large city

    Both cars went over 200,000 miles. The husband was a stickler for maintainance

  15. Paul Hudson

    I’d buy it. This would be a great spare car to run errands in. I had several escorts in a fleet of company cars for a service company I managed in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The Escort wagon was a particularly useful size vehicle and were great in the snow. We had some from 1982 and 1988 and 1989. They were all gas models and got in the 30’s on average. I had a 1983 Escort GT for from 1983-1985 it always did 30+ MPG and once achieved 50 MPG on a Drive from Baltimore to Ocean City, MD. It was a 5 Speed.

  16. Paulbz3

    This is an interesting “survivor” but that two-tone paint is not a factory paint scheme and while you could get a roof rack from the factory, the one installed here doesn’t look factory correct to me. The back paint on he hood and roof looks funky to me, almost looking like vinyl on the roof. My guess is that this probably had some hail damage and or as stated earlier, hood damage and rather than try to match the color, which would take some skill, or repaint the entire car, they just did the hood, and painted the roof and hatch in the back to gain some resemblance of a factory two tone paint job. The bottom of the hatch would be be prone to rust on these Escorts too so look there but from the looks of the rear door jam, that probably isn’t a problem unless that too has been painted. They liked to rust there too. Had two, dad as a FOMOCO engineer, I also sold Fords in the 80’s and I’ve never seen another so it probably is rare so you’ll never see another at the car show and not a bad price for classic car entry. FWIW…

    • Steve R

      The black paint on the hood and roof is an easy fix for damaged clear coat.

      This car is not as nice as the seller claims, the interior shot of the rear seat shows rust in the lower left corner. There are also no other detailed pictures of rust prone areas.

      It’s a $2,500 car, at best, if you buy into the sellers hype.

      Steve R

      • CanuckCarGuy

        Bad clearcoat was my thought given the year and colour; Fords in silver or grey from this era were clearcoat deficient… seemingly it peeled off in the wind once you left the dealer’s lot..

  17. JoeBazots

    I owned 2 Escort wagons – neither diesel, but durable little cars, nonetheless. I was newly married with a young family – that 2 door Monte Carlo just wasn’t going to get it anymore. I had an 85 and an 88 – both 5 speeds. I wouldn’t hesitate to get one like this little car. Mazda was making some great diesel engines at the time. If you did lots of highway driving, these would really knock you out, not just with the mileage, but with their durability. Good thing this is further than I want to drive for an older used car because I’d DD the heck out of this thing.

  18. fahrvergnugen

    At last, an Escort wagon slower than my “SS” 5 speed.

    • Zapp

      The ’81-only Escort SS did not have a 5-speed.

      • fahrvergnugen

        Correct. Wouldn’t have mattered as it wasn’t going anywhere anyhow anytime soon.

  19. LAB3

    Personally I love it for it’s quirkiness factor and that fuel milage. Thing is, if I brought it up my way it would dissolve from salt in a year or two, not worthy of being a weekend cruiser to me.

  20. Z1rider

    As far as the fuel mileage claims. I’ve heard more than one person state they were capable of 50+ MPG on the highway. Remember the double nickel speed limit back then? That had a lot to do with it.

  21. Christopher Silva

    I had 2 of those in the past. I lost one in new Orleans because of Katrina storm. Other one was a hit and run in Miami. Flo. Great car for 4500 is to much and high miles I won’t mind have another great on gas

  22. Jim

    I have no recollection of Escort Diesels but I did have a Honda 750. The Honda’s gas mileage was’t breathtakingly extraordinary.

  23. Gay Seattle Car Nut

    I remember when the Ford Escort was first introduced to the North American market. I was too young to drive at the time. I’d seen ads for the Escort Diesel, but for some reason, it never remained on the market for very long before being discontinued. I’ve never understood why.

  24. Pat A

    My friend’s dad had a 2 door. It wasn’t put together anywhere near as well as my ’76 Corolla. The front passenger seat in the Escort was pretty uncomfortable, as the center radio/hvac pod seemed to be pushed to the right, probably to increase room for the driver, but it really cramped the passenger’s leg room.

  25. Adam T45

    As part of my ongoing mid-life crisis (15 years and counting) I have owned a MkII Escort (pictured). By the time I’d finished with it it was like driving a go-kart. It’s one car that I wish that I’d kept. Selling it was a mistake.

    While I don’t mind the styling of this car, the thought of a diesel engine just seems wrong to me. I think that I’d pass on it, but only because I suspect that it would sour my memories of the fun I’ve had driving Escorts.

  26. Comet

    A turnbuckle? A turnbuckle?

    • Adam T45

      Hey Comet, it’s the silver thing in this picture just below the Diesel badge on the engine mate.

    • Adam T45

      Hey Comet, it’s that silver thing just below the Diesel badge on top of the engine mate. You can see it in this picture.

  27. Bryan

    Ha! I had to take my drivers license driving test in my dads ‘86 diesel Escort wagon. Sand beige inside and out. The instructor/tester made me do a three point turn during the driving portion. In a manual diesel wagon. Passed and didn’t stall it once!

  28. Steve A.

    Only about an hour away from me. Wonder why his price went up though. Had a diesel sedan back in early 90’s. Couldn’t beat it for mileage that’s for sure!

    Meh! Gas is cheap right now.

  29. Doug Edwards

    See if you can get a spare cylinder head first.

  30. That Guy

    I wouldn’t necessarily pooh-pooh the mpg claims. I had a VW Dasher diesel (1st-generation Passat outside the US) which really did get 50 mpg on long highway drives. So it’s entirely believable this car could do likewise.

    I’d forgotten there was an Escort diesel. This is very cool just for the oddball factor.

    • Rube Goldberg Member

      I heard of VW’s getting 50 mpg too, mostly from owners that knew how to drive a diesel. Fact is, most people that bought these, just came out of V8 gas guzzler, and bought these solely because diesel was almost half the price of gas at the time,( gas was $1.25, while diesel was still around .70 cents) had their foot to the floor all the time, and were happy with 38 mpg.

  31. DRV

    My mother in law had the sedan version. Once and a while it wouldn’t start and was towed to the dealer for the fix. If I remember, there was a cutoff for the fuel pump if You shook the car too hard, or even if it was was windy in the parking lot???

  32. chad

    the rounder bodied 1 (90s?) in our fam got close to 250Kmi (a gasser).
    Shipped to the continent/GB & used for sight seeing another yr (300K) the europeans begged to sell it rather than bring it back 2 USA. We obliged & they refreshed and DD’d it. Probably still crankin thru the streets of France!

    A sacrilege (esp ina diesel) I’d like an auto. Would keep the motor. This is the right sized wagon 4 me…

  33. Hey Wally

    A check of Ford records found that while these cars got great mileage, they were not known for any type of normal acceleration …In fact in place of the speedometer was a calendar….

  34. P Wentzell

    My 1994 Escort Wagon had the high output gas engine, 5 speed. I got it in ’95 with 7K. The car performed well. I was dubious, but a friend I was helping to move, was able to put a 6 foot buffet in the back (rear seat folded down, of course) and the hatch even closed! The car was taken out by a deer, the right side smashed in, windshield cracked, but the car still ran. My insurance company wound up totaling the car due to repairs, and I had driven it 333K + miles.


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