The Complete History of the MK1 Ford Escort

mk1 escort

The history of the MK1 Ford Escort: a revolutionary arrival in Ford’s 1968 lineup, carrying heritage and horsepower. Why did this model make history? We chart the course of the MK1 Ford Escort, from groundbreaking debut to motorsport heroics and cultural icon status. Dive into the article to uncover the engineering ingenuity, rally conquests, and community cult that define its legacy.

Key Takeaways

  • The Ford Escort MK1, launched in 1968, was a versatile vehicle designed to address practical family needs and succeed in motorsport, available initially in four versions, replacing the Ford Anglia and introducing innovative steering and suspension systems to enhance handling and performance.
  • Several high-performance variants of the MK1 Escort, including the Twin Cam, Mexico, RS1600, and RS2000, contributed to its reputation as an extraordinary rally car, each equipped with unique engineering features such as powerful engines, reinforced body shells, and advanced gearboxes.
  • The MK1 Ford Escort’s legacy extends through car culture and rallying dominance, admired for its mechanical simplicity that’s ripe for modification, combined with a history of early rally success and rarity of limited edition models like the RS1800, influencing future automotive designs and passionate car communities.

The Birth of the MK1 Ford Escort

Historical photo of the MK1 Ford Escort

Launched in 1968, the Ford Escort MK1 was designed with two key goals in mind: to succeed the Ford Anglia in fulfilling practical needs, and to establish a new reputation in motorsport. With a range of body styles including sedan, estate car, and panel van, it offered both comfort and economy for everyday use, while its Escort Sport potential appealed to thrill-seekers and motor enthusiasts alike. The Ford Escort MK1 made its show debut at the Brussels Motor Show, with four versions available at launch: De Luxe, Super, Super 1300cc, and GT.

The MK1 Ford Escort, which replaced the Ford Anglia in the market, signaled Ford’s transition towards a modern vehicle lineup. Ford announced its design as a blend of soft curves accentuated with rounded sides and arches, creating a dimensional and modern look. The friendly and assertive front-end design was characterized by two large round headlights and a narrow ‘dog bone’ grille, giving it a distinct personality.

Opting for the name ‘Escort’ for this new model was a notable change, signifying a departure from the prior ‘Anglia’ label. This decision was influenced partly because the name ‘Anglia’ was shared with an adult magazine, reflecting an interesting piece of trivia in the car’s development. This marked the inception of the MK1 Ford Escort, a car that was about to make a significant impact on the automotive world.

Design and Engineering

The MK1 Ford Escort wasn’t just aesthetically pleasing, it was an engineering marvel featuring forward-thinking steering and suspension systems. This included:

  • Rack and pinion steering
  • MacPherson struts for the front suspension
  • Semi-elliptic leaf springs with radius arms
  • De Dion axle at the rear

These advancements significantly improved the handling and ride quality over its predecessor, the Anglia.

Yet, the MK1 Escort was not solely about comfort; it was engineered for performance too. This can be seen in its inclusion of a 2-liter Brian Hart-developed BDA engine producing 245bhp. This engine was a direct result of the influence of motorsport on the Escort’s design, enhancing its competitiveness in rallying. Its rear-wheel-drive and live rear axle design became a reference point in automotive engineering, influencing the design of a generation of vehicles.

The design of the MK1 Escort also took into account the practical needs of its users. Its advanced yet affordable steering and braking systems strategically positioned it as a desirable family saloon in the market. This gave it an edge over rivals like the Vauxhall Viva HB, while also maintaining its sporty appeal.

Market Reception

The MK1 Ford Escort was more than a commercial success; it emerged as a phenomenon. In the UK, it hit the production milestone of the millionth Ford Escort just six years after its launch. This remarkable achievement was a testament to the car’s broad appeal and popularity, paving the way for the eventual production of the two millionth Ford Escort.

Introduced at a time when the Ford Cortina had outgrown its initial market position, the Ford Escort MK captured a segment of consumers in need of a smaller, more economical car. This strategic positioning allowed it to cater to a broad demographic, from families looking for a practical car to motorsport enthusiasts in search of a thrilling drive.

The success of the MK1 Escort can be attributed to its unique combination of practicality and personality. With its progressive design, it gained a substantial edge over competitors like the Austin/Morris 1100. Buyers favored the MK1 Escort for its ‘swagger’ and ‘get out of my way’ attitude, making it a standout choice in the market.

The decision to name the new model ‘Escort’ rather than continuing with the ‘Anglia’ moniker also played a role in the vehicle’s burgeoning popularity in the British market, reflecting Ford’s strategy to align with their European operations.

Iconic Models: Twin Cam, Mexico, RS1600, and RS2000

Iconic Ford Escort models

The MK1 Escort wasn’t just a standalone model, it was a series that gave birth to several iconic variants, each boasting unique performance upgrades and achieving notable success in motorsports. Among these were:

  • Twin Cam
  • Mexico
  • RS1600
  • RS2000

Each of these models contributed to the MK1 Escort’s reputation as one of the most successful rally cars of its time, combining practicality with outstanding performance on the racetrack.

The Twin Cam model was a powerhouse, featuring a 106hp engine at 6,000rpm from a modified Lotus unit, paired with a strengthened body shell. This model not only boasted of high performance but also embodied the spirit of motorsport that was integral to the MK1 Escort’s identity.

The Mexico model, on the other hand, was a tribute to the Escort’s victory in the World Cup marathon rally. It was created with a 1,599cc Kent engine producing 86bhp, capable of 0 to 60mph in 10.7 seconds. This model exemplified the MK1 Escort’s rallying success and its ability to translate that success into a roadworthy car.

Twin Cam

The Twin Cam was a model that embodied the MK1 Escort’s rallying spirit. It featured:

  • Engine displacement: 1558 cm3 / 95.1 cu-in
  • Bore and stroke: 82.57 x 72.75 mm
  • Valves: 8
  • Carburettors: 2 Weber 40 DCOE
  • Engine alignment: longitudinal
  • Power output: 112 PS / 110 HP / 82 kW at 6000 rpm
  • Top speed: 182 km/h / 113 mph
  • 0 to 60 mph acceleration: 9.90 seconds

The Escort Twin Cam offered impressive performance, thanks to its powerful twin cam engine.

To handle the high performance, the Twin Cam’s body shell was strengthened, with modifications to the transmission tunnel and the use of the Lotus Cortina suspension and Atlas axle. This made it well-equipped to handle rally conditions, further enhancing its competitive edge.

The conception of the Twin Cam was inspired by motorsport, leading to its rallying success and setting a high-performance legacy for future Escorts. This model demonstrated the MK1 Escort’s potential in the world of motorsport, making it a favorite among rally enthusiasts.


The Ford Escort Mexico model was a special tribute to the MK1 Escort’s triumph in the 1970 London to Mexico World Cup Rally. Introduced to the market in November 1970, it became a symbol of driving enjoyment that continues to this day.

Equipped with a 1601cc Kent engine, the Mexico featured a strengthened Type 49 bodyshell and the 2000E gearbox and disc brakes shared with the higher-end RS1600 model. This model was not just about performance; it was also about durability and reliability, characteristics that were essential for its success in rallying.

The Escort Mexico was positioned above the sporty 1300GT and the luxury 1300E, making it the ideal choice for serious drivers and clubman motorsport competitors. With options for further tuning and customization through official Ford Rallye Sport components, the Escort Mexico was a favorite among motorsport enthusiasts.


The RS1600 model was another iconic variant of the MK1 Escort. Introduced in April 1970, it became an iconic model due to its high performance and was manufactured at Ford’s Advanced Vehicle Operations factory in Aveley, which specialized in Ford’s advanced vehicle operations.

Equipped with the Cosworth BDA engine, the RS1600 was designed for power and efficiency. Here are some key features of the RS1600:

  • 1601cc displacement engine
  • Output of 120bhp
  • Acceleration from 0-60mph in 8.9 seconds
  • Top speed of 113mph

This high-performance engine was a key factor in the RS1600’s success in motorsport.

To handle the increased power, the RS1600 used a sturdy 4-speed 2000E gearbox and a Girling Powerstop braking system with front discs and rear drums. These features ensured that the car not only had the speed and power to compete, but also the control and stability needed for success in rallying.


The RS2000 model was a testament to the MK1 Escort’s continuous evolution. This model was powered by a 2.0-litre Pinto engine, providing an improved driving experience with a 0-60mph time of 9.0 seconds.

Compared to the RS1600, the RS2000 delivered extra power in a more smooth and refined way. This ensured a driving experience that was not only thrilling but also comfortable, making it a favorite among both motorsport enthusiasts and everyday drivers.

The RS2000 model showcased how the MK1 Escort was not just about raw power and performance; it was about delivering a comprehensive driving experience that combined power, comfort, and enjoyment. This balance made the RS2000 a standout model in the MK1 Escort series.

Rally Dominance: The MK1 Escort's Motorsport Legacy

Rallying legacy of the MK1 Ford Escort

The MK1 Ford Escort was not merely a popular car, it dominated the rally scene. Its design, including MacPherson struts at the front and a live rear axle, was well-suited for gravel roads, enhancing its rally performance. The addition of the Cosworth-designed twin-cam four-valve BDA engine from 1970 provided the MK1 Escort with a competitive edge on various rally terrains.

The MK1 Escort’s design allowed for a driving style that was sideways, compatible with the preferences of many rally drivers of that era. This made it a favorite in the rally scene, with the car nearly clinching the RAC Rally on its debut in 1968, only to be forced to retire due to a head gasket failure.

However, the MK1 Escort’s rally dominance was not just about its design and performance. It also had the endurance and adaptability to withstand intense competition, even into the early 1980s, showcasing its ability to remain competitive against modern vehicles. This combination of agility, power, and adaptability made the MK1 Escort a true rally legend.

Early Rally Success

The rally success of the MK1 Escort didn’t happen overnight; it was the culmination of years of dedication and innovation. The car achieved its first victory in the British RAC Rally in 1972 with Roger Clark and co-driver Tony Mason, marking the start of its rally dominance.

Following its initial RAC Rally victory, the MK1 Escort went on to secure its place in rally history with wins in the following races:

  • Circuit of Ireland
  • Acropolis Rally
  • Finnish 1000 Lakes
  • Safari Rally

These victories were not just about the car; they were also about the drivers. Iconic racers like Roger Clark, Timo Mäkinen, and Hannu Mikkola were instrumental in the MK1 Escort’s early rally successes, showcasing the car’s potential in the hands of skilled drivers.

Privateer teams, semi-works outfits, and the Ford works team also contributed significantly to the competitive British Championship scene with their MK1 Escorts. These included David Sutton (Cars) Ltd., and individual racers like Russell Brookes and John Taylor, who showcased the MK1 Escort’s potential in rallying.

Even as a privateer, Tony Fowkes, demonstrated the enduring competitiveness of the MK1 Escort by finishing third in the 1975 RAC Rally.

Limited Edition Rally Models

In addition to the standard MK1 Escort models, there were also limited edition rally models. One such model was the RS1800, developed primarily for racing to maintain Ford’s competitive edge in rallying. For homologation purposes, there was a requirement to build 400 units of the RS1800 model. However, it is rumored that Ford built only about 50 of the required 400 road cars for the RS1800 model, contributing to its rarity.

Today, due to its limited production, the RS1800 is a rare model and highly sought after by collectors and enthusiasts. This model stands as a testament to the MK1 Escort’s rally dominance and its influence on the world of motorsport.

The MK1 Escort's Impact on Car Culture

Classic MK1 Ford Escort restoration

The MK1 Ford Escort has made an enduring impact on car culture. As a symbol of the 1960s and 70s, it represents a time of innovation and performance in the automotive world. Its success in motorsport and its iconic status among classic car enthusiasts has made it a cherished classic.

The MK1 Escort’s simple mechanical layout has made it a favorite for modifications, contributing to its prominent place in the tuner and DIY car culture scenes. Enthusiasts often invest considerable time and resources into upgrading their cars, enhancing performance, and personalizing them to their own tastes.

The MK1 Escort’s popularity and enduring appeal have also led to contemporary projects like MST’s recreations of the MK1 and MK2 Escorts. These projects showcase the car’s persistent influence on car culture and its continued relevance in the modern automotive world.

Popularity Among Enthusiasts

The MK1 Ford Escort holds a special place in the hearts of car enthusiasts. Its storied past and enduring popularity since its initial release have made it a cherished classic for both road use and motorsports.

Enthusiasts invest considerable time and resources into restoring and upgrading MK1 Escorts, often utilizing high-quality components like all-steel Pinto engines and Quaife gearboxes for enhanced performance. This commitment to enhancing the car’s performance reflects the passion that enthusiasts have for the MK1 Escort and its motorsport heritage.

Modified MK1 Escorts with improvements in the driving experience maintain their classic status, despite the rare availability of original parts such as the distinctive ‘hockey stick’ trim around the rear window. These cars showcase the versatility of the MK1 Escort and its adaptability to modern modifications, making it a favorite among car enthusiasts.

Legacy and Influence

The MK1 Ford Escort’s popularity and status as a classic car have influenced subsequent models and iconic designs in the automotive industry. This influence can be seen in projects like MST’s recreations of the MK1 and MK2 Escorts, which pay homage to the original while incorporating modern enhancements.

The enduring appeal of the MK1 Escort among enthusiasts has influenced subsequent models and iconic designs in the wider automotive industry. Models such as the RS2000 and well-modified versions of the MK1 Escort are highly valued in today’s market, reflecting the significant desire to preserve and celebrate the car’s legacy.

The MK1 Ford Escort’s impact extends beyond just its design and performance. Its influence on car culture, its role in motorsport, and its enduring popularity among enthusiasts underscore its lasting impact on the automotive industry, cementing its role as a classic and influential model.

Comparing the MK1 to the MK2 Ford Escort

Comparison of MK1 and MK2 Ford Escort

The MK1 and MK2 Ford Escorts symbolize two crucial phases in the evolution of this iconic vehicle. While they shared a common front-engined, rear-wheel-drive layout, the two models were distinct in their design and features.

The MK1 Escort, launched in 1968, presented a curved ‘Coke bottle’ design and ‘dog bone’ front grille. In contrast, the MK2, introduced in 1975, shifted to a modernized squared-off aesthetic. The MK2 also introduced enhancements like better aerodynamics and a range of trims, with the RS2000 highlighting a distinctive ‘droop-snoot’ nose.

Despite these differences, both the MK1 and MK2 Escorts were renowned for their motorsport success. The MK2 continued the winning streak of the MK1 and introduced new performance-oriented models like the RS1800, further cementing the Escort’s reputation as a rally dominator.

Design Evolution

The transition in design from the MK1 to the MK2 Ford Escort signified a significant transformation in the aesthetic of this iconic vehicle. The MK1 was introduced with a distinct ‘Coke bottle’ styling and a ‘dog bone’ front grille. In contrast, the MK2 transitioned to a more angular and square design, a change that was codenamed ‘Brenda’ during its development.

The MK2 had a larger glass area than its predecessor, improving visibility for the driver and passengers and imparting a feeling of increased interior space. This change in design not only updated the car’s look but also enhanced its practicality, making it more user-friendly. With these improvements, the interior and exterior specification of the MK2 sets it apart from its predecessor.

While the MK1 Escort was versatile in terms of body styles, offering:

  • two-door
  • four-door
  • estate
  • van variants

The MK2 continued this trend. However, the MK2 RS2000 model stood out with its unique ‘droop-snoot’ front end design, differentiating it from the MK1 RS2000’s more traditional front.

Motorsport Achievements

Both the MK1 and MK2 Escorts enjoyed considerable triumphs in rallying, including their success in the European Rally Manufacturers Championship. The MK1 Escort secured its reputation as a formidable rally car with its first of eight consecutive RAC Rally victories in 1972, driven by iconic racers like Roger Clark, Timo Mäkinen, and Hannu Mikkola.

At the advent of the MK2 Escort, the RS1800 was introduced, designed to satisfy the demand of motorsport enthusiasts for a faster car. This ensured the continuation of Ford’s rally achievements, with the MK2 Escort achieving additional RAC wins with Hannu Mikkola in 1978 despite a strike at Ford.

The agility and driving enjoyment provided by both the MK1 and MK2 Escorts, along with the improved aerodynamics and fuel economy in the MK2 RS2000, contributed to their sustained dominance in the British Championships. This appeal to privateers as well as semi-works teams showcased the comprehensive appeal of the Escorts in the world of motorsport.


The MK1 Ford Escort was more than just a car; it was a symbol of an era, a champion of motorsport, and an icon in the world of classics. From its birth to its evolution into various models, its rally dominance, and its impact on car culture, the MK1 Escort’s story is one of success, innovation, and enduring appeal.

As we conclude this journey through time, let’s remember the MK1 Escort not just as a classic car, but as a testament to the spirit of innovation and performance that defined its era. In the words of Henry Ford, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” The MK1 Escort was, indeed, Ford’s faster horse – a symbol of progress and a champion on the racetrack.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the rarest Mk1 Escort?

The rarest Mk1 Escort is the RS1600, with only 1,137 cars built, making it a highly sought-after collector's item.

What engines were available in the Mk1 Escort?

The Mk1 Escort was available with Ford's Kent engine in various capacities, with options such as the 1598cc edition in Mexico and the RS2000 featuring a 1993cc Pinto unit. Additionally, the RS1600 model was equipped with a 16-valve Cosworth-developed 1599cc twin-cam BDA engine.

Which Ford Escort is best?

The best Ford Escort RS model is the RS 1700T, followed by the RS Cosworth and RS2000 Mk V. The RS 1700T takes the top spot, offering impressive performance and features.

Was the Ford Escort a good rally car?

Yes, the rear-wheel drive Ford Escort was one of the most successful rally cars ever, winning World Championship events from 1968 to 1981.

When was the MK1 Ford Escort introduced?

The MK1 Ford Escort was introduced in 1968.