Road impressions

The Ford Escort 1300 Ghia

Expensive, comfortable, characterless

New looks, new trim and a widened range are the main points of the New Escort introduced in March. Ford avoided any radical mechanical changes, preferring to try to iron out bugs inherent in the old model. So the old conventional front engine/rear wheel drive layout survives, along with the McPherson strut front suspension and leafsprung, live rear axle. One thing did change enormously, however: the price, The very cheapest 1,100 c.c. Escort is now £1,440, while the two-door 1300 Escort Ghia I have been trying is no less than £2,011. Even in this day and age, they are high prices to pay for what remain small, conventional “Dagenham Dustbins”, as they used to be affectionately called.

I described the new range in the February issue so there is no need to list the multifarious types again. Previous to that I had sampled prototypes on a Surrey test track and since then I have driven most of the new models on varied roads of the Algarve. Such special circumstance experiences sometimes, tend to leave artificial impressions, so that although I was quite enamoured at the time, a week of using the 1300 Ghia has left me “cold”.

As with the top-of-the-range Granada and Capri models, the Ford-owned Ghia of Turin design centre has produced a luxury cockpit package for this top echelon Escort. When thoughts of economy are uppermost, there is a lot to be said for luxurious small cars, to catch those buyers moving down market to smaller engines. The inherent danger is that the extra weight of the package will smother the performance. To combat this, Ford have installed their willing GT version of the oversquare 1,297 c.c., five-bearing, straight-four engine in the Ghia. This has a more potent camshaft than the ordinary 1300, runs on a 9.2:1 compression ratio and breathes through a twin-choke, downdraught Weber carburetter. The 70 b.h.p. DIN at 5,500 r.p.m. and 68 lb./ft. torque DIN at 4,000 r.p.m. is sufficient to prevent the Ghia being too much of a slouch, but it is not quite in the same performance league as its starker 1300 GT and Sport predecessors or the 1300E. Figures for the test car were: 0-30 m.p.h., 4 sec.; 0-40 m.p.h., 6.5 sec.; 0-50 m.p.h., 9.2 sec.; 0-60 m.p.h., 13.8 sec.; 0-70 m.p.h., 18.9 sec. Comparative times for the last 1300GT tested at Standard House were 3.6 sec., 6.2 sec., 8.7 sec., 12.7 sec. and 18.1 sec. Additionally, the aerodynamics of the New Escort are more akin to a brick lavatory than the old Escort so that whereas that slightly lower geared (on 12 in. wheels instead of the current 13 in.) test GT of 1971 pulled 98 m.p.h. in top, this Ghia could manage a mere 92 m.p.h. The final drive ratio of 4.1:1 is the same as that of the 1100, whereas the non-GT-engined 1300s have a 3.9:1 final drive. The gearbox remains one of the nicest features of the Escort, with a gearchange second-to-none. In Ghia form the new model employs Mexico ratios, with higher and more closely stacked lower gears giving maxima of 32 m.p.h., 53 m.p.h. and 75 m.p.h.

In comparison with other 1300s the performance of this Ghia is quite decent, but possibly this isn’t too much of a criterion for the potential owner, finish and comfort being more to the point. Performance-conscious customers can have the 84 b.h.p. 1600GT engine option for a modest £57 extra or, more sensibly, plump for the better value Sport models. The 1300 Sport is marketed at £1,803 and 1600 Sport at £1,860 and, as with the Ghia, four doors can be had for an extra £53.

Many of the Ghia’s improved creature comforts are shared with the rest of the range, so it will pay to look at the specific Ghia extras first. Primarily there is the deeply-cushioned, cloth-trimmed seating complete with infinitely variable rake angle and built-in adjustable head restraints for the front seat backs. The seats are undoubtedly comfortable, but I found them too soft—as will customers on the German market who tend to prefer firm seating. And though there are four outboard arm-rests, incorporating grab handles in the front pair, why no centre arm-rest for the rear seat in this “luxury” car? Deep, shag-pile carpet covers the floor, the kick areas of the door trims and the floor of the boot. There is real wood on the facia, a lockable, though small cubby-hole instead of an open tray, a comfortable padded steering wheel and a centre console with oddments tray and clock. Unlike the bigger Ghia, this one does not include a radio as standard. Externally there is metallic paintwork, vinyl roof trim, 5J instead of 4½J steel sports wheels, shod with 155 section Michelin ZX tyres on the test car, and powerful, square-shaped halogen headlamps.

An invisible, but very noticeable, benefit of the Ghia package is a thorough dose of sound-deadening material, responsible for an astonishing reduction in mechanical and road-induced noise. This is a most quiet small car until wind-noise intrudes at high speed, some of it from round that excellent, remote-controlled door mirror, a £15.60 extra even on the Ghia, but well worthwhile.

The Ghia offers a good driving position, though the column remains non-adjustable, controls are well placed and the Cortina-type instrument cluster gives excellent clarity. At last steering column stalks for lights, two-speed wipers, electric washers and winkers have been adopted, but the short light switch is clumsily placed beyond the long, right-hand washer stalk, both of which I knocked on inadvertently several times. A bigger window area adds airiness, but the tail is invisible for parking. The old Escort had a splendid boot for a small car; this one contrives to be 10 per cent larger. As before the spare-wheel is mounted upright on the left and the 9 gallon tank on the right. The latter requires 97 minimum octane rating fuel, which was consumed at 27 m.p.g. in hard varied use. Yet a colleague and I averaged 46.9 m.p.h. in a 1300 Ghia on an economy run in Portugal!

Softening the rear springs has improved the ride over most surfaces, but it is still annoyingly choppy at times. Roll stiffness has been replaced by fitting a rear anti-roll bar, a thicker front anti-roll bar and vertical rear shock-absorbers. In terms of ultimate roadholding it is better than its predecessor and the tail behaves more tidily when it breaks away. But there is a dramatically increased inclination to lift the inside rear wheel on sharp corners. Rack and pinion steering remains precise, but it and the general handling felt heavy and dead compared even with my wife’s ageing, old-model 1100 Escort.

When I say the car left me “cold” it was because it lacked any sort of sparkle, a very mundane feeling motor car, its modest performance made to feel even more modest because of the well-subdued noise levels and its handling having lost that chuckability of the old Escort. If I were to spend £2,000 on a New Escort I would channel it into the more stiffly-sprung 1600 Sport, investing part of the saving incurred upon a pair of Ford AVO rally seats, much superior to those of the Ghia. On the other hand I think I might be more inclined to spend my £2,000 on an Alfasud Ti at £1,868, an Alfa Romeo Giulia Super with 1.6 twincam engine for £1,962 or the twin-cam engined Fiat 132 1600GL. at £1,929. But if I was a Ford fanatic I might even contemplate a 108 m.p.h. Cortina XL with 2-litre, overhead-cam engine for exactly the same price as the four-door 1300 Ghia. See what I mean about high Escort prices.—C.R.