Where Did They All Go? 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera vs 1987 Ford Escort GL

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Good morning, and welcome to the Thursday edition of Shitbox Showdown! Today we’re taking a look at two cars that used to be so common that I’m willing to bet collisions between them occurred on a weekly basis, but are all but exitnct now. We’ll look at the final tally of our engine twinsies from yesterday, and then dive in.

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Well, that looks pretty decisive. The GMC takes it. Must be the two-tone paint; always bet on red and black. Or something like that. I wouldn’t know; I don’t gamble much.

And yes, I may have understated the GM 2.8 V6 engine’s shortcomings. I try to keep a positive tone here, in part to counteract the “shitbox” title, but also to remind myself and everyone else what an enormous undertaking it is to bring any car to market. Someone somewhere in the halls of General Motors’s design offices in the late ’70s was really proud of that motor, and I don’t feel it’s right to be outright dismissive of it or any other automotive design. But I did appreciate the colorful invective some commenters used to express their feelings toward it (Sasha Grey? Really?).

Moving on: A week or two ago, David tipped me off to a Facebook group called Underappreciated Survivors For Sale. I’m not generally a fan of Facebook, because too often it seems like The Blob: a big mindless force bent on devouring, well, everything. But with a group title like that, I had to check it out. Many of the cars posted are grossly overpriced, and some are clearly trying to cash in on the ’80s nostalgia wave, which to me says they’re not really “underappreciated” at all.

However, I did find two humble, inexpensive, everyday cars listed there. Both fit Jason’s definition of a “Ghost Car:” if you were around in the ’80s, there was probably at least one of each on your block, but when was the last time you saw one of either? Even here in the Land That Rust Forgot, these are a rare sight. Let’s take a look and see which one is more worthy of consideration today.

 

1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera – $1,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.8 liter V6, 4 speed automatic, FWD

Location: Denver, CO

Odometer reading: 33,000 miles

Runs/drives? Your guess is as good as mine

“1987 Cutlass Sierra (sic) for 1500/obo.” That is the entirety of the listing for this car, to save you the trouble of clicking on the link. Someone needs to tell the seller that Craigslist doesn’t charge by the word, I think. Luckily, they did post the VIN, so thanks to AutoZone’s handy VIN decoder, I was able to find out which of the several available engines powers this Ciera. I’m sorry to report that it’s another 2.8 liter V6. But at least this one is fuel-injected. Hey, it could be worse: Olds inflicted a 4.3 liter diesel V6 on some earlier Cieras.

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Regardless of engine, these front wheel drive A-body cars from GM have a decent reputation. They sure sold like hotcakes. You couldn’t throw a rock in the late ’80s without hitting a Cutlass Ciera, Buick Century, Chevy Celebrity, or Pontiac 6000 (Kids: Don’t throw rocks at cars). And they stuck around a long time, but the last ten years have thinned their ranks significantly, to the point where seeing one in this condition is a rarity, especially the early squared-off roofline like this.

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The mileage listed, and shown in the photos, is 33,315. It’s only a five-digit odometer, so there’s no way of telling whether that has gone around once already. The overall condition indicates that it could be original, but that’s a lot of wear on the brake pedal pad for only 33,000 miles.

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Assuming it runs and drives well, for fifteen hundred bucks, this car feels like a good deal to me. Hell, I’d drive it. It’s not stylish, or fast, but it’s comfortable, and there’s a no-bullshit earnestness to it that is lacking in today’s car market.

1987 Ford Escort GL – $500

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.9 liter inline 4, 3 speed automatic, FWD

Location: Elmhurst, IL

Odometer reading: 69,000 miles

Runs/drives? Runs, but not drivable until some things are fixed

Any British car enthusiast will take one look at this car and tell you that that’s not a Ford Escort. It’s an imitation, an impostor, a pretender. Real Escorts were delightful rear-wheel-drive confections that everyone east of the Atlantic got to enjoy while we Americans lived through the Pinto years. In 1981, we got the name, engine, and basic appearance of the then-new FWD Escort, but little else.

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US-market Escorts may not have been the equal of their European counterparts, but they weren’t horrible little cars. And like the Oldsmobile, they were absolutely everywhere. I knew half a dozen people in high school who drove an Escort, and at least as many in college. They were cheap, economical, reasonably well put-together, and practical. Every Escort of this generation was either a hatchback or a wagon, and either shape would swallow more cargo than you’d guess.

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This slightly later Escort is a double-edged sword, equipment-wise: it has the throttle-body fuel injected version of Ford’s CVH four-cylinder engine – giving it way better starting and drivability than the earlier carbureted version – but it’s also new enough to have those annoying motorized seat belts. It’s the better-looking two door body style, but it’s an automatic. Compromises must be made, I suppose, at this price point.

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The seller has tuned this little engine up, and it runs well, but the car has rusty brake lines that need replacing, and an inoperative cooling fan that will have to be sorted out. But the rest of it doesn’t look too rusty other than a hole at the bottom of one door, and they’re only asking $500 for it as it sits, so a little time and money getting it roadworthy again might be well-spent.

Survivors? Looks like. Under-appreciated? Well, I guess that depends on how much appreciation you think they deserve. I tend to be pretty sympathetic to old ordinary cars like these, and I like to see them out and about. Which one is more deserving of your appreciation is up to you to decide.

 

QuizMaker

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83 Responses

      1. I agree it was bit of sleeper for it’s day. Shimmied like mad at 75, hit 85 and glass smooth.

        Never sure of it’s top speed as the needle stopped at 85 🙂

        Most people thought I put 3.8L badge on it. I would then show them under the hood. After it caught fire 2 times and the engine self-destructed, I had to part ways with that wonderful beast.

        *Pours one out for the International Edition Coupe*

      2. My wife had a Ciera with the 3800 in college, and it was the favorite of the beater cars that her dad bought her. It had over 330,000 miles, but everything still worked, including the AC, and it actually drove pretty nice. Unfortunately, it had a mechanical failure in the engine after about a year and it got replaced with a tired Cutlass Calais which wasn’t nearly as nice. Rust took that one off the road, as one of the rear shocks had nothing left to attach to in the back wheel-well.

  1. As I recall, the reputation of this generation of Escort is that they rolled off the line as shitboxes. There was one car-shopping expedition with my folks where a particularly breathless salesman catalogued all the ways it sucked and how the new gen was superior. I always thought they were kind of ugly, but I’m finding it to be an endearing sort of ugliness.

    The Olds on the other hand, never liked ’em, and after getting up to speed on that engine yesterday, don’t see a reason to start now.

  2. A $500 car that runs has a lot of possibilities.

    Last week while discussing ordering a new car, the dealer I was working with told me they insisted on a trade (presumably so they could low ball me on it to make up for their lack of explicit dealer markup over MSRP). I humored them by giving them the details on one of my cars, and as expected they were going to gouge me on it.

    However, since they did not specify any floor on the price or condition of said trade, the thought crossed my mind to buy something like this and present it seriously as my current car. Worst case they give me $1 and I only lose $499.

    I ended up moving on to another dealer who doesn’t play games, but it still amuses me to consider the idea and the look on their faces as I unload the crapcan from the trailer.

    1. When I was a kid, I asked my dad why odometers only had five digits. He answered that it didn’t matter because new cars only lasted about 60,000 miles.
      Times sure have changed- my daily driver is pushing 250K.

    2. My grandparents gifted me a Chevy with 107,000 miles on it when I got my license in the mid ‘90s. So the odometer only read 07,000. Being of the era my grandparents were from, they figured I’d squeeze maybe one, two years tops out of it.
      Well, 25+ years later I still have the car and it’s rolled over twice now to 216,000 miles (odometer still only records 16,000!) it was my daily for 10 years and still ran fine, so I never got rid of it. Still drive it on nice days for some high school era nostalgia 🙂

  3. I’m voting for the Cutlass Ciera. Partially for nostalgia and partially because they’re legitimately pretty decent cars for the money. They’re 3/4 of a Buick (in many ways) in a slightly smaller package and 90% of the comfort.

    My mom had a blue 1991 or 1992 MY Ciera with the 3.3 which, as I understand it, was the famous 3.8 in Fun Size. It was a pretty good drivetrain, comfortable, and evidently tough enough to take the minor curbing I gave it while getting in hours for my driver’s test. While practicing a 3 point turn, I misjudged the distance to the curb and jumped up on it with the front passenger tire. My mother’s boyfriend at the time scored big points with me by taking the “I won’t tell if you don’t” approach. Class act. Anyway, I had another friend in college with one of these in white with a burgundy interior and that thing ran and ran until he got bored of it, which is saying a lot, because he was spendthrift of the 1st class. Good cars.

  4. I’m just shocked to see an example of an Escort from that generation that didn’t end up with those awful cheap-knock-off-almost-Mustang-Pony-Wheels. Those chrome aberrations were on 3/4 of the Escort population and probably contributed to their early demises.

    I’m an Olds guy, but I’m voting for the Escort because I like a good underdog story.

    1. A kid a used to work with had an Escort. He put on phony Mustang plastic wheel covers, a Mustang-inspired rear spoiler, and… the most egregious thing ever… “5.0” badges on the fenders.

  5. The Olds would have been a step up in the luxury department, the OD trans helped with highway cruising, though the 2.8 was not much for HP, it was much better than the 1.9. unless it was the Escort GT Hemi Headed MPFI version, then it was still not as much, but it felt like more I suppose.

  6. I had an ’89 Cutlass Ciera as a starter car after my folks upgraded to a first-gen Intrigue and man, did that thing get abused. It had the Iron Duke 4-cyl in it, though, so it could take it. My brother inherited it after me and he called it the Possum, because it was small, gray, and frequently found dead on the highway (the gas gauge didn’t work and he kept forgetting to reset the trip odometer)

  7. Man, that Olds takes me back. I drove that car (same exterior and interior color) in college, only mine did not have the luggage rack. I got my stepfather’s ’91 Ranger as my high school graduation present. 2 weeks later (but after quite a bit of my meager savings had been pumped into fixing up the car) some a**hole ran a red light and totaled the Ranger. My parents took the insurance check and replaced my Ranger with this Olds and pocketed the difference. I am almost ready to forgive them for that.

  8. Cutlass is probably a better value, but I just can’t resist that Escort.

    Though OMG those seltbelts. But in fairness, my old Chevy Beretta had an even worse design that was motivated by a similarly misguided attempt at passive safety…the seatbelts came out of the door.

    The idea was you’d just leave them buckled up and kinda slide in and out of the car. But you can imagine how well that worked. GM clearly thought it got one up on Ford, where you had to manually buckle the lap portion.

      1. A friend of mine in HS had a 4 cylinder/automatic Tempo of this vintage; he reported 20 seconds 0-60 and another 20 seconds 60-70. He was afraid to push much beyond that, which is saying something for a 17 year old male.

        1. Yeah, but the Ford Tepid (spelling intentional) had a unique talent for making your commute less interesting.

          My brother’s 89 Escort 1.9L was supposedly fast-enough, but I could never stand mousebelts, and I never drove it myself.

        1. Assuming the tuneup was done properly, it’ll do 90 just fine. Just takes a while to get there. One of my high school friends had this combo, and it was good for 100-105 or so, depending on the road.

          Will want to get that brake work done, though.

  9. Escort! But, I’m sure y’all guessed that. Manual swap is easy (assuming you can find one). Last one I did was a 95 Mercury Tracer Wagon (the “classy” version of an Escort). Ended up buying a wrecked manual Escort when the Tracer’s slushbox gave out. Just moved everything over in a weekend. Easy-Peasy!

  10. I chose the Escort. My first car was an 86 Escort Wagon (white, 4spd) I killed it…it’s what you are supposed to do with with your car when you’re 16 right? But it was easy to wrench on, cheap to maintain, got decent mileage, and as others have said, once you swap the auto, it will be better.

  11. Back in my yoot, I had an ’89 Escort “Sunsport” which was pretty much the Pony with four on the floor and one of those crappy manual latched pop up sunroofs installed, and absolutely zero other options. The car was stupid easy toss around, and being a teenager I drove it like a rental, with nary a nod to any instincts of self preservation. We called it the Deathscort, and I have a lot of fond memories of that old beast.
    Anyhow I voted for the Olds.

    1. I had your situation, just reversed so I voted Escort. I had a Celebrity, which while competent and reasonably quick, wasn’t fun in any real way.

      Your tale reminds me of how in that era, it was still possible to have econo cars that at least tried to be enjoyable. Mostly, it was standard manuals, low weights, and cheap geegaws, but it did the trick. I feel bad for kids today that don’t get to really experience that.

  12. This is the first time I hate both cars in Shitbox Showdown. But that’s because I was a mechanic at crap car shops back when these hit the bottom of the used car market. I’ve worked on so many Escorts and 2.8 GM’s.

    I know what hell is going to be like for me. It will be an infinitely long Pep Boys shop with every bay filled with these cars. They will all need wheel bearings and heater cores. And they’ll all smell like puke inside.

  13. The ’88 Escort Pony my buddy had in high school still holds the record as the slowest car I’ve ever driven.

    Jason, your “Ghost Car” concept is pretty much the same idea behind “The Regular Prize” that is awarded at our ’80s/’90s meets. The prize goes to the best example of a boring, mundane regular car from back in the day, that you would never expect to be saved, but there it is. Winners include a Chevy Lumina, Celebrity Wagon and Ford Tempo.

  14. “Someone needs to tell the seller that Craigslist doesn’t charge by the word” That applies to about 20% of ads I see. Craigslist should, however, charge for ALL CAPS I KNOW WHAT I GOT CREAMPUFFSUPERCLEANRAREHEADTURNER!!!

    And you only get three free meta tags.

  15. Olds. I had a 1989 Ciera Cruiser wagon as a first car. That one was an Iron Duke/3 speed auto car. Wasn’t a bad car, but it was thoroughly clapped out by the time my cheapskate parents handed it down to me. Teenage shenanigans like fitting 10 (skinny track running) high schoolers into it on the regular and even laxer maintenance than previously helped not a whit. But these were comfy cars. Any Escort with the 1.9 can burn. I hate that engine.

  16. Voted for the Olds, my sister had a 3800-powered Delta 88 back in the day, lot of good memories. Plus this one looks relatively intact, is rocking the basket weave wheels, and the luggage rack/spoiler combo so popular back then. As long as it doesn’t smell like ass, I’d get some white-letter BFGs and roll ‘80s style.
    That Escort looks like a tinny, rattly Shitbox that’s a punishment to be forced to drive. No thanks!

  17. I know the Cutlass has a crappy engine, but I don’t really care. I’d drive the Olds until the 2.8 shits the bed, and then if it’s convenient I’ll find a 3.8 to put in it. If inconvenient then I’ll just use the Ciera to take comfy naps in.

    I don’t want anything to do with the Escort.

  18. These are both great cars. Growing up, the neighbor across the street had a first year escort that he bought to replace the car that he built himself.

    But I had to go with the Cutlass. My parents bought about 7 of these over the years, I inherited at least 3 of them. They were not great cars, but they ran. They had at least 3 wheels and they got me from home to and vice-versa. So many memories, though…

  19. There’s someone around here that owns an ’88 Escort GT, in the same dull steel blue. Much better condition, though. I was tempted to ask them if they’d sell it to me until I found it in a parking lot and saw that it was an automatic. Alas…

    Just like that Escort I’m gonna pass on this one as well. Because at least the Cutlass Ciera isn’t suffering from rust, it looks like.

  20. My first car was a 1987 Ford Escort. Powder blue like this thing, but a four door. I put the spoiler from an Escort GT on it because I was 16 and dumb.

    It had 69K on it when I got it as well! Its initial owner was the Archdiocese of Boston, and my theory is that the nuns who drove it around figured that with the G man on their side, oil changes weren’t a thing they had to worry about. Now, I did oil changes (immediately on taking the car, I was diligent), and from what I recall the oil looked fine. But —

    Nearly a year to the day after I bought the car, it shit out on a side road. I had it towed to my mechanic, who was busy, so he said he’d call the next day. He did, and asked that I come by to see it.

    When I arrived, he opened the hood and explained what happened while going around to the driver’s door to start the car and demonstrate:

    “A piston shot through the top of the engine and made a little hole when it finally stopped. I’ve never seen anything like this.”

    He started the engine, and it ran, horribly, stuttering as if it was in a cartoon. Oil began to spurt out the hole.

    “You now have a three cylinder, and it runs on gas and oil.”

    I voted for the Cutlass Ciera.

  21. I drove the Escorts as a Pizza-Driver in college. They were terrible. The engines only lasted to about 59K miles before either the Head’s cracked, the Head-Gaskets went, or the Timing Belt failed. They were dangerous the rest of the time due to seriously inferior Suspension designs. It had the Ford Radius Rod/Slop-Arm front Suspension from the 1960’s Falcon, on the Front, and the Corvair-style, fold-under Lower Control-Arm Suspension on the Rear. The only safety moderator was that they did not run long enough to roll-over.
    The Gutless Ciera; This was one of the few GM cars that they got close to right. The 2.8(transverse installation) will go a long time, so long as you replace the fluids, the Main-Bearing Oil Seals, and the Transmission(every 140K miles), from time to time. This was truly peak GM, as after this, the Saturn Project drained all the R-D money out of them, leading to the downward spiral of the Quad-Four, the W-bodies, and all the other disasters.
    I went with the Gutless Ciera.

  22. Having owned both, the Oldsmobile all day long. Yes it is a product of its time, and as I’ve said before GM has been perfecting mediocracy for the last 50 years or so. However my ex-wife had an 89 Escort as a driver for a while and that car was horrible. Absolutely horrible. The seats were unsupportive and uncomfortable, the interior was bland. And any mention of the word performance was said as a joke. We had our choice of raising the engine or cutting a hole in the wheel well liner to change the damn water pump. The most poorly engineered piece of crap car I’ve ever seen. It did run for three and a half years with a blown head gasket, so it gets credit for that. That Oldsmobile will run until the body falls apart around it. Both of them are pretty rare up here in the Pacific Northwest too but I have seen examples of both within the last week running and driving.

  23. Nothing sadder than a worn out escort. Sorry, Fifi. I don’t mean to get snippy. The Olds looks good and has the factory installed Tru-Coat. All it needs is a license plate frame that says, “I’m fleeing the interview!”

  24. I actually like them both. That Escort is actually very close to me. How it survived this long in the land of rust, is a real mystery. Honestly, if had a manual trans I’d go buy it right damn now and make it my rallycross beater.

  25. Seeing the motorised shoulder belts in Ford Escort is a biggest no-go for me. I absolutely HATE this satanic contraption! May those people who came up with this and pushed for it to be fitted in the car burn in hell for eternity with no redemption!

    I would go with the cream puff Oldsmobile Ciera since I owned Chevrolet Celebrity for seven years—and to the extent, Buick Skylard—and liked how easy it was to fix the car and to find the parts on the cheap. If Ciera has a V6 engine that rotates forward to change the spark plus on the firewall side, that seals the deal!

  26. The Escort is garbage. I don’t know of any that didn’t rust out at the top of the rear shock towers within 15 years of manufacture. This one is probably 90% gone there, too, based on the visible body rust.

    The Olds looks like a screaming good buy in today’s market. Wish it were near me, because I want an old beater for this winter and this looks much better than most others I’m looking at. The GM 2.8 was also in the Chevy Beretta, and I had a friend who abused the hell out of his without ill effect. And I know that parts are available and cheap.

    1. I hear ya. My Focus has the Ford version of those wheels and they’re one of my favorite parts of the exterior.

      (my favorite interior part is the cheesy black on white racer-style gauges that seem completely out of place on such a vehicle)

  27. Too bad the Escort doesn’t have a 5-speed. I had an ’87 GL wagon, black over silver with a red velour interior. It surprised me and everyone else on how much could be loaded in it. And yes, the TBI was light years beyond the carbureted version.

  28. My sister bought a brand new Mercury Lynx. It was the sister-car (see what I did there?) to the Ford Escort. Fresh off the showroom it was a rattly, plasticky, tinny crapwagon. I can’t even imagine what level of hell this Escort might be.

    The Ciera looks to be a livable appliance but God help me if I ever fall this low.

  29. As a young wrencher in high-school auto shop class I worked on many Escorts, can’t even remove the air filter without removing skin from your knuckles. Funnily enough only had one A-body through the shop, and that was just for a brake job, unlike the constant blown engines, transmissions, and things just falling off on the Escorts.
    I voted Olds, would slam it on some Daytons, spend three times it value on stereo, add tons of underglow, and one of those stupid crown air fresheners to throw in the back window to cruise like it’s 1993!

  30. My second car was an ’84 Escort with the carbureted version of this engine and a four-speed stick. It’s the car on which I learned to drive a manual transmission, and it performed admirably … shuttling me from the dorm in East Lansing to work and to the Meijer’s in Okemos, and even on a spring-break ski trip to Colorado during which I improbably got a speeding ticket. I’ll have the Ford, and I might just call that guy today…

  31. There’s no way in hell I’d drive a us spec escort, so Olds. Mind you, 500 bucks for a more or less operational vehicle ought to be prime LeMons territory for someone. It might get a price for actually following the rules.

  32. I had to vote for the Oldsmobile. My grandma owned one of these in light blue. One of the hardest things I had to do was tell her I wrecked it. Being a dumbass 17 year old I was driving it too fast through a series of turns and spun it into a ditch. The damage was oh so minor and at first I didn’t see anything. My dad noticed a dent in the driver front side and some dirt in the bumper. I had to tell her what happened and it sucked so hard. Of course, she forgave me because she was one of the nicest people to ever walk this planet but I still feel bad about it almost 30 years later.

  33. I had an ’88 Escort EXP back in the late Nineties that I used as a commute vehicle, I liked that wierd-ass thing. An oddball wing stolen from the Merkur XR4ti and only two seats, but the 1.9 hemi motor with a stick kept up with traffic OK, as long as I perpetually beat the dogshit out of it. My favorite thing was the big curved glass hatch, it weighed like 200lbs and would eventually tear the mounting bracket for the hatch struts right off the stamped hatch. Every single EXP I ever saw had a piece of wood lying in the back to prop up the hatch because the gas struts had failed and/or the brackets were ripped off. A/C would cool beer, though.

    I’d buy another one right now, but I think they’ve all been crushed.

    1. Have experience with both of these since they came out when I was in high school, the clear choice is the Olds. While not a great driving experience, it does in fact make a decent highway cruiser, and there is plenty of room in the back seat, if you know what I mean. The Escort is just a miserable car.

  34. The Olds is the easy pick here. Better automatic, better engine, better everything.

    Now if it was this Olds against a late 1980s Escort GT with the manual and in good running condition, then it would be harder to choose.

  35. I’d take the Escort because for the brief moment in time I worked as a line tech at a Ford dealer, I did a lot of work on these, so I can sort of remember the ups and downs. Hopefully the seat bracket broke completely instead of cracked. A broken bracket got you a new one, a crack got you a piece pop-riveted to the crack track.

  36. We already went over just how abysmal and criminally bad the GM 2.8 is yesterday.

    This one is an ’87 with the CFI motor. (MPFIs say ‘EFI’) making 90HP, but a quite good 110ft/lbs of torque. Remember, the curb weight here? About 2100lbs. That’s it. The Ford ATX isn’t the most exciting, but they used the thing from 1980 until 1994 because it was reliable and simple. There’s no computer here so an MTX-II or III swap is purely mechanical.
    And if you really want to cook with gas? The 1987 Escort GT is the source for half the parts to turn a gen 3 into a barnburner. Factory 4-2-1 header with post-merge catalyst, high lift camshaft, roller lifters, and a 2-piece intake that’ll take you to 110HP and nearly 150ft/lbs of torque using factory parts. And the harness is limited to the engine so it’s pretty much all bolt-up with no interior destruction required. A few more dollars in injectors, port and polish, machining the deck to bump compression, and some junkyard injectors will net you a 2000lbs, 150HP+ pocket rocket.

    But as a shitbox? It’s fine as is. Do the timing belt every 90k (CVH is non-interference) and the trans fluid every 50k and that’s about all this’ll ever need.

    1. Rootwyrm, you would know: weren’t the automatic transmissions in the Escort notoriously bad? That’s the reputation they had around here. From the early ‘90s through the Great Recession there would >always< be at least 2 for sale on 220 between Roanoke and Rocky Mount Va(~30 miles). $250-500 plus ‘runs good need tranz’. I’m really curious: were they fine if you changed the fluid regularly?

      1. Pure myth. Escorts were always treated the worst of the entire Ford stable and then some. They were the bottom dollar, bottom rung, entry-level, “but hey at least it has an automatic.” So consequently, they got about as much maintenance as the bathroom at that shady off-brand gas station selling porno mags next to the kratom and CBD.

        This gen got the ATX/FLC. Which was found in just about every other 4 cylinder FWD Ford product. That’s Lynx, Escort, EXP, LN7, Tempo, Topaz, Taurus, Laser, and export Falcon. The FLC stands for ‘Fluid Link Converter’ which also tells you it’s greatest weakness. That and Ford, for reasons which hopefully forever remain unknown, just… look, it’s an absolutely miserable transmission. It doesn’t have an OD and it’s really awful cable kickdown.
        But miserable doesn’t mean it’s fragile. It’s simply that the lack of maintenance and tendency for leaks meant it invariably cost more to fix than the car was worth by the time it failed in an Escort. “Yeah, it’ll be $750 to rebuild the trans.” “The car’s worth $250!” “Sold.” But the problem of course is that it does develop leaks, both external and internal. And once it starts leaking internally, yep – you’re pulling it, which costs more than the car’s worth. A 1987 Ford Escort GL like this one had an original MSRP of just $7,312. It was literally the cheapest car you could buy with an automatic transmission, and consequently, entirely disposable even before the atrocious interior materials, poor assembly, bad paint, and even worse rustproofing.
        You didn’t see that kind of death rate on even slightly higher end cars like the Tempo/Topaz or Taurus, simply because they were better maintained. Once the maintenance stops – usually with owner 3+ – it’s all borrowed time.

  37. The first new car I ever bought, as a poor young college graduate, was a 1989 Ford Escort. It was a shitbox when it was brand new and it sure as hell hasn’t improved with age. Terrible gas mileage, awful handling, just a totally miserable car. It was the cheapest new car I could find at the time, long before I had learned the wisdom of buying gently used, but it’s one of my great regrets in life.

    The Olds is so much better in every way, so if I had to buy one, I’d willingly fork over 3x the price of the Escort and be happy about it.

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