Back in Fall 2004 I removed the original 1.6L engine and 4-speed manual trans and swapped in the 1.9L high-output with domed pistons and a slightly more aggressive cam, along with a 5-speed, from an '87 Escort.
I bought the low-miles 1.9 and 5-speed on eBay for 325 bucks, and drove up to Niagara Falls to get it. The first order of business was to sand the block and then paint it Ford Engine Blue. I had to have custom motor and tranny mounts fabricated. I stripped off all the fuel-injection parts and converted it back to carb'd, using the original intake from my 1.6. Installed a Holley 390 cfm 4-barrel carb with the help of a 4bbl-to-2bbl adaptor plate, machined out for maximum airflow and turned upside-down.
Here was the Escort on the day of its first road test. It didn't tell me much because, since it was unregistered, I could only run it up and down the gravel lane behind my house. At least I now knew it would run and shift through the first couple of gears.
I do kind of miss my GT stripes...I didn't reapply them following the custom paint.
Here's where the rot was really bad, though this is nothing compared to what they found on the inner panels: the car was basically rusting from the inside out, a basketcase. The gouge was from a hit-and-run, the million scuffs were from god-knows-what, the TRX tires are dry-rotted and nearly bald. Still and all, the door was shiny enough to show the reflection of my AMC Eagle... though only because that door was re-sprayed following a break-in.
Yep, it was definitely time for the body shop.
My Escort is probably the only one you'll ever see with a Holley 4bbl in it, or a Jet Hot-coated header.
Here's my cat Tootsie Pop carefully inspecting the freshly-coated header for flaws.
It's going to have a 2 1/4 inch exhaust through a Flowmaster muffler - I'm trying to avoid that tuner/lawnmower sound - and will run 15" polished aluminum wheels by Eagle Alloys. All in all, it's a modest upgrade, but hey: it's an Escort! Plus my concept for this car was always to keep it simple, bare bones, carb'd, no computers or sensors or gadgetry. It's a real stripper car to begin with, no power anything (not even pwr steering or brakes!), so it seems appropriate to keep it true to its hot rod roots instead of going tuner.
The body shop has been a long haul. The guys there have been doing really high-quality work, though the Escort is definitely seen as a back-burner restoration by a shop that primarily does collision. Also, despite being a low-miles West-Coast car, it was a lot more roached than anyone initially though: badly rotted in the rear quarters and strut towers especially, and just about every panel had been bashed, dinged, warped, oil-canned, or gouged. It was a city car and a teenager car, so it's been parked on the street, hit-and-run, and driven hard--I have fond memories of rally racing around Stanley park one soggy October with bald tires on wet leaves--and subjected to just about everything you could think to do in or on a car. As my body guy said, "It looks like someone had a party on the hood." Uh, not me. Hehe.
You can see points of light shining through my lace-doily strut tower. That's not supposed to happen.
Had to cut the whole quarter off this junkyard Lynx for my Escort.
Here it is with the motor complete:
It's taken many months to get it assembled, straight, sanded and primed. Body mods are minimal, though I had them shave the drip rails off the C-pillars and got rid of the rear window-wash squirter for a smoother look. Finally on 7/20/06 I went and spent the whole day at the body shop to watch it get final paint. The color is PPG Cinnamon Candy over a Rose Poly base--a combination that wasn't found even in the big PPG color wheel, but somehow I knew it would be the right one.
Of course all the inners were painted first - door jambs, inner fenders, behind the lights, etc.
The basecoat: it was so pink! ----->
6 candy coats later...
...and it's pretty like a sunset.
This is what it looked like on 8/4/06: partially reassembled (though they'd also taken the hood and the doors back off)
8/26/06 was the day the Escort came home. Here it is on its last day in the shop...
...and here being loaded on the car trailer:
It's been pouring rain pretty much steadily since I brought the car home (the Fates found out about it, I guess). Since I have a semi-outdoor workspace, this weather doesn't bode well for getting stuff done on it: I still need to do the interior, brakes, audio, and exhaust.
I've at least gotten the front trim reassembled, so the Escort once again has a face. I had those aluminum bumpers stripped and powdercoated--here's Tootsie luxuriating in one after I got it back:
All the exterior plastic trim--endcaps, headlight bezels, and mouldings--I painstakingly restored with SEM flexible coatings (great product) and 3M silver pinstripe tape. However, ongoing problems getting the correct fuel pump have kept me from getting the Escort running. Here it is, home safe for now in the "garage":
I'm dying to get it back on the road! I need to get at least a few weeks of driving fun before I have to put it away for the winter.
Newsflash: I replaced the fuel pump and got the Escort running. The calipers are painted and the interior is dynamatted...
...and everything's pretty much ready to go. On 8/17 I had the Escort out in the sunshine for a day of wrenching, but little did I know I was in for a string of minor catastrophes.
First, the car fell off the jack onto the jack-stand (good thing there WAS a jack-stand); there was some minor damage to the underside of the rocker, though of course not nearly as bad as it would have been if the car had fallen on the ground with a wheel off. After dark, when I was maneuvering it back into its tiny parking spot, it got hot and blew the draincock right out of the radiator - pow! I just about had a heart attack thinking there was an engine fire, but then I smelled the coolant that was billowing out in a giant cloud (it dumped all of it). As I cleaned it up (ALWAYS clean up spilled coolant; it tastes sweet to animals and kids and will fatally poison them), I was nearly giddy with relief that my car hadn't burned up. Oh well, one step fwd and 2 steps back, as they say.
So, yep: the car DID run, but now I need to fix the rad.
I'm sticking to my schedule of having it registered and on the road by the end of Sept. I need to install front brakes and the interior, and a new draincock, and the carb needs tuned. Wish me luck, or even better, send me (intelligent) pointers!
9/24/06: That radiator turned out to be an easy fix. This weekend the Escort got new rotors and loaded calipers on the front; new polished aluminum wheels installed on the front too.
Good thing Ford Engine Blue happens to be my favorite color besides orange! Caliper paint in my first choice--dark silver--turned out to be a hard find.
Also today, wrestled the new molded carpet into place. Turned out not so bad for a hundred-dollar aftermarket piece from an internet company that didn't even have an online order form! It still needs a bit of trimming.
I also tried out some different seats that I got out of a junkyard Escort. The retro Sesame-Street stripes are a refreshing change from the more subdued grey tweed of my stock high-back buckets. I think I might keep 'em for awhile.
More soon, it's close to being on the road now!
10/10/06: MAIDEN VOYAGE. I finally got the Escort insured and registered and I took it out cruising today. First time on new engine, new carb, new trans, new wheels & tires, new brakes: a lot of stuff all at once! Everything seems good so far. All the gears work (phew!) and the car has mad accelleration. You'd think all that gas from the huge carb would bog out the little engine, but the 1.9 seems to take anything the Holley can dish out. If you stomp on the gas in 3rd or even 4th, the vacuum secondaries kick open and it makes a sound like B'OHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!! Really blows your hair back.
It sure was nice to be out driving in the sunshine in my little old baby car that I've had since I was a kid. Just like the old days.
One problem: the engine runs pretty hot because I can't adjust the idle any lower. The carb might have to be jetted down.
The Escort did NOT like the stop-and-go traffic downtown. Had to make an unscheduled pit stop behind a gas station to let it cool off.
I totally got pulled over today, too: the nominal reason was that I wasn't running a front plate. Gimme a break, I haven't had a chance to make a bracket for it yet! Nobody can talk their way out of a ticket like I can; but someday, my luck will run out.
Continued on Page 3, bottom
PAGE 1 Welcome
PAGE 2 The Escort's Restoration You are HERE
PAGE 3 The Escort Diaries: Current Mods and Updates
PAGE 4 My Stories on the CarDomain Blog