There are a number of routes to classic car ownership: you might inherit an unusual set of wheels from an elderly relative, you may build something up from scratch over a number of years, or perhaps you’ll buy something just for the hell of it. And it’s the latter that led me to purchase a beautiful, concours mkIII Escort XR3. But let me start at the beginning…
There are a couple of stepping stones that led me to this shimmering Dagenham beauty, this vision in stiletto white. The first of these came in the form of my second car, back in 1999, at the tender age of seventeen: the 1983 Ford Escort 1.3L, reg. SCV 727Y. Having blown up my first car, a 1.0-litre Vauxhall Nova, in spectacular style, I decided to replace it with something a little more robust. The major benefit of the Escort – besides rollin’ in retro chic, of course – was the insurance; while my friends were all perambulating in the sub-1.1 bracket, I had a mighty 1296cc of thrust. At that age, that mattered. Add in the kudos and prestige of the ‘L’ badge (no gritty base model for me), and I was cock of the walk. Bonnet pins, rally spots, XR3 spoilers and Orion pepperpot alloys all found their way onto the car – it was an ongoing project and, on more than a few occasions, it served as sleeping quarters after some particularly boisterous parties. I sold it before going to uni in 2000, but the mkIII had won a special place in my heart.
Ford Escort MkIII with more kudos than a Vauxhall Corsa can muster
Fast forward to 2005 and, having owned quite a few cars in the interim, the hankering for the FWD Escort was swelling in my chest. I found myself idly browsing eBay on an increasingly obsessive basis, hunting down the ideal car; age and experience had knocked the insurance premiums down, so I was keenly on the lookout for something as fast as it was fresh.
I narrowly missed out on winning the auction for an early ’83 XR3i, resplendent in satin black and draped in the finery of the über-Escort, the RS1600i – those exaggerated spoilers and sparkling seven-spoke alloys. Vexed and perturbed, I emailed the seller and begged for a second chance. ‘Sorry,’ he said, ‘it’s already gone. But I’ve got a red one in the yard, why don’t I build you another?’ So the second mkIII Escort, A243 FYJ, entered my life. The chap regularly emailed me updates of how the build was coming along, and in the twinkling of an eye I was on the train to Birmingham to collect it. It was just as menacing in the metal as the satin black image of it I’d spun in my mind, and it was a joy to drive home. Even if it did smell a little damp.
The Satin Ford Escort Xr3i wasn’t to be
The source of the damp smell revealed itself very quickly. As a friend and I drove round the M25 a couple of weeks later, the heavens opened and the passenger footwell rapidly filled with water. Filled, I mean, to a comical extent – my buddy was scooping the flood up in his shoe and flinging it out of the window. It turned out to be a dodgy windscreen seal, which was letting the water in behind the dash and onto the floor. Still, it’s a quirk, isn’t it? All cars have ‘em…
An impending move to London meant that I had to sell A243 FYJ. I just wouldn’t be able to sleep at night in the knowledge that an easy-to-steal old Ford was sitting, exposed, on the mean streets of Brixton. To save myself a never-ending onslaught of running to the window to check it was still there, I reluctantly let the old girl go and bought a minicab-spec Honda Accord.
But the itch never left, constantly niggling away at my mouse finger. It kept leading me to interesting Escorts for sale online, each more desirable than the last. I slowly wore myself down, edging closer and closer to Escort ownership, finding not buying one increasingly hard to justify, until my defences were completely eroded. When I saw WGX 716Y, I just couldn’t not buy it. It would have been an act of madness.
It wasn’t too far away, down in south-east London, so I went to take a look, to see if it was as clean as the advert had made out. In that quiet, leafy, residential street, I swear a chorus of angels sang as the double-doors of the garage opened. Sat in that heated, carpeted garage, under a soft, fluffy blanket was what appeared to be a brand new XR3. It may have travelled 70k in its long years, but they must have all been through bone-dry cotton wool – there wasn’t an inch of the car that wasn’t flawless. It even smelled new. Priced at just £1600, I practically ripped the guy’s arm off to get at the keys. I handed over the cash in an urgent yet dreamy haze, vaguely absorbing half-snatched phrases like ‘only ever comes out for shows’ and ‘ex-Performance Ford feature car’ as I drank in the showroom-fresh mirror-shine of that pristine, glacial paintwork. I was in love.
Well kept and looked after, made it quite appealing
Pristine and iconic
I got five minutes down the road and realised that I had nowhere to keep it.
Obviously there wasn’t a chance that I was going to risk parking such a faultless classic on the street in Brixton. Within days of moving there, my trusty but mundane Honda had been dinged and dented by a succession of taxis, scooters and clumsy neighbours – it would be an insult to all of the Escort’s former curators to leave it exposed to such hardships and heartache. Besides, it’d undoubtedly be just a matter of time before the poor lamb got pinched.
The stuff made of Ford dreams….
The only option available to me at the time was to park it on a friend’s driveway in Redhill. So that’s where I went, burnin’ through London in my eighties pocket-rocket, out into verdant Surrey. That drive was just phenomenal. Everything you’ve heard about the XR3 is true – the keen turn-in, the willingness to rev, the poise… it was sublime. And you wouldn’t believe how many people waved, smiled and gave me the thumbs-up. What a feelgood car!
It quickly became apparent that this geographic set-up was untenable, however. Every weekend I’d drive out to Redhill, have a cup of tea with my friends, and then take the XR3 out for a nice long blast, revelling in the hedonistic retro thrill of this perfect, classic hot hatch I was lucky enough to have found. But then I’d have to jump back into the Accord and fumble through London’s coughing traffic. The ownership dynamic was incomplete. I was treating this concours queen like an idle plaything, rather than affording it the reverence it deserved. A caring routine of pampering was what this car needed, and there I was thrashing it like a medieval pickpocket. With a heavy heart, I knew that WGX 716Y needed to go to a more nurturing home.
Profile shot: 1980s cool
So I wrote one of those really annoying adverts. You know, the kind of gushing waffle that instantly puts buyers off – ‘this car is truly special’, ‘this is the best XR3 available, bar none’, ‘I will ONLY sell this to the right buyer’, that kind of nonsense. I got a lot of snotty emails from people suggesting that I was being a berk. Perhaps they had a point. But, after a couple of weeks, I received a call from a collector in Ireland. He got it. He, too, felt the clinging childhood adoration for the mkIII; I could tell that he knew just how special mine was. And I knew that he’d care for it in the way it deserved.
As soon as he drove away, I worried that I’d made the wrong decision. This was a car, after all, that was designed to be thrashed, no? Is this really the kind of car that should be languishing under a blanket in a heated garage?
The buyer got a speeding ticket on the way home. And then I knew that everything was going to be alright.
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