Spot the Cla$$ic

Steven Ward  

Ford Escort Van

Ford Escort Van

Any easy game this one, you’ve probably sussed the answer already. One was assembled by men and women who were being trained to assemble a world-class executive car. A design by Brits, paid for by a wealthy multi-national.  

The same factory then briefly stopped assembly, the world-class executive car was built there and the plant was eventually sold off to new owners in the East. That car was the Jaguar X-TYPE and also had a wholly British powertrain which, while not perfect, was held in high regard. Both vehicles represented the end of an era in many ways. However, I’m only suggesting you rush out and buy one of them. Welcome, then, to the latest future classic: the Ford Escort Van.  

I bought one last week and, although the commercial market is in the doldrums, this still had a few of us slugging it out in the auction hall.  These vans represent the end of a make-do-and-mend era. They are remembered fondly by owners, users, vendors and repairers alike. They are surprisingly tough to run, simple to repair, approachable to look at, effortless to drive and just so usable. Fundamentals in the van world, surely?  

Well, looking at today’s contenders, that’s not really true anymore thanks to legislation, world markets and poncy dual-purpose styling.  Here, then, we have a van that is going places now that is intended life has ended. Such was the demand for this particular example, itself not cheap, I went to buy another, the next week, but was comprehensively out bid. It didn’t help that the auctioneer set the lot away by proclaiming their new found classic status.  

Word is out, and one thing is for sure, the commercial derivatives of cars always demand more money and are much more saleable than their saloon equivalents. Get yours while the curve is just starting to head upwards. With budget cuts looming, many local authorities and the like are selling off their spare examples to save money. My fire brigade sold all their examples off just before Christmas and they were exceptionally well-maintained.  

My Ford chum says these Escrote Vans were built to Jaguar standards as it was used to get Halewood up to X-TYPE build and pace. Impressive stuff…  All the parts are still available on overnight order from your local dealer too. However, be warned, the dealers aren’t stocking everything.   

Anyway, if you’ve got a grand spare right now, rush out and buy the best you can. Cherish it, love it and it’ll more than repay you. Just remember one thing, it’ll always be a Poor Man’s Maestro Van in my eyes…

Posted in: AROnline Blogs, Escort
Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and watched it steadily grow into AROnline. Is the Editor of Classic Car Weekly, and has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, Classic Car Weekly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

28 Comments on "Spot the Cla$$ic"

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  1. Marty B says:

    I remember the early Mk5 Escort vans well. Local courier firms used them, 180k in 2 years was common and they never put a foot wrong. The 1.8 non-turbo diesel was capable of insane miles if regularly serviced.

  2. Andrew Elphick says:

    That un-turbo’d diesel was woefully gutless too! The did handle well, even though they stuch with 13″ wheels to the end – a nod to the Post Office’s requirements?

    The last ones featured electric windows and mirrors – had the manual stockpile depleted to nought?

  3. Will says:

    I remember seeing these on mainland plates and being amazed at 05 examples long after the Escort itself went out of production.

    I had an Orion from the Escort Mk5 family and wasn’t overly impressed although a utilitarian diesel may have fared better.

    Dad’s employers had a few ex-BT examples which seemed to be pretty fair workhorses. They used to be ten a penny but are as rare as hens’ teeth now. Indeed, they are a bit like the Mondeo Mk1 in that regard.

    Ford never did make a Focus panel van and substituted the Turkish-built Transit Connect. These are also exported to the US with seats to get around a van import law that Ford themselves helped to enact… Some markets such as Ireland do have a Focus van variant of the hatchback though.

    Vauxhall still offer the Astravan of the previous generation car but car-derived vans (CDVs) are something of a dying breed.

    My favourite CDV was the Citroen C15, based on a Visa with the XUD engine. Rust was a killer though.

    There now seem to be more van-derived cars (VDCs) which are seen as utilitarian MPVs such as the Citroen Berlingo Multispace and Fiat Doblo.

  4. Mike Humble Mike Humble says:

    “My Ford chum says these Escrote Vans were built to Jaguar standards as it was used to get Halewood up to X-TYPE build and pace”

    Aha, so that’s why they rust like hell and have dodgy paint jobs! It all makes perfect sense – they were obviously building them to Series 3 XJ6 standards (sarc).

  5. David 3500 says:

    Escort vans are still used by the Royal Mail in the South West – particularly for rural areas near Exeter and East Devon. Most of the few that are left in Royal Mail ownership are sporting 51 registrations.

  6. Chris Chapman says:

    We made van conversions of Freelanders and Discoveries at Land Rover SV – they sold very well to professionals and the self-employed who were able to enjoy the VAT savings.

    Many of the mainstream Land Rover marketing people were rather focussed on/besotted by Range Rovers and got really annoyed when we called our products vans – they didn’t seem to want to be personally associated with commercial vehicles!

    We also helped our Longbridge colleagues develop the 25 van conversion i.e. the Rover Commerce/MG Express – not sure if they are future classics but I guess many got written off by over-exuberant drivers!

    One of my own favourite vehicles was an ex-Post Office Metro van – very chuckable and you could get loads in it. Fiat have some nice CDVs, including car/van combis, but the Citroen C2 Enterprise would get my vote – a 69mpg diesel that drives like a rollerskate and is dirt cheap to run.

  7. Lord Sward says:

    The Morris 310 commerical (Metro Van to you) had a one-off and substantial brake master cylinder – big enough, in fact, to take the TF front racing calipers. Now that would make a rapid pizza delivery mule…

    Incidentally, I took a picture for this blog which turned out poorly. However, if you look at the picture via this link, the article makes more sense. Sort of…

  8. Ianto says:

    Aha, Lord Sward = Lord Steven Ward. Nice.

  9. Will says:

    My memory fails me. Please substitute ’51’ for ’05’!

    I remember my dad had an Escort MK2 estate, which was essentially an Escort MK1 van with windows and a Mk2 grille!

    He later had a Bedford Astravan which was based on the Astra Mk2.

    One of Bedford’s hits, which aren’t seen much nowadays was the Rascal, the little, narrow van (based on a Suzuki?). I can remember the sound of these – they were like a motorbike engine but surprisingly nippy!

  10. Ianto says:

    @Will
    The Escort Mk2 van was not based on the MK1 van but was essentially a Mk1 estate with a Mk2 front and dash. It was a classic example of cut and shut.

  11. Adrian says:

    Yes, BT’s Escort vans were all painted a sort of low-visibility grey for some reason – that can’t have helped them avoid accidents. One can often see the faint outline of the old BT ‘Pan Piper’ logo on the side, where it was taken off prior to sale…

  12. Will says:

    @Ianto

    I stand corrected! 🙂 Was the Astra estate van based (or vice versa)?

    VW are doing now with the Golf estate what Ford did back in the 70s…

    @Adrian

    Always interesting to play “spot the old fleet van” with the old grey BT vans, red Post Office, yellow AA and orange RAC / EON! Once saw a camper van, still in Red, windows cut out of the side but the outline of “Parcel Force” still visible.

  13. David 3500 says:

    Chris Chapman :We made van conversions of Freelanders and Discoveries at Land Rover SV – they sold very well to professionals and the self-employed who were able to enjoy the VAT savings.

    Many of the mainstream Land Rover marketing people were rather focussed on/besotted by Range Rovers and got really annoyed when we called our products vans – they didn’t seem to want to be personally associated with commercial vehicles!

    We also helped our Longbridge colleagues develop the 25 van conversion i.e. the Rover Commerce/MG Express – not sure if they are future classics but I guess many got written off by over-exuberant drivers!

    I hope that the Rover and MG car-derived vans will become future classics, particularly as combined production was less than 900 examples.

    Funny you should mention the attitudes of some Land Rover’s marketing personnel to the Freelander and Discovery Commercial variants… I must admit that I found the colour-coded removable rear roof on the Freelander to be more attractive than the standard neutral-finished item fitted to the Hardback passenger version.

  14. Lord Sward says:

    Rest assured, the Rover Commerce and MG Express will become classics in the next couple of years. Buy now as they are going for NOWT at the moment and are falling into disrepair. The bodyshell on the CDVs is supposed to be considerably stiffer in torsion than their passenger car derivatives making them handle even better.

  15. Simon Woodward says:

    @Andrew Elphick
    I have a very late 02 plate non-turbo Escort van which I use as a runaround for my business rather than use my newer, bigger Fiat van.

    The Escort van comes in handy in places like Inner London which is where I spend most of my time working at the moment or just nipping about for bits and bobs where size doesn’t matter.

    I bought it on eBay 12 months ago for a grand – it costs nothing to run, starts first time, is surprisingly comfortable to drive with a good heater and seats and even has a CD player! Mine has the skinny 13″ wheels but it really does handle well and the PAS is very good but god is it slow!!!

    When I bought it, I was surprised how sought after they are still and I was lucky to get mine for the price I payed as there were many, older high mileage Escort vans selling for a lot more.

    I think the Maestro van was a lot bigger and the Diesel version must have been a good tool – Rover missed a trick dropping it. Citroen had the Visa van on sale well past the demise of the Visa hatchback and the Escort van survived the hatch by a number of years.

  16. Will says:

    @Simon Woodward
    The Visa van was the C15 and it survived the Visa hatchback by 17 years! ( -> 2005, Visa was -> 1988)

  17. Adrian says:

    @Simon Woodward
    Yes, the Maestro van had the superb 2 litre Perkins diesel engine fitted and that gave it a surprising turn of speed…

  18. Andrew Elphick says:

    @Ianto
    Incidentally, the Escort Mk1 and Mk2 vans had the 105E Anglia estate rear doors too…

    Another boring fact is the trouble Ford had with HMRC’s Tax Officers when the Escort 3 van was launched: you see it had two windows along its flanks and the HMRC saw that as a passenger vehicle which was subject to another 10% car tax (remember?) back in 1980.

  19. Simon Woodward says:

    @Will
    C15s are great little vans – I love the mad instruments!

  20. Simon Woodward says:

    @Adrian
    Didn’t Ogle design the Maestro Van?

    My business, in part, involves the restoration of antique clock cases which, once you’ve taken the hood off the top, are about 6′ long (usually 8’ish with it on).
    Berlingos etc. have the volume but not the length so CDVs like the Escort and Maestro are good news due to their extra length. I did look at Maestros when I bought the Escort but most of them were past it.

    I always thought the Marina van and pick up would make a good ‘nostalgic’ advert for a small local business so perhaps the Maestro van will in time follow suit.

    Incidentally, if there are any Brummies reading this post, perhaps you may remember an old chap from Digbeth who restored pianos in the 1970s and 1980s who drove around Brum in a green Marina pickup with a full suit of armour strapped in the back! His firm’s name was ‘Sparky’s’ – he was one of life’s eccentrics!

  21. Ianto says:

    @Will
    Yes, I believe the Mk1 Astravan was based on the estate or was it the other way around?

  22. Mike C says:

    Yes, the Astravans were related to the estates, whereas the Astramax (once described on Top Gear as the world’s fastest car, due to its drivers), had the high roof and twin rear doors. This was then replaced by the Combo but the Astravan stayed in production.

    The Astravan is produced here in the UK as this is one of the few countries buying that type of estate car-style van!

  23. Hilton Davis says:

    I occasionally drove a company Escort MK1 van in 1973/74 in my first job – rough and ready by today’s standards. The last version of the Escort van was probably the best and, yes, maybe a classic. It seems Ford never had the idea of building a Focus Van in either Mk1 or 2 guise so I assume that’s where the Transit Connect fits in…

  24. KenS Ken Strachan says:

    Ah yes, Escort vans. I ran one for a year – cheap and cheerful motoring. Mine, when bought, had no hubcaps, no spare wheel and an air filter clogged with dead flies and tarred chips of roadstone. Every bhp released by proper maintenance made a tangible difference, but it badly needed stiffening – the back door catch came undone disturbingly often and I’m sure I saw the top of the passenger A-pillar move towards me over a pothole. No wonder the windscreen was cracked.

    It was an ex-GPO van and had dents on the inside of the roof! A friend of mine found out how to get wheelspin on a 1.6 diesel – put six strapping teenagers in the back and do a hill start on St.Julian’s Hill in Newport, Gwent. Much smoke from tyres and exhaust!

    Maestro diesel vans also suffered from wheelspin, but only on the left front wheel; as the heavy engine biased weight to the right. This was bad news for my friend in SWALEC (South Wales Electricity), who then bought Escort vans. However, SWALEC vans are often driven over abandoned railway lines to access remote substations.The Escorts were unsuited to this work, requiring frequent suspension overhauls so SWALEC bought Maestros again, as their suspensions were stronger.

    The Perkins diesel was trialled in Maestro vans before it went into cars. Early engines had terrible diesel knock – this was tamed by the use of two-stage injectors and an associated mod’ which I’ve forgotten about!

  25. Does anyone know of an ex-Royal Mail Astramax for sale? Those that ARE about are basket cases!

    I’ve got two ex-RMSW vans at the moment, but would like to have another -possibly an ex-Postal Engineering, BT or Parcel Force van.

    Astramaxman.

  26. Ianto says:

    Mark 5s were very good cars – just ask Alex!

  27. Will M says:

    4 years later

    Ford Ireland are still selling a Focus van based on the new “Aston grille” model, it looks like a 5 door hatchback but with the rear windows blacked over.

    http://vetcar.ie/2013/03/13/new-ford-focus-van-ireland%E2%80%99s-most-popular-car-derived-van/

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