Above & title image: 1961 Land Rover Series II. Click image to enlarge
Review by Brendan McAleer, photos by Brendan McAleer and others
I once purchased a car for $150. Looking back on it, I may have slightly overpaid.
It was two-thousand-and-something (I can’t remember exactly), and my then-fiancee and I had recently returned from Australia from a lengthy trip. Just before we left, I sold my beloved MX6 GT to buy an engagement ring. Looking back on nearly a decade of married bliss, I can safely say that I now, finally, at least 75 percent don’t regret that decision.
As we settled into the reality of many more years of schooling for her, and job-hunting for me, it became apparent that a set of wheels would be required. We lived close enough to the university campus that she could bus it, but I needed – or wanted – a bit more personalized transportation solution.
What I found was this, a 1991 Ford Escort GT. Now, the Escort GT is (or rather, was) something of an underrated car. As part of Ford’s partnership with Mazda, it was essentially a Protege underneath, and thus had a relatively reliable 1.8L BP engine that made 127 hp, with a pretty good gearbox as well. If kept in good shape, they were efficient, inexpensive to run, and sort of fun.
This one was in the exact polar opposite of “good shape.” It was mostly a dingy white, like a derelict boat, or a spilled bottle of correcting fluid. It had some sort of questionable performance suspension swapped out of a ZX2, and was equipped with an huge canister muffler that was rather ambitious given the feeble horsepower output. It worked as a sort of loudener.
If you popped the hood, you could quite clearly see that the car had been red at one point in the recent past. Other colours too. Then there were the little details to notice, such as the disconnected oxygen sensor – I reconnected this and the car refused to run – and any number of persistent and copious oil leaks.
1994 Ford Tempo GL. No, we don’t have any photos of a 1991 Ford Escort. Click image to enlarge
Inside… well, there wasn’t any inside. There were two chairs covered in a sort of burlap material, the top part of a dashboard including the gauges, and a jerry-rigged switch that adjusted the heater fan between On and Even More On, and a third setting which can only be described as Melt. That was it, no carpet, no interior door cards, no floor mats, no nothin’.
What I did get, in place of basic human niceties, was an almost paralyzing smell of raw fuel. I traced this to a wonky line fitting that I was able to repair, and then solved the minor issue of exhaust gasses being sucked back up into the cabin through a number of small holes in the body work with the generous application of, you guessed it, duct tape. Hey, if women don’t find ya handsome, they should at least find you handy.
Oh, how I loved that car, that junker, that colossal heap of dung. Even now, I’m not sure if I’ve actually driven anything more fun. Every single tire was from a different brand, two of which I’d never even heard of (“Goodstone?” “Dunflop?”) and yet it handled like it was on rails, and scooted pretty good too. I’ve no doubt that a goodly percentage of the horsepower had escaped from the barn under the hood, but because of the complete lack of (a) safety equipment and (b) sound-deadening material, the Little Escort That Could actually felt pretty quick. It was certainly noisy enough.
2004 Suzuki Vitara. Click image to enlarge
“GT” is, of course, an appellation meaning Gran Turismo – a phrase which used to be used to describe long, luxurious touring cars intended to swish genteel folk about the continent in maximum comfort. Where the Escort was concerned, well, I had to immediately invest in a pair of ear-plugs. What with that bazooka welded onto the exhaust system and the echo-chamber resonance properties of bare steel, it would actually have been quieter inside one of the engine’s combustion chambers.
I never locked it. Ever. Why bother? What, was somebody going to steal one of my used ear-plugs? Or possibly make off with the duct tape?