PH Heroes: Ford Escort Mexico

It is slow. Really slow. I’ve got my foot flat to the floor of this timewarp Ford Escort Mexico and nothing is happening. Admittedly it does only have 86.9bhp but I honestly can’t see how it wouldn’t get out-dragged by any new car on the market today. Five minutes later and I’ve concluded that the Mexico is possibly the most fun I’ve ever had in a car. If you ever needed proof that speed isn’t everything, then this car is it.

The Mexico went on sale between 1970 and 1974 and was built by the freshly created Advanced Vehicle Operations at the Ford Aveley plant in Essex. It was fitted with a 1600cc pushrod ohv engine and was designed to cash in on Ford’s success in the London-Mexico Rally of 1970. The Mexico used the same strenghthened shell that the faster RS1600 used and could reach a heady 99mph.

Today I have come to Dagenham to borrow their immaculate ’74 Mexico, which has been in the Ford Heritage Collection since 1987. With its bright orange paintwork I can’t help being reminded of a certain Dodge Charger from a well-known TV series and all over the car there are fantastic details like the Mexico badges, 13” steel rims and vinyl roof. But perhaps the biggest reminder of this car’s 34 years is not what it has but rather what it doesn’t: there are no wing mirrors.  

Inside it has been treated to the ‘custom pack’, which was an option to prospective buyers and includes Recaro seats, carpets, walnut fascia, and clock. This last luxury likes to make itself known, ticking so loudly as I sit at a set of traffic lights you would swear the tappets have gone. Pressing the accelerator fills the car with a throaty four-cylinder thrum but not much else happens.

The gearstick on the four-speed box is a little slack but it clicks into gear without any fuss, leaving you with the task of tentatively increasing your speed. The steering wheel is oddly offset, not just to the side but at an angle, adding to the quirkiness of the driving environment.

It may not have sprinting abilities of Usain Bolt but the 1,600cc motor is a sweet-revving and gutsy unit that encourages you to use every one of those 86 ponies. But it’s when you encounter your first roundabout that you realise iwhat this car is all about.

Feed in the revs and the back tyres will succumb to the laws of physics easily and the back of the car will easily begin to come round. But the Mexico will oversteer so progressively that it leaves you with the option of holding it as long as you want.

The fact that such a low-powered car can be steered on the throttle if you so choose is a shock and I realise that the balance between grip and bhp is actually pretty near perfect. It turns in neatly too and squezing the throttle mid-corner will nudge the rear out a little more, tightening the line and giving you perfect control. Because you can do all this while feeling like you are in a real-life version of the Professionals is quite frankly a bonus.

The brakes (front-disc/rear-drum) are a way off modern day standards but due to the Mexico’s light weight (891kg) they do the job just fine. The ride is supple and there is plenty of body roll, although this just seems to add to the adjustability of the Mexico’s chassis and is in tune with the rest of the car.

For a while I seemed to get stuck on a sequence of deserted roundabouts somewhere just outside of Dagenham, unable to find my way out. The Mexico is pure, honest, good fun. It is incredibly easy to drive and I’m even starting to detect a little bit of shove above 4,000rpm, so as long as you keep the revs up progress can be respectable.

But of course that is not really what the Mexico is all about. Speed is only relative to everything else that is going on with the car. Plus you can have one of the best driving experiences available without even breaking the speed limit. OK, it bobs a bit at the rear if you hit a bump, but it has the kind of steering feel through the three-spoke leather-rimmed wheel that you only get in real exotica these days.

At the same time the satisfaction to be had from hussling the Mexico is far greater than going four times the speed in a modern-day four-wheel drive rally rep. Plus if people catch sight of the little orange Escort, tyres squealing at no more than 20mph, they smile fondly and point it out to their children. Very soon I'm so smitten by the Escort I'm making a mental list in my head of all the modern cars I wouldn't use for a twenty minute blast if I had the choice.

It's like remembering what you really like about driving in the first place and stripping away everything you don't need. Remove 34 years of technological advancement and you are left with only the bare essentials you need to enjoy driving: rear-drive, good steering, hard-revving engine, sweet handling and oversteer on tap. Horsepower? Who needs it…?

Comments (102) Join the discussion on the forum

  • clarksonisawilly 02 Jun 2010

    Mate's brother had a mk1 escort, most probably not a Mexico. No idea what motor it was running but nothing major I suspect. I'll never forget him giving us a lift home from school, me and me mate hanging onto the bonnet with the basstard getting very sideways every opportunity! Great fun. Heard he dropped it off the edge of Croydon flyover, apparently he survived which is good but the car didn't. Shame.

  • Gareth350 02 Jun 2010

    Back in the late 80's, early 90's, i had a 1300GT, blew it up, fitted 2.0 pinto, 5 speed box, single piece prop, RS2000 back axle, Capri 3.0 front struts & brakes, 2 up, 2 down Cibie super oscars.
    Interior, twin cam 6 dial dash, wood, RS seats, RS2000 centre console, etc, etc.

    Spent a fortune on a car, that was loud,
    windscreen leaked,
    wouldn't start on a mildly cold day,
    forever re-setting the points,
    brakes were rubbish,
    body twisted under power,
    rattled everywhere over 60 mph,
    could be opened & started with any decent screwdriver,
    turning with the quick rack was like steering an HGV with no p/s,
    swore at it more times than i remember!

    God, that was the best car i ever owned & if it was still alive today, i'd have it back in a shot! biggrin

    RIP VVO 451L !

    Edited by Gareth350 on Wednesday 2nd June 23:19

  • dinkel 02 Jun 2010

    Zandvoort 15 May:

  • SG 04 Dec 2008

    Leggy said:
    I had a yellow Mk1 Mexico it was only the 2nd car I'd ever owned at the age of 18. Number of plate OKK 333M with a great big pair of cibies on the front!
    Slow by todays standards maybe but a great drivers car with just enough power. Loads of fun.
    I did trade up to the MK2 Mex which I remember as being even better to drive.
    Despite it being a working class Ford a car for the masses it still looks good today.
    Good times.........
    Hi Just picked up this thread on the okk 333m search as i used to own that old mexico "side ways" most of the time..
    had the cibes on it. Great fun they were the days i think i paid about £900 for it!

  • A.G. 09 Sep 2008

    y2blade said:
    That is stunning. I still have a vivid memory of being totally wasted in my Mini Cooper S 1275 by a MkI Mexico back in the day. It was white with the red roof and side stripes and looked the business. This is what prompted me to get one.

    A couple of months after I got my own Mexico, I came across him again and once more he wasted me.

    I was obviously wounded by these events and so invested my secret weapon.

    I never actually saw the white Mexico again but managed to console myself with my new found induction roar and the ability to set fire to my inner wing at will.

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