My First Car: Ford Escort XR3i


It’s 1991, I’m 16, about to turn 17, and have decided I obviously need a car before I pass my test. All I cared about was (in no particular order): partying, hanging out at college, loud music and girls. Having had a Dad who worked for Volkswagen and Audi, and having grown up with them you would have thought I would have used the common sense part of my brain cell and purchased a VW.

But no. I could have had a Golf GTI, but for some reason decided to purchase a white 1986 Escort XR3i, with 25k miles. Why did I make such a decision? Because it had electric everything, nice seats and cloverleaf alloys, where as the similar priced golf, looked more like a coal cabin inside, and it just didn't seem cool, with its P-slot wheels and tiny spoiler.

Anyway the XR3i had a CD player and no one, expect people with Porsches, has a CD player in a car. The CD player only survived two months, due to me leaving the window open on a dodgy housing estate in Banbury. So the car was driven around my mum's driveway until, a week after my 17th when I passed my test.

£1,100 later for the insurance, which seemed worth the pain at the time, I was ready to hit the road. Within 30 minutes of passing my test off I went to Milton Keynes, with my mate Jonathan, with the inention of impressing women. Oh how we live and learn. An hour after passing my test, I was pulled over by the local police for some over energetic use of my right foot and not looking like I was old enough to own a mountain bike, let alone a car. In the first month, I had a small rainforest worth of producers.

The garage the car was purchased from gave me a 12 month warranty, which in real terms meant nothing and was a good way of getting even more money out of me. Fix 1: The car overheated so the fan was linked to the ignition. Fix 2: The alarm wouldn’t stop going off so was unwired as it was more cost effective than fixing it.

By the end of the first month of driving, I had an incident with a very sturdy brown Vauxhall Chevette, which decided to get in my way after trying to drive around Wellingborough as if it was the Monaco street circuit. The garage quoted me £1200 to repair the car, but I decided to use some entrepreneurial locals, who charged me £350.

Car came back, looking as good as new, although the holes in the front frame were a tad worrying. By month three it was summer and the little XR3i had decided that my passengers needed their feet kept cool by the rainwater that came through a little hole in the floor. Then the alternator went, the starter motor had to be hit if I was on my own, or the car pushed by my friends. The following month the car developed a new metallic ticking sound at high speed.

My friends and I being the amazing car mechanics we were, ignored the noise. Month seven and the manifold fell off while driving down the M1. By the eighth month of owndership the front wheel fell off while driving back from college, and by month nine the pristine white body started to develop brown shades around all the sills and valance and wings.

The MOT arrived and the garage quoted £1500, so again the local entrepreneurs welded in a new floor and it was all done for £400. I then moved to Canada and left the car sat on my driveway , before my Auntie decided to sell it. Various stories in the next six months made their way over the Atlantic to me, including such gems as it was raced around by various people, found in a ditch at one point and finally, still registered in my name, used for a bank job as a getaway car in Northampton.

So what did I learn from this experience. Fords are not always great cars, or at least ropey 80s XR3is certainly aren’t. Girls, did not think an XR3i was cool, no matter how much I though they did, although it did make me a popular taxi at college.

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  • Rugbyrice88 12 Jan 2010

    my second car was a 1989 xr3i in diamond white (not so white parked near newer cars) but it had a power that rivaled most cars driven by the typical chavs. saldly it didn't last to long till the sills fell off, so replaced it with an 89 xr3i cabriolet and i still have that one however its now in th process of a second engine, thought after reaching 221K it was time to chage it.
    In the summer with the roof down its a car the ladies love

  • morgrp 04 Feb 2009

    joz8968 said:
    I've got a genuine soft spot for these. Especially in the Ford brochure's 'Sunburst Red' (as in the pic)... I had one in that hue as a temporary runaround (after someone wrote off my 'Grale).

    They have very amusing - but safe and predictable - handling. It was all rock hard springing - not much finesse - but suited the 'typical' XR3i driver perfectly lol. You can get them at ludicrous angles in roundabouts, due to the fact that the huge understeer scrubs off most of the speed like a b'stard (so it all unfolds relatively slowly lol).

    When ragging the crap out of it though, that 1.6 CVH engine suffered terribly with oil-draining away from the heads and awful valve-bounce!

    I know that the carb'd XR3 was 96bhp/98lb ft (fitted in the Mk.2 XR2 too) and that the XR3i was 105bhp... but was the torque still 98lb ft (can't remember)?

    I'd love to own a totally original, near-concours one in the Sunburst...

    P.S. Of course, even more desirable at the time, was the rare as hen's teeth RS1600i, with the 'RS1600i' and striped bonnet black vinyl graphics, plus the twin-coil ignition. Anyone know the bhp/lb ft of these?

    Edited by joz8968 on Monday 24th November 18:12
    Think it was about 115bhp for the RS1600i

  • useyourdellusion 04 Feb 2009

    liner33 said:
    I had a couple a 86 Red XR3i and a 90 White XR3i , the red one came grom the channel island and had a noisy gearbox the whole time i had it but never caused me any trouble , my wife presumably over -revved (she denies this) the white one and it needed a top end rebuild.

    Both problems were absolutely typical with these. Just part of the ownership experience.

    I think your wife deserves an apology on the second one. winksmile

  • liner33 04 Feb 2009

    I had a couple a 86 Red XR3i and a 90 White XR3i , the red one came grom the channel island and had a noisy gearbox the whole time i had it but never caused me any trouble , my wife presumably over -revved (she denies this) the white one and it needed a top end rebuild.

    Used to love throwing it down the country lanes on the way to work , always arrived with a smile .


  • B3pwr280bhp 04 Feb 2009

    When I was a young lad my bessy mate had a lovely XR3, and the first time he ever let me drive it the front tyre blew out ;0) Karma?

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