The long-awaited 'Erika' was an expensive event for the Ford Motor Company, and revealed itself to be the Company's second front-drive model, but with an even more upmarket specification than the Fiesta which had brought them into the front-drive/transverse engine sector.
The then new car, bearing the old name of Escort, cost millions of dollars to design, develop, and to put into (three country) production, its object being to retain Ford's gains in Europe, and to limit losses in the USA.
The new Escort was Ford's first 'world car', representing an investment of US$3000 million, and was required to be a success on both sides of the Atlantic. With their customary thoroughness the Ford Motor Company produced a 100% new body, chassis, and engine (except for some lower-priced models which were available with the 1100 ohv 'Kent' motor). Given the sizeable investment, it was always going to be a finalist in the car of the year awards, and it took the gong in 1981.
Ford opted for engines that had to be both lively and economical, Ford's designers evolving a series of four-cylinder motors with novel combustion chambers, valvegear and rockers, incorporating hydraulic tappets to minimise maintenance, and for the first time in Ford history, a high-volume engine had a light-alloy cylinder head.
A flexible cogbelt drove the overhead camshaft which actuated the tangential valves through pressed-steel rockers. The rockers enabled the valves to be inclined so that (fully-machined) hemispherical combustion chambers could be employed. Ford's new engines were christened 'CVH', a crisp-sounding abbreviation which in fact meant 'Compound Valve Angle Hemispherical Chamber'.
The Mark III Escorts came in a bewildering variety of types, offering five engines, and three different capacities: 1117 cc (74x65 mm) low-compression (8.5:1) ohv, developing 55 bhp (40 kW) DIN and 59.28 Ib ft of torque (12.8 mkg/79.49 Nm); 1117 cc high-compression (9.5: 1) ohv, developing 59 bhp (43 kW) DIN, and 62.171b ft (8.6 mkg/8336 Nm); 1296 cc (80 x 65 mm), compression 9.5:1 ohc, developing 69 bhp (51 kW) DIN and 73.74 Ib ft of torque (10.2 mkg/98.88 Nm); 1597 cc (80 x 80 mm), compression 9.5:1 ohc, developing 79 bhp (58 kW), and 92.54 Ib ft of torque (12.8 mkg/125.49 Nm).
For the sport-orientated driver, the 1597 cc XR3 used the largest of the ohc engines, but was equipped with a Weber double-choke carburetter (instead of the Ford-Motorcraft 'VV'-variable venturi), and developed 96 bhp (71 kW) DIN, and 97.60 Ib ft of torque (13.5 mkg/130.88 Nm). The engines were installed transversely, with gearbox at the end of crankshaft, 'Giacosa-fashion', there being four forward ratios with variations according to model and capacity.
The Mark 3 Escort also marked the first time for a small Ford with independent rear suspension, the manufacturer setting out with the obvious intention of providing a very upmarket specification to attract buyers who were considering purchasing a smaller, more economic car in a growing age of thrift and conservation.
Front suspension was by the familiar MacPherson coil-struts, supplemented by an anti-roll bar which controlsedfront wheel toe-in (except on the 1100 ohv Escorts which had normal lower wishbones). With disc/drum braking systems (ventilated discs on 1600s) all models were available with vacuum servo-assistance (several had it as standard), and the rack-and-pinion steering was geared at 19.5:1, giving 3.7 turns from lock to lock.
The bodywork of the Mark 3 Escort came as three and five-door hatchbacks or three-door estate models (station wagons), the shape having good drag figures (0.38.5 for the hatchbacks) but an ingeniously thought out profile which combined the good looks of the 'notchback' saloon, and the usefulness of the hatchback. The rear 'bustle' was somewhat similar in shape to the Volvo 343, and there seemed little doubt Ford designers drew their inspiration from the Swedish-Dutch car.
The length of the Mark 3 Escort was identical to the older Escort (13.02 ft/3.97 metres), but the estate was longer at 13.38 ft (4.08 metres). The Mark 3 had good all round visibility due to a large glass area, and there were numerous optional extras such as central door-locking, electric windows, sun-roofs etc. to put the Escorts into a 'miniature Granada' class.
In order to compete with Volkswagen's Golf GTI, a hot hatch version of the Mark III was created from the outset — the XR3. Initially this featured a tuned version of the 1.6 L CVH engine fitted with a twin-choke Weber carburetor, uprated suspension and numerous cosmetic alterations. The sporting XR3 used the three-door hatchback body with air dam, spoilers and so on to reduce the aerodynamic co-efficient to 0.375, and was powered by a 96 bhp (71 kW) version of the 1.6-liter CVH motor, which with a kerb weight of 1686 Ib (765 kg) had a 0-62 mph (0-100 km/h) figure of 9.7 seconds. Top speed was 113 mph (182 km/h). To match its sporting character the XR3 also had very comprehensive instrumentation, Bilstein dampers, bucket seats, and large section Pirelli P6 tires on light-alloy wheels.
Early Escort models were adjudged by the British motoring press to be under-damped, and possessed of poor ride qualities. Ford of Britain admitted to calibration problems with dampers on 'initial production
', and quickly announced there were busy getting thie suspension better sorted. Thankfully they did, and revised models had acceptable suspension - although it was never "great".
Despite the initial lack of a 5-speed transmission and the absence of fuel injection, the XR3 instantly caught the public's imagination and became a cult car which was beloved by boy racers in the 1980s. Fuel injection finally arrived in 1983 (creating the XR3i), along with the racetrack-influenced RS1600i. The final performance update arrived in the form of the turbocharged RS Turbo model in 1985.