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Ford Escort vs. Triumph Dolomites

When new, Triumph Dolomites were something to aspire to – now we become ecstatic over Escorts! So why the change and what’s best Published: 19th Jan 2017 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

What The Experts Say...

With a Mk2 Mexico (the least liked RS) on sale at the recent NEC show for a staggering £32,000, you’d think that Roger Chinnery of Essex-based Affordable Classics, who specialises in old school Fords, would be cock-ahoop with Escort values – yet you couldn’t be more wrong! Roger told us that he thinks the perceived prices now touted about are simply insane for what is simply an Escort – plus adds that their soaring values have resulted in a new type of buyer that’s totally different from the enthusiasts of less than a decade ago and he finds that sad because these Fords were meant to be a bit of fun; not the case now…

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You can blame the robots. Before, when cars were hand assembled on production lines, there was a distinct difference in build quality among the brands – and Fords weren’t known as Dagenham Dustbins for nothing! Along with Vauxhall, they appealed to mainstream and fleet buyers while the likes of Jaguars, Triumphs, and Humbers signalled aspirational middle class motoring and something to get the neighbours talking about…

Thanks to the advent of robot builds and computers such snobbery has largely petered as quality has standardised to the point of where today’s Skoda is just as well made as a Merc!

When new, the Ford Escort and the similar sized but notably pricier Triumph Dolomite competed against each other even though their buying bases were poles apart. As classics, it’s the Fords that are now dearer to the point where most enthusiasts on a typical wage now can’t afford to buy an Escort – but 30 years ago a mere Ford just had to do! So why the social change and is an Escort still too down market for you, no matter how much they can sell for?

Which one to buy?

Care for the sporting life?

When new the more upmarket Triumphs carried appropriately higher price tags but this is certainly not the case now as we’ll touch upon later!

As befitting a UK best seller, Escort ranges were vast catering for everybody and their pockets in saloon, estate and commercial forms, from poverty Populars to racy RS2000s.

In classic terms, the Mk1 became the most sought after and as their values rose, people looked to the more palatial Mk2 which soon followed suit. In a similar vein, two-doors were the most wanted, then four-doors and now estates have become popular simply due to their lower prices; quite frankly any rear-wheel drive Escort is hot property – but the sporting versions will always command the most money.

It’s not just the iconic Mexicos and RS models, rarities like the Mk1 GT and Sport (the latter a basic Escort with GT hardware clothed in a halfway house RS body) and the 1300E are worth their weight in rust, as are the Mk2 Sports and the strangely unpopular Mk2 Mexico which performed on Pinto 1600GT rather than 2000cc power. The Sport-based Harrier (which started off as a Ford PR exercise for the TV series Minder and which you see in every opening title) are gold dust and we wouldn’t bet against the budget based Populars catching on in no small way! So easy is it to slot in a bigger engine that the model choice can be irrelevant but by the same token watch for fakes, especially concerning Mexicos and RS models.

The statelier Triumphs are in the main four-doors, the exception being early Toledos which was the intended replacement for the Herald. This was a rear-wheel drive design, as were the Dolomites that followed. The exception was the original 1500, itself a revamped and stretched 1300 before it fell into line with a rear-wheel drive form in late 1973.

All eyes and interest are on the sporty Sprint, naturally, which is a shame as it sells the others too short. Condition counts above all else and there’s little wrong in a Dolomite 1850 or the 1500TC. In fact, we rather like the latter ‘Dolly’ that’s powered by the simpler and sturdier Spitfire engine. It’s no ball of fire, but can be tuned more easily than the none too trustworthy Dolomite unit, plus it sports similar appointments to its posher brothers and this includes overdrive. Before the range bowed out in 1980 every model became known as Dolomites, incidentally.

As we said at the start, there’s been a role reversal value-wise of amazing proportions. Escorts can sell for silly money to be honest; even repmobile L models have sold at auction for around five figures if exceptional, and £20-£30K for a Mexico or RS2000 is now commonplace – and let’s not even talk about Twin Cams and RS16000s!

In complete contrast, Triumph are under-priced, even Sprints which you rarely see break into the five-figures bracket. Common sense says it can’t this way for ever and 2017 is the time to get one.

What’s the best to drive

Depends on your driving style

You need to split the ranges into sporting and non sporting categories when making up your mind. Enthusiasts will navigate more to the Ford camp because nobody does it better than the blue oval.

What they lack in sophistication they compensate with good old fashioned fine tuning which is why all performance Escorts, be they 1300 or 2-litre powered, feel so right and yet by the same token leave enormous scope for further improving by specialists and owners.

RS1600 and Twin Cams excepted, out of the entire bunch it’s the RS2000 that impresses the most. That old 100bhp Cortina engine may not be terribly refined, but it’s punchy and unstressed in the Escort body plus is easy to maintain and uprate. With a Sierra five-speed gearbox fitted, they are fine everyday cars – if they weren’t so valuable! The original Mexico has a completely different character to the Mk2 version but the latter isn’t as colourless as you’ve been led to believe.

Now if we are talking about a classic simply to go out in, then these Triumphs take on a different light. They are usefully roomier, have a plusher cabin and overdrive is normally fitted. Finally, they feel of much better quality than a Ford.

What about the Sprint you say? It’s a bit of a curate’s egg. On the one hand that 16-valve engine endowed it with really strong performance and when new it was a cheaper yet as good, alternative to Alfas and BMWs. A good one (and many aren’t; Dolomite expert Brian Kitley reckons the majority churn out less than 100bhp!) still greatly pleases but as many magazines said when the model was new, the Sprint was a great engine in search of a car to go with it. Of course, you may want one for old time’s sake but if you’ve always fancied one, do try a few beforehand because an average one of the 400 or so left may fall short of your expectations.

Owning and running

Escorts edges it

Triumphs remain one of the most popular classic names in the UK, but that’s primarily for the TR sports cars. Not that you’ll find obtaining parts overly difficult with these saloons, although trim is becoming the exception. A shortage of good body parts have resulted in many 1850s and 1500s being sacrificed to save a Sprint. On the other hand, their simplistic design lends to simple DIY home repairs.

All 1850 and Sprint engines suffer from similar Stag snags but all can be sorted; many say that the quirky head tightening sequence recommended by Triumph is partly to blame for their foibles.

The rising popularity of Escorts, along with any rear-wheel drive Fords to be fair, have seen an industry evolve in supplying replacement parts including complete shells although genuine original ‘Type 49’ shells are a licence to print money.

Mechanically, the interchange-ability of components with other Ford’s ranges means that there’s little problems in this respect and rear-wheel drive Fords are meant to be fixed at home!

And The Winner Is...

There’s no winner as such because it depends on your personal taste and preferences. The Fords are blue collar classics while the Triumphs are mid management! The rise in interest and values for Fords has been staggering. However, it’s a new and different buying base that’s led to this and they are more interested in tuning and customising which is something you may not wish to be associated with. There’s no denying the sheer value ‘Dolomites’ (and by this include the Toledos and 1500 still represent and those after a budget classic with a bit of class can’t afford not to put them on their shortlist.

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