Ford Escort Mk1 - reader resto

By: Peter & Josh Horder with Guy Allen - Unique Cars magazine, Photography by: Ellen Dewar

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When Josh Horder and his dad Peter set out to do this car, it was to build up a decent learner car. What a fantastic result.

We figured since Josh was coming up to driving age, it would be a good idea to get him a car he could help build. There’s probably no better way to appreciate what you’re using than if you’ve played a role in putting it together.

The idea was to get something light, easy to handle and fairly simple to maintain – a good start for any first car. I’ve got a background with GT Fords (President of the Falcon GT Club of Vic), so it might have been inevitable we gravitated this way.

We found this 1970 1300 behind a truck depot in Keilor, clearly unloved. It seemed to have had a pretty rough life and maybe some creative owners along the way, judging by the purple rocker cover!

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I run a blasting and industrial painting business, so we could get help with the car when the crew had down time. Even so, it took two to three years of pretty much daily work to get the job done. We decided it had to be as good as we could get it, so there was no cutting corners. That means you’re up for a lot of work, and it seems best to keep going on it once you’ve started.

These cars are notorious for rust, with the heater bulge, on the scuttle, the floors and a few other areas being famous for rot. This one had a lot of rust, but generally wasn’t too bad. It had had a few hits over the years, so we ended up replacing the left B pillar, a door and a sill.

While we had it apart, we decided to fit it with a 2.0lt Pinto engine rather than the original. The factory built a limited run of Mk1 RS2000s with a version of this engine and we liked the idea of having the bigger unit.

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We sourced what ended up as a complete Pinto driveline via online auctions. The engine was rebuilt by Duggans Balancing in Melbourne and we got a transmission specialist to rebuild the three-speed auto. The Pinto diff was in pretty good shape, but we went through it with new bearings.

Putting in the Pinto involved a bit of fiddle, such as different engine mounts (you can buy them off the shelf overseas) and a few little surprises such as hangers for the exhaust on the opposite side of the car. If you hunt around, you’ll soon find the Pinto conversion is popular with Mk1 owners. It keeps it as a Ford product but gives the car a useful level of performance.

I’ve mostly done Falcons over the years, where there are at least four local suppliers of reproduction parts and a wealth of choice when it comes to buying components. This was a lot harder than a Falcon and I really relied on the Escort club for advice. I reckon Josh and I had them on speed-dial while we were doing this project!

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You can see the parts situation improving for Escorts, particularly if you look overseas. They’re huge in the UK and New Zealand, and they seem to be the top race car in Malta! In fact there seems to be a whole industry built up around them in the UK and people are prepared to build something from not much more than a set of tags.

With the body and driveline sorted, we got stuck into the suspension and brakes. The disc/drum combination is basically new, while we went through refurbishing every other component, such as control arms. A lot of those ‘little’ jobs were done during down-time while we waited for the next stage on the body or driveline.

The suspension was cleaned up and we went to the trouble of putting in a fresh set of Pedders shock absorbers.

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The car originally came with the basic two-dial ‘jukebox’ instrument cluster, but we managed to find an upmarket six-dial unit online. Then of course it was a long process of redoing the trim. The interior is pretty luxurious by Escort standards, with carpeting and a padded steering wheel!

We must have done something right with the build, as the Escort won the trophy for the best Mk1 at the Small Ford Show on its first outing. Bringing it here for the photos is only its second drive, and you can feel a few little things that need adjusting – which is typical for a fresh build.

There are a couple of things we like about this build. For a start, four generations of the family worked on it.       

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My father is a former panel beater and still has ‘itchy hands’ while my grandfather came out and helped whenever he could. And of course my son Josh has played a central part, since it’s his car. The other is that we’ve saved another old car from its likely fate of ending up on the scrap heap.

We’ve done a little more to the Escort since it was photographed – for example it’s now got a white roof and different tyres.

So what’s next? Well Josh is pretty keen on a Falcon, so we’ve found an old XY and started on that. We’ll be on more familiar ground with this one, so maybe it will be a little easier…

Peter’s club is online at


Ford -escort -resto -11. Piece by piece
The only way to be sure it was right was to pull it apart

Ford -escort -resto -42. Heater bulge
That heater bulge on the scuttle collects water and debris

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3. Rotisserie
Having a rotisserie makes it so much easier to blast it and spot problems

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4. Primer
On with the primer, which is just one step in a long process!

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5. Up front
All the arms and bushes have come in for a refresh or replacement

Ford -escort -resto -56. What's the diff?
That's the tail end of the Pinto driveline, now with fresh bearings 

Ford -escort -resto -77. Paint
Lovely fresh paint and the old thing is starting to look like a car again

Ford -escort -resto -engine8. Engine
The old Pinto engine has been refreshed inside and out 


1970 Ford Mk1 Escort specs

ENGINE: 1993cc (originally 1298cc) inline four-cylinder

TRANSMISSION: Four-speed synchro manual

LENGTH: 4052mm

WIDTH: 1572mm

HEIGHT: 1402mm


KERB WEIGHT: 860kg (est)




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