Image from Kilometer Magazine
My first car was a 1986 Ford Escort base model. It looked identical to the one pictured above, except my had a charcoal interior. It also was beaten down by the time it finally went to the great junkyard in the sky. There is nothing like the times I had in that car. I loved that car. In fact after all the cars I’ve owned, this is my third favorite (the two other being Camaros).
When I was sixteen I took driver’s education in school. I became friend’s with someone who would stay my best friend for years (relevant shortly). I finished and told my mother I was going to get my license. My mother told me I could, if I got a job and paid for insurance. I then decided not to get my license. It’s not that I was lazy, I knew I that later in life I would never have the freedom of not having to work again.
I turned eighteen and the thought process came up again. Should I get a summer job and get my license? I was going to college in the fall and I probably wouldn’t leave campus that often. There was also an extra fee for students to get a parking pass. I once again opted out of getting my license.
When I came back after that first year I moved in with my girlfriend (long story here). We lived in downtown Vermilion and she managed to get me a job with her at Speedway (when it was bathroom sized, not the current modern building they have now). This was a fifteen minute walk from house. I didn’t need a car. I also would drive her car fairly often. Eventually I quit that job and needed something else.
I went to work at Beaver Park Marina with a friend from high school. He would pick me up every day. If he was ever sick, my girlfriend would take me in. Once I had to walk all the way, that was a pain. This at least passed another year of employment where I did not need a car. Eventually I left Beaver Park and got the job that started me on my current career path at PC Elite in Amherst.
To make this job work I stayed at my grandparents sometimes and walk. My grandparents occasionally dropped me off. If my girlfriend wasn’t working she would drop me off at work. Eventually I just dropped my girlfriend off at her job and drove myself in (illegally). The problem was when work got to the point that they needed me to make service calls.
I was approaching my twenty-first birthday and I did not have a car of my own. I didn’t even have my license. I had a job in which I could afford a car, so it was time. My grandmother took me to the drivers testing station and I proceeded to take the exam.
I took the written portion in under five minutes. My driving test was about an hour after that. I mentioned I used to drive my girlfriend to work. This meant I was driving two hours a day for months. I was a fairly seasoned, albeit not licensed, driver at this point. The driving portion was going to be easy. I was relaxed, a bit too relaxed.
Going out on the road person I wasn’t nervous at all. This meant I was driving like a real person. When you take a driving test you are not supposed to drive like a real person. You are supposed to be nervous and hyper analyzing everything you do. You are supposed to pay so close attention that you over compensate for everything. I was not doing that. I was relaxed.
After a bit on the road course I noticed the examiner was making notes. It seems most of my stops were rolling stops (like all the other traffic around me). I caught on eventually and moved into hyper analyzing mode. If I had made one more mistake I would have failed. All because I drove like everyone does when they are not taking a test. Maneuverability was a cake walk. I had my license. Now it was time to get my first car.
My grandfather had offered to buy my first car. The first vehicle I wanted was a jeep. My grandfather didn’t want to buy me a Jeep. He thought I should get something more practical. Granted in the end a Jeep might have been more practical. I then decided I wanted an Escort. One of my friends in high school had one and I loved it. I even survived a car wreck in it on the way to a marching band party.
The friend from driver’s education also had one. He had the wagon model though. I can’t say how many accidents he had in that car. I can say that I was in the car for at least three of them. One of them was being the center car in a three car pile-up. That thing could take a beating. Having survived at least two major and two minor accidents in an Escort, I was sold that this was the car I wanted.
The first Escort my grandfather had me try was an EXP model. The EXP was the Mustang version of the Escort. The car was located on a little lot by the roller rink south of Amherst. It was sporty and quicker than the regular model. I test drove it and it was ok. It felt a little off though and I wasn’t sold. It was also 1500.00 and I wasn’t comfortable that my grandfather was going to pay that much for it. I went back to looking.
I managed to find another one in the paper for 500.00. It was located on Sunnyside Road in Vermilion. We went out and I took it by myself for a test drive. It handled the way I expected it to. I had no problems or complaints with the car. My grandfather talked him down to 450.00 and the car was sold. I now had my brand new car. We are now up to the subject of this long post.
My grandfather made sure I had insurance on the car, but that lasted about three months before I was driving uninsured. There are two funny stories about driving around uninsured.
The first story is about my first accident. Eventually I need to write-up the great squirt gun wars story of 1997, but here is one of the final events. I was with my girlfriend and we had pulled into the Geyer’s parking lot. We were heading to K&N. Our friend Andy, ran up to the car with a super soaker. I slammed the car into reverse and pushed the gas pedal down as far as I could. I slammed into a van driving behind me.
According to friends that saw it, I knocked the van up off the ground momentarily and about three feet away. Not bad for a running distance of about eight feet in an eighty horsepower car. The cops were called, but they stated I couldn’t be cited because the parking lot was private property. I offered to pay damages but the guy never called me. This was two days before my insurance expired.
I had messed up my driver’s side rear quarter panel and tailight. I fixed that with the colored transparent tape from the auto parts stores. You could still see daylight in the rear through the bit of mangled metal. In the winter the heater worked overtime to keep the car warm after that.
Shortly after I started dating my future wife I was racing a friend’s escort on the Route 2. He was doing about eighty-five and I was doing a little under eighty. An officer was sitting at the exit at Sunnyside Road and clocked us. My friend noticed him, I slowed down when my friend did. I got the ticket for eighty-five instead of eighty that I should have gotten. While we are waiting for the police officer to approach the car I confess to my date I don’t have insurance. Lucky for me the officer did not ask for it.
I think the officer was distracted by the fact that the other Escort pulled over in front of me. The driver approached the officer and explained that the girl in my backseat (not my date) needed to get home. He asked if he could take her. The officer agreed and she left my car and went to the other one. My future wife stayed with me. My thought process now is, what if the girl who got out of the car was carrying the drugs, guns, or something else illegal? If I would have had anything like that in my car – the officer would have just let it walk away.
Maintenance on the car was a breeze. I could drive it for almost a week on five dollars. That is with commuting from Vermilion to Amherst every weekday and going out most nights. Over the two years I had it I also only changed the oil once or twice. The car had an oil leak. Every two weeks (when I got paid) the car was a quart low. I added a quart as part of my pay-day routine. The oil always looked clean so I never bothered changing it. I’m sure the filter would have looked like hell at the end though.
One time a large group of us went down to Gore Orphanage during the day. On the drive home a girl decided to ride with me. This girl who would later become my future wife was dating someone else. When we managed to get back home her boyfriend shows up. I rev the engine and look him in the eyes and say I’m stealing his woman. While I didn’t ask her out until they were broken up, how prophetic it was.
One night after we were dating we had a car load of people out driving. We were going down through Mill Hollow shortly after they widened the turn going down the hill. For some reason I had forgotten the fact they widened the road. We ended up driving through someone’s yard and almost over the hill because I was following the old path. This of course was shortly after I was stating how well I knew the roads. I knew the roads so well I was driving on the ones that no longer existed.
The car finally died after a major overheating attempt. I scrapped it and got 50.00 for it. I regret that decision now with every fiber of my being. I miss that car so much. It managed to get me through blizzards. It survived Jim experimenting how to neutral drop a car. Speeding down Thompson Hill and on Risden Road were always fun times. Many of us had our initials carved into the paint on the top of the car. It was my car through some of the best years of my life.
This whole post started with an article I read earlier about someone who put two engines into his 1986 Escort. This brought back all the flood of memories and how much I loved that car. I want to get another one. It was great on gas and I could use for my commute. The problem is finding one.
This was one of the most popular cars produced in its first generation (1981-1990). You would think out of the millions produced that there should be tons of these around. Unfortunately it seems almost all of them have rusted away. I could not find a single one on E-Bay earlier. Autotrader has a grand total of eight being sold in the United States, and not close enough or cheap enough to justify driving out for a test drive.
One day I will find a mint low mileage one. It will be mine. If it’s not mint I’ll restore it as much as possible and keep it from ever seeing salt on the roads ever again. I’m working under the assumption that millions of these cars just literally rusted away. To make matters worse I want my same setup. I don’t care the color, but it has to be an automatic and it cannot be an EXP.
I only owned it two years, but I will always remember that car as being my first. They say you never forget your first. This is what they meant right?
I’ll end this with some 1986 Ford Escort Commercials: