Hammond on the Ford Escort Mexico MkI

I like peas, they make me happy. I don’t need to eat them to be happy: just looking at a plate of them will do it. It’s their simplicity, the honest, round, shiny greenness of them. They make me smile in exactly the same way that the orange Escort Mexico MkI sitting at the track made me smile.

Words: Richard Hammond
This feature was originally published in the January issue of Top Gear magazine

It's an odd car really, born out of straightforward commercial greed; Ford launched it in 1970 to exploit the rallying success of the Escort RS1600 and designed it to sit between the Escort GT and Twin Cam. It doesn't have a turbo, or a twin-cam head. It's got an old-fashioned, 1.6-litre overhead valve pushrod engine, leaf springs at the back and a live rear axle.
It's based on - and not far from - the most humble of cars, and there was very little about it to distinguish it from the one your mum might have taken you to school in. In fact, mine did, in a blue, basic MkI. But looking at the Mexico, wandering around its surprisingly tiny form and simple lines, you just know that it's special. It's about attitude, stance, cheekiness, perkiness. It has the same effect on me as a plate of garden-fresh, newly boiled peas. It made me grin until I thought my head would fall in half.

The noise is simple and honest, bouncing around the tiny cabin with its hard surfaces and shiny plastics. There is nothing, but nothing, inside the cockpit to distract you from the business of pedalling it around the track as fast as the little engine can gulp fuel and the skinny little tyres can cling onto the tarmac. And this is the one with the ‘custom pack' that added Recaro seats, carpets, a clock and walnut fascia. Without them, it would be difficult to tell if you were sitting in the car itself or the crate it came in. But still the grin stretched itself across my face. I swear the little Mexico was eager to get on with the job of exploiting every last ounce of go from its humble mechanics.
The rear end can be prodded into scampering about, chasing the front through corners like a giddy terrier after a cat. It feels small, incredibly so, and biddable, willing to bend to your idea of where you should be going next. After all, there must be something special about the MkI Escort: it became a best-selling road car and one of the most successful rally cars of all time. It's still a sought-after tool today among amateur rallyists.
The figures are as unpretentious as the car is to look at. It'll do 0-60mph in 10.7 seconds - my lawn-mower is faster. But it doesn't feel this good, this special. It puts out 86.9bhp - there are pencil-sharpeners with more, but they don't brim over with charm 'til your face muscles ache.
Yes, this was produced to build on the success of the RS1600 in the 16,000-mile London-Mexico World Cup Rally, and that makes it, in the cold light of day, a business product, a piece of commercial exploitation. But it came out at a time when probably no one who drove one or even saw one had ever been to Mexico or anywhere like it. They wore anoraks with stripes down them though, 'cos they looked like the ones the rally guys wore. Ford was practically unbeatable on the stages, and the Mexico celebrated Ford's rallying heroes. It didn't claim to turn you into one: it fizzed and snarled and snuffled along, carrying just manual window-winders and the optional carpets with it, and made you feel unbelievably happy and excited and glad to be alive. Still does. I miss it already.

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