Market Watch 1989 Ford Escort XR3i MkIV Cabriolet

Market Watch 1989 Ford Escort XR3i MkIV Cabriolet

In its day the fresh-air Ford XR3i MkIV was the best front-wheel-drive, mass-produced four-seater cabriolet in the world. Ford of Europe’s first convertible in 20 years arrived in 1983, when just 45 were registered in the UK, but by the late Eighties, production was running at 20,000 units a year. Although you could have it with fuel injection, the sportier XR3i version wouldn’t be available until the MkIV facelift of 1986. Our photo car, a mint survivor with just 34,000 miles, was one of 21,052 units produced in 1989, a record-breaking year for the model. Built by Karmann in Osnabruck, Germany, the quality and durability of the snug hood was exemplary.

Uwe Bahnsen’s design team came up with the ‘bustleback’ look while Special Vehicle Engineering at Dunton, UK did the sheet metal, adding a pair of longitudinal rails under the floor and various extra stiffening around the suspension towers, bulkhead, and a roll-over hoop. Some 80% of the Escort Cabriolet’s panels were new or modified and inevitably all that extra weight reduced performance, but only slightly. And nobody really minded because by the spring of 1990, global Escort Cabriolet sales had hit 100,000 units.

Unlike Volkswagen, which hardly changed its Golf convertible, Ford improved the Escort virtually every model year with facelifts, a slew of special editions and extra equipment like central locking, electric windows, a £500 power hood option – a class first which was eventually made standard – driving lamps, heated front windscreen and anti-lock braking.

‘As a trend-setting symbol of an era that’s suddenly become very chic, it’s worth tucking away for sunny days’

Those of a certain age will remember the All White, Tennis Edition, Monotone and Duo Tone convertibles along with a limited-edition Pacifica Blue version to celebrate the end of MkIV production in October 1990. With RS Turbo alloys and leather trim the All Blue is probably the most desirable of all the MkIV Escorts as the classic final-year model.

While it’s easy to be sniffy about the Escort rag top with its Essex, perma-tan image, it was a huge success and extremely well engineered. In the era of Thatcher’s yuppies, they were hugely popular and one in five XR3i buyers were happy to pay the 25% premium over the standard tin top. Ford’s clever marketing called it a ‘Convertible Asset’ and in 1984 anXR3i Cabriolet finished in a special shade of Regency Red was famously loaned to Princess Diana. Ford also placed an All White Cabriolet in the 1985 ITV cop show Dempsey and Makepeace which was watched by 20 million.

While the normal XR3i saloons suffered the worst excesses of the Eighties and Nineties modifying phenomenon, the more expensive Cabriolets were bought by a higher class of buyer as they aged, hence why so many tiny-milers still survive. Neither fast nor hard-charging, the Escort XR3i Cabriolet’s place in history is the car that made the major automakers realise that taking a can opener to the roofs of their products was good business with decent margins. Think Peugeot 205, Vauxhall Astra, Fiat Strada, Rover 200, Austin Metro, Saab 900 and Skoda Rapid – they could all be bought in roofless form. The Escort Cab can lay claim to having energised that trend.

These days the Escort XR3i MkIV feels dated with a hard ride, quite a few rattles and only modest performance levels, but the Cabriolet is the most engaging incarnation. As a trend-setting symbol of an era that’s suddenly become very chic, it’s one that’s definitely worth tucking away for sunny days and weekends. Prices have been eclipsed by mint condition examples of the earliest W- and X-plate carburettor-fed XR3s – now running close to £20k – but that’s why we think this is a good time to buy the later, higherspecced, and much cheaper Cabriolet. Smart high-milers start at around £5000 and even a 40,000-mile, few-owner, perfect example can still be found for around £10,000.

In December a 31,000-mile ’89 with one owner, full service history and boasting of being ‘show prepared’ was sold on eBay for £10,395. That really doesn’t sound dear. We think the time has come for the Escort XR3i MkIV Cabriolet to emerge from the gloom. These relatively modest prices can’t hold for that much longer.

Owning a Escort XR3i Cabriolet

‘When new the XR3i was considered a bit soft, especially as a cabrio, but by modern standards it’s a raw driving experience,’ says owner Jamie Ball of JCB Automotive, where his car is up for sale. ‘It’s almost like an older classic roadster in that regard.

‘This one came from a collector. It had covered just 35,000 miles, backed by a full set of MoTs, the original handbook and warranty paperwork.

‘It’s the most undervalued fast Ford, probably because it’s not a hatchback and has no motor sport pedigree. But they’re a lot of fun, and apart from exterior body panels parts are easy to come by. Snapping up a cheap modified one and returning it to standard would probably be the most cost-effective way of owning one.’

Performance is mediocre by today’s standards, but XR badge means values are being swept along nicely by the fast Ford tide. Quentin singles out cabrio for better value and engaging drive. Fuel-injected sohc 1.6 needs wringing out toget the most from it

TECHNICAL DATA 1989 Ford Escort XR3i MkIV Cabriolet

  • Engine 1597cc transverse four-cylinder, sohc, Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection
  • Power and torque 105bhp @ 6000rpm; 104lb ft @ 4800rpm
  • Transmission Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
  • Steering Rack and pinion
  • Suspension Front: independent, MacPherson struts, lower track control arms, coil springs, telescopic dampers, antiroll bar. Rear: independent, transverse arms, longitudinal tie-bars, coil springs, telescopic dampers
  • Brakes Servo-assisted discs front, drums rear, optional antilock system
  • Performance 0-60mph: 9.6sec.
  • Top speed: 115mph
  • Weight 1000kg
  • Fuel consumption 30mpg
  • Cost new £10,189
  • Classic Cars Price Guide £2000-£6200
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