Junkyard Gem: 1986 Ford Escort Pony

Murilee Martin

Before we get going on today's Junkyard Gem, let's talk about what gem means in this context, because that term has caused some readers to foam at the mouth with rage when applied to, say, a Daihatsu Charade or a Chevy Beretta. Sometimes a penny-pinching commuter hatchback from several decades back can be a historical gem, even — as is the case here — when it's rusted all to hell and full of rodent poop. You might not want one in your garage, but we can learn some lessons about American automotive history from it. Here's a rare example of the cheapest new Ford car North Americans could buy in 1986, discovered in rough condition in a Denver self-serve yard last month.

The first-generation North American Escort (and its Mercury-badged sibling, the Lynx) was a big hit for Ford, particularly during the period when memories of gas lines were still fresh. Starting in 1986 and continuing through 1990, the Pony name (first used for the least expensive Pintos a decade earlier) went onto a stripped-down, very affordable version of the Escort three-door hatchback.

A four-speed manual transmission came standard on the Pony, but buyers could cough up some extra bucks and get a three-speed automatic or a five-speed manual. This car has the five-speed. Sharp-eyed aficionados of 1980s car-audio gear might recognize that cassette deck as a rare and potentially collectible Alpine 7167. Normally, I would buy such a junkyard find and make a decent profit … but there's a reason I left this radio in the car.

The horror! Yes, the problem with cars left outdoors for years in Colorado is that they become habitats for members of the rodent population. Colorado has a big problem with hantavirus, which you catch by breathing dust from rodent nests like this Escort's glovebox. There's no cure, and nearly 40% of humans infected by hantavirus will die. This isn't the mouse-poopiest junkyard car I've ever seen in Colorado (that would be this '58 Vauxhall Victor), but I'm not going to take a chance on huffing hantavirus in order to make a possible C-note on a car stereo.

Even if hantavirus didn't exist, I'd be reluctant to dive into the dash of this car with my trusty junkyard toolbox. Yucko!

Overall, we're looking at a completely depreciated motor vehicle here.

The dealership sticker shows that this Escort started its career here in Colorado and will be crushed about five miles from the dealership that sold it more than 30 years ago.

The Escort went from a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine to a 1.9-liter unit starting with the 1985 model year, and this one was rated at 86 horsepower. Fuel economy was very good for the era, well into the 30s on the highway.

The MSRP on the 1986 Escort Pony started at $6,052, or about $14,210 in inflation-adjusted 2019 dollars. During that year, frugal car shoppers could get a new Toyota Tercel for $5,448, a Chevrolet Sprint for $5,380, a Plymouth Horizon for $6,209 or a Chevrolet Chevette for $5,645. Really cheap car shoppers had the option of the wretched Hyundai Excel for $4,995 or the barely-qualifies-as-a-car Yugo GV for — seriously — $3,990.

I think I'd go with the $5,479 1986 Honda Civic 1300 Hatchback, a zero-frills econobox with a mere 60 horses under the hood but still sort of fun to drive, if I woke up in 1986 and needed to buy a new car. The Escort Pony was a decent bargain for a transportation car, though.

Why even go to those other places when your Ford dealer has the new Escort?