The first Escort was launched in 1968, as a replacement for the Ford Anglia. It quickly became popular; a rallying version won the London to Mexico Rally of 1970. Mark II was launched in 1975. One appeared in the late 1970s television show The Professionals. The Mk 2. was extremely successful in rallying during the 1970s, until more advanced designes overtook it, but the Mk 2. model was always very popular with amateur motorsport enthusiasts right into the 1990s. The rear-wheel-drive Escorts were never offered in the United States, Ford offering the Ford Pinto instead.
The Escort (Mk 3) was relaunched worldwide in 1980, as a hatchback which at the time was considered a revolutionary design, though Vauxhall's earlier Astra (designed by Opel in Germany) was in fact almost identical mechanically and stylistically. Several variations were made, with features such as fuel injection. The XR3i model of the mid-80s in particular became a favourite of the young and upwardly mobile, and it quickly established a "boy-racer" image. The XR3 also became notoriously popular in the UK with joyriders. By now, the Escort seemed ubiquitous. Both Diana Spencer and Sarah Ferguson drove Escorts.
The US Escort was launched as a 3-door hatch and 5-door wagon, with the 5-door hatch following a year later. It had considerably more chrome than the model sold elsewhere, and a slightly more rounded shape. There was a 1.6-liter engine, 4 or 5-speed manual or 3-speed automatic transmissions. There was a facelift (less chrome, flush headlights, 1.9L engine) for 1985.
In the 1990s, the US Escort and its Mercury version, the Mercury Lynx, were replaced by models based on the Mazda 323. Ford, which owned a 25 per cent stake in Mazda, already sold a version of the 323 in Asia and Australasia, called the Ford Laser, which replaced the old rear-wheel-drive Escort.
The Mazda based model sold sluggishly in America at first, but was popular later in the decade- at one point Ford offered it on a "one price" basis, the same price for a 3 or 5 door hatchback, sedan or wagon (the 3 door had alloys in this version). The 1997 restyle dropped the hatchbacks and added a new coupe, the ZX2, which remains in production as of 2003 despite being both outclassed and outpriced by the Ford Focus. Redesigned in 1990, 1992, and 1996, the European model was never as popular as its predecessor. The brand image had suffered in the UK from its association with "boy racers", "Essex lads", etc. The American model went from strength to strength in this period.