Stories Told

The ultimate car for the man who hates to spend money

My dad pinched his pennies so hard he had Lincoln thumbs. It had galled him deeply to borrow money to buy his 1983 Renault Alliance (read its story here). Knowing Dad, he paid off that note very early. He submitted to those payments only because Mom fell in love with the Renault on the test drive and insisted he buy it. She knew she could play that card only so often – like, once each decade. But the Renault was, to her, a slam dunk: attractive, comfortable, well equipped in top-line trim.

Then in 1987, when Dad was driving 50 miles round trip to work and the Renault piled up the miles, Mom fretted. “I don’t want you to be stranded on some back county road!” So Dad went car shopping – and didn’t take Mom along so he could get what he wanted. Dad returned to his first love, Ford, and found the biggest bargain on the lot: a leftover new 1986 Ford Escort as the 1988 models were about to be delivered to the showroom. He got it for a song and paid cash. He was so tickled by that deal that he talked about it for years.

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It wasn’t a bottom-of-the-line Pony, as the pictured Escort is. But it might as well have been: the same utility white color, manual transmission (though a five speed rather than the Pony’s standard four), steel wheels, AM radio. It had cloth seat surfaces where the Pony was all vinyl, but it had the same plain interior door panels with the most perfunctory armrests I’ve ever seen. It did have air conditioning; Mom told him not to come home in a car without it. But that was a mighty stripped-down car even for the late 80s. No wonder this pig had languished on the lot so long.

I drove Dad’s Escort a few times. It had good power for the time. I remember the shifter being vague and rubbery but the clutch being sure. I always turned off the radio with its tinny center-of-the-dash speaker as it would give me an instant headache. You could hear the gas sloshing around in the tank when you made a turn.

Dad drove that Escort until 1993. He’d have cheerfully kept driving it, but it had racked up the miles and Mom began to fret anew. So Dad returned to his Ford dealer and came home in a well-optioned Escort LX four-door hatchback. It was so much better a car than its forebear – more comfortable, more fuel efficient, more lively – that even Dad had to allow it was worth spending the money.

I originally shared this story on Curbside Classic, back in May. It’s a good memory of my dad and I wanted to share it with you, too.

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9 thoughts on “The ultimate car for the man who hates to spend money

  1. I didn’t know that some of the Ford Escorts were Hyundai Ponys (Ponies?). My uncle had a Hyundai Pony that my grandfather would jokingly refer to as “Reg’s little horse”. I don’t think my uncle Reg ever had any problems with it. Hyundai makes a luxury sedan now called Equus. Which, as you might know, is Latin for ‘horse’. The first models were very ugly boxes, but have improved in design somewhat in recent years. But they are still just a way for people to shout, “I have lots of money but won’t buy a foreign car!” (I live in Korea).

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    • Oh no, the Escort Pony wasn’t a Hyundai. It was just the cheapest trim line of the Escort. It was about as basic of a car as you could get anywhere back then. Hyundai actually never imported their Pony into the US, though I saw them all over Canada when I visited there in the 1990s.

      I remember the first Hyundai I rode in, an Excel, in the early 1990s. I thought it was poorly built and ill designed. I rented a lovely Hyundai SUV for a business trip recently and really, really, really liked it. Hyundai has come a very long way.

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  2. jon campo says:

    That is a nice story Jim. Your Dad and my Dad would have has a lot to talk about. My Dad was known for locating the cheapest car available at the time. The worst I remember was an AMC something, a terrible car that broke down even when new.

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    • My dad bought an AMC once! He had a flamboyant streak that sometimes caused him to spend more money than he usually would. He bought a 1974 AMC Matador, Oleg Cassini edition. It was white with copper trim and a black cloth interior designed by Oleg Cassini. We loved that car! But it was a championship ruster — within just a few years there were giant holes in the fenders.

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  3. Joshua Fast says:

    Escorts were the budget family car of the 80s it seems. My parents had two. I remember looking longingly at the EXP models wishing we were getting one of those instead.

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