It was only an Escort from Essex, but it gave drivers a thrill for years

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The Independent Online

Just 45 years after Dagenham manufactured the first Anglia, yesterday the last Escort rolled off production lines devised by the great-grandfather of both - Henry Ford. Setting up his Museum at Greenfield Village, near Detroit, Ford remarked: "You can read any object like a book, provided you know how."

Just 45 years after Dagenham manufactured the first Anglia, yesterday the last Escort rolled off production lines devised by the great-grandfather of both - Henry Ford. Setting up his Museum at Greenfield Village, near Detroit, Ford remarked: "You can read any object like a book, provided you know how."

The Escort can be read as a text about British middle market values - and the way they have changed. Not only is the Escort defunct, Dagenham no longer produce entire vehicles, just the engines that power a new generation of cars more international than local. There is something intensely elegiac in the Escort's passing.

The Ford Escort appeared in 1968, essentially a re-bodied Ford Anglia. The history of the Anglia is a gloss on British culture in the 20th century. In 1955, Ford made a small car. Crude by today's standards, it was a revelation in modernity and sophistication by the contemporary standards. In 1959, a second-generation Anglia appeared, this time inspired by American styling, including the famous reverse slope rear glass, first shown on the giant Stateside Mercury Monterey.

The first Escort combined elements of American and European car culture. It had the Coke bottle curve, that rising hipline that was a characteristic of American sports cars of the Sixties; it was the first British car with a full range of metallic paint options (including an alarming green), but it also had European compactness and intelligence. Technically unadventurous, but cleverly designed, the Escort offered standards of comfort and dynamics and economy that were unusual: just like the Anglia.

The second-generation Escort replaced the curves of the first with more razor-edged styling, and a new front-wheel drive version, with superb styling by Uwe "Sierra" Bahnsen, appeared in 1981. This evolved into a fourth-generation car of no great distinction, revived half-way through its life with a radical redesign which made it the best Escort yet. This is the car that died yesterday at the Halewood plant on Merseyside.

Thirty months ago, Ford revealed the Focus at Geneva. Here was a radical new product with astonishing styling and driving characteristics to shame BMW, an international Ford, not an Essex one. The Escort was kept in production to appease British taste, but market realities have overwhelmed sentiment. Certainly, driving schools, teenage romantics and by-pass hot heads will keep the Escort memory and reality alive, but its passing means more than the loss of a British symbol.

The demise of the Escort signals the end of the middle market. Future cars will be basic, or special. The Ford Escort was the ordinary thing done extraordinarily well. It is a closed book, but one that was deservedly very well-thumbed.

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