Hemmings Motor News Blog Blog

Hemmings Motor News Blog

Hemmings Motor News has been around since 1954. We're proud of our heritage, but we're also more than the Hemmings full of classifieds that your father subscribed to. Aside from new editorial content every month in Hemmings, we have three monthly magazines: Hemmings Muscle Machines, Hemmings Classic Car and Hemmings Sports and Exotic Car.

While our editors traverse the country to find the best content for those magazines, we find other oddities related to the old-car hobby that we really had no place for - until now. With this blog, we're giving you a behind-the-scenes look at what we see and what we do during the course of putting out some of the finest automotive magazines you'll ever read.

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The Entirely True Fairy-Tale of Princess Diana and the $850,000 Ford Escort

Posted September 05, 2022 5:00 AM by dstrohl
Pathfinder Tags: Ford Escort

A quarter-century has now passed since Lady/Princess Diana met her grisly fate in a Parisian tunnel, but her legend worldwide has only grown with time. The latest proof? Her Ford Escort just sold for £650,000. The inevitable 12% buyers premium from Silverstone Auctions raised the eventual sale price to £730,000; the dollar-pound relationship is not what it once was, so that works out to $854,000 and some change. A year or two ago, that would have been north of a million bucks. For a Ford Escort.

Now, Americans remember the Ford Escort (that is, if they remember the Escort at all) as the subcompact front-wheel-drive savior that would take America away from the hoary old Pinto, which was then in the midst of a PR disaster. Escort launched here in the fall of 1980 and would last for two decades in various iterations. Hot versions would come, with turbochargers and the like, but mostly the Escort was seen as a dull-but-worthy economy car. Ten grand will buy you three of the nicest low-mileage mid-Eighties Escorts in North America.

But Ford’s Escort was viewed very differently in Europe and elsewhere. The nameplate had been around since 1968, and for a dozen years that rear-wheel-drive version was one of Ford’s most popular cars outside of the States. Hot models built in the late 1970s capitalized on Ford’s success in World Rally (including the world championship in 1979) with a line of breathed-on models used to help homologate the race cars. So when the front-wheel-drive Escort Mark III arrived in Europe in the fall of 1980, buyers expected a full range of models, from plebeian to performance-oriented.

Oh, of course there were five-door grandma-spec models on skinny steel wheels (like the one that Prince Charles gave Diana as a wedding gift in 1981), but almost from the get-go there were performance spec versions to compete with VW’s class-leading GTi. Early versions of the hot Escort were called XR3, borrowing from Mercury’s Cougar nomenclature, but by 1985 the range-topper was the Escort RS, powered by a 130hp turbocharged 1.6-liter two-valve SOHC Four. Inside, Recaro chairs cosseted the driver. Weighing just over a ton and being a high-spec version towards the bottom of Ford’s range, it was the sort of cheap-thrills ride that spoke to boost-crazed yoofs ... and apparently the Princess, who wanted a convertible but was over-ruled by her security detail, SO14 (the Royalty Protection Command).

Her Escort was a bit custom, but nothing outrageously out of the ordinary. As the original Series 1 RS models were nearly all white as part of its signature look, Diana’s special black-painted variant was a custom job to help the her appear slightly stealthier - as if the swarm of paparazzi surrounding her at all times allowed her any any anonymity when she popped down to the shops in Chelsea and Kensington. Also, the sporty three-slat RS grille was swapped out for a five-slat face from a lower-line Escort. As if anyone could see the grille behind those enormous fog lamps. (The air dam, hatch spoiler and fat alloy wheels remained.) She returned it to Ford after nearly three years, having put just 6,800 miles on it. Its odometer read less than 25,000 miles at the time Silverstone Auctions ran it across the block this past weekend.

But absolutely none of the technical stuff or history or paint color really matters. What matters is that Series I Escort RS Turbos, made only in 1985 and 1986, are rarely seen for less than £20,000 ($23,400 at press time); lower-mileage versions with clean logbooks can fetch twice that. Which means that somebody ponied up £600,000 ($702,000 and change) beyond the value of a comparable car to get a piece of royal history into their collection. As Silverstone's classic car specialist Arwel Richards told the BBC, "This car was known as the 'people's sports car' and the fact it was driven by the People's Princess just nails it."


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