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When John Anderson and his dad saw this restored 1969 Mk1 Escort van it was love at first sight — but that didn’t stop them embarking on a rebuild to make it even better.

mk1 escort van

When you spend all day selling vans like John Anderson and his Dad (also named John), it’s easy to become a bit blasé about them. It takes something special to get them excited — something like this mint-condition, 1969 Escort van. “We’re part of Orbitkey Vans in Oxfordshire selling commercial vehicles,” explains John. “One day a chap called William Stevens came in looking to buy a Transit Connect and he happened to be driving this Mk1 Escort van. Dad had one just like it when he was younger; we both fell in love with the van and bought it virtually on the spot.”

William had partially restored the van over the previous year. “He’d repainted the exterior and interior although not underneath. We drove it around for a bit for fun, just on sunny weekends, but then I went to the Ford show at Gaydon. There were all these stunning concours vehicles with mirrors underneath showing off their perfect paint and I decided our van had to look just as nice. And I’m a bit of a perfectionist. When we started the van I was 16 years old and planned to take it to shows once I’d passed my test, I hadn’t imagined I’d be 23 before we’d finished…”

“First we shotblasted the underside to get all the old underseal off,” continues John. “The blaster was reluctant to do it since he’d done old Fords before and worried there might not be much left of the old metal — it might be better to leave it as it was. Fortunately, it came out looking like new, it had never been welded and the metal underneath was all but perfect.

“Then when I took it to the painter he asked if he should do the whole top as well as the underneath. I hadn’t expected that but, as he explained, it’s far easier to do the entire shell in one go than try to match existing paint. So we completely stripped it and he painted the whole van in two-pack Ermine White. It’s easy to work on, but even so we didn’t plan to do quite so much to it.” 

Hand cleaner

“Once stripped we painted everything from big stuff like the axles, down to all the original bolts. It took me weeks to cleaning those bolts by hand, but they’re all the original FoMoCo stamped ones and it had to remain original. I had the bolts rust-treated before putting them back in. The idea was to get the underside gleaming like a mirror.” Mechanically, the van was excellent having already been restored, coincidentally, by William and his Dad. “All we did was check the seals on the engine,” remembers John, “since it all looked great to start with.”

mk1 escort van

The interior didn’t need a thing doing either. “Every time we see any van the load area is always scratched and dented, or otherwise the first thing anyone does is put wooden boards all across the back. This Escort has never had a single hole drilled in the rear.” That alone makes it a rarity. According to William, he’d bought it in Nottingham and it was previously used as a florist’s van, hence never having anything heavy loaded in the rear.

The original seats and the dashboard were in equally great shape. “William’s father always kept a leather chamois above the sunvisor to wipe the windows and it has sentimental value as it’s always been there, so I kept it there as part of the van. He also told me about a tiny mark on the passenger seat. While they were fitting the windscreen late one evening his Dad was holding the lead light but he rested it on the base of the seat making a small imperfection in the seat from the heat of the bulb. I kept that too as part of the character of his and his Dad’s build.” John has MoTs going back to 1985 and 64,000 miles, and the original logbook as well as a detailed diary from a previous owner, all of which verify the 72,000 miles now showing on the clock as original.

“One item we did have to find was the starting handle.” Yes, when these vans were built they actually came with a handle to hand crank the engine. “That was the only piece that was missing and we searched everywhere for the right handle,” remembers John. “Then we met a local lad called Bob who had a Mk1 Escort van as his daily driver, he reckoned he might have a handle then two weeks later he turned up and gifted us the handle as encouragement to finish our van. We’d been searching the entire country and, thanks to Bob’s kindness, found one 10 miles from home.”

Wider load

Naturally, the plan was to keep everything as original as possible, but there’s one obvious exception, those slightly wider wheels. “They were on the van when we collected it from William. He had the original wheels so I asked him to pop them in the back, but he said, ‘if you put those wheels in there I’m not selling you the van,’ he wasn’t going to let us scratch the paint by putting anything in there. We still haven’t got around to collecting the wheels, and he’s only up the road… 

“We didn’t have a timeframe to get it done, we were enjoying working on it and if we’d started to put time limits on things it would have become too much like work. It was a hobby because we were both having fun. Dad loves it as much as I do. We’ve always owned vans but this is the only one I’ve ever made him promise we’ll keep for ourselves. 

“I didn’t realise just what a following these old Escorts have,” admits John. “Obviously, the vans, especially the base models like this, are now rare because no-one ever thought to save them. But this one is especially rare because it hasn’t been messed with at all and it’s still the original engine. That’s what stopped us from signwriting it. I wanted it just like it left the factory and any writing would distract from that.”

mk1 escort van

“In the future we’ll only use it for car shows. Dad and my Uncle have a 1966 D-series truck just like their father owned that we can load the van on the back of. The Escort drives faultlessly but it’s really too nice to use now. 

“I can truthfully say it’s as nice as any I’ve seen and of course it was good before we even got to it. To be honest with all the effort we put in to this we should have probably done something far more valuable like a Cosworth! This was my first go at a restoration and I’m not sure I’d do it again because I’d want to better this one and I just don’t know how we’d do that. That said, if an early Transit came along I might be tempted!” 

Words Mike Renaut

Photos Oliver Brookwell

See more photos and get the full story behind this Mk1 Escort van in the December issue

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