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An abandoned project by Ford’s legendary AVO department, the Mexico Estate was the performance wagon that never was — only this one is here to tell the tale.

mexico estate

Mention the words Escort and Mexico together and for most Ford fans, that’s enough to set the juices flowing. After all, the ’70s Escort Mexico has now reached legendary status. In fact, it would be fair to say, its stood quite rightly in that lofty position for quite some time! Add the word ‘estate’ into the mix and you’d receive some puzzled looks.

We’ve all come across the Mk1 and Mk2 saloons, but comparatively few people know about the handful of Mk1 Estates built by Ford’s Advanced Vehicle Operations (AVO) in 1972. Sadly, the timing of these sporting loadluggers was far from ideal as the early ’70s fuel crisis was ready to go into full swing and the plug was pulled after just three examples were built for evaluation purposes. 

Long time Mk1 Mex fan, Robert Walker happens to be the lucky owner of arguably the most sympathetically restored example of the three AVO estates all of which somehow have managed to survive. 

mexico estate

Different league

“I’ve always liked the Mk1 Mexico ever since I took a customer’s car out for a test drive back when I worked at a local garage in 1974,” Robert smiles, “I just loved the performance and handling, it was in a different league to other cars around at the time.” 

Shortly after this all too brief experience, Robert pulled out the stops and bought himself a one-year-old Daytona Yellow Mk1 Mexico with just 1400 miles on the clock. “It cost £1150, my wife Audrey thought I was mad buying a bright yellow car!” Incredibly Robert still owns that same car today, totally original and unrestored; you could say he’s just looked after it well! It’s been no weekend toy or trailer queen either, it’s seen regular use and he’s clocked up another 200,000 miles in it over the past 42 years! “I did look at buying an RS1800 around 1978, but I felt it didn’t drive as well as the Mexico so I just left it,” Robert adds.

As we slowly begin to pick ourselves up from the floor, Robert continues to tell us about his passion for autojumbles. Since the ’70s his regular jaunts to these useful events scattered throughout the UK have managed to yield enough spares to rebuild a fleet of Mk1 Mexicos, most of these parts often found and bought for bargain prices, although he does admit he’s be struggling to find a mint front panel or a headlight bowl for £10 today!

mexico estate

Discovery channelled

In 1996 Robert discovered via a fellow AVO Owners’ Club member the one of the three Mexico estates may be coming up for sale. “I had to ask six or seven times for the phone number of John Arthur Hitchins, a Ford designer who’d owned YNO 14L since it was four years old,” Robert explains. “He’d bought it from the original owner, Rod Mansfield’s sister, Hilary who’d driven the first 40,000 miles and John had covered a further 60,000.”

The estate had been laid up inside since the late ’80s before being relegated to sit under a tarpaulin outside for a further year. “It was in a sorry state when I viewed it, but it hadn’t been messed with,” Robert continues. “The asking price of £800 seemed fair, too.”

 Once home, Robert began stripping the shell and started to work out which parts he’d need, though in contrast to the majority of restoration projects, he’d already amassed a huge collection of Mk1 parts that would soon come in very useful!

 “I’d restored a few Minis before, but nothing on this scale!” Robert remembers. “The first major part I bought was a complete rear quarter panel from an autojumble. I’d turned up in a Mk1 Fiesta so I had to buy a roofrack there too, just to get the panel home!”

Most other panels were also sourced from autojumbles, the doors coming from a Mk2 estate, Robert needing to relocate the hinges to fit the older but similar Mk1 shell. Robert found two Mexico wings for £60 (this was the ’90s remember!) then had a stroke of luck as a local base model Mk1 Estate owner got wind of the Mex project and offered his complete car as a source of spares. “The registration was TOY 1N, it came in handy for the sills and various other parts,” Robert adds. 

mexico estate

Type approval

Like its saloon sister, the Robert’s Mexico estate is based around a Type 49 shell so all the extra strengthening in the usual places would be familiar to Mexico saloon owners. “The chassis is identical to my saloon, other than the back 2.5 inches,” Robert points out.

The bodyshell, once restored entirely by Robert, was then despatched to Shaun Mess Heder where it was repainted in original Daytona Yellow. 

“The vinyl roof was cut to size and fitted in two hours by a very talented Don Barr of Hull,” Robert adds.

To retain as much originality as possible, the factory-fitted 1600cc engine was also rebuilt and rebored again by Robert and treated to new pistons, timing chain, cam and fitted with an unleaded head. The interior had stood up well to the ravages of time and once cleaned up could be refitted. Only the carpets had to be sourced, these coming from the donor estate. 

The whole resto process took a lengthy 16 years, but considering the condition of the estate in 1996 and Robert’s meticulous attention to detail, we’re surprised it didn’t take longer! 

Had the fuel crisis not occurred in 1973, maybe the Mexico estate would have entered production, but the rarity of Robert’s fast load lugger makes his example even more special.  

Words and Photos Jon Cass

Read the full story behind the Mk1 Mexico Estate in the August 2016 issue

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