On the 16 September 1998, The Union Jack dress worn by the Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, sold at Sotheby’s for £41,320, an astonishing sum for a piece of contemporary pop memorabilia. Whilst this momentous event had stolen the world’s attention a smaller, yet no less significant event had occurred. There has been much love for the Original Ford Escort since the first Mk1 was launched way back in 1968. Legions of Fans of the blue oval watched with interest as the Escort took on all comers on the roads of the UK and the tarmac and dirt tracks of the World, becoming successful in most forms of Motorsport as well as introducing Britain’s family man to perhaps the first genuine family car.
By 1998 however, the Escort name was in the doldrums as a succession of underwhelming cars bearing the famous Escort name were released to an unimpressed general public, it’s reputation tarnished forever. In the dark recesses of a (probably) non-descript office in Dagenham a staggering decision had already been made, one that even got onto the BBC news at the time. It was necessary to retire the Escort name. It was September 1998. We were introduced to the Focus. The World was amazed. Essex nearly collapsed in excitement. Lightning had struck twice. A revolution in family motoring had occurred.
The Focus was seen as being nothing short of amazing when it was launched, offering a cracking blend of comfort, equipment and handling. As with the original Escort all those years ago, the First Focus was a fantastic all rounder, happy to complete any task that it found itself to be up against and able to complete the task with aplomb. The Focus was available from the start in a variety of body styles including both three and five door models, an estate, saloon and with a vast array of trim levels, engines and power outputs. There really was a Focus to suit everyone and their pocket with prices back in 1998 ranging from £9,993 – £17,000. The car sold extremely well all over the world and received it’s inevitable mid life update in 2001, an update that was both comprehensive and wide ranging and included changes such as: Revised headlamps with integrated indicators and separate main and dipped bulbs. Revised bumpers without indicators, but with the addition of removable bump strips. Revised upper and lower grille and fog lights. Optional Xenon headlights. Optional 6-disc CD changer. Optional Navigation System. Optional Digital Climate Control. Features of certain trim levels changed. Modified centre console with rubber cup holders. Different centre dash colours. New seat trims. Different instrument cluster finishes. Damped and lit glovebox. New colours. Rear power point. TDCi Engine introduced to the range and a Versatility Pack Option added. It is a Mk1.5 that I have been spending some time with over the past few weeks and one which I intend to share with you over the next few thousand words, and blog posts.
The question that keeps popping up in my mind is whether or not it is fair to expect a 85000 mile, 04, 1.6 Ford Focus Zetec to behave like a much, much newer and more expensive car? With prices for early cars ranging from approximately £300 to £2000 even the most budget conscious driver can once again find a Focus to suit any pocket.
Ford’s famed ‘New Edge’ styling delivered a family sized hatchback with a truly unique look when compared with its immediate rivals from Vauxhall, Volkswagen and the like. Its sharp lines and creases breaking new ground, giving the impression that Ford was looking to the future for inspiration rather than the past like so many others at that time. The Mk1.5, 04, 1.6 Ford Focus Zetec that you see in the pictures above and below is still a strikingly fresh looking automobile even today, some 14 years later. I particularly like the way that the rear lights are at eye level rather than lower down on the tailgate so that the following traffic can see them easily and the creases in the bonnet that allow the driver to see where the front of the car is while parking. Even Auto Express readers voted the Ford Focus MkI as their top car of the past 25 years in their countdown in the 25th anniversary edition of the magazine.
I’ve decided to start the test by giving the Focus a trip back to the spiritual UK home of the old Ford Escort. It’s Essex and back in a day. A journey that should include town driving, traffic, motorways, the A1 and finishing off with a drive through the historic market town of Chipping Ongar before turning around and heading back on up to West Yorkshire.
Where would you go?