Junkyard Gem: 1988 Ford Escort Pony Hatchback

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Back in the 1970s, when the Pinto was the cheapest American-built car Ford sold here (the even more affordable Fiesta was built in Europe), it seemed like a good idea to create a Pinto trim package that shaved a few additional bucks off the sticker price. That was the Pinto Pony, introduced for the 1977 model year, and the horse-themed name made a lot of sense on a car itself named for an equine coat pattern. When the Escort replaced the Pinto starting with the 1981 model year, the cheapest versions didn't get a clever name at first. Starting in 1986, though, Ford revived the old Pony name for the Escort (despite the lack of any horsiness in that car's image). Here's one of those least-expensive Escorts, found in a Colorado self-service yard.

The Escort Pony for 1988 listed at a mere $6,586 (that's about $16,865 in 2022 dollars), which was 363 bucks cheaper than the Escort GL hatchback that year. You could get a more affordable new Ford that year, but your only choice for that was the microscopic, Mazda-built Festiva at $5,490 (sorry, pickup fans, the very cheapest '88 Ranger was $6,793).

While Ford bragged that the Pinto Pony came with carpeting as standard equipment, the Escort Pony had a fairly decent list of amenities. The base Escort Pony transmission was an old-timey four-on-the-floor manual, but the original buyer of this one spent an extra 76 bucks ($195 now) for a five-speed manual. If you wanted an automatic, the price tag was a sobering $490 ($1,255 today).

What you didn't get as standard equipment on the '88 Pony was a passenger-side outside mirror.

You must figure that anyone too cheap to pay a few bucks for that mirror sure wasn't going to pony up an additional $688 ($1,760 in 2022 bucks) for air conditioning, and you'd be correct about that. How's this rig for simple heater/vent controls?

The '88 Pony got this 1.9-liter four-cylinder for motivation, rated at 90 horsepower. The hot-rod Escort GT got a hopped-up version with 115 horses, but you couldn't get that engine factory-installed in the lightweight Pony.

This car got some truck-stop seat covers to snazz it up a bit with a Gambling Zombie Jester theme.

Leechpit has been keeping Colorado Springs lame for years.

Ford stuck with the original quasi-European-derived Escort (it wasn't very similar to the European Escort, but its genes made it close enough to be considered a cousin) through the 1990 model year, after which the Escort went onto a Mazda platform and became sibling to the Mazda 323 and Protegé.

If you wanted a 1988 Escort with A/C, automatic, AM/FM stereo, and so on, you had to pay a lot more (though there were cash-back deals).

It appears that Ford didn't bother with much television advertising for the Pony. In 1988, the cheapest new car Americans could buy was the wretched Yugo GV ($4,199, or about $10,750 now), followed by the Hyundai Excel and its badge-engineered Mitsubishi Precis twin ($5,295 or $13,560 today), the aforementioned Ford Fiesta, the Chevrolet Sprint ($5,495/$14,070), the Subaru Justy ($5,556/$14,225), the Toyota Tercel EZ ($5,948/$15,230), the Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon ($5,995/$15,350), and the Mazda 323 ($5,999/$15,360). By those standards, the Escort Pony gave you a pretty good helping of car for the money … though I think I'd have chosen the spartan-but-reliable Tercel EZ from that list if I went back in time with orders to get the best super-cheap 1988 new car.

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