Ford imports subcompact savvy for '81s

Imported technology, not imported parts, will make the 1981 subcompact Ford Escort and Mercury Lynx the Ford Motor Company's first "world cars." The two new nameplates will be introduced in the fall to replace the aging Ford Pinto and Mercury Bobcat. At the same time a British version of the Escort will be built in Wales.

The North American versions of the two "world cars" will have 95 percent North American parts, although the design and engineering contains Ford technology from several nations.

The new car -- code-named Erika during its development -- exploits Ford of Europe's experience with small engines. Ford of Germany, well-versed in building durable engines of European buyers, was assigned the basic engine design. Ford of Britain did performance development and other engine-systems engineering. an engineering task force from Ford's North American automobile headquarters helped to bring it all together.

The heads-across-the-sea planners occasionally held meetings in several languages and the program was completed in two years, 16 months ahead of the normal new-engine- development schedule.

The international team had the advantage of starting from an engine-design concept by the Ford research staff which devised a way to "map" engine behavior by computer.

Although the research starting point was a review of basic combustion principles, the final design called for a familiar combustion- chamber shape -- the hemisphere. Ford used hemi-head engines quite successfully in its racing machines of the mid-1960s.

For the engineering-oriented, the new CVH (compound valve hemi) engine uses sharply angled valves and a single belt-driven overhead camshaft. The engine will be available in displacements of 1.3 and 1.6 liters, both with two-barrel carburetors.

Unlike European engines, however, the new power plants will have the hydraulic valve lifters favored by American engineers (and drivers, for that matter) for quiet operation and reduced upkeep.

Like the engine, the Ford Escort suspension system also shows European influence. Front suspension is pure McPherson strut. In the Escort/Lynx application, its serviceability is improved by bolting, not welding, the steering knuckle to the strut.

Escort/Lynx handling will be improved by fully independent rear suspension, a rarity even on larger and more expensive cars. The system uses European-style coil springs forged from wire that is ground to size for superior uniformity and durability.

The new front-wheel-drive car will have an American-style automatic transmission of all-new design. A patented "splitter" gear system bypasses the torque converter in high gear to reduce slippage and save fuel.

The new automatic transaxle, available only with the 1.6-liter engine, will be built in Ford's new $500 million plant at Batavia, Ohio.

The four-speed manual counterpart of the new automatic transmission will be built by Ford's Japanese partner, Toyo Kogyo, which manufactures its cars under the Mazda nameplate.

Although the North American and British versions of the Erika-project car share many parts, they are not identical cars, by any means.

The differences are attributable to a European preference for no-speed-limit driving, plus the tough US regulations on safety and emissions, compounded by differences in manufacturing capability between the two countries. For instance , the British Escort will have lighter, less-wind-resistant bumpers than the North American car. British cars also have no power-consuming air pump for emissions control.

The British engine block will come from the old Thames Foundry where a complex four-core casting system must be used. The newer US foundry uses a single-core method.

Many of the parts of the British Ford Escort will be shipped to Britain from plants in Canada and the US but the number has not yet been determined.

In a sense, those parts will be merely coming home.

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