After a few years in the conceptual doldrums, this rare modified Escort Mk4 estate emerged kicking and screaming in 2022.

The Mk4 Escort estate is one of those little-lamented footnotes of Ford history that ultimately went the same way as early base-spec Mondeos and Mk3 Fiestas: cars that were once ubiquitous, that you’d see on every street corner, but their everyday presence meant few people thought they were special or worth saving, and thus they all evaporated into the scrapyard in the sky.

But the Mk4 estate was a splendid entity; taking all the charm of the hatchback and infusing proper practicality (the rear bench folds basically flat, so you can sleep in there after parties out in the countryside), they were always cars with stories to tell.

Front on shot of modified escort mk4 estate

Danny Lateu is a man who keenly appreciates this, as his long-roof vision in blue demonstrates. And what’s particularly interesting about this car is that it ably ticks a box that Ford never did. There was never a sporting variant of the Mk4 Escort wagon; sure, it was popular in period to swap RS Turbo running gear into vans and this sometimes crossed over to estates too, but in factory form the hottest one you could get was a 1.6 GL with a so-so 89bhp.

And this modified Escort Mk4 estate? When it left the showroom in 1990 as a humble 1.3, it was packing somewhere closer to 60bhp or thereabouts. The skins of any nearby rice puddings remained untroubled.

cobra seats in modified escort mk4 estate

But fortunately for this impressively solid survivor, fate had interesting plans for its future. Having weathered the decades admirably and stolidly carved its way into the modern era, upgrades were afoot to ensure that the Escort could be enjoyed in a 2020s context while still retaining all of that retro 1990s’ charm.

Danny says, “I found the car for sale on Facebook in September 2021. I bought it with the intention of running it as a support vehicle alongside my valeting and detailing business, but when I went to view it I immediately realised that it was far too clean to use for that, and I should just keep the car for myself.”

driving shot of modified escort mk4 estate

Fair enough, really, as the exterior condition you see today is near-enough what Danny saw when he travelled down to east Kent to take a peek: the banded steels were fitted, the stance taken care of courtesy of some shorter and stiffer springs, and the period accessory front bumper spoiler/lip was proudly beefing up the nose.

The original 1300 motor was still in situ, and Danny wasted no time in striking the deal, hopping in, cruising down to the OhSoRetro show in Margate, then heading back home to Bognor. The Escort never missed a beat and, with just 53,000 miles on the clock, it was barely even run in.

ST170 engine in escort estate

But the motor wasn’t destined to last. It was time to set about a full heart-and-lungs transplant.

He says, “With the original 1.3 engine and four-speed ’box, you really knew when you were doing 70mph. The Zetec engine fits well in the hole, and is very tuneable.”

Now, the eagle-eyed will have spotted that the motor actually says ‘Duratec’ on the cam cover, but that was a little quirk of marketing on Ford’s part; you see, this is an ST170 engine, plucked from the brawny Mk1 Focus that’s edging its way into becoming a modern classic (but is still sufficiently abundant that some can be harvested for their motors without anybody crying).

Branded a Duratec-ST, it’s really a Zetec-R, the factory spec packing a high-flow aluminium head with bigger valves and stiffer springs, along with higher-lift cams, continuously-variable intake valve timing, high-compression pistons and forged rods, plus dual-state intake with long runners for low-end torque and short ones for peak power. This made for some entertaining performance in its native Focus, so naturally in the markedly lighter modified Escort Mk4 estate it’s a recipe for hilarity.

Interior on escort mk4 estate

When it came to sourcing the engine, it was social media that came to the rescue: an Instagram user by the name of @rstaz28 – or, to his mates, Taron Reeves – is a dyed-in-the-wool Ford enthusiast, old-school tuner, and someone with a lot of experience in sourcing and fitting ST170 engines into older Fords.

Given the massive percentage power increase over the car’s original unit, Danny’s opted to keep the ST170 in a fairly standard state of tune: with a VVT delete, four-branch manifold, and an EFi flywheel and clutch running to an IB5 five-speed, the most significant upgrade is the set of juicy bike carbs sitting on an alloy inlet. With this setup running sweetly, he estimates it’s putting out around 190bhp, which does the job very nicely indeed.

boot audio build in escort

Motive power, then, was evidently a high priority for Danny. But there was something even more pressing that he was keen to turn his hand to upon acquiring the car, and it may surprise you: “The interior needed upgrading,” he explains, and given the overall originality of the car, coupled with the enduring Nineties feel throughout, this takes a little unpicking.

He continues: “The seats were mint, but I had to have something a little better. Recaros are silly money, so I decided to buy a pair of Cobra Retros, and get the door cards retrimmed to match.”

steel wheels on escort estate

They certainly do a lot to amp up the aura of the cabin, along with a well-chosen four-spoke RS wheel – and speaking of amping things up, take a look in the back of the car. Something’s entertainingly amiss here.

The natural state of an estate, of course, is to be lugging loads. There comes a point in many people’s lives when the urge to buy an estate becomes overwhelming; ‘It’ll be ever so practical’, you tell yourself. ‘I can use it to take hedge-clippings to the tip, it’ll easily swallow the kids’ pushchairs…’ And before you know it, you’ve joined the beige Volvo set.

But Danny’s cargo is rather more conceptual than white goods or stray leaves: he’s carrying vibes and decibels. Tearing out the back seats and re-imagining the architecture of the boot, Sextons Audio of Portsmouth was charged with the task of making musical magic, and the results are impressive. The Blaupunkt head unit runs to a rorty Audison amp, 6x9s and a punchy sub.

“It’s subtle, but loud,” Danny assures us.

escort door mirros

That element of the modified Escort Mk4 estate is all very much in-keeping with the 1990s’ ethos. After all, what cruise would have been complete without somebody turning up in their mum’s Escort estate with a set of living room Wharfedales plonked in the boot?

What Danny’s done is to take that practice, refine it, and refract it through a modern filter. He’s done not with it yet, either.

rear 3/4 shot of modified escort mk4 estate

He says, “The brakes need upgrading, and all the bushes are tired. In fact, I intend on doing a full rebuild in a couple of years’ time. It needs some minor rust repairs. And the suspension sits right, but it’s damn hard.”

Sounds like he’s got his work cut out, doesn’t it? But that’s all part of the fun. If something’s worth saving, then it’s worth doing properly. And the more effort Danny puts in, the more special and desirable his once-mundane wagon becomes.

Feature from Fast Ford magazine. Photos: Jason Dodd.

Tech Spec: Modified Escort Mk4 Estate


ST170 1989cc 16v Duratec-ST, VVT delete, four-branch manifold and custom exhaust system, alloy inlet with motorbike carbs, XR3i radiator, low-pressure lift pump, stand-alone relayed loom, electronic ignition system


190bhp (owner’s estimate)


IB5 five-speed manual, EFi clutch and flywheel


Lowered and uprated springs, stock shocks


Original Escort estate

Wheels & Tyres:

Banded 15in Escort steels,  with 195/50×15 tyres


Stock estate spec, window tints, period accessory front spoiler/lip


Cobra Retro seats, door cards retrimmed to match, RS four-spoke steering wheel, Blaupunkt head unit, custom boot build/ rear seat delete with Audison amp, 6x9s and subwoofer