By Nancy Leasman
When Brent Lenz bought his 1994 Ford Escort he just wanted a dependable car to get back and forth to work at his electronics repair shop in downtown Long Prairie. He didn’t expect it would endure for 635,000 miles.
Brent’s new wheels only had 28 miles of road time when he bought it from a car dealership in St. Cloud. In the ensuing years, he gave the little car above average care and maintenance and it rewarded him. The car’s demise came in a most unexpected way and like a phoenix, it has risen from the ashes of demolition.
Brent paid $14,000 for the four-door hatchback, or you might call it a five-door station wagon, or a four-door with a lift gate. It doesn’t really matter what you call it, but it certainly was dependable.
According to Wikipedia, “The first North American Escort went on sale on October 3, 1980 for the 1981 model year, along with its corporate twin, the Mercury Lynx. It was intended to share common components with the European Mk III Escort. It was launched with a 65 hp, 1.6-liter hemi overhead cam inline-four. It was available as a three-door hatchback and as a five-door station wagon, with a four-speed manual or a three-speed automatic. The five-door hatchback was first shown in May 1981.
“The car was freshened in 1982, and added Ford’s blue oval logo for the first time along with a new grille. For 1982 models, the base price of the Escort 3-door was $5,518. The engine was also uprated to 70 hp (52 kW).
Brent’s car is from what was considered the second generation of Escorts, rated at 89 hp with a 1.9 liter engine. It was an automatic, Cayman green with the blue Ford oval logo and no fancy stripes. “I liked the outback of that time with silver on the wheel wells. I like to say that this car was a poor man’s outback with silver rims and grayed out trim,” Brent said.
Brent babied his car and the miles added up with the short drives to his shop and longer drives to do repairs in peoples’ homes. Driving the car for 25 years meant he averaged just over 25,000 miles per year. He changed the oil on time and handled the maintenance “religiously.”
After four years Brent added a moon roof. “It took about 12 hours to put the moon roof in. I loved driving at night under the stars. I could also open it for air circulation without the drag of having windows open.”
Brent replaced the brakes, struts, and rear springs. The weight of his tools and the fact that he pulled a camper added extra wear. At 112,000 miles the valve seat let loose and he put in a rebuilt head. The car required no transmission work whatsoever until it reached the 625,000 mile mark.
Then, in the summer of 2019, the trajectory of Brent’s car ownership changed. An escapee from the local jail robbed the liquor store and took a few things from unlocked vehicles around town. It was about 4:20 in the afternoon. Brent had stopped at his repair shop between calls and left the car running since he was only going inside for a minute. When he came out he saw someone in his car. He grabbed the driver side door handle but the door was locked. The guy put the car in gear, moving forward and spinning Brent around, causing him to fall to the ground.
“I was in shock, lost my breath and couldn’t even think straight.” When he got himself pulled together, gingerly testing the wrist and shoulder which had absorbed the fall, he called the police.
Brent learned only two or three hours later what happened to his stalwart little Escort. The thief drove the car through low land, gathering up willow refuse in the undercarriage, damaging the quarter panel, exhaust system, control arm on the passenger side, a rear wheel, and pushing in the front which destroyed the bumper cover and the cooling fan. The car was found in a community about 40 miles away where it had been abandoned. The car was considered to be totaled. It was still drivable but limped along like an old soldier.
Brent was astonished when he heard what happened to his car but just as anguished by the fact that his work tools, valued at over $3,000, were in the car when it was stolen. They weren’t in the car when the police found it and have never been recovered.
Brent is a loyal soul. His Ford Escort had been good to him, so he went online looking for a similar vehicle. He found a 1998 Escort, roughly the same color and it had only 87,000 miles on it. “It didn’t have any rust at all. You can tell by looking in the doors whether a car has had rust work done. Nothing had been done to this one. And the interior was pristine.” The car was in Washington state.
Spending $1,200 to have the car trailered to Minnesota seemed like a fair deal, added on to the $4,900 purchase price.
Over the next months Brent spent moments prepping and painting the “new” car to look like the old one. He couldn’t transfer the 635,000 miles but instead likes to think this one has another 500,000 to go. He’s gotten 38 miles per gallon in summer driving.
Brent still hopes to get his original Escort back in running order so it can be his back up auto. He also really misses the moon roof.
There must be a country song somewhere in the saga of Brent’s car. He may have to write it, and if he does he can certainly sing it. When he isn’t fixing appliances and electronics, he and friend Robbin Gust sing together. “Nearly every day,” he said.
This duo has performed for local events and competed at the local county fair’s talent show, advancing to the Minnesota State Fair in 2019. Since the pandemic they’ve had a special project of bringing music videos to the people via Robbin’s Facebook page at facebook.com/robbins.nest.75.
Each also does solo work. Brent croons like Sinatra, hits the vocal range and high notes like Jay Black (Cara Mia) https://www.facebook.com/robbins.nest.75/videos/269407161112497/ and shakes ‘em up like Elvis. Maybe he can do a remake of The Little Nash Rambler by the Playmates and call it The Little Ford Escort.