Ford Laser KA
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3
Ford's long serving rear-wheel-drive Escort was due for replacement both here in Australia and in Europe. Through various model updates and styling changes the Escort was able to stay in service far longer than its mechanical specifications suggested it should, although the smallest of the Ford’s always had a huge allegiance of fans, and we are sure many will take us to task on making this claim.
Unfortunately for Ford their corporate “World Car” plan for a new front wheel drive
vehicle was a little less coherent than much of the opposition. For the European market, Ford chose the European designed Erika/Escort, while Ford Asia/Pacific (including Australia) decided on a little badge re-engineering, the all new Laser being derived from the Mazda 323.
To further complicate matters, the Australian Laser was initially powered by the Mazda engines, however these were replaced in mid 1982
with the European designed but Australian-built CVH motor. The American market got the European variant, albeit with a styling revamp and marketed under the Escort/Lynx name plate.
Mechanically, the Laser in its initial form was identical to the 323. A transversely mounted 1.3 or 1.5 litre engine drove the front wheels through either a standard four speed manual transmission
or optional five speed manual or three-speed automatic.
Mazda’s 323 had already garnered a stellar reputation for its road-holding, and so the Laser too benefited from four-wheel independent strut suspension
that was tuned for precise road-holding while still affording ride and comfort levels superior to just about any other short wheelbase vehicles then on the market.
Ford initially started out offering the 1.3 litre car in three and five-door hatchback configurations mated to either a four-speed manual or three-speed auto transmission
. The larger engines were offered with the same body configurations but with the added five-speed gearbox option for the up-market “Ghia” model.
Replacing the Escort RS2000
was always going to be a big ask, but there was a need for a Laser to at least try to carry forward with the tradition. Based loosely on the sporty three-door European SR3 model, the Laser Sport offered improved seating, complete instrumentation, revised rear quarter glass styling, a revised suspension
setting, alloy road wheels and wider radial tyres. Unfortunately nothing was done to the engine.
Ford were naturally unsure of the market's acceptance of a vehicle that would be so obviously “non-Ford”. 'To help disguise its origins, the Laser received a completely new front-end styling, glass treatment, and interior and exterior paintwork. Assembled at Ford's Homebush plant from knock-down kits imported from Japan, it didn’t need to worry, the Laser quickly finding favor with those loyal to the blue oval but wanting a small economical 4 cylinder car.
And while Mazda
, under the quota system, were able to import only 12,000 units, Ford at the same time were able to manufacture and market up to 30,000 Laser’seach year. It’s success was assured.