The fact that the Ford Escort Seeka featured a dashboard-mounted fax machine tells you that we're not dealing with a recent concept.
What it doesn’t tell you is that the Ford Escort Seeka was at least five years, possibly even ten years ahead of its time. The world didn’t fall for the charms of an in-car fax machine, but it wouldn’t be long before it fell in love with lifestyle vehicles.
Ford blew £1bn developing the fifth-generation Escort – the most it had ever spent on a new car – but it was mostly downhill for the family motor until the Focus revolution in 1998. The Escort Seeka wouldn’t have saved the Mk5’s blushes, but it might have left it with a stronger legacy.
The Seeka was based on the Escort estate, which was one of five bodystyles available at the car’s launch in 1990. The fact that it looks like a fun size Ford Taurus should come as no surprise given the design was handled by Ford Australia.
A lot of effort went into the development of the Escort estate, with Ford keen to design it as a wagon from the ground up, rather than an Escort hatch with a box grafted on the back. As a result, load space was up 35 per cent over the old Escort estate.
With the benefit of hindsight, the estate was the best resolved of the Mk5 Escort models – a view shared by those who took part in the many customer clinics during six years of development. Heck, the Escort estate has an almost upmarket feel to it. Almost.
The creation of the Escort Seeka was left to Ford’s tame styling house, Ghia. The result was an outdoor leisure vehicle that was part Playmobil, part Scouting for Boys, part Generation Game conveyor belt and part Millets catalogue.
Honestly, it’s like Ghia grabbed the Big Book of the Great Outdoors and decided to throw everything but the kitchen sink at the Ford Escort Seeka. Yes, including the fax machine.
Desperately Seeka Susan
Thirty years on, the dash-mounted fax machine might seem quaint and an example of automotive folly. Heck, some readers may not have heard of a fax machine, let alone used one. But it’s another example of Ford and Ghia being ahead of the game.
They saw a time when a businessman – this was 1990, so we’re allowed to call him a businessman and not a businessperson – could be out of the office but never too far from work. One minute he’s playing swingball on the beach with his kids, the next minute he’s receiving the weekly finance report from Jim in the accounts department.
For the businessman, it was the comms device he had been waiting for. Now, he could nip off to the woods to conduct important ‘business’ affairs with Susan, his PA, with the benefit of a large boot, a hotline to the office and more outdoor equipment than you’d find in a Scout’s backpack.
The New Seeka
As Popular Science put it, “The Ghia Seeka, based on Ford of Europe’s Escort wagon, includes some far-out features: a flip-top luggage container with a pull-out awning, a detachable load floor that doubles as a picnic table, a built-in barbecue, and an instrument-panel-mounted fax machine. The concept recreational vehicle has a 90hp 1.8-litre turbocharged diesel engine.”
The 1.8-litre diesel engine was designed for the Mk1 Ford Mondeo, a car that would launch three years later in 1993. Given the level of equipment, it’s a wonder the Escort Seeka could move at all.
The ‘far-out’ features listed by Popular Science are only part of the groovy story, man. There was a split-tailgate to rival a Range Rover. An integrated rear-facing child seat. Spotlights in the door mirrors. Removable spotlights in the front bumper. A spare wheel on the boot.
Look at it. LOOK AT IT!
The Escort Seeka even tapped into the growing outdoor rave culture by featuring a set of removable speakers that could be mounted on the doors. There was also a full-length panoramic sunroof below the luggage container, a portable television and a car phone.
Meanwhile, the exterior decals and interior design were straight outta Radwood. Put simply, Ford’s vision of the great outdoors looked fun, exciting and far better than spending a weekend in a damp tent. Even with saucy Susan.
Ralph Hosier, who was working on the development of the 1.8-litre diesel engine, remembers the Seeka. He told PetrolBlog he saw it “left parked in the engineering fleet car park at Dunton for about a year after it had finished its publicity run.
“It was the usual Escort estate but with spaces to jack up the suspension. It was a show car – not an engineering prototype.”
In a tweet, Ralph said “the custom tread pattern on the Seeka tyres was made by hand cutting the racing slicks”. It’s not clear whether or not Ralph used the fax machine, but PetrolBlog would like to assume that he did.
Hide and Seeka
The Escort Seeka is another case of what might have been. An example of a car that was ahead of its time and yet largely forgotten in 2020. It makes the Ford Focus Active look like a rank amateur. It’s the Mk5 Ford Escort that could have changed the course of history. Probably. To a lesser extent, you could say the same about the Montego SUV, although this never ventured beyond the clay model stage.
Remember, only a year earlier, the Toyota RAV4 made its debut as a concept at the 1989 Tokyo Motor Show. It would be another five years before the production version arrived in Japan. Meanwhile, the Audi Allroad was a decade away, with the Volvo V70 XC arriving in 1997. This could have been Ford's version of the Matra Rancho for the 1990s, albeit in a wagon rather than an SUV-styled lee-zure suit.
Let’s stand by the campfire and raise a Tupperware beaker to the Seeka – the coolest Mk5 Ford Escort bar none. And that’s a fax.