Ford Escort (North America)

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Ford Escort (North America)
97-02 Ford Escort sedan.jpg
ManufacturerFord Motor Company
Body and chassis
ClassCompact car
LayoutFF layout
PredecessorFord Pinto / Mercury Bobcat
Ford Fiesta (1978–1980) (North America)
SuccessorFord Focus

The North American variant of the Ford Escort is a compact/small family car introduced by Ford in 1980 for the 1981 model year. Sharing its name with the third-generation European Ford Escort, the model line is the first front-wheel drive Ford developed and sold in North America. The direct successor of the Ford Pinto, as the smallest Ford car in North America, the Escort largely replaced the European-imported Ford Fiesta.

Overcoming the tarnished reputation for quality and safety established by the fuel tank defect of the Pinto, the Escort became highly successful in the American marketplace. After 1982, the model line became the best-selling car in the United States, a position it held during most of the 1980s.

The 1981 replacement of the Pinto by the Escort was the first Ford model line to adapt front-wheel drive. By the end of the 1980s, nearly the entire Ford car range would adopt the powertrain layout (with the exceptions being the Mustang, Thunderbird, and LTD Crown Victoria/Country Squire).

The Escort was produced across three generations. The first was Ford's first "world car", designed as Ford of Europe transitioned the Escort Mk III to front-wheel drive. In North America, the model line was also sold as the Mercury Lynx and the two-seat Ford EXP/Mercury LN7 (no version was sold by the Lincoln division). Introduced for 1991, the second generation became a near-twin of the Mazda-designed Ford Laser (a model line sold in Asia and Oceania); sharing a platform and powertrain with the Mazda 323, the Escort grew into the compact car segment. The second generation was also sold as the Mercury Tracer. For 1997, the third generation was an extensive redesign of the second-generation platform Escort sedan, introducing the ZX2 coupe; Mercury continued to sell the Tracer sedan and wagon.

For the 1999 model year, the Ford Focus succeeded the Escort as the compact model line as a new-generation "world car"; after the 2000 model year, the Escort shifted primarily to fleet sales, ending production after the 2002 model year. Unlike the Escort, the Focus managed to have considerably more commonality between its European and North American variants and was in effect, the world car that Ford had originally envisaged with the Escort.

During its entire production, the Escort was produced by Wayne Stamping & Assembly (Wayne, Michigan) and Hermosillo Stamping and Assembly (Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico); the first generation was also produced by Edison Assembly (Edison, New Jersey), San Jose Assembly Plant (Milpitas, California), and Oakville Assembly (Oakville, Ontario, Canada)

First generation (1981–1990)[edit]

First generation
81-85 Ford Escort.jpg
Also calledMercury Lynx
Production1980–1990 (Escort)
1980–1987 (Lynx)
Model years1981–1990 (Escort)
1981–1987 (Lynx)
AssemblyEdison, New Jersey, United States
Milpitas, California, United States
Wayne, Michigan, United States
Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico
Oakville, Ontario, Canada
Body and chassis
Body style3/5-door hatchback
5-door station wagon
PlatformFord CE14 platform
Wheelbase94.2 in (2,393 mm)
Length169.4 in (4,303 mm)
GT: 169.0 in (4,293 mm)
Width65.9 in (1,674 mm)
HeightHatchback: 53.7 in (1,364 mm)
Sedan: 53.4 in (1,356 mm)
Curb weight2,243 lb (1,017 kg) (Escort GT)

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.[1] It was intended to share common components with the European Mk III Escort, although the two design teams diverged in their thinking and the two cars ended up becoming quite different - although they had a similar exterior silhouette, there were no interchangeable elements of the bodyshell and ended up resembling a heavily "Americanized" interpretation of the European original - being larger in every dimension, and featuring a heavy amount of chrome embellishment as was fashionable on American vehicles of the period. In fact, the only directly interchangeable elements between this and the European Escort were the CVH engine and the ATX automatic transmission.

It was launched with a 65 hp (48 kW), 1.6-liter hemi overhead cam inline-four.[2] 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.[2] The five-door hatchback was first shown in May 1981.[3] The North American Escort had considerably more chrome than Escorts sold elsewhere (except for the 1981 SS model and 1982+ GT models which feature blacked out trim). 1981 models never had the blue oval logo; on the front fenders there was an Escort badge which included a globe representing the earth, which implied this was a "world car". The 1981 Escort was available with an "SS" package that included blacked-out trim, a special stripe and decal package, upgraded brakes, and wider tires. The SS package would be replaced with the Escort GT the following year due to an interaction with General Motors Chevrolet SS option package.

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 three-door was $5,518.[4] The engine was also uprated, to 70 hp (52 kW). In March 1982 an HO (high output) version of the engine was added, originally only in the EXP and with an automatic transmission, but soon thereafter available with a manual and also in the sporting Escort GT (which had replaced the SS).[5] This unit produces 80 hp (60 kW), thanks to a higher compression ratio, a new exhaust system, and larger venturis in the carburetor. In addition to the HO engine, the GT featured cosmetic changes such as "GT" emblems and stripes, while under the shell there were uprated brakes and a close-ratio four-speed gearbox. Also included were metric TR sport wheels with Michelin TRX tires.[5]

For 1984, the GLX model was dropped and replaced with a fuel-injected LX model, available as a five-door hatchback or wagon, with a GT engine, blackout trim, and styled cast aluminum wheels. The interior received a new dashboard, and new rubber shift boots for manual models; automatic models received new gear selector levers with straight lines for gear selection instead of the twisting "?" mark pattern of the previous models.

Although the basic silhouette was the same, it was almost completely different from the European version, apart from the Ford CVH engine. There was a 1.6 L engine, a four-speed MTX-2 and a five-speed MTX-3 manual transmission as standard options, and an optional three-speed ATX/FLC automatic transmission. A 1.3 L engine was designed and a prototype made, but it did not see production due to lack of power, and an inability to get it certified.[2] Beginning in 1983, a GT model offered a multi-port EFI version of the 1.6 L four-cylinder that increased power by 20 hp over the base carbureted version. It also came with a five-speed transmission, TRX handling package, front and rear spoilers, metric-sized alloy wheels and fog lights. Also beginning with the 1984 model year, the Ford EXP received the option of the turbocharged 1.6 L four-cylinder rated at 120 hp (89 kW) and matching torque.[6] The turbo engine then found its way into the Escort GT (and Lynx RS) during the 1984 model year. 1984 was also the year that Mazda's two-liter diesel engine became available in the Escort and Lynx.[6]


  • 1981–1985 1.6 L CVH I4, 65–70 hp (48–52 kW)
  • 1982–1985 1.6 L CVH high output (HO) I4, 80 hp (60 kW)
  • 1983–1985 1.6 L CVH multi-port fuel injected (MFI) I4, 88 hp (66 kW)
  • 1984–1985 1.6 L turbocharged CVH I4, 120 hp (89 kW)
  • 1984–1985 2.0 L RF diesel I4, 52 hp (39 kW)


The 1985½ model received a facelift (less chrome, restyled tail lamps, flush headlights), and the 1.6 L engine was replaced with a 1.9 L. GT models featured high output engines with revised intake manifolds, cylinder heads and real headers available only with manual transmissions. The Lynx was retired after 1987, but was replaced by the Mazda 323-derived "Tracer" model which was sold alongside it for much of the year.[7] The Tracer's Mazda platform was revamped in 1989 and debuted as the 1990 Mazda Protege; the updated platform went on to form the basis for the next generation (1990–1996) Escort/Tracer.

The Mazda diesel engine continued to be available in the five-door hatchback versions of the Lynx and Escort. Sales were slow however, as American buyers largely gave up on diesel-engined cars during the 1980s (the proportion of diesel sales overall went from a peak of 6.1 percent in 1981 to 0.37 percent in 1986); less than 1.2 percent of Escort/Lynx overall sales were diesels.[8]

The Escort saw another minor facelift in mid-1988, which smoothed out the front and rear fascias. New plastic bumpers (which replaced the metal bumpers), larger rear side windows, a more rounded rear-end design and larger (14 inch versus 13 inch) wheels modernized the look of the cars. Three-door hatchback models had curving windowlines along the sides towards the rear of the cars. The engine was also updated with a slightly revised camshaft and roller lifters. The new design is commonly referred to as the "88.5" year, and existed until model year 1990. As Ford was gearing up for the April 1990 introduction of the next generation Escort, assembly of this version was restricted to Ford's Edison, NJ plant for the abbreviated 1990 model year.[9]

Finding some popularity during the final three years of this generation was the Pony model, which was the least-expensive U.S.-built Ford at the time. Pony models used plainer interior trim with greater use of vinyl and plastic instead of cloth, and four-speed manual transaxles were standard, although buyers could opt for the five-speed found in LX models or the three-speed ATX automatic. The list of available options was very limited, to the extent that such luxuries as power steering and factory-installed air conditioning were not offered (a dealer-installed A/C system was available). Given their lighter weight, the Pony models also had somewhat better fuel economy than the regular Escorts.


  • 1985.5–1986 1.9 L Carbureted CVH I4, 86 hp (64 kW) **
  • 1987–1990 1.9 L CFI (Central Fuel Injection) CVH I4, 90 hp (67 kW)
  • 1985–1988 1.9 L EFI HO (Multi-port EFI) CVH I4, 108 hp (81 kW) **
  • 1988.5–1990 1.9 L EFI HO (Multi-port EFI) CVH I4, 110 hp (82 kW)
  • 1985–1987 2.0 L RF diesel I4, 52 hp (39 kW)
    • All 1988.5-1990 Models had roller lifters & matching camshafts
    • 1985 and 1988 had "1/2 year" refresh models

Model year changes[edit]

1981 – all-new model – the Escort was a world car. Original trims were base, L, GL, GLX and SS. The Mercury Lynx is the Escort's twin.

1982 – the GT replaced the SS. There were new trims as the base, L, GL, GLX, GT And LX

Second generation (1991–1996)[edit]

Second generation
1993 Ford Escort LX 5-dr front left.jpg
Also calledFord Laser (Asia and Oceania)
ProductionApril 1990–March 1996
Model years1991–1996
AssemblyWayne, Michigan, United States
Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico
Body and chassis
Body style3-door hatchback
4-door sedan
5-door station wagon
5-door hatchback
PlatformMazda B platform
RelatedMazda 323
Mazda Protegé
Mercury Tracer
Transmission5-speed F series manual (1.9)
5-speed G5M manual (1.8)
4-speed F-4EAT automatic
Wheelbase98.4 in (2,499 mm)
Length170.0 in (4,318 mm)
Wagon: 171.3 in (4,351 mm)
1992 & 1995–96 Sedan: 170.9 in (4,341 mm)
Width66.7 in (1,694 mm)
HeightSedan: 52.7 in (1,339 mm)
Hatchback: 52.5 in (1,334 mm)
Wagon: 53.6 in (1,361 mm)
Curb weight3-door hatchback – 2,355 lbs (1,068 kg)
5-door hatchback – 2,385 lbs (1,082 kg)
4-door sedan – 2,404 lbs (1,090 kg)
5-door wagon – 2,491 lbs (1,130 kg)

The Escort and the Mercury Tracer were replaced by all new cars in April 1990 as early model year 1991s. They are both based on the Mazda B platform (BG), which was also used by the Mazda 323, Protegé and first generation Kia Sephia. Ford, which owned a 25 percent stake in Mazda, already sold a version of the 323/Familia in Asia and Australasia, called the "Ford Laser", which had replaced the old rear-wheel drive Escort there. Although the Escort was now essentially a twin of the Laser instead of the European Escort, it kept the Escort name in North America due to strong brand equity as well as Chrysler already using the Laser name on the Plymouth equivalent of the Mitsubishi Eclipse.

The prior Escort used localized engines and shared some elements of design with the European model. The Escort for the 1990s, however, was almost identical to the Ford Laser and its derivatives, with minor differences in appearance and base engine. While the Laser featured identical powertrains to the Mazda Familia, the Escort carried over the 1.9 liter eight-valve Ford-designed CVH engine from the previous Escort, with the GT and LX-E receiving the Mazda-built 1.8 L BP I4. Much of the external styling mimicked the first generation Ford Taurus.

This generation of the Escort was one of the first Ford automobiles to feature, on the 1.9 L engine, distributorless ignition (known as EDIS, Electronic Distributorless Ignition System). It also featured a new electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission, as well as an independent rear suspension, both (at the time) relatively uncommon in cars in this class.

The Mazda-based model sold sluggishly in America at first, since only hatchback models were offered upon its launch, but became popular later by 1992, after the sedan was introduced, available in either LX or LX-E trim levels.

For the 1993–1995 model years, Ford offered the Escort on a "one price" basis, with the same price for a three- or five-door hatchback, a sedan or a wagon when equipped with the most popular options (three-doors quickly added alloy wheels to the "one price" specification). The LX-E, equipped with the same sporting equipment as the GT and Mazda Protegé LX (four-wheel disc brakes, larger front brakes, larger clutch, equal-length driveshafts, larger anti-roll bars, dual-outlet exhaust, sport interior and 1.8 L Mazda DOHC 16-valve engine), lasted only until 1993. The Pony departed in 1992, replaced by the "standard" trim level.

Trim levels were originally Pony, LX, and GT. The GT was the North American equivalent of the Laser XR3i version, featuring a 1.8 L Mazda DOHC engine. The LX and standard or Pony were equipped with the 1.9 L overhead cam eight-valve CVH inline four. The Pony or later standard was the base trim level, lacking most features like power steering or a radio. The LX was the upscale trim level, and a sport package could be added to make it look like a GT. Subtle differences can be noticed in all three Escort models (sedan, hatchback and wagon) from 1990 to 1996. In 1992, the grill oval hall around the "Ford" emblem became a little larger in order to allow more air to enter under the hood to cool the engine. In 1993, the wheel size was changed from 13 inches to 14 inches. A driver's airbag was introduced in 1994 as well, and by 1995, both driver and passenger airbags were standard with the redesigned dash for the 1995 model year.


  • 1990–1996 1.9 L (1859 cc) CVH I4, 88 hp (66 kW) 108 ft⋅lbf (146 N⋅m), standard/Pony and LX
  • 1990–1996 1.8 L (1839 cc) Mazda BP I4, 127 hp (95 kW) 114 ft⋅lbf (155 N⋅m), LX-E and GT

Third generation (1997–2003)[edit]

Third generation
1997-99 Ford Escort wagon.jpg
Model years1997–2002
AssemblyWayne, Michigan, United States
Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico
Body and chassis
Body style4-door sedan
5-door station wagon
PlatformMazda B platform
RelatedMazda Protegé
Mercury Tracer
Engine2.0 L SPI2000 SOHC I4
2.0 L Zetec DOHC I4
Transmission5-speed G5M manual
4-speed F-4EAT automatic
Wheelbase98.4 in (2,499 mm)
LengthWagon: 172.7 in (4,390 mm)
Sedan: 174.7 in (4,440 mm)
Width67.0 in (1,700 mm)
HeightSedan: 53.3 in (1,354 mm)
Wagon: 53.9 in (1,369 mm)
Curb weight2,468 lb (1,119 kg)

The restyle dropped the hatchbacks and added a new sporty coupe for the 1997 model year.

The Escort sedan and wagon used the lower-powered CVH SPI2000 engine with 110 hp (82 kW). There are subtle differences in the Escort sedan from 1996 to 2002. The trim lines for 1997 were base and LX, for 1998–2002 it was offered in LX and SE trims. For 1999, the reverse lights were moved into the same piece as the tail lamps; they were previously below the tail lamp on the body.

A very rare trim package was available with chrome 14 in (36 cm) wheel covers and other features. It was offered in 1999.

Ford Escort sedan
Ford Escort LX wagon

The Escort was offered in a "sport" package as well. The Mercury Tracer's version was called the "Trio" or "Sport" depending on the year. A basketweave type of wheel was put on the Tracer Trio while a flower petal pattern was used on the Tracer Sport. The Sport/Trio package included aluminum wheels, a sport exhaust tip, a tachometer, and a rear decklid spoiler.

The Escort wagon largely retained the same body style, gaining only the new interior, front end and fascia, side-view mirrors, door handles, badging, and slightly restyled taillamps and reflectors. The black window frames on the doors of some models became body-colored.

Both the Escort wagon and the Mercury Tracer sedan and wagon were discontinued after 1999. The Escort sedan was discontinued in 2002, but continued to be sold as fleet and rental cars only. It was replaced by the Ford Focus[citation needed]. The last Ford Escort rolled off the assembly line on February 20, 2002. The last ZX2 rolled off the assembly line on March 21, 2003. In Mexico, it was replaced by the smaller Ford Ikon.


  • 1997–2002 2.0 L (1986 cc) CVH SPI2000, SOHC I4, 110 hp (82 kW) at 5,000 rpm, 125 ft⋅lbf (169 N⋅m) at 3,750 rpm, redline 5,500 rpm sedan and wagon
  • 1998–2003 2.0 L (1989 cc) Zetec, DOHC I4, 130 hp (97 kW) at 5,750 rpm, 127 ft⋅lbf (172 N⋅m) at 4,250 rpm, redline 6,500 rpm, 7,200 rpm rev limiter ZX2
  • 1999–2000 2.0 L (1989 cc) Zetec, DOHC I4, 143 hp (107 kW), 146 ft⋅lbf (198 N⋅m) ZX2 S/R


Also calledFord Escort ZX2
Production1997–2003 (USA)
1997–2000 (Canada & Mexico)[citation needed]
Body and chassis
ClassSport compact
Body style2-door notchback coupe
PlatformMazda B platform
RelatedMazda Protegé
Mercury Tracer
Engine2.0 L Zetec DOHC I4
Transmission5-speed G5M manual
4-speed F-4EAT automatic
Wheelbase98.4 in (2,500 mm)
Length175.2 in (4,450 mm)
Width67.4 in (1,710 mm)
Height52.3 in (1,330 mm)
Curb weight2,478 lb (1,124 kg)
PredecessorFord Probe

The 1998 Escort ZX2 replaced the Ford Probe as Ford's sport compact car. The ZX2 was a much lower-slung and rakish car than both the Escort sedan and wagon, aimed squarely at the youth market as a replacement for the Escort GT (although lacking the its rear disc brake setup) and was built exclusively at Ford's Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, assembly plant. The interior was refreshed for 1999, and the model was retired after 2003. It had a completely redesigned dashboard, and included a panel that unified the heat and radio controls, similar to that of the third generation Ford Taurus.

The 1998 Escort ZX2 coupe featured the 2.0 L, 130 hp (97 kW) Zetec DOHC four-cylinder engine as standard equipment, an option unavailable on the sedan or wagon. Intended for use as the base engine in the larger European Ford Mondeo and its American cousins, the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique, the Zetec gave the ZX2 respectable performance, running 0–60 mph in 7.4 seconds.

The 1999 and 2000 models offered a performance limited edition ZX2 S/R which further enhanced the car's performance.

For 2001, the four-door sedan was limited to fleet sales only and the Escort moniker on the Escort ZX2 was quietly dropped, making the car officially just a two-door notchback coupe.

The Ford Focus debuted in 1998 (1999 in the U.S.) and was produced concurrently with the ZX2. Despite some popularity, the ZX2 was replaced by the Focus ZX3, ZX4 and ZX5. Though the two cars share the same Zetec engine, there are a few differences. The Focus lacks the exhaust-side VCT, and contains less aggressive camshafts that push the power band down a few hundred RPM. The two models share the same block but, due to the different camshafts and the different cylinder head, the torque output for the Focus was bumped up by 8 ft⋅lbf (11 N⋅m). Thanks to better gearing and less weight, the ZX2 continued to outperform the Focus. The ZX2 continued with little more than 15 in (38 cm) alloy wheels and a rear defroster newly offered as standard equipment, and for 2003, a revised front fascia. Production ceased at the end of the 2003 model year.

ZX2 S/R[edit]

The increased presence and success of tuner models from overseas in the late 1990s caused Ford to create their own performance model, the ZX2 S/R, meant to compete with cheap factory performance sport compacts such as the Honda Civic Si and the Dodge Neon ACR. Its initial debut was at SEMA's Import Auto Salon in Pomona in 1999. The ZX2 S/R was the first product jointly developed by Ford Racing and Ford Motor Company's Small Vehicle Center Product Development.

Ford's final limited production count was 2,110 units, consisting of 110 yellow S/Rs for 1999, the first two of which were sold in Columbus, Ohio, and the other 108 in California; and for 2000, 500 black, 500 red and 1,000 yellow S/Rs were sold. The upgrade price to the S/R package was $1,500 in both years. It is believed that only 35 of those 2000 S/Rs were sold in Canada, making it a very rare trim there.

The optional S/R package added stiffer suspension parts (Eibach springs (M-5560-Z2), Tokico struts (M-18000-Z2) and Energy Suspension brand polyurethane suspension bushings), more power (through a Ford Racing PCM (M-12650-Z2)), more efficient intake (Roush or Iceman), rear disc brakes (M-2300-Z2), a stronger clutch (Centerforce dual friction M-7560-Z2), a short-throw B&M manual-transmission shifter (M-7210-Z2), an S/R-unique shift knob (M-7213-Z2) and boot (M-7277-Z2), upgraded seats, a unique blue valve cover, a different speed cluster that goes up to 150 mph (240 km/h) and a unique tire and wheel package. Engine power was increased 10% over the base Zetec engine used in the ZX2 to 143 bhp (107 kW; 145 PS), courtesy of a recommended premium fuel re-calibration, new air inlet system, the performance PCM, improved Borla muffler and pipe (M-5230-Z2). All ZX2 S/Rs have a special "S/R" badge on the back, either silver (on a red car) or red (on a yellow or black car). Some S/Rs went out of the assembly plant without some of the performance mods. The suspension bushings were not installed at the factory but instead packaged with the car for installation at the dealership. This also led to many cars leaving the showroom without the full complement of S/R parts.


Calendar year American sales
1998[10] 334,562
1999[11] 260,486
2000 110,736
2001[12] 90,503
2002[13] 51,857
2003 (ZX2 only) 25,473
2004[14] (ZX2 only) 1,210


  1. ^ "The Pantagraph from Bloomington, Illinois on September 30, 1980 · Page 13". Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  2. ^ a b c Hogg, Tony (ed.). "1981 Buyer's Guide". Road & Track's Road Test Annual & Buyer's Guide 1981 (January–February 1981): 97.
  3. ^ Assenza, Tony, ed. (September 1981). "Detroit Shifts Gears". Popular Mechanics. Vol. 156 no. 3. Hearst Magazines. p. 168. ISSN 0032-4558.
  4. ^ Consumer Guide. Warner Publishing Services. January 1982. p. 160.
  5. ^ a b Ross, Daniel Charles (1982-05-03). "Ford's new butterfly". Autoweek. Vol. 32 no. 18. Crain Press Inc. p. 26. ISSN 0192-9674.
  6. ^ a b Witzenburg, Gary (September 1983). "Detroit '84". Popular Mechanics. Vol. 160 no. 3. Hearst Magazines. p. 158. ISSN 0032-4558.
  7. ^ Stark, Harry A., ed. (1987). Ward's Automotive Yearbook 1987. 49. Detroit, MI: Ward's Communications, Inc. p. 177. ISBN 0910589007.CS1 maint: ignored ISBN errors (link)
  8. ^ Ward's Automotive Yearbook 1987, p. 93
  9. ^ Stark, Harry A.; Bush, James W., eds. (1989). Ward's Automotive Yearbook 1990. 52. Detroit, MI: Ward's Communications, Inc. p. 85. ISBN 0910589.CS1 maint: ignored ISBN errors (link)
  10. ^ The Changing Face of Transportation | Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. pp. 4–11. Retrieved 7 March 2021.
  11. ^ "Ford Motor Company Sets New Full Year U.S. Sales Record". Retrieved 2009-04-28.
  12. ^ "Ford Motor Company's December U.S. Sales Climb 8.2 Percent" (PDF). Ford Motor Company. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-04-30.
  13. ^ "Ford's F-Series Truck Caps 22nd Year in a Row as America's Best-Selling Vehicle With a December Sales Record". 2004-11-17. Retrieved 2009-04-28.
  14. ^ "Ford Achieves First Car Sales Increase Since 1999". 2004-11-17. Retrieved 2009-04-28.

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