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Ford Fiesta

Published: 20th Jun 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Ford Fiesta
Ford Fiesta
Ford Fiesta
Ford Fiesta
Ford Fiesta
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Andy Roberts looks at the Ford Fiesta 40 years on – and recalls the anticipation it caused during the scorching summer of 1976

The 40th birthday of the Ford Fiesta is reminder of how few locally built front-wheel drive hatchbacks were offered to British motorists back in 1976. The Austin Maxi had been around since 1969 but that was designed to compete in the Cortina’s market sector as was the recently-launched Chrysler Alpine, while the Vauxhall Chevette and Reliant’s (four-wheeler) Kitten were, of course, RWD. For anyone who wanted a very small British-built small car there was the choice of the last of the rear engined Hillman Imps, which were dropped just as the Fiesta was announced, or, if they wanted front wheel drive, the evergreen Mini. However, the British motoring press was starting to highlight the lack of development of the BL product especially in comparison with the threedoor Fiat 127, Honda Civic, Peugeot 104, Renault 5, and Volkswagen Polo.


Then, in flaming June of that year, motorists were alerted to a new form of supermini via pictures of a smart looking hatchback taken at the Le Mans 24 Hour Race. A month later, Ford’s all new Fiesta did a lap of the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit before the classic Hunt and Lauda battle continued.

Two months later, official sales commenced in France and Germany but British drivers could only read the advertisements and gaze at the typically glossy brochures in envy. An Autocar road test that October further whetted their appetites – “this new small Ford brings a touch of flair, driver enjoyment and all-round efficiency to the used-car market” – but UK models would not be available until the following year. When British sales finally commenced on 2nd February 1977, Dagenham had built 10,000 examples in readiness while Granada production had entirely moved from the UK to Germany in the previous year just to allow for more space for Fiesta production.

And so Ford’s 380 UK dealers were trained into how to service and sell transverse engine vehicles and Patrick Allen voiced adverts which awoke ITV viewers who had fallen asleep during Crossroads to a new and Pan-European supermini. As Motor magazine noted, “All the engines are assembled at Valencia, using Dagenham-cast cylinder blocks and crankshafts, and carburettors made in Belfast.

All the transaxle transmissions come from a brand new plant in Bordeaux – and incorporate gear components and aluminium die castings from Cologne. Body pressings come from Valencia and Cologne, sparking plugs from Enfield, radiators from Basildon, road wheels from Genk in Belgium, fuel tanks from Saarlouis…” The Fiesta was not in fact the first ever FWD oval-badged car as that honour went to the 1962-1966 P4-series Taunus but that was a Cologne product seldom encountered by UK consumers. In the early 1960s, Ford’s engineers famously bought a Mini, applied an intensive cost analysis to every last bolt and rivet before arriving at the conclusion that this small wonder was not making any profit for BMC.

Such findings did not promote the cause of Dagenham making a sub-Anglia 105E class offering – “Small cars equals small profits” – and although in 1963 Ford considered building a compact “world car” it would not be until 1970 when they evaluated the idea of making a small front wheel drive family saloon.

In September 1972 project ‘Bobcat’ was approved for development by Henry Ford II and during its development the company spent £550 million and evaluated 48 (yes 48!) potential competitors. Plans for production commenced in earnest in late 1973 and Ford tested various modified versions of the Kent engine in a Fiat 127, which meant that evaluation of the prototypes could take place on the open road. Amongst the names considered for the new car were Bambi, Bebe, Bravo, Bolero, Cherie, Chico, Fiesta, Forito, Metro (ironically enough), Pony, Sierra and Tempo.

The board of directors voted for Bravo but they were overruled by Mr Ford who preferred “Fiesta”. Thank heavens he did!


Models for home and Irish markets were built in Dagenham, making the Fiesta the first ever British supermini. To look at a 1977-vintage brochure is to be reminded of how Ford’s typically splendid and elaborate publicity for the Fiesta masked the low equipment levels of the entry level models. For £1856 the 950 buyer did not enjoy fresh air vents or reclining seats as these were the province of the ‘L’, which further boasted a reversing lamp and ‘Houndstooth’ trim as standard!

Then there came the ‘S’ – “The Sporty Side of Fiesta” as it was called which certainly looked the part for a suburban Jackie Stewart, with its black decals and snazzy ‘Cadiz Fabric’ trim. There was also upgraded suspension and a tachometer even if the 1.1-litre engine could only achieve a less than impressive 86mph top speed but the later 1300 was much better.

The flagship of the 10 model line-up was, of course, the Ghia (“The Luxury Side of Fiesta”) with a MW/LW radio as standard, a car so magnificent that it needed an Oyster Gold metallic paint finish to complement its alloy wheels.

However, regardless of trim level, the Fiesta always looked extremely sharp, Tom Tjaarda’s coachwork – featuring slim pillars and a front spoiler (“aerodynamic” was a very popular motoring phrase in 1977) and inside there was an ergonomic instrument panel. The Fiesta won the Design Council Award of 1978 and its lines were partially due to Ford’s market research programme, which revealed that 55 per cent of Fiesta owners would be women and that 86 per cent of those questioned listed shopping as their most frequent use of the car.

When compared to the Ford, the Mini Clubman looked redolent of the previous decade and even the Fiat 127 and the Renault 5 appeared dated when parked alongside a new Fiesta which was very positively reviewed by the British motoring press, with the exception of Car magazine who preferred Volkswagen’s Polo and who grumbled that the Ford lacked character: “It doesn’t seem to have any sort of positive attraction”. There again Car was regularly criticised back then for being pro-foreign…

Yet it was this air of efficiency that saw the Fiesta become a ubiquitous sight across Western Europe by the end of 1977. Around 300,000 German built versions, all powered by 1.6-litre Kent engines, were sold in the US in response to the 1975 Federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy rules. These required car manufacturers to achieve a minimum fleet-wide average fuel economy or pay substantial penalties.

The late 1970s saw Ford in the enviable position of having its products as the top three best selling cars in the UK; the Escort occupied second place and the Cortina first. September of 1977 saw the S and Ghia being available in 1.3-litre Kent engine form and two years later the millionth Fiesta had been built. 1979 also saw the début of the Popular, with a sales campaign attempting to infer that this new povertyspec model devoid of a passenger sun visor, and dipping rear view mirror was in fact stylish and hip transport.

The first four years of production run saw the introduction of several strong competitors, such as the Fiesta’s first major British rival in the form of the Austin Mini Metro. Car observed that the BL offering was “the better car. It steers better, corners better, is quieter, rides at least as well most of the time offers slightly more room inside” even if “the transmission is enough to tilt a novice driver towards the Fiesta”. Guess which one still survives today though…

However, the following year saw the debut of a genuine hot hatch that the model is still remembered for – the XR2.

Dagenham had tested the market for a higher performance Fiesta with the 1977 X-pack option packs and, the 1980 with the (rare and now extremely sought after) 1300 Supersport. The XR2 was so-named as it was the second car to hail from Ford’s Special Vehicle Operations – the 2.8i Capri was the first – and when launched in 1981 was as suited to 1981 motorists as the Cortina 1600E was to ambitious sales reps of 1967. Some 20,000 XR2 Mk1s found happy homes and were not just essential transport for any junior marketing manager who listened to Dire Straits, but also a means of maintaining the Fiesta’s profile in the face of the Polo Mk2 and the Vauxhall Nova. A major facelift and XR3 power for the XR2 in 1983 kept it abreast of a fast improving market sector, ditto the third generation of 1989 which ushered in the RS1800i and the frantically fast but strangely unruly RS Turbo.

But, be it a Popular, a 1100S or a XR2, the Fiesta started what has become one of the most important post-war Fords. That it is still judged to be one of the best of its class 40 years on shows there’s no complacency by the Blue Oval – although what was once hailed as the baby car of the range is now as large as the Mk1 Escort…


It’s been hailed as the happiest year of modern times and the sun certainly shone brightly in the UK. Here’s some other hot highlights of a wonderful year!

The Queen opens the National Exhibition Centre. It was to prove the perfect venue for motor shows of all types including now the Classic Motor Show, of course!

Jim Callaghan becomes Prime Minister, following the surprise resignation of Harold Wilson. Labour had already lost its majority when Callaghan took over, leading to the Lib-Lab pact. Not quite a coalition government like the 2010 alliance, but one that also failed…

Liverpool nabs its ninth league title plus wins the UEFA Cup. Southampton beat Man United by a solitary goal for FA Cup honours – rivals City take the league cup. James Hunt snatches the F1 crown from Niki Lauda in the final race in a year of legal wrangles.

The heatwave peaks in July at over 96 °F as some parts of the UK haven’t seen rain for 45 days – drought measures are soon introduced. Britain and Iceland agree to end the Cod War while the the Seychelles become independent of the UK. Hillman name is dropped by Chrysler after almost 70 years.

Raging inflation saw car price leap every few months so by the time the VX2300 GLS was launched it was 300 per cent dearer than the 1968 Ventora! A Granada Ghia was now priced at over £4500 (which was the average wage back then) while even a Mini cost £1496, which also got you a decent Mk2 Jag…

When The Car Was The Star

Compared with the Granada, the Capri and Escort Mk2, there was surprisingly no major starring role for Ford’s pioneering supermini. Readers with long memories may recall the 1.1L van that guested in the sub-par Professionals episode Blind Run and the handsome green 1100S in the fourth season Sweeney entry Bait. However the Fiesta’s screen career was often restricted to drive-ons in Widows, Hammer House of Horrors, Bergerac and Juliet Bravo.

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