Ford’s arrival in the supermini sector might have been a little late in 1976, following the Fiat 127, Renault 5 and Volkswagen Polo by several years. But Ford took very little time to make up for lost time, with the Fiesta becoming the UK’s best-selling supermini in 1978, and a million-seller in 1980.
Project Bobcat as it was known, was certainly ambitious. As well as being an all-new car from the ground up, the Fiesta was built in an all-new factory in Valencia, Spain built on a green-field site. Henry Ford II closely watched over the project, leaving no room for error – luckily, the Fiesta – as it became known – was the right car, at the right time for its maker.
Like all Fords, the Fiesta came in in a wide number of variations, from the rubber mat 957cc base model to a plush wood and velour 1300cc Ghia. Sporting models (beyond the sticker special 1300S) took time to appear, but once they did, there was no stopping them. Crisp to drive and utterly practical, the Fiesta was a massive hit from the word go, and the range increased in size as the years passed by. Sport and Ghia versions command a premium. Survival rate is low compared with huge number built.
Softer edges for the 1980s
The Ford Fiesta Mk2 was a significant facelift of the original 1976 car. Given that the Mk1 Fiesta was Ford’s most costly to develop car to that point, it’s an understandable exercise in making the investment pay by stretching it out for as long as possible. But despite the same-again looks, the Ford Fiesta Mk2 was packed with useful updates and additional features – not least the 1.6-litre diesel model, five-speed gearboxes, a continually variable automatic transmission, high security Chubb locks, and a brand new dashboard.
The new front-end styling previewed the 1986 Escort facelift, and gave the car a more mature, contemporary look. Overall refinement was improved, too – but overall, it was a car that was still very much rooted in the 1970s, just as the supermini market was undergoing a revolution. Despite its failings, the Fiesta was a true triumph of marketing over ability, and was a huge UK seller during the 1980s. The tastes of hot hatch customers were satisfied by the XR2 version (which in truth was not a patch on rivals such as the Peugeot 205GTI), but it sold in droves, as did its smaller brother, the equally popular 1.4S.
Growing up a generation
The third generation Ford Fiesta was belatedly went on sale in 1989, and was its maker’s answer to impressive second-generation superminis, such as the Peugeot 205 and Fiat Uno. Although it looked like an all-new car, the Mk3 was in fact based upon the platform of the Fiesta Mk2, which itself was a facelift of the original 1976 Fiesta. All new styling was contemporary, if a little anonymous, but the big change was the addition of a five-door version, which added significantly to the Fiesta’s practicality.
Top model revealed shortly after launch of the rest of the range was the XR2i. As in the Mk2 Fiesta, it was powered by a 1596cc CVH engine, which via the addition of fuel injection, developed 105bhp (up from 96). It underwhelmed in early road tests, thanks to its coarse engine and heavy steering, but it still sold well thanks to good looks and on-paper performance. It was based on the XR2i, but gained new three-spoke alloy wheels, anti-lock brakes, and a modified version of the 130bhp power unit first seen in the Escort RS Turbo. Maximum speed was 133mph and 0-60 time was 7.9 seconds.
Like the XR2i, poor steering was a problem, as were the uncultured dynamics. Both CVH powered fast Fiestas were replaced by Zetec-powered versions; the XR2i name remained until 1994, but the RS Turbo badge was – rightly – dropped in favour of the RS1800 moniker. These fast Fiestas have already attracted their classic following, with the flawed RS Turbo leading the way.