Opinion : 1983 – the year the supermini grew up

Keith Adams recalls 1983’s supermini newcomers, and how they permanently changed the way small cars would be viewed by buyers.

Hop aboard as we recall the arrival of the Vauxhall Nova, Datsun Micra, Fiat Uno and Peugeot 205. It was a great year.

Superminis: small cars with big appeal

Vauxhall Nova

Here’s a sobering thought for all of our older readers – it’s 40 years since the Vauxhall Nova, Datsun Micra, Fiat Uno and Peugeot 205 were launched. All were very different: each was refreshing and, for General Motors, the arrival of the Nova saw the company’s transformation into a forward-thinking European car manufacturer completed. Given that the General Motors S-Car was considered a very late arrival to the supermini party and it was something of a derivative challenger in a market that was about to mature significantly, it’s sobering to think that the new boy has now reached its fourth decade as the Corsa.

The supermini market the Nova found itself competing in was about to be revolutionised. I’ve previously discussed the formative years of the supermini market and how the Autobianchi A112 defined the sector in the late 1960s. However, it was the huge success of the Fiat 127 and Renault 5 that made superminis the hottest property on the market and every important manufacturer introduced their own versions.

So, the 1970s was the decade of the supermini. Influential challengers came thick and fast after the Renault and Fiat – Honda had the Civic, Datsun had the Cherry, Innocenti had the 90/120 in 1973, Volkswagen-Audi had the Polo (launched as the Audi 50) in 1975, while the Ford Fiesta followed in 1976. By the time the Austin Metro finally arrived in October 1980, the first generation of superminis was complete and they were a mainstay in the motoring scene – as more drivers cottoned on to the benefits of smaller, more stylish, practical and economical cars.

That said, just as the early 1970s were the founding years of the supermini, then 1983 should be regarded as the year that the breed truly came of age and entered the second generation.

1984 Metro facelift ushered in the five-door option and uprated interior.
The 1984 Metro facelift ushered in the five-door option and uprated interior

The General enters the fray

The Vauxhall Nova couldn’t come a moment too soon and, in 1983, Vauxhall’s representative was big news, as it was replacing the Vauxhall Chevette. As appealing as that car was in 1975 when it was launched, it was severely off the pace almost a decade later – its RWD platform compromised interior space and its reliance on a single engine – the 1256cc overhead valve Viva engine – was also doing it no favours.

The Nova was something else entirely. Built in Zaragoza, and riding on an all-new platform that owed much of its concept to the brilliant 1979 Kadett/Astra, it was powered by a mix of existing ohv engines and the impressive new Family II power unit. Styling was a good first-generation effort, but conservative by the standards of 1983 – aside from the wheelarch blisters of the three-door hatchback.

But in the UK especially, from nowhere the Nova became a Top Ten seller, falling in a consistent third place behind the Fiesta and Metro. Was the Nova a second-generation supermini, though, or just a very good first-generation one? The latter sadly, although honourable mention should be made of its availability in three- and five-door hatchback form and two- and four-door saloons.

Big sales battles

The main rival on the UK market for the Nova was the Ford Fiesta – which in 1983 moved into Mk2 form. From launch, the Fiesta had been a huge success. Private buyers and fleets loved them – and it managed to do well in both northern and southern European markets – quite a feat. So, it’s no surprise that GM used the Fiesta as a template for its own supermini. Both were built in Spain, based on all-new platforms and powered by carry-over engines.

Sadly, Ford didn’t anticipate the move to the supermini second generation and merely facelifted the original car. Sure, the Fiesta grew up slightly, thanks to five-speed gearboxes and a more rounded front – and sales continued to be as strong as ever in the UK but, even as the Mk2 was launched, you could see it was about to be left behind.

The Ford Fiesta received a facelift in 1983. It wasn't exactly comprehensive, but it didn't stop it remaining the UK's favourite supermini.
The Ford Fiesta received a facelift in 1983. It wasn’t exactly comprehensive, but it didn’t stop it from remaining the UK’s favourite supermini

Luckily, in the UK, its main rival was the Austin Metro – that was one of the ultimate incarnations of the first-generation superminis, alongside the Nova and the Mk2 Volkswagen Polo, launched at Frankfurt in 1981. Yes, it carried over the Mini’s drivetrain, but its compact and roomy (for its size) body was very clever indeed and its A-Plus engine could still punch above its weight in efficiency terms. Back in 1983, despite some increasingly public reliability wobbles, the Metro was still supermini hot property – in the UK.

A pivotal year for British Leyland

Although we didn’t know it at the time, 1983 was a bit of a turning point for Austin Rover’s supermini fortunes – as not only was the company both finalising the 1984 facelift  and the addition of a useful five-door model, but it was also setting sail on the good ship AR6. Shame that ran aground in 1986, leaving the embattled company to fight – like Ford – the supermini war with a first-generation product, right through the 1980s.

Another important arrival on the British supermini scene in 1983 was the Micra. For European markets, the Nissan March (which had first been shown in ‘concept’ NX-01 form at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1981) had been renamed the Datsun Micra and would retain the Datsun name for another year before adopting Nissan. When it went on sale in the UK, it repeated its Japanese success, picking up young buyers from the outset. Although smaller and more cramped than the principal opposition, the Micra stood out for its mechanical refinement, light controls and eager acceleration.

So, what were the second-generation superminis that I keep going on about?

The 1983 Fiat Uno was a seriously impressive supermini development
The 1983 Fiat Uno was a seriously impressive supermini development

On to the second-generation supermini

The Fiat Uno, 1984’s European Car of The Year, was the first genuinely new second-generation supermini. It was not a reskin of an existing car; instead it was all-new and contained lots of new and exciting thinking. The Fiat Uno didn’t have a vastly larger footprint than the 127 it replaced – it was a mere 5cm longer. But space efficiency was massively improved, and whereas in the old car, you’d struggle to get two plus two children in, the Uno was a genuine four seater. Where did all that additional room come from?

The Giorgetto Giugiaro-penned styling was key to the Uno’s success – it was good looking in the conventional sense of the word and also very clever because, in order to gain all that interior space, the Uno was built taller; its height was also up 5cm.

Like the Metro and Polo, the Uno also featured an upright tailgate – but, by 1983, this styling feature was no longer visually jarring. Much of the Uno’s style was carried over from the groundbreaking 1978 Ital Megagamma Concept – and it vindicated Giugiaro’s belief that taller cars were not only space-efficient, but they could also be sleek – the 0.34 drag coefficient of the Uno proved that.

Once the FIRE engines were installed in 1985, here we had the near-perfect second-generation 1980s supermini.

The groundbreaking Peugeot

The other hugely significant supermini entrant in 1983 was the Peugeot 205. It could be argued that the 205 wasn’t actually conceived as a supermini at all – and, at 3.70m in length, it was the sector’s longest car – but it was priced to fight the likes of the Ford Fiesta and Austin Metro, even if it looked like a product infinitely younger and fresher. We’ve already told the 205’s full story and don’t need to reiterate its huge success.

We should, though, celebrate that 1983 was the year of the supermini – and the year the breed truly matured thanks to the Fiat Uno and Peugeot 205. From the moment they arrived, 40 years ago, the opposition busied itself creating cars around their new template – and, even as we moved into the 1990s, several struggled to catch up.

When the 1989 Ford Fiesta Mk3 was launched, it was little more than an watered-down Peugeot 205 – perhaps the ultimate compliment to the French carmaker.

Along with the Fiat Uno, the Peugeot 205 revolutionised the supermini sector
Along with the Fiat Uno, the Peugeot 205 revolutionised the supermini sector
Keith Adams


  1. I may be wrong… but I think the first Micra’s were called Nissan Micra’s rather than “Datsun”. It, along with the Prairie was one of the first ranges to move away from Datsun badging in the UK. The original Datsun Stanza and others were also rebadged as Nissan’s in 1984 onwards.

  2. My old issue of Autocar says Datsun.

    Just checked Wikipedia (so it must be true), and it says this: ‘ Although Nissan was slowly phasing out the Datsun name, a small “Datsun” (ダットサン Dattosan?) appeared on the tailgate for the first two years, and in some European markets, the car was known as the “Datsun-Nissan Micra”. The Datsun badges had disappeared completely by the end of 1984. The Micra was initially available with an extremely refined all-aluminium MA10S SOHC engine.’

  3. The Nova looked like a mini mk1 Astra (Kaddett).
    Ironically, Vauxhall/Opels’s own mk2 Astra (Kaddett), with aerodynamic styling (including integrated roof gutters) suddenly made the Nova look aged.

    The saloon models were popular in Ireland, where saloon variants often outsell hatchbacks.

    Unfortunately not many left, they became the weapon of choice for boy racers, who often poorly modified them and too often crashed or neglected maintenance.

  4. I saw an early Micra last week on an A plate and it looked tiny. However, it says something about Nissan quality that the car has lasted so long and by the eighties Nissan had managed to combine excellent reliability with decent rustproofing, something that some seventies Datsuns lacked. If you look hard enough, there are still a few Bluebirds and Sunnys on the road, more proof that eighties Nissans were built to last.

  5. I agree with Hilton D @ 1. I never saw one badged as a Datsun. My girlfriend of the time had access to her moms Nissan Micra (A 512 UOX). It was a great car as the article states, refined and really light controls and for a one litre very nippy. Great days.

  6. Yep, the 205 and Uno took the supermini on a step, followed by the mk2 R5 the following year. And all three formed the basis of really good sporty versions – GTI, Turbo and GTTurbo respectively. CAR referred to them as the first small supercars.

  7. My 1st Motor was an ’86 Uno, I loved it, so easy to drive and look after.
    Shame I wasn’t a more observant driver back then and it would not have ended it life smacking a Renault 21 of it’s rear axle 🙁

  8. That’s a nice picture of the SR at the top and dare I say it was probably the better car than the Fiesta at the time (had 3 of them) and eventually got a Nova 1.0 ohv (My one and only Vauxhall complete with the old Chavette engine) after my Diesel Fiesta disappeared.

    Remember the early 90s and the Insurance Hikes ! I remember The SR Nova’s were gold dust as not bad performance for the insurance group and also causing a rush for the older car when the Egg shaped Corsa came out as it alienated some older Nova owners.

    When I got mine I was at the boy racer age and after my new Scary premiums decided to turn a very basic item into GTE/GSi, managed to save up for the side sills, front bumper/headlights/grill from the later Nova and even got the six gauge clocks (it already had the wiring in place but taped up!) and later dashboard replacing the rather horrid early one, also fitted the 1.2 ohc engine and 5 speed gearbox then got it painted met Purple that was popular then and from a distance it wasn’t too bad until you noticed the tiny 13″ wheels and C reg which confused many.

    I used to use it for Delivering Pizzas and wasn’t a bad item until I got surrounded by 5 Police cars, They were looking for a red Nova which had been used in a robbery but spotted my rather fast delivery driving.

    As I got out looking slightly startled with a big red bag The Officer in charge asked “Did I know it had been written off?” This was news to me but when they started checking my details (No Road Tax and was a different colour on the log book and Insurance), as I had sent off the log book with amended Colour change but it took much longer to return and so couldn’t get the Tax… (I think back then you were allowed 14 days?, luckily it was within the time) But more amazed I got away with it as the Cops just laughed at my contraption.

    As for the Uno and 205, they did move the game on considerably.

  9. So second Generation Super-minis just means they where bigger? Given how bloated todays contenders have become we must have skipped sveral Generations to become so big so quickly!

  10. Yet another great article about an important but overlooked part of car design history. I really wanted an Uno when I passed my test, but sadly couldn’t afford one – I ended up with a Renault Supercinq – which I hated! I remember 1983 being a turning point for car design in many ways – manufacturers had finally let go of the 70s – we had the Citroen BX, Audi 100, Ford Sierra, Pug 205 and FIAT Uno – all important cars. IIRC, Giugiaro also ha a hand in the styling for the Nissan Micra? I learnt to drive in a Micra A – bloomin’ ‘orrible thing – base model (Collette?) in white- it was like driving a washing machine! I kept engaging reverse instead of forth. as for the Nova – the SR always looked rather good, but the cooking models, and especially the saloon were dire, with a dashboard which would have looked basic in a Chevette! So, the pick of the 80s supermini crop (in hindsight!) – how about the Citroen AX? Lightweight, funky, efficient, great interior, and as witnessed my myself after a trip to London, capable of transporting 5 students to Newcastle at an average speed of 80mph without any fuss……

  11. at 2 – Keith. That may be right but all the MK1 Micra’s I ever saw were badged as Nissans. Having said that, my Dad’s (later mine) 1983 B11 Sunny Coupe had a Nissan nameplate on the grille but DATSUN lettering on the tailgate.

  12. That small Datsun badge appeared on all UK (and European?) Nissans between about 1982 and 1984, as a kind of transition from one brand to the other. The main badging, from and rear, was Nissan, and they were advertised in the press as Nissans.

  13. One interesting thing in supermini terms is how much they’ve grown since.

    So much that a new class of car has had to be developed under them.

    So Ford has the Ka under the Fiesta, Peugeot has the 107 under the 208, Toyota has the Aygo and the IQ under the Yaris, Vauxhall has the Adam and Agila under the Corsa, VW has the up! under the Polo etc

    And when you think about it that’s what the superminis did.

    Ten years before the Nova was launched, the smallest Vauxhall was the Viva, the smallest Ford an Escort.

    Another example of how far ahead of the game the BMC Mini was!

  14. You know, it brings back a lot of memories and context reading this.

    It’s all from a used-car perspective, of course, but in the first 3 years of driving I had most of the options.

    I started out with a Chevette. I liked Chevettes, as a rule – comfortable enough, fun, and I like RWD. From there I went to a Metro and because I’d originally wanted a BX, the Metro (a C-reg MG) was pretty much hated.

    But when I think about the other options – I had Mk 1 and Mk 2 Fiestas, I had an Uno available (I chose the Chevette over it despite it having stripes, foglights and a sunroof – because the driving position was awful), Novas were everywhere. And the Metro, up against the Nova and Mk 2 Fiesta, felt well finished, smart and was a good, solid little car. I rarely drove Metros with baggy steering and knackered TCAs. Novas were awful in base form, only getting interesting as GSi models.

    The 205 was probably the very best, in my opinion – but the Uno was nicely designed and felt like a significantly more mature, upmarket car before it became apparent I’d have to dislocate my ankle to drive it.

    Of course, the R6 showed us what potential the Metro had.

    Still feeling vaguely ill at the memory of Mk 2 Fiestas, though. Horrid interiors, horrid exteriors.

  15. After reading this article came a sad realisation that very few examples of these superminis are now seen on a daily basis. I might be lucky to see two Fiat Unos a year and a similar number for the Vauxhall Nova. The Peugeot 205, Ford Fiesta and Austin Metro maybe up to dozen examples (excluding at Pride of Longbridge). A real shame that many younger enthusiasts won’t be aware of the golden era of small hatchbacks before the arrival of the Citroen Saxo and Peugeot 106.

    However, I do recall some of the idiosyncracies with fondness. The Vauxhal Nova had a mildly tamed version of the Chevette’s rather fiercesome clutch action, while in the Austin Metro I could almost cover all three pedals simultaneously with one foot. Happy days!

  16. Punto > Uno? (Had a 1.2 Sporting, new)
    Saxo/106 > AX?
    Mk 3 Fiesta > Mk 1/2 Fiesta (no question mark at all, that’s undeniable)
    R6 > A-series Metro
    Corsa B… Hmm. Not sure. Liked them. Tigra was an interesting spinoff.

    Which one is the golden age, again?

  17. @12 Jonathon… that goes along from my understanding of the naming / badging process too. I recall the later model Stanza’s had their badging changed to Nissan in 1984. The 300ZX was always a Nissan after the Datsun 280ZX

  18. The Uno was a masterstroke in terms of roominess,in fact it had the same soom as a escort MK 5!

  19. The first Micras definately had some form of Datsun badge on the back (it may have been Datsun by Nissan) as I used to walk past one every day on my walk to school. I have an autistic-like obsession with tiny details like this! The Nova was so much better than the Mk1/Mk2 Fiesta. When I was looking for my first car back in 1992 I looked at countless clapped out Fiestas where either the engine was knackered or the bodywork was too eaten away. Found a lot of Fiestas where the drivers door had a crack around the quaterlight strip because the door flexed so much when being opened and closed. The Nova felt like a scaled down Astra, but the early ones suffered from terrible rot problems around the sills.

  20. Please dont remind me about the Uno & Polo – nicknamed the oh-no and the Polio respectively. Horrible things… mum had a blue uno that went ok but dropped its entire exhaust at every pothole and the less said about the brakes the better, which was sandwiched between a Renault 5 and a 25 (and I should have had payments for mental anguish every time she mis selected 3rd for 5th in the latter). An ex had the Polio which was frankly terrifying – the brakes werent bad, they were non existant – standing on the pedal in abject terror got you the stopping power of rod type bicycle brakes, in the wet, on tired pads, on black ice, over diesel! Add to this she drove like Colin McRae with a case of dehli belly and had undiagnosed epilepsy… (we actually met after she’d blacked out on the A12, at which point the Polio had drifted, untouched, through three lanes of traffic (still flat out) and proceeded across the hard shoulder at a fair percentage of local light speed and up the embankment until it stalled out and got stuck..).
    The Nova was actually quite nice looking for its time – specially the fast models like the SR – I seem to remember that there was a totally mad version just before they killed it off but for the life of me I cant remember what it was called. Had one of those Irmscher bodykits that looked the mutts proverbials but had the all the aerodynamic grace and poise of a badly shot up Junkers 52, I may be confusing it with the Cavalier one of course. Remember the saloon version? there was a saloon version of the 5 as well, known as the 7 on the continent.
    The fiesta looked ok – but the engines were horrible – sounded like a 45 gallon drum of beans had been bought into forcible conjuction with a bisons digestive system, tappet clatter that could be heard two counties away and curtains of blue smoke that could have hidden half a division of Chieftains. I thank the gods never had the personal experience but NTM (a mk5 Orion) was more than evil and vile enough to make up for it (kinda the motoring equivalent of distilled David Cameron).
    Oh gods, the Citroen AX – a Pagan friend had one – usually full to the gunnels with like minded students well beyond safe tare weight… it used to wallow like a panzer in a peat bog even when it was empty, you could have used the bonnet as a trampoline as it had the structural stiffness of clinically depressed plasticene but the thing was indestructible. Drive over a landmine and it’d leap 10 feet into the air, land on its wheels and just keep going – although it’d probably be a pain to start the next morning cos it was in a mood with you..
    The R5 Turbos were downright terrifying when you think it weighed less than 800kg and even my 4 speed campus would make 90+ and sit there all day on almost precisely half the power.. of course it wasnt quite that unsafe since they tended to eat their turbos (watercooling a turbo is not the best idea ever dreamt up) … but putting a Turbo in an Oh-no was just asking for trouble. I seem to remember there was a turbo Strada too which should have come with a next of kin form and a disclaimer… not for nothing did the tagline for that car morph to “Built by Robots, Driven by Morons…”. And im sure everyone remembers the immortal tagline, for the Almera I think it was; “The car they dont want you to have…” so we didnt…

    I learned to drive on a mix of XR2 (the four foglight model) & GTA Metro – under the expert eye of a police driving instructor who was borderline insane one moment and sex obsessed the next – I will always the remember the bowel knotting enjoyment of screaming up the A12 past Kelvedon at 85mph on my second driving lesson – I was barely past managing clutch control and this nutcase kept telling me to go faster. It was like being tutored by a cross between Douglas Bader, Mad Max and Jimmy Saville…

  21. @ 2. I think the badge was something like ‘Nissan by Datsun’ or something similar, its a long time ago. I dont think the Micra was the only one to have it either – didnt the early Bluebirds have something similar on them?

    We used to call them the Macra (after the Dr Who nasties) – who had a worthy appearance on the M25 caricature episode (who can ever forget the lesbigrannies) among others, although at least *they* were spared Cliff Richard and BBC bloody 2. Given the choice I’d rather be lunch for 32 tonne crabs than be stuck in a traffic jam for 6 hours listening to the insatiably joyful Sally Traffic – I *know* theres a traffic jam dear, I’m sat in it, and have been sat in it so long I cannot feel my left leg below the hip…

  22. @21 Jemma

    I believe there was a Nova GTE like the Astra GTE. A friend of mine had two Nova SR’s – they really were little pocket rockets but were (by all accounts – not from experience!) really easy to break into. First one was found by the police albeit in a relatively trashed state. The second one had it’s wheels removed then burnt out – the delights of living in one of the many dodgy areas of Reading.

  23. @22 – I remember a teacher at school having a gold 83 Y reg Micra, it had a Nissan badge on one side of the tailgate with a smaller Datsun Micra badge on the other. It must have been one of the very first ones while they were phasing out the Datsun brand name.

    As for the Nova, a great car in it’s day, a huge leap forward for Vauxhall, but as already mentioned far too easy to break into. I knew someone who had theirs broken into 4 times in about 18 months (amazingly it was never driven joyriders trying to drive it off).

  24. @ 24 and 25, Yes in the North East in the early 90s if it wasn’t chained to the ground… Mine surprisingly never got touched (who would want it?) I did remove the door lock buttons on the inside which was almost a Deadlock system as even pulling the inside door handle it would not open without the key, However we all know thieves go for the lock itself, So I also did an early Mr Bean of removing the Steering wheel when left at home (Quite a few of us did this with our cars! But incidentally You cant do this many times with Fords as they snap the Steering column near the big nut).

    As for the Micra, a petty thief at Collage could pop the door lock button just by flexing the door skin around the lock!.

    Big question is what was the best of the early 80s? You can but them all in two category’s (Povety and Sporting) all were pretty much austerity until the top models,

    Metro for cheapest, but Uno the cleverest, Micra for reliability (usually outliving their owners!)

    Whilst the sporting items all were decent at what they did (Friend had Uno Turbo which was scary before you got to the limit, huge fun but always thought we were going to Die!)

    MG Metro was likeable, (never driven the Turbo) XR2 somehow “could be better” sprung to mind. As for the others I couldn’t say as never had much to do with them but at a guess Renault 5 Turbo (probably most fun but major headaches?), Peug 205 Gti,(best all rounder?) Nova GSI (sensible but slightly dreary?).

  25. @21 Jemma

    Three sportier versions were made of the Ritmo/Strada, none of which was supercharged – they were the 105 TC – 125 TC (MkI) / 130 TC (MkII), all of them in Abarth spec and 3-door only.

    Don’t know if all three made it to UK shores or not.

  26. Fiat had a 3 pronged approach to the supermini sector.

    The Uno was almost straddling the B-C segment, borderline Escort sized.

    This left the 126 and original Panda to look after the A-B segments, where small Fiats had traditionally done well.

    This 2/3 pronged approach carried on with the Panda-Cinquecento-Punto, Sciento-GrandePunto, right up to the modern 500-Panda-Punto

  27. Speaking of 126’s, my dad’s work assistant drove one, which she crashed. (possibly giving a rabbit a bad headache – c.f. Jasper Carrott and 2CV’s) A policeman came to clean up the mess, and burst out laughing. Why don’t you get one for the other foot, he asked her – she wasn’t in a mood to see the funny side!

  28. For some years I had a Nova 1.2 Diamond – 3 door metallic silver grey with the 3 spoke slotted alloy wheels. Usual rear wheel arch rot but a good drive especially with its compact dimensions. I was going to replace it with a 5 door but somehow ended up with a black Saab 99 Turbo 3 door and an ex Post Office Metro van which was great for carrying stuff around despite collapsing front and rear suspension….

  29. The Uno was very important for Fiat as the 126 was too small for most buyers and the 127 was ageing by 1983 and sales were falling. Also the company had been stung by the negative reaction to the Strada, with its love it or hate it styling, and its reputation for faults and premature rust. Luckily Fiat got it right with the Uno, with its excellent styling, wide range of models, commodious interior, decent driving abilities and better rust protection and build quality than the 127. Always rate the later models with the FIRE engines, which provided excellent economy with good economy, and the fully galvanised body, which kept rust at bay for at least six years.

  30. Where does the 1986 Citroen AX stand against the likes of the Peugeot 205 and Fiat Uno as far as 1st generation and 2nd generation Superminis go?

    Size-wise the AX was between the Austin Metro and mk2 Ford Fiesta, yet it was also very light and aerodynamic for its class.

  31. Probably a Citroën step! Although it was very light, from my experience not the safest feeling place to be as a passanger. Always felt flimsy and my friends had an awful shudder at 60.

    • The AX did have its flaws to offset its virtues, at the same time the original Micra was also similarly light as the former (curiously being even lighter than the AX by some 5-20kg at 620-635kg) despite being slightly larger.

      For an interesting tidbit to compare to the above with as far as approaches to weight reduction goes, there is the ALCAN aluminium Metro prototype whose weight is reputed by some to be about a shade more than 720kg compared to the weight of the regular Metro 1.3 it is based upon (via a 55kg difference or so between alloy and non-alloy), an aluminium Metro 1.0 approximately weighting about 680-695kg depending on the figures used.

      Though in the Metro’s case, a far cheaper solution would have been needed for the Metro on top of additional development in other more feasible areas (including of course safety).

      • The Metro’s main failing by the mid eighties was its drivetrain. Using two elderly petrol engines mated to a four speed only transmission and no diesel option was starting to make the car old fashioned. Yes the 1984 freshened up the styling and gave the option of four doors, something lacking on the Fiesta, but the drivetrain was never addressed and the car continued to its replacement in 1990 with the same elderly engines and four speed transmission. Mind you, the 950cc Fiesta was a complete dog, struggling on the slightest of hills that a 1 litre Metro would find easy, and the 1 litre Nova was no fun.

        • Do not disagree regarding the Metro’s engine and gearbox, even if the A-Plus was still competitive in other areas largely due to its undersquare design.

          Other commenters have mentioned the Daihatsu diesel was investigated for the Metro (with motoring tabloids at the time speculating about the Metro using a 1.5 3-cylinder VM Motori diesel). It is not clear whether the reason the Metro diesel idea went no further was the cost of the engine, the limitations of the in-sump gearbox (that could not withstand the torque of de-restricted A-Plus Turbo engine) or perceived lack of demand for a diesel supermini.

          Despite the PSA MA/Rover R65 gearbox not appearing in the Metro until the R6 and the time / cost constraints, did wonder if an end-on gearbox layout was looked at for the original Metro (possibly Polo-sourced similar to the Golf-sourced gearbox in the bigger Maestro/Montego, Fiat-sourced or a BL-only development).

          The stillborn A-OHC engine had some promise (despite needing a suitable end-on gearbox), although of the view it could have been further developed to receive a final viable belated enlargement from a 1.3 to a 1.4 (71.5 mm x 86 mm) with better scope for dieselization compared to the earlier 950 diesel in the 1962-1969 BMC Mini Tractor by Ricardo (similar to what occurred with the transformation from the larger 1.8 B-Series to the 2.0 O-Series / Perkins Prima).

          • @ Nate, to be fair to the Metro, it was still selling steadily in its last years and probably saved British Leyland., and a complete update was due in 1990 that addressed all the problems with the Austin era car. It was still quite competitive with regards to price, running costs and interior space and the MG versions had a loyal following.

          • The Metro did indeed do remarkably well given the constraints the company had to deal with, although in some respects the R6 was what the Austin era car should have been from the beginning (in more ideal circumstances) minus the K-Series and PSA gearbox (updating models to what they should have been from the start seems to be a BL theme).

            Accept the above changes for the Metro (minus the alloy body) even with early-R6 style Hydragas would have hardly transformed it into a 2nd generation Supermini to rival the Uno and 205 (however it may have been a close call), though had it appeared in the early-70s could have easily warranted taking the “Supermini” moniker for itself.

            Hypothetically the Maestro could have been a possible pre-AR6 basis for a 2nd generation Supermini (with a wheelbase of about 93.5-inches or essentially the same as ADO16 and similar to the Uno), as the Maestro itself was already spacious for its class in the segment above could the same thinking that also made the Metro spacious against the 1st generation Supermini opposition relative to its small size have been applied on a Maestro-based Supermini (thereby combining the space efficiency of the Fiat Uno with the relative size of the Peugeot 205)?

  32. The second generation of Fiesta sold particularly well to driving schools in diesel form, as instructors were delighted to find a car that could do 50-60 mpg, was harder to stall than a petrol car and was more reliable. Also the 1.6 engine allied to a five speed transmission meant the diesel could go reasonably fast and wasn’t too noisy at higher speeds, a major criticism of early diesels.

  33. I wonder if the cost of developing the Sierra and Escort might have led Ford to only do a light restyle of the Fiesta, as they were confident people would buy the car regardless, and added a five speed transmission and a diesel to keep it competitive. Problem was, like the Metro, the seventies origins of the Fiesta became too clear by the late eighties, with poor smaller engines, the lack of a four door model and a cramped interior. For similar money, you could buy a Peugeot 205 with a bigger interior, better engines and four doors, and private buyers were turning to Peugeot in large numbers.

  34. Had Lee Iacocca got his way at Ford during that time instead of being frustrated by a reluctant HFII who allegedly did not believe Superminis and FWD to be profitable. The mk1/mk2 Fiesta would have probably featured a plethora of body styles and spin-offs, if material from Steve Saxty’s Secret Ford books and elsewhere online are any indication.

    From 3/5-door hatchback, 2/4-door, 3-door estates (both shooting-brake along with MPV-esque via 1976 Ford Mini-Max II), coupe, roadster (via Barchetta) and 2-pick-up as well as various 2-seater city cars (e.g. Shuttler, Super Gnat and Econocar) up to an Escort-sized FWD car with the 1976 Ford C-Car by Ghia.

    The original mk1 Fiesta XR2 could have even been turbocharged to around 100-105 hp via the Fiesta May-Turbo and Fiesta XR2 Lumo 105T.

  35. @ Nate, Ford has always been about bean counting and building cars to a price, and Henry Ford 11 probably thought making the Fiesta into a whole range of cars would have cost too much money. Remember, the futuristic looking Sierra was hobbled by being rwd and carrying over engines from the Cortina because this was the Ford way, same as the 1983 Fiesta was merely a warmed over version of the 1976 model.
    I’m not anti Ford, as they knew how to win over their main market in the UK by making conservatively engineered cars that were easy to maintain and had plenty of options, just there was little room for innovation and new thinking. No wonder Iacocca left and made his name as the man who saved Chrysler by challenging American thinking on producing cars such as the K car and the minivan.

    • To be honest long after HFII retired, Ford were still working this way. The Mk3 the senior management wanted based upon the existing Mk1/2 platform, and the designers wanted to build a new platform that was longer and could handle well. Unfortunately we got a middle position, and the Mk3 was larger but not exactly a handler. My Uncle was on the design team at the time and his lasting mark was the internal door catch! It took Ford to sort that out with the Mk4, which was a seriously good handler. But that was after the disasters of the Mk5 Escort.

      • Daveh

        Putting aside the CVH engines, to what extent did Erika / Mk3 Escort carry over the FWD and other mechanicals from the mk1/mk2 Fiesta?

        • My Uncle didn’t join Ford until 79 as an apprentice at Dunton, and a large proportion of the Erika’s project was done between Cologne and Detroit. My dad and grandad were at Dagenham at the time, which was the home of the Fiesta and Cortina, so don’t know so much about Erika. However I know at the internal launch, they mentioned the Fiesta as the inspiration for the Erika, and as per most Ford’s they used as much parts that they could share, especially as the whole project cost $3 billion and the plan to be a world car failed miserably as not many parts are interchangeable between European and US versions, and Australia went their own way with the Laser! I do wonder that Iacocca left Ford because the project went over budget, or was it because HFII was a nasty piece of work (as per my dad and grandad who met him)

          • Know there were a number of reasons Iacocca left Ford followed by Sperlich due to issues with HFII including over Minivan concepts like the Ford Carrousel and Ford Mini-Max, supposedly the fuel crises over the 1970s played their part in delaying an earlier FWD onslaught by Ford beyond the Fiesta.

            Supposedly Erika only got the go ahead if it used a common platform, despite reservations the Fiesta architecture would be unlikely to produce a compelling Golf-class challenger.

            In practice the Mk3 Escort can allegedly be loosely defined as an enlarged Fiesta of sorts, which still shared much from the Fiesta yet not completely identical.

            The 1976 Ford C-Car by Ghia makes one ponder if in parallel with the 1976 Fiesta, something like the C-Car yet based on Bobcat could have entered production in place of the 1974 mk2 Escort that carried over much from the mk1 which ceased production in 1975.

    • Part of the rationale for the various Fiesta derivatives was it being designed as a car to be built in a number of markets including South America, although HFII’s lack of enthusiasm towards the Fiesta tempered those ideas.

      Ford could have cynically replaced the Cortina with an enlarged Escort mk3 platform as was the case with the Tempo via the North American Escort, which could be looked at as Ford’s take on the GM J-Car (since the mk2 Cavalier reputedly carried over much from the mk1 Astra).

      Yet it is doubtful the Cologne V6 could have been mounted in a FWD car, unlike the Sierra and only Saab ever attempted it with an experimental 9000 when searching for a suitable V6 pre-GM.


      • The original SAAB 900 had a longitudinal engine, so much easier to fit the Ford V6 engine in than in a transverse engined car.

        • Saab did briefly contemplate using the Stag V8 for the 99 before they wisely went for turbocharging their engine, only to later develop their own V8 for the 9000.

          For Saab potential usage of the Cologne V6 had the advantage of being based on the previously used V4, which would have allowed them to take over the production of the engine and continue to produce it at Saab-Valmet in Finland were it not for its drivability being deemed only acceptable at best (the favourite was the Alfa V6 already used in the 164).

          A hypothetical Sierra-bodied European spec version of the Escort-derived FWD Ford Tempo could have still used the Pinto engine and the Vulcan V6 that soon became the SHO V6, which would have needed 4WD. Although it would have erased the Sierra and Escort Cosworth, with the mk3 Granada / mk1 Scorpio platform being absent of a smaller platform to underpin the Sierra.

  36. What superminis are there left now, forty years on from the introduction of the cars mentioned in this article? The Fiesta is no more, Micra seemingly no longer on Nissan UK’s website, Punto/Grande Punto on the vine some years ago. We’ve still got the related Corsa/208/C3, the related Clio and Sandero, Kia Rio/Hyundai i20 siblings, Yaris, and the VAG products based on the Polo, as well as the MINI (spiritual successor in some ways to the Metro?), with Suzuki seemingly still doing OK with the Swift, but no other superminis spring to mind other than the Honda Jazz. Contrast that to forty years ago when a manufacturer’s range wasn’t complete without a supermini. It’s debatable whether all those still available are actually superminis, such has been their growth in size over the past thirty years or so. The city cars/ A segment vehicles that used to exist below them were arguably modern day superminis, but they’re an even more endangered species these days – only the Fiat 500 seems to sell in respectable numbers and seems to have a future as an EV. Notable mention also goes to the Hyundai i10 and Kia Picanto though for hanging on in there. Toyota have gone down a mini SUV route with the Aygo X – somewhat like the Suzuki Ignis. Ford, VAG, GM Europe (as was), Renault, and PSA (as was) all seemed to toy with A segment cars in recent years, yet ditch these ranges in the past five years or so. The automotive landscape is changing fast.

    • It’s because the manufacturers are pushing us towards mini SUVs. Ford was the best example, stating that the Puma was selling better than the Firsta which is why it was seeing production ending. In reality, Detroit planned to move its whole production to SUV/Trucks so they decided that what chips they had available for car production (they had decided to use most of their supplies for commercial vehicles) on the Puma. If you went to a dealer it took 6 months to get a Fiesta but only 12 weeks for a Puma. Customers started buying Pumas so the Fiesta sales dropped off.

    • Toyota still has the Yaris, though it’s probably a bit big for a supermini, but the hybrids use the same technology as the Prius.

  37. The city car seemed to take off during the scrappage scheme and recession of 2008/09 when buyers were offered £ 2000 for their old cars and used this as a deposit against a £6000 city car. However, the limitations of cars like the Suzuki Alto saw the trend to cheap city cars die off and even the more upmarket offerings from VAG and Peugeot Citroen have been phased out in recent years. It seems now people want a largish supermini like the Skoda Fabia or a mini SUV.

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