Party Downsize: The Ford Fiesta Mk1 and Mk2

The original Ford Fiesta, introduced in 1976, was the Ford Motor Company’s most important new car of the seventies. It was a staggeringly expensive project that began Ford’s conversion to front-wheel drive and took the company into the modern B-segment for the first time. However, the Fiesta also provoked great internal controversy and emerged only after a protracted and contentious development period. In this installment of Ate Up With Motor, we look at the origins and history of the 1976–1983 Mk1 Fiesta, the Fiesta XR2 hot hatch, and the 1984–1989 Mk2 Fiesta.

1978 Mk1 Fiesta S decal © 2012 Murilee Martin per
(Photo © 2012 Murilee Martin); used with permission)

FORD THINKS SMALLER

Perhaps the most remarkable and ironic thing about the original Fiesta is that while it was an extremely important car for Ford, the company was originally very reluctant to build it at all. In size, technology, and market, the Fiesta took Ford into new territory into which many senior officials weren’t convinced the company even needed to venture.

In the late sixties, Ford’s European operations were generally doing well. Most models were either new or about to be refreshed and the much-publicized racing program had boosted Ford’s image. The corporation’s previously separate and competitive British and German subsidiaries were being integrated, which would shortly result in a unified model line-up, and Ford was preparing to launch the new Capri, a European answer to popular American pony cars like the Mustang.

Despite that success, by 1969 a few voices within the company were cautiously suggesting that Ford needed something more: a smaller subcompact car for the burgeoning B-segment. While Ford was selling well in Great Britain and industrialized, relatively affluent countries like West Germany and Belgium, central and southern Europe were another matter. For many Italians, for example, modest wages, high fuel prices, and restrictive vehicle taxes made even C-segment cars like Ford’s new Escort an expensive proposition. All Ford could offer such buyers was a slightly cheaper Escort with an underpowered 944 cc (58 cu. in.) version of the familiar four-cylinder Kent engine. As a result, Ford’s market penetration in those regions was limited and sales of rivals’ smaller B-segment models were growing.

1969 Mk1 Escort 1100 De Luxe front 3q © 2012 Berthold Werner CC BY-SA 3.0

A 1969 Ford Escort 1100 De Luxe. (Photo © 2012 Berthold Werner; used under a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

Surprisingly, Ford management didn’t initially consider that a serious problem. Ford’s Marketing staff insisted that the B-segment was a transitory phenomenon. Their projections, which in retrospect sound almost ludicrously optimistic, suggested that Europe’s economic growth over the previous 15 years would continue apace. Marketing conceded that buyers in some markets could not yet afford cars like the Escort or the larger, D-segment Cortina, but maintained that as those markets’ economies grew, the B-segment would gradually shrink and all but vanish within a decade or so. For Ford to enter that market, then, would be a needless waste of resources. (Throughout the seventies, there was on-again, off-again talk of Ford developing a cheap microcar for emerging markets, but such a car probably wouldn’t have been offered in Europe or North America.)

Predictably, Finance was even more opposed to the idea of Ford developing a B-segment car. Finance’s objections echoed those that been levied against virtually every small car any U.S-based automaker had ever contemplated: that a smaller car would not be much cheaper to design or manufacture than the Escort (which had already been cost-engineered to within an inch of its life), would have to be priced lower (cutting into profit margins), and, if sold in meaningful numbers, would cannibalize sales of the company’s bigger, more profitable cars.

After considerable argument, Ford of Britain’s vice president of product planning, Ralph Peters, received authorization for a small task force to study the issue and create a proposal. A year later, the team presented their findings and a fiberglass mockup to the corporate Product Committee, saying Ford could sell 300,000 B-segment cars a year, most of them to customers who had never previously bought a Ford — or perhaps any new car.

That projection didn’t silence the dissenters, but it lent the B-car idea a new credibility. Even the most reactionary or penurious executive can hardly ignore potential business of that scale, especially if it offers the possibility of significantly increasing market penetration. The latter had been a particular sticking point for Ford in the U.S.; for all the company’s success in product development, Ford’s domestic market share had remained frustratingly static.

While adding an extra quarter million or more sales a year sounded good, that figure didn’t erase Finance’s fundamental objections. Furthermore, building so many additional cars would entail a major expansion of Ford’s European production capacity. Therefore, if the product bombed or if Marketing’s predictions about the half-life of the B-segment turned out to be correct, the whole exercise would cost Ford dearly: at least $700 million.

THE FRONT-WHEEL-DRIVE CONTROVERSY

Other European automakers, particularly in France and Italy, had fewer qualms, and the late sixties and early seventies saw an explosion of new small cars. Early salvos included the Simca 1204 and Autobianchi A112, followed in the spring of 1971 by the A112′s cousin, the Fiat 127. By the end of 1972, these were joined by the Renault 5, Peugeot 104, and Honda Civic.

Mk1 Fiat 127 © 2009 Thomas Doerfer CC BY-SA 3.0

The Mk1 Fiesta’s original target: the early Fiat 127. (Photo © 2009 Thomas Doerfer; used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

By the time the Civic bowed, Henry Ford II had reluctantly conceded that Ford needed a B-segment car for the European market. The abundance of new entries in that segment meant that Ford had a simple choice: They could join the party and grow or sit back and lose market share.

Nonetheless, there was still considerable disagreement about what format a smaller Ford should have. Previously, small cars had used a variety of mechanical layouts, but by 1972, a new orthodoxy was emerging: transverse front engine, front-wheel drive, space-efficient suspension, and a two-box shape, eventually including a rear hatchback for greater load-carrying versatility. All but the last had been seen more than a decade earlier on the BMC Mini, but it was not until the seventies that the front-engine/front-drive (FF) hatchback became the norm in this class. (Some competitors, including Fiat and Peugeot, initially did without the rear hatch, but the market quickly demonstrated a strong preference for the three- or five-door layout.)

Today, the choice seems obvious; the packaging advantages of the FF layout are hard to ignore even for larger C-segment cars, much less smaller ones. However, in the early seventies, Ford’s Finance staff vigorously opposed any talk of front-wheel drive. They hadn’t forgotten Ford’s analysis of the early Mini, which concluded that BMC was selling each car at a loss of more than $80.

1965 Ford Taunus P4 12M © 2008 Berthold Werner PD

The Mk1 Fiesta is sometimes described — incorrectly — as Ford’s first FWD production car, but that honor actually goes to the 1963–1966 Taunus 12M/15M (P4). This is a 1965 Taunus 12M. (Photo © 2008 Berthold Werner; released to the public domain by the photographer, modified 2013 by the author)

Ford’s own experience with front-wheel drive had been less than reassuring. Discounting an abortive early-sixties program to develop a front-wheel-drive Thunderbird, Ford’s only FWD models to date had been the German Taunus P4 and P6 (sold as the Taunus 12M and 15M). Developed in Dearborn as the Cardinal, the P4 was originally intended for both the U.S. and Ford’s German subsidiary, but Lee Iacocca, then Ford Division general manager, had persuaded Henry Ford II to cancel the U.S. car at the last minute, leaving only the German version. The Taunus P4 and subsequent P6 weren’t a complete sales disaster, selling some 1.3 million units between 1962 and 1970, but they were expensive to build, cost more than most direct rivals, and were generally disappointing in both performance and market share. Few in Dearborn were eager to go down that road again, which is why the P6′s replacement, the Taunus TC, had reverted to rear-wheel drive. A few German engineers were disappointed, but Ford’s accountants breathed a sigh of relief.

Ford’s thinking on small cars in this era was exemplified by the Escort, introduced in 1968 as Ford’s first Anglo-German passenger car. Developed to replace the British Anglia 105E, the Mk1 Escort was at the smaller end of the C-segment, considerably bigger than a Mini or a Fiat 600, but some 5 inches (127 mm) shorter than an Opel Kadett. Other than its size, the Escort was a thoroughly conservative design with MacPherson strut front suspension, rear-wheel drive, a live axle on semi-elliptical leaf springs, and several variations of Ford of Britain’s trusty OHV “Kent” four, usually linked to a four-speed gearbox.

1971 Ford Escort RS1600 front 3q © 2012 Sicnag CC BY 2.0

One of the various sporty spinoffs of the Mk1 Escort was the RS1600. Built at Ford Advanced Vehicle Operations in Ockendon, Essex, it used a special reinforced “Type 49″ bodyshell and a 1,601cc (98 cu. in.) Cosworth BDA engine with belt-driven dual overhead cams and 115 PS (85 kW) DIN. Naturally, it was substantially more expensive than a “cooking” Escort. (Photo © 2012 Sicnag; modified 2013 by the author and used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

To keep production costs and starting prices to a minimum, the Escort’s basic specification was basic indeed; standard were 12-inch wheels, drum brakes, and interior furnishings that only a determined skinflint or tightfisted fleet manager could love. Buyers could upgrade both the ambiance and the performance by choosing from a multitude of trim levels and option packs, while enthusiasts and automotive journalists were appeased with a selection of limited-production Twin Cam and RS models. The latter offerings in turn served to homologate those cars for rally competition, in which the Escort proved extremely successful.

It would be easy to scoff at this merchandizing strategy, which Ford employed to varying degrees on most of its European offerings of the period, but it was an effective one (Ford sold more than 1.9 million Mk1 Escorts through 1974) and likely very profitable, which left Ford understandably reluctant to step away from it. While some senior executives recognized the need for FWD — including Hal Sperlich, whom Lee Iacocca (now Ford president) had appointed to oversee the project as Iacocca’s special assistant — others still needed to be convinced.

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  1. This very well researched paper prompts memories of our rental of a Fiesta in May, 1988 with which we toured Germany and France. I was already a fan of small cars and I found this one to be simple but quite satisfactory. I even drove it through Paris. It certainly was not fast, but I recollect that it could get 40 miles to the gallon. The one problem was finding the unleaded fuel that it required. Especially in France, this was very difficult. One final recollection: cars still had the right of way over pedestrians over there then. As a pedestrian I did not like it and came close to some fights after nearly being ran over. I like to credit my actiions with changing the law to favor pedestrians.

  2. In a SIA’s article "False Starts and Second Guesses", the author Jan P. Norbye talked about a ford’s small world car in 1963 but he said no more with its layout (was it already a fwd cars?) Could you tell me more with this project?

    1. Unfortunately, that article really doesn’t say much about that project other than that it came from the Ford styling studio in Dearborn around 1965.

      As I mentioned on the first page, Ford was talking on and off about doing some kind of microcar for emerging markets. That would not have been a B-segment car like the Fiesta, but something more along the lines of the modern Tata Nano — a very simple, austerely finished car with seats for four and a top speed of 90 to 100 km/h. My guess is that the study to which Norbye was referring was probably one iteration of that idea, which Ford kept playing with (in various forms) at least into the late ’70s.

      1. Thank you for your response. The Ford’s idea about an emerging market’s car was very advanced for 60′s. Good article and topic, I like these car because my grandfather owned a blue fiesta MK1, a very well-looking and reliable car. Ford had done a good comeback to FWD technology.

  3. Thrilled to see this article. I’m a small car nut and love the Fiesta in particular. Four wheels, some vinyl and stick shift protruding through the floor is the recipe for automotive bliss. I wish we would have got the XR2 in the states but they can now be imported. All you need is the willingness to pay far more for something than its worth, I think I’ve demonstrated sufficient lack of judgment to qualify.

    1. Hee — truer words…

      There is something sort of compelling about no-frills cars. In practice, it’s hard not to eventually be lured by convenience features (which is why so many modern Bs have power windows and optional satnav), but a well-sorted, no-nonsense basic vehicle has its own satisfactions.

  4. If I may digress about the Ford Taunus . . .

    At some point in the last 45 or so years, there was a very detailed magazine article about the gestation of the Cardinal/Taunus–I wish I had the precise citation, but I’ll have to go from memory.

    At the time Dearborn launched the Cardinal/Taunus project, Ford Köln had a subcompact fairly far along in development: front engine, rear drive, 1.0-liter OHC I4. It would have been the world’s first production car with the camshaft driven by a toothed belt, but Dearborn shoved the Cardinal/Taunus down Köln’s throat, so that distinction went to the Glas GT instead.

    The feeling at this time was that a FWD car with longitudinal engine needed to have a very short engine, and that had been true of virtually all such cars: flat twins (Panhard, Citroen 2CV), triples (Saab, DKW, Wartburg), H4′s (Lloyd Arabella, Goliath). Hence the V4.

    The original plan was to have a "Ponypak," as they called it–engine, transmission, and front suspension as a module that could be removed and replaced whole. This proved to be a dead end, with NVH problems. The writer went so far as to say, "The Ponypak’s fractious behavior was jeopardizing the entire program."

    Ford U.S. also wanted to use single-leaf rear springs, and there was a question of whether they could be sourced in Germany at all.

    Saab 96′s were used as mules–a nice historical irony in that a few years later, Saab began using the Taunus V4. At this point the 96 front clip hadn’t been designed with the V4 in mind (that came with MY 1967), so the engineers mounted the headlights in pods on the extreme left and right, and they must have looked even odder than stock 96′s. When Henry Ford II swung through and saw one of the mules, he did a double-take. He said he wanted the car ready by such and such year, and after he left, one of the engineers realized that he’d meant the model year, not the calendar year, which meant that much less time.

    The Cardinal version was canceled because it would have had almost the sticker price of a Falcon. The engineers in Köln had their marching orders and got the Taunus production-ready, but it was a sore subject with them for years afterward.

    1. A couple of additions to this:

      From what I read, the Cardinal’s design had its roots in a proposal Ford-Werke had offered around 1957, when Ford started thinking about doing a compact car; Dearborn had solicited proposals from Cologne and Dagenham as well as a couple of internal studies. (One of the principal creators of the German design, incidentally, was August Momberger, formerly of Borgward, which probably had much to do with their thinking on FWD.) That project sort of stalled for a while, so Cologne moved onto their own FR design. In the interim, Dearborn more or less started over, borrowing some ideas from the German concept and giving them a new spin, which I assume is why Cologne wasn’t necessarily happy with the results.

      With the Fiesta, I think it was really to Ford’s great benefit that other manufacturers had already established a degree of orthodoxy in that segment. The problem with moving into uncharted territory is that you end up with an odd mix of what the engineers think is clever and what the accountants think is affordable (the Corvair being a case in point). By the time Ford started working on the Bobcat project, buyers had a pretty clear idea what they could expect and what they wanted, so every time the project started going in an odd direction, the marketing clinics returned a resounding "Nope." (Ford clung for a remarkably long time to the idea of a RWD B and I think they only gave up on it because the clinic results were pretty uniformly negative.) Of course, marketing studies aren’t the end all, be all of product development, and it is possible for a good idea to be "clincked to death," but such studies can be a useful guide to what NOT to do.

  5. Regarding Escort front suspension, only the very early cars used a compression link behind the axle line.Very soon they reverted to using a front anti-roll bar ahead of the axle to locate the track control arm.

    1. My impression was that when the Mk1 Escort got the front anti-roll bar across the board in 1969 (if I recall correctly, the German cars may have had that from the start), they still had the compression link — the anti-roll bar ahead of the axle line, the compression link behind it. I may be reading it wrong; I’ll check on that.

      1. On further investigation, I think you’re correct. (I had gotten it in my head that the compression links were retained with the anti-roll bar.) I’ve amended the text.

  6. I have very found memories of the MK3 as was ferried about as a child in one around London. Also I passed my driving test on a nearly new MK7 facelift I really like the flexibility and performance of 1.0 ecoboost a relatively nippy car considering it 0-60 was mid 9 secs I do have a fondness for fords.

  7. Another great article Aaron, and this one dear to my heart. In 1979 I bought a 78 "S" model that had been a demo with 12k miles on it. It was a daily driver until 1985 when it became too small for our family of triplets and it became an autocrosser until I sold it to a friend/competitor in 1991. One correction I would like to make is regarding the rear suspension. It was a bit of an oddity and did not use 4 trailing links as stated in the article. It used 2 lower trailing links connecting below the axle, but there were no uppers. control of rocking motion of the axle was done with a bracket on the coilover damper. The damper was connected to a bracket behind and below the axle in normal fashion, while the aforementioned bracket attached to a peg sticking up out of the top of the axle, isolated by a large rubber bushing. The lower part of the damper was a bit stouter than normal to allow it to do this double duty. Not having the upper links also allowed for a bit more room in the back seat area, and I can positively state that one can indeed get 3 baby seats side by side in the back of a Mk1 Fiesta! Do keep up your great work sir, I look forward with anticipation to reading your stories!
    Joe Dunlap

    1. Joe,

      Your comment pointed out to me that the reference to "four trailing links" was actually an error I didn’t catch while I was putting together the article. Your description is right: there were two lower trailing arms, each of which was slotted to reduce its weight, and lateral location was handled by a Panhard rod on a rubber-bushed peg from the axle beam. I deleted the word "four" from the text, as the rest is correct. Thanks for the correction — I had missed that during the editing.

  8. At some point <i>Road & Track</i> included the U.S. Fiesta in a group test. Their take on it was that in spite of its humble spec (pushrods, dead beam rear axle) it was a lot of fun to drive. Sounds like a Saab 96, although I doubt that it had the 96′s passive safety.

    1. Certainly at that point there was no particular shame in either pushrods or a beam axle. A lot of B-segment cars still use a dead axle (albeit now generally a torsion beam, which the Fiesta didn’t get until the Mk3) and quite a few had pushrod engines into the ’90s. For the era, the Kent engine was pretty competent; the U.S. car was very mildly tuned for emissions reasons, but the crossflow head design gave it a good balance of rev potential and mid-range torque. The nominally more sophisticated CVH engines that replaced it were not necessarily an improvement, despite having a higher specific output.

  9. The Kent engine in its iteration in the US spec Fiesta was truly strangled compared to its European brethen. At first glance, looking at one disassembled and layed out on a table, one would think they were looking at a diesel engine. The cylinder head had no combustion cambers, all of that was in the tops of the pistons. The head was flat on the bottom and the valves themselves were smaller than the Euro version. The intake manifold was also compromised by the close proximity of the firewall making for very tight corners and narrow passages fed by a, as I recall, 28/32 Weber (or Holley knockoff). My personal fix for it (on my miserably small budget) was a bigger valve head from a 71 Pinto 1.6 and higher compression (smaller combustion chamber) pistons and a hand fabricated intake manifold with a pair of 1.5" S.U. carburetors from a Volvo 122. Sort of a whoopee cushion of a car, but great fun to autocross!

    1. All the five-bearing Kent engines, at least the regular-production variety, had Heron-type "bowl-in-piston" combustion chambers — that wasn’t exclusive to the U.S. version. (The Valencia version had wedge chambers instead.) The U.S. cars did have smaller valves, although they did indeed have Weber carburetors; Ford tried some cheaper alternatives, but concluded that they didn’t work as well.

      The restricted breathing did have some payoff in mid-range torque, which is reflected in the U.S. cars’ acceleration times, though obviously it wasn’t a great boon to maximum horsepower, as the people trying to run Fiestas in Group 1 could attest. I suspect (though I don’t know for sure) that part of the rationale of the Fiesta X in ’79 was to help Ford homologate the better-breathing Mexico-style head.

      1. The Valencia must have been used in the Pinto, as thats what the head was like that I found. It had a small wedge chamber, so with the smaller bowl pistons I found, the change in compression ratio must have been a wash. (I never did bother checking as there was nothing I could do about it economically). It seemed to run just fine on regular gas, although I treated it to premium on track days. :-).

        1. The early Pinto 1.6 used the Kent engine, not the Valencia, which came later. The Valencia engine (a misnomer, really, because not all of them were built in Spain) had similar architecture, but had a shorter block and reduced bore spacing; the Kent engines had a common 80.978mm bore while the Valencia was standardized around a 73.96mm bore. (Most of the Valencia engines had three main bearings, but in the latter eighties Ford did a five-bearing 1,297 cc version as a price-leader for the Escort and Orion.) For that reason, I don’t think a Valencia head would fit the Kent block.

          I don’t know offhand if the version of the 1.6-liter Kent used in the U.S. Pintos and Capri had a different head, although that’s a possibility. The 1971 federal engine had 8.4 compression while the British versions were generally 9.0:1 and needed premium fuel.

    2. The Kent. Strangled by our first real anti pollutions regs here in Aus (ADR 27A, if you’re really that keen) A pig to work on in the Escort Mk 2, and a wheezy gutless slug. It took real genius to make an engine that was that simple, yet that hard to work on.

  10. I owned a 1980 Fiesta S…. I have never loved a car more… performance upgrades…Avon 12 inchers for tires…. Dark blue…. it was one of those cars I never should have let go…..

  11. Dear Aaron,

    I love your entire website but seeing this article about my first car is magical. My father bought a red/black Fiesta Ghia Mk2 when I was 5 years old. I rode in it growing up and it then later became my first car. Against all better judgement, I still have it to this day. I rarely drive it now but when I do I’m smitten with its nimbleness and uncorrupted manual steering. It’s not fast by any means, but it’s quite a fun little car.

    You mention it didn’t excel in any particular area but if I had to pick one, I’d say it’s a very well appointed car for its time and price bracket. As an example If you look under the dashboard you will find the bottom is fully carpeted, something many much newer and more expensive cars don’t feature.

    Best regards, Rui

    1. The Ghia models were quite plush for the B-segment, which was a savvy and prescient marketing decision — you didn’t have to pay for the extra trim if you didn’t want to, but if you did, Ford was happy to sell it to you. Of course, that was a lesson Lee Iacocca had learned years earlier and I have no doubt that Ford made a lot of money from it. (The price spread between the most basic Popular and the Ghia was sometimes as much as 30 percent!)

  12. In 1980 (or so) I was living in North Dakota, just outside of Fargo. We lived in a housing development with a gravel road that had a terrible "washboarding" problem like many of them do. Late in the summer I noticed a Fiesta had started going by my house, usually at a pretty high rate of speed, driven by a fellow teenager who I hadn’t met yet. One day my dad had ridden up on his horse, and as I was talking to him in the yard there was suddenly a loud noise and a big cloud of dust across the empty field. Out of that cloud of dust came the Fiesta, tumbling end over end three or four times, coming to rest on its roof. My dad instantly galloped off to render assistance and I scrambled for my camera. By the time I got to the wrecked car in the ditch, neither my dad nor the driver was to be found. After the car came to a rest, my future friend Jeff unbuckled his seatbelt, fell to the roof, and climbed out the window. Finding himself mostly OK, he accepted my dad’s offer of a horse ride back to his house. Jeff later told me that while riding the tops of the washboards he turned a little and that was enough to make the car catch and start tumbling end over end. The car held up really well and I remember being amazed at that and taking a fair number of pictures. If I can dig them up I will post links to them. Not surprisingly, that’s not the only car Jeff has rolled and walked away from.

  13. Another great article Aaron.
    I worked as a mechanic in the ’80s, mostly keeping older cars on the road as rust and wear took its toll.
    Ford had a generally well deserved reputation for being easy to fix, even though they were no more reliable or less rust prone than contemporary rivals. No doubt this helped them maintain good secondhand values, a significant factor in costing buying a new car.
    The Fiesta was in very high demand as a used car in the UK, as you said it had few shortcomings, this and being easy and cheap to maintain no doubt helped, as did Fords reputation in the UK for making a range of practical and pleasant cars at the time.

    Claud

    1. I assume repair and maintenance costs were a factor in the success of the Fiesta and then particularly the FWD Escort, which became the darling of the British company/fleet car market in the ’80s. A lot of that market comes down to a pretty cold-blooded assessment of pence per mile and residuals.

      Whatever one might think of Ford’s styling or engineering during that era, their merchandising acumen was really something else. They clearly understood their market extremely well and calculated very precisely how to minimize costs without having buyers feel shortchanged.

  14. I worked as a mechanic at a small Ford dealership in the early 80′s and remember how much fun the Fiestas were to drive (and how not fun the early Escorts were!). Once we had two of them on the used line and one of the other wrenches and I raced them all over the lot and even in the shop one day when the boss wasn’t looking. Real Keystone Kops stuff.
    Man, I wish I’d bought one.

  15. Funny how the complaints about the CTX/CVT in the Fiesta are the same I have about the CVT in my Nissan Altima. Excellent for highway use, but the lack of response, the droning engine note(2.5 Nissan not noted for smoothness) and non linear response can be obnoxious to deal with.

  16. On the economic concerns, Ford (and others) then (as now) got round the challenge of amortizing initial tooling costs (heavy presses and dies for new shapes were always very expensive), by extending the production runs of these very cars, but of course it was necessary before investing to have confidence that the car would sell in reasonable volumes. I remember discussing the forthcoming Fiesta in (must have been about) early 1976 in relation to the recently introduced Renault 5, and being told that Ford welcomed the obvious success of the Renault because of the way it defined and expended a new class: maybe I read something in the motoring press along the same lines. No doubt it was partly a "party line" courtesy of the marketing department, but it was also, partly, fair comment.

    The size of the investment was also increased by the "green field" plant decision, but of course in the longer term they no doubt calculated than a new plant in Valencia (using the lessons learned with the recently opened Saarlouis plant) could be operated more cost effectively than older facilities in Dagenham or Koeln-Niehle. And Ford do seem to have negotiated a very privileged status in Spain where for more than two decades Seat had been able to sell older designs by competition from modern designs from competitor manufacturers. The Spanish economy was still growing rapidly, but (in an age before most assembly was done by robots) industrial wages remained far lower than in England and Germany, and even if Franco was not universally loved in the country’s industrial regions, the industrial relations issues encountered in the UK during the 1960s/70s seemed unlikely to arise in the Valencia region. Even if future membership of the EEC for Spain was not a foregone conclusion, it did not take any particular insight to spot that Franco was quite old, and that his departure would most likely involve some sort of regime change…. So I do think the Valencia plant was an important component in the decision to go ahead with the Fiesta. (The 13 April 1977 issue of Auto Motor u Sport has an interesting half page on the Valencia plant and the government:Ford relationship background, if anyone can face the German language.)

    1. Aside from the plant, I think Ford was also keen to get into a new market; they were concerned with the fact that their European business was very much concentrated in the north. Trying to compete directly with Peugeot, Renault, and Fiat with a new and unproven product IN France and Italy was going to be an uphill battle, but Spain was largely new territory.

  17. My memories are of two Fiesta’s, both S models. The first was a rental in Brighton the summer of 1979 as my then-fiancee and I were over for the World Science Fiction Convention. I’d seriously looked at one that spring, but dad was loaning the money, and loans were only available for Chevrolet’s (dad was an ex-dealer). Absolutely loved that car on the B-roads between Brighton and Battle while Sally (who was completely indifferent to cars, considering them transportation appliances and nothing more) did the trip crouched down in the footwell. The thought of her beloved driving on the wrong side of the road for the first time, on the wrong side of the car, in his first front wheel drive car ever, AND attempting to learn how to four wheel drift it was a bit much for her.

    My other memory of that car was the abysmal British assembly quality. A Hertz rental with a two-digit odometer when we picked it up, it was already rattling and sounding like it was going to fall apart. I can understand why we Americans got the German built cars.

    Six years later, I finally got my own ‘S’, a used and repainted ’79. Had it for three years, fighting the rust monster every spring. It had an annoying vibration at 55mph which I fixed by never driving at that speed. Just take it up to 70 and everything was smooth.

    Still think it was one of the finest basic cars ever made.

  18. When I was 10 years old, we had a 78 base model and an 80 decor model. Both had been purchased new. Both yellow. At 10 years old, it was much less cool having 2 yellow Fiestas at the same time for your family vehicles. My dad commuted a half hour daily and ran the heck out of the cars and would brag about them at every chance. Being a gruff old-school guy from a different time, it was a big deal that he converted to the little cars. He said the 78 was notably faster than the 80 for some odd reason. After trading the 78 for an Escort :( the 80 went through two of my sisters and then on to me. I abused that 80 model being the car I really learned to drive with. I drove it stupid and hard and it had seen 4 wheels off the ground on a few occasions and it still never let me down. Even drove it a half hour home one morning with a broken belt (which ran the water pump also) and still hung in for the long haul. About 220000 miles without an engine rebuild, clutch, tranny, or any major deal-killing problems. I absolutely loved the car and actually turned down a brand new Festiva (from the Dad finance dept.) when I was in college after a minor accident. ABout 12 years ago, I finally purchased the car from California that I always wanted to build with dual weber side-drafts, roll cage, adjustable suspension, etc. I had purchased lowering springs on ebay and was negotiating some more parts when the guy said he hadn’t taken the car apart yet and it may be worth just buying the whole thing. When he sent me a picture of a yellow rust free car, I was in love.

    Loved the article.

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