FIESTA X-PACK AND SUPERSPORT
While the Healey Fiesta wasn’t for public consumption (although the prototype still exists in private hands), British and European buyers could order some similar pieces through Ford’s network of Rallye Sport dealers.
To make up for the demise of Ford’s Advanced Vehicle Operations (FAVO) and its specialized RS homologation models a few years earlier, Ford developed a series of “Series X” packs for its most popular models, including the Fiesta. Some of that equipment was cosmetic (polyurethane spoilers and fender flares, RS alloy wheels), but there were also performance items like bigger front disc brakes, Bilstein shocks, and freer-breathing exhaust systems.
By late 1979, you could also order a Fiesta X with the 1,598 cc (98 cu. in.) five-bearing engine, the Escort Sport head, and a two-throat Weber 34 DATR carburetor, good for a claimed 90 PS (66 kW) and 94 lb-ft (127 N-m) of torque. Unfortunately, this was not a production option, but a rather expensive dealer swap, costing almost £800 (around $1,800) plus labor on an exchange basis. Adding the engine and every non-conflicting item in the catalog brought the X-pack tally to around £2,200 (almost $5,000) with labor, which of course did not include the cost of the car itself. We don’t know how many X-pack Fiestas were sold; we assume that most buyers settled for selected pieces rather than the full kit.
The logical next step would have seemed to be a production Fiesta 1600 for the European market, but for the 1981 model year, Ford instead offered the mostly cosmetic Fiesta Supersport/Super S, which combined stock mechanicals with a body kit, spoilers, and 13-inch RS wheels. (British Supersports were all based on the 1300S, but the similar Super S model offered in some other markets could also be ordered with the 1,117 cc (68 cu. in.) engine.)
Some sources describe the Supersport as a marketing trial balloon, although after the 1300S, the Healey Fiesta, and the X-packs, one has to wonder how many times Ford needed to test the waters before jumping in. Given its timing, the Supersport strikes us more as a holding action. There may indeed have been some temporary doubts about the market — the 1979 fuel crisis had shifted buyers’ attention back toward smaller-engined models and prompted Ford to introduce a more-frugal Economy version of the Fiesta 1100 — but development of a sporty 1.6-liter Fiesta was already under way.
FIESTA XR2 MK1
At the 1981 IAA show in Frankfurt, Ford finally introduced its first real Fiesta hot hatch: the Fiesta XR2. It was developed by the new Special Vehicle Engineering (SVE) unit, established in February 1980 as the modern successor to the old FAVO operation, albeit without the separate production line that had ultimately made FAVO too expensive to continue. The XR2 was SVE’s second car, debuting about six months after their first project, the Capri 2.8 Injection. The latter was presumably the reason the Fiesta XR2 didn’t appear sooner than it did; SVE’s personnel and resources were limited.
After all the lead-up, the XR2’s specifications were almost anticlimactic. The engine was the five-bearing 1,598 cc (98 cu. in.) Kent unit fitted with the Mexico head and cam and the Weber 32/34 DFTA carburetor from the Escort XR3 (subsequently replaced with a Weber DFT6), which yielded the same 84 PS (62 kW) and 92 lb-ft (125 N-m) of torque as the old rear-drive Escort 1600 Sport. The engine was lowered 0.6 inches (15 mm) in the chassis and mated to the FWD Escort’s sturdier four-speed transmission and the taller 3.58 axle ratio from the now-defunct U.S. Fiesta.
The XR2’s suspension was basically that of the 1300S, but with shortened front springs to lower the nose about an inch (25 mm). An X-pack body kit and fender flares allowed wider 13×6 alloy wheels (modeled on but not identical to Wolfrace Sonic wheels), which in turn accommodated bigger vented front discs and a set of 185/60HR-13 Pirelli P6s. In all, the XR2 differed only in detail from the previous X-pack cars. The only really surprising thing about it was that Ford had waited so long to create what was basically a straightforward amalgamation of familiar pieces.
The price for all this was 15,700 DM in Germany, £5,500 in the U.K. (reduced to £5,150 in mid-1982), which was cheaper than an X-pack Fiesta with all the trimmings, but not exactly a bargain; the Fiesta XR2 was substantially more expensive than rivals like the Fiat 127 1300GT, Alfa Romeo Alfasud 1.5, or the more powerful Renault 5 Alpine/Gordini. (Interestingly, at least in the U.K., the XR2 was priced identically to the 1300 Ghia, which was slower and softer, but somewhat better-equipped.)
In a straight line, the XR2 was capable of 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in the mid-9s with a top speed of perhaps 105 mph (169 km/h), which was not in the same league as the bigger but more expensive Volkswagen Golf GTi or Escort XR3i, but a good deal quicker than most cars in the XR2’s size and price class. Unfortunately, the XR2 was also thirstier than lesser Fiestas and many rivals, returning only 24-25 mpg (9.4-9.8 L/100 km) on premium fuel.
The XR2 had agile handling and excellent grip from its fat Pirellis, but civility was not a strong point. Noise levels were high and the firmer suspension and bigger wheels made the ride decidedly choppy. The wide tires were also prone to tramlining over uneven surfaces, which did the Fiesta’s high-speed stability no particular favors.
The usual critics had mixed feelings about the Mk1 XR2, adjudging it fun to drive, but neither especially comfortable in calmer use nor an outstanding value for the money. The intended audience had no such reservations. The Fiesta XR2 was the latest in a long and generally illustrious line of fast Fords and if it was not the fastest or most polished car in its class, it felt racy (albeit sometimes more than its objective performance could really justify). Younger buyers responded enthusiastically, with a predictable effect on insurance rates, and the XR2 became a profitable image leader.