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 fender decal © 2012 Murilee Martin (used with permission)
(Photo © 2012 Murilee Martin); used with permission)


Perhaps the most remarkable and ironic thing about the original Fiesta is that while it was an extremely important car for Ford, quite a few people within the company didn’t want to build it at all. In size, technology, and market, the Fiesta took Ford into new territory into which some senior executives 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 940 cc (57 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 Ford Escort 1100 De Luxe front 3q © 2012 Berthold Werner (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)

A 1969 Ford Escort 1100 De Luxe. (Photo: “Ford Escort Mk I 2012-07-15 13-39-21 1 1 2 fused” © 2012 Berthold Werner; resized 2013 by Aaron Severson and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 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 that would gradually shrink and all but vanish within a decade or so. For Ford to enter that market, they argued, 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, established 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, arguing that 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 — before.

Those projections didn’t end the skepticism, but they did provide 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, building so many additional cars would entail a major expansion of Ford’s European production capacity and mean considerable financial risk. 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.


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 Unported)

The Mk1 Fiesta’s original target: the early Fiat 127. (Photo: “Fiat 127 green” © 2009 Thomas doerfer; resized 2013 by Aaron Severson and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 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 still vigorously opposed any talk of front-wheel drive. They hadn’t forgotten Ford’s cost analysis of the early Mini, which had concluded that BMC was selling each car at a substantial loss.

1965 Ford Taunus 12M (P4) front 3q © 2008 Berthold Werner (PD - modified 2013 by Aaron Severson)

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 (P4). This is a 1965 Taunus 12M. (Photo: “Ford Taunus P4 12m BW 1” © 2008 Berthold Werner; released into the public domain by the photographer, resized and modified (obscured bystander faces) 2013 by Aaron Severson)

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 penetration. 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 no doubt breathed sighs 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 Ford Anglia 105E, the Mk1 Escort was at the smaller end of the C-segment, being 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 Generic - modified 2013 by Aaron Severson)

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 DIN (85 kW). Naturally, the RS1600 was substantially more expensive than a “cooking” Escort. (Photo: “1971 Ford Mk I Escort RS1600” © 2012 Sicnag; resized and modified (reduced glare, obscured numberplates and some background details) 2013 by Aaron Severson and used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license, with this modified version offered under the same 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 merchandising 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 — including Hal Sperlich, whom Lee Iacocca (now Ford president) had appointed to oversee the project as Iacocca’s special assistant — recognized the need for FWD, others still needed to be convinced.


In mid-1972, a new product planning and research team headed by Hal Sperlich, with Alex Trotman in charge of planning and Don DeLaRossa overseeing styling, began developing mockups of various FWD and RWD B-segment cars. Inevitably, a major focus of the project, which received the official codename “Bobcat” in October, was cost analysis. The goal was to undercut the price of the Escort by at least $100, something that promised to be a tall order.

Peugeot 104SL Sport front 3q © 2012 Berthold Werner (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)

Another early Fiesta rival: the Peugeot 104, seen here in SL Sport trim. (Photo: “Peugeot 104 SL Sport 2012-09-01 14-44-12” © 2012 Berthold Werner; resized 2013 by Aaron Severson and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license)

Since the hugely successful launch of the Mustang, Ford had put great stock in market research, so the Bobcat project went through several rounds of consumer marketing clinics. The results convinced the development team that the potential market was even bigger than they’d thought — their sales projections rose to more than 450,000 units a year, two-thirds of which were expected to be to first-time Ford customers — and that front-wheel drive, though expensive, was the only way to go. A RWD alternative called Cheetah (based on a cut-down RWD Escort) fared poorly with clinic participants.

Meanwhile, Ford was pondering the production question. Henry Ford II had already committed to building a new transmission factory in France and Ford executives had made overtures to General Francisco Franco’s ministry of industry and economic planning about opening production in Spain. The latter was a challenge; under Franco, Spain was a staunchly protectionist market. The dominant automotive players in Spain at the time were Renault and SEAT (Sociedad Española de Automoviles de Turismo), then controlled by FIAT, which were among the few companies able to meet Spain’s stringent 95% local content requirement.

In 1972, Ford convinced the Franco government to relax some of those requirements and allow Ford to build a new factory complex in Almusafes, near Valencia, which would eventually have capacity for 280,000 cars and 400,000 engines a year. Ford established a Spanish subsidiary in the fall of 1973, about three months after opening its new transmission plant in Bordeaux. Groundbreaking for the Almusafes facility followed in early 1974.

Mk1 Fiesta design rendering 1 - Ford Motor Company

One of the various design studies for the Bobcat. (Image: Ford Motor Company)

The Bobcat did not yet have a clear styling direction; the mockups the development team had been using for cost analysis and consumer clinics were intended to define the basic package rather than establish any particular look or design theme. Iacocca, always keen to have multiple options, ordered a three-way contest between Ford’s design studios in Dunton (then led by Jack Telnack) and Merkenich (headed by Uwe Bahnsen) and the designers at Ghia, in which Ford had recently acquired a majority stake. The whole process was overseen by Ford of Europe design VP Joe Oros, the one-time George Walker associate whom Ford fans will recall was responsible for (among other things) the rocket exhaust taillights that were a signature feature of most U.S. Fords until the mid-sixties.

The winning design, approved in the fall of 1973, appears to have been based primarily on a design study by Ghia chief stylist Tom Tjaarda (in profile, the resemblance is hard to miss), although the finished product amalgamated elements of all three studios’ work. The design would not be finalized until late 1975 and would receive various additional tweaks, some driven by wind tunnel testing — still not common practice at Ford in those days.

According to Iacocca, even at this stage, there was still considerable reticence about actually producing the Bobcat. The project had some compelling points, chief among them the prospect of building cars in Spain, but the Bobcat represented the largest single product investment Ford had ever made. Finance remained dead-set against it, and Sperlich believed the same was true of Philip Caldwell, who became president of Ford of Europe in 1972. Caldwell’s successor, Bill Bourke, had a more favorable attitude, in part because of the OPEC oil embargo that began in late 1973, but the doubters and dissenters were not yet silenced.

Mk1 Fiesta design rendering 3 - Ford Motor Company

Another Bobcat rendering, this one quite close to the finished product. (Image: Ford Motor Company)

Despite those reservations, the board of directors gave formal approval for the project in December 1973. The start of pilot production was set for mid-1976.


Over the previous decade and a half, the Ford Motor Company had displayed a knack for identifying or creating new niches, but this time, Ford was leaping somewhat late into an increasingly crowded market. With so much at stake, the company was in no mood to take chances.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that the Bobcat emerged as a very conventional small FWD car. The only really unusual mechanical feature Ford considered, a novel type of torsion bar front suspension, was discarded in mid-1974 as too risky for production. The Bobcat was hardly a copy of any of its principal targets — which initially included the Fiat 127 and later the new Volkswagen Polo and Audi 50 — but there was nothing about it that would have seemed out of place on the spec sheets of its competitors.

Nonetheless, the Bobcat scored well in marketing clinics against those rivals. Ford officials were similarly pleased with the prototypes, early drivable examples of which were completed in the fall of 1974. There were various minor changes throughout 1974 and 1975, many stemming from the ongoing struggle to find the right balance between cost and content.

1957 Oldsmobile Super 88 Fiesta hardtop station wagon rear 3q © 2010 Aaron Severson

GM’s Oldsmobile Division used the name “Fiesta” for some of its station wagons (estates) in the late fifties and early sixties. This is a 1957 Oldsmobile Super 88 Fiesta. (Author photo)

One of the ongoing questions about the Bobcat was what to call the production car. Ford could conceivably have called it Bobcat, but the company was already using that name for Mercury’s version of the compact Pinto, which would have presented problems if the new car was to be sold in the U.S. market. After considering and rejecting a lengthy list of possible names, including Bravo, Amigo, Metro, and Sierra, Henry Ford II chose Fiesta and convinced General Motors chairman Tom Murphy to release the name, which GM owned, but hadn’t actually used in some years.

1957 Oldsmobile Super 88 Fiesta wagon front fender badge © 2010 Aaron Severson

If GM had been less accommodating about releasing the Fiesta name, Ford’s first B-segment car might well have been called the Ford Bravo. The Bravo name was reused for a 1981 Fiesta special edition (followed by the 1982 Bravo II) and was subsequently adopted by FIAT. (Author photo)

There had been ongoing rumors in the press about the Bobcat project since at least 1973, but it was not until December 1975 that Ford formally announced the new model, now officially known as the Ford Fiesta.


In dimensions and specifications, the Mk1 Fiesta was positioned squarely in the middle of the contemporary B-segment. The Fiesta’s 90-inch (2,286mm) wheelbase was shorter than those of the Renault 5, Peugeot 104, or Volkswagen Polo, but longer than the Fiat 127’s; the Fiesta’s overall length, 140.4 inches (3,565 mm) without bumper guards, made it a bit longer than the Renault or the Polo. (All, of course, were substantially smaller than C-segment cars like the Escort, Chrysler Horizon, or Volkswagen Golf.) There was only one body style, a three-door hatchback, although a van version with no rear quarter windows was added later.

While some rivals used torsion bar springs, the Mk1 Fiesta had coil springs all around. The front suspension was Ford’s customary “track control arm” (TCA) layout of MacPherson struts and lower control arms located by longitudinal compression links. Unlike the early Mk1 Escort, the Fiesta mounted its compression links ahead of the axle line rather than behind it, with no front anti-roll bar, and had a negative scrub radius to promote stability under braking. The rear suspension used a simple beam axle located by trailing links and a Panhard rod. The optional sport suspension added a rear anti-roll bar (though still no front bar) and stiffer springs and shocks.

To minimize costs and reduce unsprung weight, 12-inch wheels were initially standard on all Mk1 Fiestas, although wider wheels and fatter tires were optional. Brakes were front discs and rear drums with an optional vacuum servo.

1981 Ford Fiesta 1100 engine © 2011 Sam Tait

Ford’s pushrod “Valencia” engine (which was not always built in Spain) served the Fiesta line into the nineties. The Valencia, seen here in 1,117 cc (68 cu. in.) form, was based on the long-serving Kent cross-flow engine, but the block was shortened 1.2 inches (30 mm), the bore spacing was reduced, and there were new wedge-shaped combustion chambers instead of the Kent’s Heron head design. (Photo: “Fiesta Mk1 Engine” © 2011 Sam Tait; used with permission)

At launch, all Mk1 Fiestas used a new version of the familiar Kent four. The Fiesta engine was still all-iron, but had a new cylinder head atop a shorter, stiffer, somewhat lighter block with smaller cylinder bores and a new crankshaft with three main bearings rather than five, trading a certain amount of smoothness for reduced internal friction. A longitudinal leading strut limited the engine’s motion on its mounts.

The three-bearing engine was offered in two sizes: 957 cc (58 cu. in.) or 1,117 cc (68 cu. in.). For production convenience, both shared the same 73.96mm (2.91-inch) bore, but the larger engine was stroked from 55.70 mm (2.19 inches) to 64.98 mm (2.56 inches). With a single-throat Ford “sonic idle” carburetor and an 8.3:1 compression ratio, the base “950 LC” engine made 40 PS DIN (29 kW); the high-compression (9.0:1) “950 HC” version added an extra 5 PS (4 kW), but required premium fuel. The bigger “1100” engine, also with 9.0 compression, made 53 PS DIN (39 kW).

The sole transmission was a four-speed manual gearbox driving a separate differential via helical spur gears. Cars with the three-bearing engine had unequal-length halfshafts, the shorter fitted with a harmonic damper; Rzeppa-type CV joints were fitted at each end. Overall gearing was short to make the most of the available power, with final drive ratios of 4.29 for the 950 HC, 4.06 for the 950 LC and 1100.

Mk1 Fiesta L front 3q © 2008 Corvette6cr PD modified 2013 by Aaron Severson

Early (1976–1979) Mk1 Fiestas were available in base, L, S, and Ghia trim. With bright bumpers and door handles but black window trims, this is probably an L, which had additional sound insulation, a driver’s side mirror (optional on base cars), face-level dashboard vents, reclining seats, and other minor conveniences. Normally, there would also be a chrome strip below the side windows, but this car doesn’t have it. (Photo: “Ford Fiesta first generation” © 2008 Corvette6cr; released into the public domain by the photographer, resized and modified (reduced glare and obscured numberplates) 2013 by Aaron Severson)

While Ford’s recent European models had been produced in both the U.K. and Germany, the Fiesta’s components and even its body panels were sourced from factories throughout Ford’s European empire, in theory allowing Ford to capitalize on the most favorable available labor conditions and also win political points with the governments of various nations. This was not a unique approach (FIAT did the same thing with the 127, whose drivetrains were built in Brazil), but it was new for Ford.


Mk1 Fiesta pilot production began in May 1976 with the press introduction in June. The new car went on sale in Europe in September, although RHD cars weren’t available until February 1977. The roll-out was marked by one of Ford’s customarily aggressive all-fronts marketing assaults, leaving even the most casual observer with no doubt that Ford had entered the B-segment in force.

Given all the hype, it was no great surprise that the press was somewhat underwhelmed by the product itself. Some reviewers groused that even with all the time and money invested in the Fiesta’s development — the cost, including the Almusafes facility, came out to around $1 billion — Ford had not notably advanced the state of the art. The Mk1 Fiesta was competitive but not class-leading in any single respect, falling somewhat short of the French in ride quality, the Germans in general solidity, and the Italians in joie de vivre.

1976 Ford Fiesta Ghia - Ford Motor Company

Press photo of a first-year Mk1 Fiesta Ghia. The Ghia was the top trim level, adding bright exterior trim, velour upholstery, woodgrain dashboard trim, a tachometer, a rear wiper/washer, and, on European cars, halogen headlights. Alloy wheels were initially optional. (Photo: Ford Motor Company)

On the other hand, the Fiesta also had no glaring flaws, something that could not be said of many of its contemporaries. Small cars of the time were often endearing in certain respects and inept or infuriating in others; there was certainly room in the market for a competent generalist that sacrificed outright brilliance for reasonable all-around capability.

This is not to say that the Mk1 Fiesta had no shortcomings. The driving position and outward visibility were good, but base models suffered cheap non-reclining seats and poor interior ventilation, particularly if you didn’t order the optional swing-out vent windows. The trunk had a low liftover height, but mounting the spare tire beneath the floor cut into usable cargo room unless you folded the rear seat flat. Road noise wasn’t bad for the class (particularly on pricier models, which had extra sound insulation), but the three-bearing engines became quite loud when pushed hard. Over time, rust also became a problem.

Even with less than 1,600 lb (725 kg) of curb weight, no early Fiesta was especially quick. With the basic low-compression 957 cc (58 cu. in.) engine, the 0-60 mph (0-97/h) sprint took almost 20 seconds and top speed was only about 80 mph (130 km/h). The 1,117 cc (68 cu. in.) engine boosted top speed to 87-88 mph (140-142 km/h), although independent testers found Ford’s claim of 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in less than 14 seconds to be optimistic by at least a second. Nonetheless, the Fiesta was fun to drive within its modest limits. With its sport suspension and wider wheels and tires, the Fiesta S was a bit more capable, but the stiffer springs and additional unsprung weight took a noticeable toll on ride quality, which in any case was not as compliant as that of the Renault 5 or Peugeot 104.

Early Mk1 Fiesta rear 3q © 2006 Randroide (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)

Early low-line Mk1 Fiestas had black bumpers (later adopted across the board), door handles, fuel caps, and window surrounds. Spoilers weren’t standard except on the later Super S/Supersport and XR2, but could be ordered from some dealers. (Photo: “FordFiestaPrimeraSerie” © 2006 Randroide; resized 2013 by Aaron Severson and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license)

Predictably, the Fiesta’s prices put it in the thick of the competition, although the Ford had no commanding price advantage over key rivals. In Germany, a Fiesta 1000 with the low-compression 957 cc engine started at 8,440 DM, 115 DM (about $45) more than a Volkswagen Polo N, while in the U.K., the same Fiesta bowed at £1,856 with tax, £42 (about $75) less than a basic Fiat 127 Special. The 1100S and Ghia were substantially costlier, climbing to £2,657 (almost $4,700) for the latter — £126 (roughly $225) above the quicker, more powerful Renault 5 TS. Interestingly, the Fiesta’s prices overlapped the lower half of the Escort range; a well-equipped Fiesta S or Ghia could easily cost more than a low-line Escort, implying that the Fiesta did indeed cost more to manufacture.

While the Mk1 Fiesta was not a conceptual breakthrough, it was aptly timed and proved an immediate success. It took Ford only 14 months to sell 500,000 copies and just 13 months more to reach 1 million. Demand sometimes exceeded supply, particularly during the energy crisis that followed the 1979 Iranian revolution.


The Mk1 Fiesta also came to America, although, like a reluctant party guest, it arrived late and left early.

Had it not been for the new federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirements included in the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA — 15 USC 2003) in late 1975, it’s not at all clear that there would have been a U.S. Fiesta at all. While American buyers’ interest in smaller, more fuel-efficient cars perked up considerably in the wake of the 1973 OPEC embargo, even European D-segment sedans like the Cortina were considered dinky by American standards. Ford already had the Pinto and the Maverick for the domestic small car market, and both were doing well.

However, the CAFE standards added a new complication, requiring manufacturers to achieve a minimum fleet-wide average fuel economy — starting at 18 mpg (13.1 L/100 km) for 1978 and 19 mpg (12.4 L/100 km) for 1979 — or pay substantial penalties. In practical terms, that meant that if an automaker was to sell a significant number of big, thirsty cars, they had to be offset by more frugal ones.

Faced with that requirement, federalizing the Fiesta suddenly made more sense. The new law set limits on how many imported cars could be counted toward each automaker’s domestic averages, but each Fiesta sold in the U.S. would still go a long way toward offsetting Ford’s bigger, more profitable LTDs and Thunderbirds.

The benefit would have been even greater if Ford could have built Fiestas in the U.S. or Canada, but considering how much the company had already on the Bobcat project, neither Henry Ford II nor the Finance staff was especially eager to take on the additional expense of retooling Ford’s North American plants. Lee Iacocca and Hal Sperlich also recognized that the European Fiesta was really too small for American tastes.

Sperlich and Iacocca’s proposed solution was to create a bigger spin-off of the Fiesta’s FWD platform for the U.S. market, using powertrains supplied by Honda. Honda was interested, but the plan went over poorly with Henry Ford II, who, according to Iacocca, balked at the idea of a Japanese engine in a Ford car. The deal fell apart and Sperlich was terminated in November 1976.

In hindsight, it appears that Henry’s objections had more to do with his deteriorating relationship with Iacocca than with the merits of the idea. Ford eventually authorized a U.S. version of the front-wheel-drive Mk3 Escort, which, while not exactly the enlarged Fiesta that Iacocca and Sperlich had proposed, nonetheless leveraged the work Ford had done on the Fiesta and shared some of the same components. In 1979, after Iacocca’s departure, Ford acquired an equity stake in the Japanese automaker Toyo Kogyo (Mazda), which would provide transmissions and later share engines and even platforms with some Ford vehicles.


In the interim, Ford developed a U.S. version of the Mk1 Fiesta, built at the Saarlouis plant in West Germany with U.S.-sourced glass, electrical systems, and other minor components. U.S.-bound cars also acquired the federally mandated 5 mph (8 km/h) bumpers, which brought the Fiesta’s overall length to 147.1 inches (3,736 mm).

Rather than try to adapt the Fiesta’s European engines for U.S. emissions standards, which probably would have sapped much of the three-bearing engines’ already limited power, Ford opted to install a catalyzed version of the bigger 1,598 cc (98 cu. in.) Kent four. With a compression ratio of 8.5:1, the 1.6-liter engine produced 66 hp SAE (49 kW) and 82 lb-ft (111 N-m) of torque in U.S.-legal form.

U.S.-spec 1.6-liter Kent engine in a 1978 Ford Fiesta S © 2012 Murilee Martin (used with permission)

In federalized form, the 1,598 cc (98 cu. in.) Kent engine was almost buried beneath its array of emission-control equipment. Despite the mild tune of U.S. engines, the federalized Mk1 Fiesta was quick for a small car of this era. (Photo © 2012 Murilee Martin; used with permission)

Fitting the somewhat larger and heavier five-bearing engine into the Fiesta engine bay entailed some front-end changes, the most notable being the adoption of equal-length halfshafts (via a countershaft from the differential with its own universal joint). The larger engine was accompanied by a taller top gear (0.88 rather than the European cars’ 0.96) and a taller 3.58 axle ratio, allowing more relaxed cruising and pushing the engine’s boomy resonance period well above legal U.S. highway speeds.

Even with taller gearing and more mass — curb weight of the U.S. Fiesta S was listed as 1,835 lb (832 kg), about 185 lb (84 kg) more than a European 1100S — the federalized Fiesta was a good deal quicker than its European counterparts, capable of 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in less than 11 seconds and a top speed of around 100 mph (160 km/h). The bigger engine brought little penalty in fuel economy, although engine noise was still high.

The U.S. Fiesta went on sale in August 1977, arriving to generally positive reviews and healthy buyer interest. However, importing federalized cars from Germany imposed some practical limits on U.S. sales. One was plant capacity; with such strong demand for the Fiesta in Europe, Ford decided to cap Saarlouis production of the federalized car so that it would not cut into European sales. Another issue was that German production left the Fiesta vulnerable to fluctuations in the relative values of the dollar and the Deutschmark, making it hard to keep prices low. At launch, a U.S.-market base Fiesta listed for only $3,680, but base price spiked by almost 15% for 1979, pitting the Fiesta against some bigger, roomier C-segment cars like the FWD Plymouth Horizon and the RWD Chevrolet Chevette.

A third issue, and the one that ultimately set the pace for U.S. Fiesta sales, was the CAFE limits. Ford had allotted enough plant capacity to build up to 100,000 federalized cars per year, but under the formula established by EPCA, anything beyond the company’s “includable base import volume” — which for Ford was 75,200 units for MY1978 and probably a comparable number for MY1979 — would be treated as a separate import fleet for CAFE purposes. For the 1980 model year and beyond, Ford’s domestic fuel economy average could only include cars with at least 75% U.S. and/or Canadian content.

Battered U.S.-spec Mk1 Fiesta S rear 3q © 2012 Murilee Martin (used with permission)

A battered junkyard example of the U.S.-spec Mk1 Fiesta shows off the hefty 5 mph (8 km/h) bumpers added to meet federal safety standards. Except for the larger engine, the U.S. Fiesta S was similar to the European version, adding sport seats, a tachometer, 155SR-12 tires, a sport suspension with rear anti-roll bar, and the distinctive S stripes. (Photo © 2012 Murilee Martin; used with permission)

Ford could have alleviated most of these issues by setting up a North American production line for the Fiesta, but with development of the U.S.-market Escort already well underway, that wasn’t going to happen. The imported Fiesta remained in the Ford lineup through the 1980 model year, bridging the gap until the Escort was ready, but disappeared before January 1981. Production of the U.S.-spec Mk1 Fiesta totaled 263,398 units.

The Fiesta wouldn’t return to the States for more than 25 years, although for a time, the cheaper Korean-built, Mazda-based Ford Festiva occupied a similar place in Ford’s U.S. lineup.


Shortly after the U.S. Fiesta went on sale, Ford also added the first European Mk1 Fiesta model with the five-bearing Kent engine: the Fiesta 1300S and 1300 Ghia, powered by the 1,298 cc (79 cu. in.) engine also found in the Capri, Cortina, and Escort 1300. With 9.2:1 compression and a two-throat Weber 32/32 DFT carburetor, the Fiesta 1300 was nearly as powerful as the bigger U.S. engine, with 66 PS DIN (49 kW), but couldn’t match the larger engine’s torque. The 1300 also included a taller (3.84) axle ratio.

The extra power was appreciated, but the Fiesta 1300S was still not a hot hatch. It was capable of an advertised and realistic 98 mph (158 km/h), but independent testers once again failed to equal Ford’s claimed 10.7-second 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) time, which meant the Fiesta was still no match for the 1,397 cc (85 cu. in.) Renault 5 Alpine/Gordini. The 1300S also wasn’t substantially quicker than a well-tuned 1100S like the contemporary Jansport 1100 or the limited-production Fiesta Special offered in the German market in 1979, which extracted 70 PS DIN (52 kW) from the 1,117 cc (68 cu. in.) engine.

Surprisingly, Ford did not rush to install the bigger 1,598 cc (98 cu. in.) engine in the European Fiesta, although that move would have given performance a shot in the arm and been a boon to racers campaigning the Fiesta in Group 1 competition. Since the advent of the U.S. Fiesta, teams had been able to use the bigger engine, but Group 1 rules limited them to the restrictive federalized cylinder head, a serious performance handicap. In 1979, the Ford works rally team ran two more extensively modified 1.6-liter Group 2 Fiestas making close to 100 hp/liter, but the cars were underdeveloped and the results disappointing.

In 1978, at the suggestion of a Detroit-area businessman named Gary Kohs, Ford commissioned England’s Donald Healey to develop a sporty Healey Fiesta concept car. This was based on the U.S. Fiesta, but used the freer-breathing cylinder head from the Escort 1600 Sport (and the old Escort Mexico and Cortina GT) and had various performance modifications, including 10.0:1 compression, a hotter camshaft, a Weber 32/36 DGV carburetor, and a low-restriction exhaust system. The engine’s estimated 105 hp SAE (78 kW) was matched with an upgraded chassis, fatter tires on 6Jx13 Minilite wheels, and a roll cage.

1979 Healey Fiesta side © 2006 Bob Segui (used with permission)

The one and only Healey Fiesta marked the end of one dynasty (it was the final Healey-badged car) and the beginning of a new one, foreshadowing the long line of sporty Fiestas that followed. The Healey prototype was a bit racier than the later XR2, featuring a ported head, tubular exhaust headers, Wolfrace sport seats, Motolito sport steering wheel, Minilite alloy wheels, a roll cage, and the shorter 4.29 axle ratio of the European Fiesta 950 HC. Despite the removal of the rear seat and emissions equipment, the Healey Fiesta weighed about 45 lb (20 kg) more than a stock U.S.-spec Fiesta S. (Photo: “Healey Fiesta” © 2006 Bob Segui; used with permission)

Only a single Healey Fiesta prototype was built, painted British Racing Green with gold wheels and pinstripes. Ford exhibited it at various auto shows in 1979 and allowed U.S. automotive writers to drive it, but it was never intended for production. Even if it had been, it probably wouldn’t have been offered in the States (since Ford had already decided to drop the U.S. Fiesta once the FWD Escort was ready) and in any case wouldn’t have been street legal there in the form exhibited; the prototype had no emissions equipment.


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.)

1982 Ford Fiesta Supersport front 3q © 2009 John Catlow (used with permission)

A 1982 Ford Fiesta Supersport shows off its fender flares, bumper overriders and driving lamps (optional on lesser Fiestas), tape stripes, and polished 13×6 RS alloys. The Supersport looks much like the Mk1 XR2, some examples of which now sport the same wheels. The obvious tip-off is that Supersports have rectangular rather than round headlights. The blue car in the background is a contemporary Mk1 Fiesta van. (Photo: “MARCH 1982 FORD FIESTA MK1 1298cc SUPERSPORT WBW922X” © 2009 John Catlow – U.K.; used with permission)

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.


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.

1983 Ford Fiesta XR2 front3q © 2012 Kelvin (used with permission)

The XR2 was the only European Mk1 Fiesta with round headlights. (Normally, there were also driving lamps on the front bumper as well, but they’re missing on this car.) The paint job was also unique, as were the sport seats, two-spoke steering wheel, and “Shark Grey” upholstery, although the interior fitments were otherwise a combination of Ghia and S pieces. (Photo: “Ford Fiesta XR2 Sitting In A Supermarket Car Park In The West End Of Glasgow Scotland – 4 Of 5” © 2012 Kelvin; used with permission)

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.

1983 Ford Fiesta XR2 rear 3q © 2012 Kelvin (used with permission)

The Mk1 Fiesta XR2’s fender flares (basically the same as the ones used by the X-pack and Supersport cars) were ABS plastic while the front and rear spoilers were polyurethane — and relatively soft to comply with German laws on pedestrian safety. All the extra equipment made the XR2 about 90 lb (41 kg) heavier than a Fiesta 1300 S. (Photo: “Ford Fiesta XR2 Sitting In A Supermarket Car Park In The West End Of Glasgow Scotland – 1 Of 5” © 2012 Kelvin; used with permission)

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.


When the XR2 debuted, the Mk1 Fiesta was already five years old. It had received surprisingly few changes during that time: new trim levels (cheaper Popular and Popular Plus and the mid-level GL) for 1980; new black bumpers for all models in 1981 and an optional 1100 Economy package that sought to improve fuel consumption with taller gearing, a variable-venturi carburetor, and vacuum-triggered economy and upshift lights; and for 1982, 13-inch wheels for the Fiesta S and softer suspensions for most models except the XR2. There was also a lengthy series of special editions with unique trim and extra equipment.

1983 Ford Fiesta Ghia front 3q © 2013 Zack Stiling (used with permission)

This Mk1 Fiesta is a 1983 Ghia; look closely and you can see the telltale badge on the front fender ahead of the door. Late Mk1 Ghias had satin-finish black rather than bright bumpers, but retained chrome windshield and window surrounds. The 1983 edition now had standard alloy wheels, tinted windows, and a tilt-up sunroof. (Photo: “1983 Ford Fiesta Mk. I 1.3 Ghia” © 2013 Zack Stiling; used with permission)

While the Mk1 Fiesta was still selling briskly (total production had passed the 2 million unit mark in 1981), it was competing in an increasingly crowded segment. Compared to newer rivals like the Fiat Uno, Peugeot 205, and Austin/MG Metro (which displaced the Fiesta from its position as Britain’s best-selling car), the Fiesta was starting to look its age.

In the fall of 1983, Ford unveiled the Mk2 Fiesta. The Mk2 occupied the hazy middle ground between facelift and all-new car, featuring a slightly wider, somewhat longer body (on an unchanged wheelbase) and freshened styling. The revised body tidied up the Fiesta’s dated aerodynamics — although the new car’s 0.40 Cd was still unimpressive for the mid-eighties — and provided space in the engine bay for Ford’s new SOHC CVH engine, which was gradually replacing the five-bearing pushrod Kent. Also added with the revamp were a faster steering ratio, standard 13-inch wheels, and an optional five-speed gearbox borrowed from the FWD Escort.

1988 Ford Fiesta Popular 950 front 3q © 2009 Rob (Rob_sg) (CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic - modified 2013 by Mr.choppers)

The restyled Mk2 Fiesta still rode a 90.1-inch (2,289mm) wheelbase, but was now 143.6 inches (3,647 mm) overall; XR2 and Ghia cars stretched an additional 2.5 inches (64 mm) due to their standard bumper overriders. (Photo: “1988 Ford Fiesta Popular”, a modified version (created 2013 by Mr.choppers) of the photo “1988 Ford Fiesta Popular” © 2009 Rob; resized 2013 by Aaron Severson and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license)

The three-bearing “Valencia” pushrod fours continued for low-line Mk2 Fiestas, although the 957 cc (58 cu. in.) versions were consolidated into one and the 1,117 cc (68 cu. in.) engine was retuned for greater torque at some cost in power. Both engines now had Ford’s variable-venturi carburetor, which was supposed to provide better fuel economy. Shortly after launch, there was also a 1,608 cc (98 cu. in.) diesel with 54 PS (40 kW). A new Fiesta 1300 with a 1,296 cc (79 cu. in.) CVH engine and 69 PS DIN (51 kW) followed in the spring of 1984, although this was to be short-lived. It was replaced in 1986 by a 74 PS (54 kW) 1,392 cc (85 cu. in.) “lean burn” engine with a narrower bore, a longer stroke, and the ability to run at air-fuel mixtures of around 18:1 in the interests of lower emissions. Later, there was also a 1,297 cc (79 cu. in.) five-bearing version of the pushrod Valencia engine, created to resolve certain engine production capacity issues.

With the Mk2, Ford attempted to improve the Fiesta’s ride, which had come in for a fair amount of criticism. The results were not wholly successful: The Mk2 Fiesta’s ride was still busy, although better sound insulation made it quieter than before. Some testers also complained that the combination of greater body lean and lighter, quicker steering made the Fiesta feel more nervous in sudden maneuvers than its actual dynamics merited. It was nonetheless one of the better-handling cars in its class, if not on the same level as the Peugeot 205.

1.6-liter Ford CVH engine cylinder head and valves © 2012 Luitold (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)

Added to the Mk2 Fiesta line in 1984, Ford’s CVH (Compound Valve angle, Hemispherical chamber) engine was a SOHC eight-valve design intended to provide the breathing advantages of hemispherical combustion chambers with only a single overhead camshaft. The splayed valves are actuated by rocker arms pivoting on hydraulic lash adjusters, obviating the need for routine valve adjustments. (Photo: “CVH Kopf2” © 2012 Luitold; resized 2013 by Aaron Severson and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license)

In all, the Mk2 Fiesta remained a mid-pack performer whose greatest single virtue was Ford’s attention to minor details. The Fiesta, particularly in Ghia trim, was what an average buyer might term “a nice little car,” with a reasonably quiet cabin, pleasant trim, and good ergonomics. The smaller Metro was better packaged, a Honda Civic was faster, and the Peugeot 205 had the better chassis, but the Fiesta was a respectable compromise.


The Mk2 Fiesta XR2 debuted in May 1984. Again the work of SVE, the new XR2 was much like its predecessor, but traded the 1,598 cc (98 cu. in.) Kent for the newer 1,596 cc (97 cu. in.) CVH engine. This engine, previously seen in the recently superseded Escort XR3, had a single Weber carburetor rather than the Bosch K-Jetronic injection of the latest Escort XR3i, but still boasted 96 PS DIN (71 kW) and 98 lb-ft (133 N-m) of torque, useful improvements over the previous XR2. A five-speed gearbox and gas shocks were standard equipment.

1985 Ford Fiesta XR2 front 3q © 2013 David Austin (used with permission)

While the Mk1 Fiesta XR2 had standard alloy wheels, alloys were optional on the Mk2, presumably in an effort to keep the list price down; this car still wears the standard steel wheels and unusual XR2 wheelcovers. Driving lamps, bumper overriders, a front spoiler, and dual outside mirrors were standard on the Mk2 Fiesta XR2, as were the fender flares and black rocker extensions. (Photo: “Ford Fiesta XR2” 2013 David Austin; used with permission)

With additional power and little-changed curb weight, the new XR2 promised sprightly performance: Ford claimed 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in 8.7 seconds a top speed of 112 mph (180 km/h). Independent testers again found those figures hard to replicate, concluding that the new XR2 was not substantially quicker than its predecessor. While the CVH engine’s overhead camshaft and hemispherical combustion chambers theoretically made it a freer-breathing, higher-revving engine than the pushrod Kent, the OHC four’s muscle was concentrated at significantly higher engine speeds, which meant it had to be pushed harder to extract the same performance. Worse, the CVH engine was none too pleasant when you really applied the spurs; the word “thrashy” appears frequently in contemporary reviews.

1988 Ford Fiesta XR2 front 3q © 2013 Paul Bennett (used with permission)

This 1988 Mk2 Fiesta XR2 looks appropriately menacing in black, which was a relatively uncommon choice on Mk1 and Mk2 Fiestas (and generally an extra-cost option, to boot). Note the red bumper highlights, another standard XR2 cosmetic touch, and the turn signal repeaters just ahead of the doors, added in 1986. (Photo: “Ford Fiesta Mk2 XR2” © 2013 Paul Bennett; used with permission)

In other respects, the XR2’s personality hadn’t changed. The ride was incrementally softer, though still far from supple, but the crisp turn-in and cornering grip that had made the first car a favorite of boy racers were undiminished. Automotive reviewers tended to prefer the Peugeot 205GTi, which had a sweeter engine and an even sharper chassis, but the Peugeot’s more neutral balance could be a double-edged sword; the Ford was less likely to bite back, at least as long as the road was relatively smooth. The XR2’s aggressive persona (combined with Ford’s considerable marketing muscle) kept the Fiesta a consistently strong player in this class, if not the frontrunner.

1988 Ford Fiesta XR2 rear 3q © 2013 Paul Bennett (used with permission)

The Mk2 Fiesta XR2 sported an under-bumper rear valance with fog lights and a black surround on the tailgate, replacing the previous rear spoiler. (Photo: “Ford Fiesta Mk2 XR2” © 2013 Paul Bennett; used with permission)


The Mk2 Fiesta remained on sale into 1989, when it was replaced by the all-new third-generation car. Total production for the Mk1 and Mk2 Fiesta was more than 4.9 million units, which represents a very respectable average of more than 400,000 units a year, with peaks approaching half a million. That’s about what Ford anticipated during the Fiesta’s development, so it appears that despite the initial fears, the company eventually got its money’s worth.

1989 Ford Fiesta front 3q - Ford Motor Company

The Mk3 Fiesta was notably bigger than before, now stretching 147.4 inches (3,744 mm) long on an extended 96.3-inch (2,446mm) wheelbase, while overall width (with dual mirrors) was up to 73 inches (1,854 mm). As seen in this 1989 press shot, the Mk3 Fiesta was now available in five-door form as well as the familiar three-door. Bigger dimensions and more glass area increased curb weight around 110 lb (50 kg), depending on model. (Photo: Ford Motor Company)

The Fiesta is now one of Ford’s longest-lived nameplates. Many of its original rivals are long gone, and while today newer models fill most of the same roles, the fact that Ford has kept the Fiesta name for almost four decades says a great deal about its success in this class. Its critical standing has fluctuated over the years and it’s no longer no small as it once was (the recent U.S.-market four-door sedan is about the size of a Mk2 Cortina), but the Fiesta remains one of the benchmarks of the B-segment.

That might not be a sexy achievement or the sort that gets much recognition from automotive historians, but it is nonetheless a considerable one. Entering a new market segment, especially one that requires a heavy investment in new technology, isn’t easy under the best of circumstances. Over the years, many companies have fallen on their faces in the attempt, and when the company makes the move reluctantly, the potential for disaster is great.

1990 Ford Fiesta XR2i - Ford Motor Company

The Mk3 Fiesta XR2i initially retained the 1,596 cc (97 cu. in.) CVH engine, albeit now with Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection and Ford’s EEC-IV engine management system, but in mid-1992, the CVH was replaced by the 1,796 cc (110 cu. in.) DOHC 16-valve Zeta engine, which gave up 5 hp (3.7 kW) in exchange for about 10% more torque. An interesting option on the XR2i and other Mk3 Fiestas was the Lucas-Girling Stop Control System, a two-channel mechanical antilock braking system. (Photo: Ford Motor Company)

Viewed in that light, the Mk1 Fiesta’s simple competence can be seen as the victory it was. In many respects, creating a decent, cheap small car is a bigger challenge than building a winning race car. A racer can be ruthlessly optimized for a single purpose; a mass-market supermini has to perform at least passably well in a multitude of ways for a broad range of buyers. Moreover, in this class, excellence in one area usually brings a corresponding penalty in others. More cargo room means less passenger space; better performance cuts into fuel economy; and the technological solutions that allow bigger, more expensive cars to have their cake and eat it too tend to push the price too high for many B-segment buyers to afford.

All that was even more true in the Mk1 Fiesta’s heyday than it is today, a fact that Ford clearly recognized. The original Fiesta was not an extraordinary car, but that was not its purpose. Its goal was to be good enough, and in that sense, the Fiesta came as close as any car of its time to making a virtue of compromise.



In July 2023, almost 10 years after the original publication of this article, production of the Ford Fiesta finally ceased after 47 years and more than 20 million cars sold worldwide.


The author would like to thank David Austin, Paul Bennett, John Catlow, Kelvin, Murilee Martin, Bob Segui, Jack Stiling, Sam Tait, and Ford Motor Company Archives for allowing us to use their images in this article.


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Some historical exchange rate data for the dollar and European currencies came from Lawrence H. Officer, “Exchange Rates Between the United States Dollar and Forty-one Currencies” (2011, MeasuringWorth,, used with permission). Exchange rate values cited in the text represent the approximate dollar equivalent of prices in non-U.S. currencies, not contemporary U.S. suggested retail prices, which are cited separately. Please note that all equivalencies cited herein are approximate and provided solely for the reader’s general information and reference — this is an automotive history, not a treatise on currency trading or the value of money, and nothing in this article should be taken as financial advice of any kind!



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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 93’s were used as mules–a nice historical irony in that a few years later, Saab began using the Taunus V4. The 93 front clip hadn’t been designed with the V4 in mind, so the engineers mounted the headlights in pods on the extreme left and right, and they must have looked even odder than stock 93’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.

      1. Since August Momberger had been with Borgward, I assume he’d worked on the Lloyd and Goliath?

        1. Presumably, yeah. I don’t know what the timeline of his Borgward career had been, but Ford engineers were very conscious of the Goliath, in particular, during the Cardinal project.

      2. The article I mentioned turned out to be “The Ford Fiesta’s Godfather” by Karl Ludivigsen, in the August-October 1977 issue of Special-Interest Autos. Aaron gave me a bibliographic citation for it, but he couldn’t confirm that it was the same article because the Los Angeles Public Library’s copy had gone missing. However, my local library had it. Fittingly, it was published when the Fiesta was introduced in the United States. If this topic in general interests you, it’s an excellent read.

  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 Road & Track 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 original 3 main bearing engine built in 997cc, 1198cc, and 1339cc sizes were subsequently developed into 5 main bearing form in 1297cc and 1499cc sizes. They had reverse flow cylinder heads, that is the inlet and exhaust ports were all on one side. These engines had flat topped pistons with combustion chambers in the cylinder head. The crossflow design debuted in 1967 with the Heron type design.
        The twin cam Lotus derivative was a development based on the larger 5 bearing engine, I woulg guess it too had flat top pistons in order to keep reciprocating mass as low as practicable in this high revving form.

        1. For the benefit of other readers, I should clarify here that the Ford Kent/Valencia engine family had a long and convoluted history, having been developed in the late fifties for the Ford Anglia and other smaller English Fords. The three-bearing “Valencia” 957 cc and 1,117 cc engines that went into the initial Mk1 Fiesta were the second set of three-bearing versions, not simply a return to the original Anglia. Years later (after the run of the Mk2 Fiesta and beyond the scope of this article), Ford created a new five-bearing version of the three-bearing Valencia iteration, which I think saw its last bow in the Mk1 Ford Ka in the nineties. Its lineage is complicated enough to really beg for a flowchart!

          1. Also 1996-1999 and 2000-02 Fiestas still offered the old 1.3 Kent/Valencia for selected markets (for example in Italy we only got it since late 1996 to 1998, other countries got it longer)

            Would be very nice to have a complete history of this engine :)

          2. I added a line about the five-bearing Valencia engine, although I think during the run of the Mk2 Fiesta that version was more often found in the European Escort. (Later, of course, it showed up in other models, notably the Mk1 Ford Ka.) The Valencia 1.3 is an odd duck: It was a five-bearing derivative of the scaled-down three-bearing adaptation of the five-bearing Kent, sharing the former’s smaller 74mm bore for reasons of production economy. It only existed because Ford Europe ended up needing more 1.3- and 1.4-liter engines than the now-defunct Bridgend plant could supply.

    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.


    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.

    1. I remember racing a co-worker around the parking lot of the Pizza joint that we worked at back in 1985.He had a Fiesta also.can you say “stupid teenage fun?” I know you could….
      The fun ended when I smacked a curb head on.Dad,I need $…

  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. My former wife owned a 1978 Fiesta when we married. It was a wonderful little car!

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. I currently own a 78 Ghia.You can check it out at Clunkbucket .com.It is my third and best Fiesta to date.It is so much fun that I cannot imagine trading it in for another modern boring car with no exhaust note,road feedback or character.I still surprise unsuspecting boring modern car drivers with the quickness and nimbleness of this car.They just don’t get it at all.Cheers to Ford for bringing this car to the USA! I feel like I’m 18 years old every time I get behind the wheel…..

  21. I currently own a Black 1.3 MK2 fiesta Ghia.It was given to me years ago by a franchise owner in order to get me back on the job,.. his house.I love it.
    Why? because it was given to me by a man I still think of as totally kool, it goes up Rownhams Hill and passes everything in sight, it has a cassette player which I could not live without and it encourages my neighbours to dent it at every given chance they get because they do not understand the concept and only see the weigh in value.
    Whilst they are still at this price grab one quick then you will get it.

  22. I believe the rear wheel drive Cheetah project was canned when the Vauxhall Viva transmogrified into the Chevette, both ‘orrid little things. Ford could see the wisdom of NOT doing it that way.
    We had an elderly Mk 1 Fiesta in Ireland. Boy did that motor rattle.
    A fun little thing named Colleen.
    My wife demanded a bigger car when she put her back out driving little Colleen down Mooncrater Street aka Douglas Rd in Cork!
    Got an early Vectra.. Another story indeed.

    1. The impression I got was that Ford gave up the RWD idea before the Chevette debuted, but I’d have to double-check the dates. The big issue from Ford’s perspective is that the money men dearly wanted RWD to cut tooling costs, but potential buyers turned up their noses at the Cheetah in every consumer clinic and marketing focus group Ford held on the matter. I don’t think any of the cars Ford showed were running prototypes, so it wasn’t a matter of dynamics but really of space. FR layouts are really bad for packaging efficiency in B-segment cars and I assume putting a RWD Cheetah mockup next to a Fiat 127, Peugeot 104, or Volkswagen Polo made that readily apparent.

  23. Do any pictures exist of the RWD Cheetah project?

    Also interested in finding more about the 1963 Ford World Car project, which apparently pre-dated the Bobcat project that eventually became the Fiesta.

    1. Ford did not have any photos of it in their archives, but I think there may have been some in the more comprehensive development articles from around the Fiesta’s launch. (I don’t remember offhand if there are photos of the Cheetah in Edouard Seidler’s excellent book on the Fiesta.)

      Another intriguing piece of backstory is Ford’s mooted collaboration with Toyota on what became the first Publica. I don’t think Ford had anything to do with the design of the Publica, but there were serious discussions with Toyota about joint production (this circa 1960–61). Eiji Toyoda’s book discusses that deal at some length.

      1. I see, know that GM were working on similar small car projects such as the Vauxhall XP-714, Vauxhall S Car and Vauxhall Scamp projects (see Vauxpedia).

        The only other small car project I am aware of which has a connection with Ford is a sporting version of the 4-wheeled Reliant Rebel called the Rebel 1600 GT, using a 80 hp 1.6 Ford Crossflow engine from the mk2 Ford Cortina 1600E.

        1. Ford seemed to have a certain ambivalence about the whole thing: They kept returning to the idea every few years and then deciding it wasn’t worthwhile. Part of the disconnect, at least until the ’70s, was that many within Ford saw such a car primarily as a gesture toward what today would be termed “emerging markets” (such as Japan in the early ’60s or later India and other parts of South and East Asia) rather than a viable part of the mainstream European or American markets. The Anglia and Escort were already about as small as Ford figured their existing market would bear.

          As far as the U.S. went, that was undoubtedly true. In the U.S. in the ’70s, a whole disparate mix of B-, C-, and D-segment sedans and hatchbacks were lumped together as “economy cars” in a way that would have raised the eyebrows of a contemporary buyer from most other markets.

          1. Sure Ford justified their reluctance to develop a smaller car by how they costed a Mini and allegedly found it to be unprofitable (due to the former Morris personnel involved in properly costing cars being marginalized under BMC), yet there is some appeal in the idea of a 60s RWD sub-Anglia / sub-Escort hatchback car especially one fitted with a Twin-Cam or BDA engine and both Ford UK / Ford Germany must have worked on such projects prior to project Bobcat.

            It is interesting to note regarding the 1963 Ford World Car project that it appeared roughly the same time as the larger Ford Cardinal project, which makes one wonder whether there is a connection between the two projects.

            Going back to the Fiesta, the mk2 Fiesta spawned interesting less known variants from an uprated injected version of the Fiesta XR2 putting out around 115 hp and a turbocharged version of the Fiesta 1.6 XR2 by Turbo Technics putting out 125 hp, to an assortment of German tuning companies offering turbo kits for the 1.6 diesel engine with Suhe’s version putting out 85 hp.

          2. The Cardinal project went back a good deal further and had a fairly torturous history; if anything, the later World Car project was perhaps a response to the Cardinal not materializing as intended, as in a sense was the Mk1 Escort.

            As the article says, the general feeling at Ford was that they really didn’t need anything smaller and cheaper than the Escort. Looking at the dimensions and prices, you can sort of see why. It would have been difficult for Ford to produce something meaningfully cheaper than the Anglia, even if it had been smaller and completely conventional in engineering, and to the extent there was a market for something more economical to run, Ford didn’t think it was worth a big investment. It was certainly a lower priority than trying to finally align FoB and FoG.

            I opted not to get into the aftermarket versions of the Mk1 and Mk2 Fiesta for the same reason I sort of glossed over the various factory special editions: just listing them all gets voluminous. The Fiesta certainly benefited from its commonality with the Mk3 and Mk4 Escort, which meant that any time some performance item was offered for the latter, someone would inevitably stick it on the Fiesta, whether Ford did or not.

      2. The story of some postwar fwd prototypes “light car project” also have fallen into oblivion. It could be interesting to tell it (although there is enough informations). In the SIA’s article, a picture of a mockup with a transverly mounted engine was showed but it was the only one which I knew. However, on Deansgarage site, there is an interesting issue about Joe Oros, the ford’s designer. one photo looks like a styling proposal for this project ( This car was like a mini with short front end and some tiny wheel.

        1. I’m not sure which of those you’re looking at specifically, but most of them look to be concepts for late ’40s to mid ’50s standard Fords, plus a couple of Lincolns. A number of them appear to be scale models, which makes them look a bit more diminutive and toy-like than they actually were. That said, Joe Oros did have some involvement at the beginning of what became the Bobcat/Fiesta project.

          As I understand it, the original development team had done some very crude mockups to illustrate the size and packaging — sort of the model equivalent of gesturing with your hands while saying, “And about this long…” However, the executives who saw the models had a hard time grasping that the mockups were not intended to represent what the car would actually look like, no matter how many times the development team said so. Finally, someone talked to Oros to get some help from styling in creating concept models that looked like real cars. Those designs weren’t intended for production and I don’t think they had any particular resemblance to the design studies done for the production car (which came later); they were mostly internal sales tools.

          1. Certainly, you are right but they already had the idea for fwd small cars which eventually led towards the ford fiesta. Thank you

          2. I wanted to point out the Oros44 picture.

  24. Seems Ford of Germany in 1959 developed a rear-engined roughly Fiesta-sized project to compete with the Volkswagen Beetle and Renault Dauphine known as the Ford NPX-C5 that was to be powered by 34-40 hp 1.0-1.2 inline-4 engines and had a length of 146 inches (similar to 4-door SEAT 850, NSU Prinz 1000 and Simca 1000), the project was given the green light and dubbed the P4.

    However Lee Iacocca disliked the car and felt it was too small for the US, which prompted him to launch the much larger front-engined fwd Ford Cardinal project that inherited the P4 codename and later became the German-built Ford Taunus P4/P6.

    Thanks to the Facebook Group Car Design Archives for the above information.

    Though it appears that costs prevented the NPX-C5 project from entering production in Germany, it is interesting to note that the NPX-C5 was smaller then a UK-built Ford Anglia and it’s 1.0-1.2 Inline-4 engine seems curiously similar to Ford UK’s Kent unit in terms of displacement even if there is no apparent connection between the engines.

    1. I believe they’re conflating a number of pieces of a very complicated story, not all of them in the right order. To the best of my knowledge, the project you’re describing was developed about three years earlier than you mention and was part of a competitive design proposal process involving Dagenham, Dearborn, and Köln. The German FWD proposal was primarily the brainchild of August Momberger, formerly of Borgward, and probably inspired in large part by the Goliath GP. The Cardinal project was developed in Dearborn, not in Germany, and was essentially a follow-on to the earlier proposals, drawing bits and pieces from both of them with some new ideas intended to address their perceived limitations. It received development approval about five months before Iacocca became general manager of Ford Division, so while there were a lot of voices involved in three countries, I doubt Iacocca’s was one of them at that stage. (Iacocca was of course responsible for killing the U.S. version, but that was two years later, very soon before production began.)

      The inline four, which was an OHC engine, was something quite different. I believe a V-4 was part of the FF package concept from the start (since the engine was to be set ahead of the transaxle, that seems likely). However, in the interim, Köln also came up with an alternative design with a more conventional FR layout; that’s what the I-4 was intended for. Since it had an overhead cam, I very much doubt it was related to the Anglia 105E engine other than being of roughly similar displacement.

      1. Also for an 1.0-1.2 Inline-4 OHC engine it seems pretty underpowered compared to the Kent though probably a better alternative to the V4 assuming it was capable of being enlarged along similar lines to the Kent and V4 engines.

        1. Since the inline engine never came near production, I don’t know how much power it would actually have had. Again, I suspect the group you mention is conflating several sets of facts, so I don’t know how much stock to put in the 34–40 hp figure. The early three-bearing Anglia 105E engine had 41 hp from 997 cc and I can’t see an OHC four of the same displacement being less powerful than that, although I don’t suppose it would have had any more torque. (The Kent got a lot of massaging over the years, driven by the need to use bigger versions of it in the Cortina.)

          1. From what I have been able to look up from reading up the translated German language links shown in the group. The rear-engined NPX-C5 was a separate project by Ford of Germany intended for Europe, while the Cardinal was developed in the US for both domestic and German markets yet later pushed on Ford of Germany.

            Interested to know what Dagenham’s contribution was in the competitive design proposal process.

            What intrigues me is that many an enthusiast has always assumed that Ford of Germany’s only small engine option was the dreadful V4 engine in the Cardinal aka Taunus P4, whereas the NPX-C5’s OHC unit suggests that there were other options available had the green light been given as an alternative to the V4 unit for either the Taunus P4 or NPX-C5.

            The only other German company around that period that developed a similar small OHC engine with valve gear driven using a toothed rubber cam-belt,was Glas via the Glas 1004.

          2. The V-4 was deemed essential to the FWD package for packaging reasons. At that point, to fit an inline-four within the requisite exterior dimensions would have meant setting it transversely and probably using a chain to drive the transaxle, which was something Ford engineers considered and were not happy about. My understanding is that the V-4 was designed with a “compactness uber alles” mindset, although they had to compromise somewhat to get it to work at all.

          3. Ebay seems to be selling that particular issue you are after.

            Somewhat OT though it is curious that Ford of Germany never produced a direct pre-Escort equivalent to Ford UK’s Anglia, unless NPX-C5 was conceived as such or there was somehow an as yet unknown smaller Taunus P4-based project with a destroked 1000cc V4.

          4. It is surprising that the German market went for the more middle-class offerings first — one would ordinarily expect (for instance) the Opel Kadett to have come before the Rekord rather than the other way around.

          5. Fair Enough.

            Seems that Opel (along with Vauxhall initially as separate projects) only recognized the need for a smaller car by the late-1950s, with the Opel Kadett A originally known provisionally as the Opel 700.

            Guess the unexpected success of the Volkswagen Beetle by the early/mid-1950s had many companies scrambling for an answer, kind of wished the US’s Big Three joined the mix with their unconventional proposals (GM / Vauxhall’s XP-714, Ford’s NPX-C5 and whatever equivalent Chrysler US was cooking up at the time).

          6. I am guessing so far as Opel and Ford-Werke are concerned, it reflected their assessment of the state of the German economy and whether there were enough buyers who could afford something Kadett/Escort-sized who couldn’t just buy the bigger cars. The Japanese market followed a similar trajectory; the Datsun Bluebird and Toyopet Corona preceded the Sunny and Corolla by quite a few years, although there were the early kei-cars, which one could (very loosely) compare to the German “bubble-cars” of the late ’50s.

          7. Okay, on further investigation, it appears the group post you saw is based on a German article in from last August, which has photos of the prototype. Several points are obvious factual errors: again, Lee Iacocca was not president of Ford, nor even general manager of Ford Division, in February 1960. The two photos described as NPX-C5 don’t appear to be the same model. The first photo looks like an early full-size model of the Cardinal (the greenhouse is close to the production 12M, but the grille is a different shape) while the second is a quite different two-box design. As for the engine specifications, I remain skeptical because even the 1.2-liter engine in the late ’50s Taunus 12M — which was an undersquare L-head design — managed 43 hp by 1957.

            Again, I think what’s likely happened is that someone has conflated details about several distinct developments and reassembled them in the wrong order. The car Köln wanted to build at the time the article describes was FR, not RR, although it seems perfectly reasonable that Ford-Werke would have at least contemplated a RR car in this period. Interestingly, the belt-driven OHC design the Germans came up with was not inspired by Glas — it actually preceded the 1004, at least the production iteration, by more than two years.

          8. I see, thanks for investigating further.

            It brings up the question of how one explains existence of Ford’s rear-engined two-box design that appears to precede the Volkswagen Type 4 from the rear?

            Aware the NPX-C5’s belt-driven OHC engine preceded the Glas 1004 design by a few years, just that the motor industry tends to be a small world where a design (be it an engine or car) rejected by one company is subsequently accepted upon engineers involved moving to another company.

            Though the following is baseless speculation on my part. It might have possibly been the case that the 1.0-1.2-litre NPX-C5 OHC engine’s claimed power output of 34-40 hp was actually confused with the V4 unit.

            That is if one assumes the V4 was originally conceived as a 34 hp 1-litre engine (of around 992-999cc) for Ford Germany’s original “Anglia-sized” NPX-C5 small car project, prior to growing in size and being fitted with enlarged 40-55 hp 1183-1498cc V4 units for the Cardinal / Taunus P4 (until US production was canned).

          9. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how much of the information in that article is at all reliable. I haven’t found any other references to an NPX-C5 project other than the article and the Facebook group that refers to it, and none of the information I have on the Cardinal’s development (I did find that SIA article, which is by Karl Ludvigsen) mentions a RR program. The article contains several clear factual errors, mislabels one of its two photos, and leaves me uncertain about the provenance of the other (although it is pretty clearly a two-box RR model). Ford-Werke had previously proposed a FF car, circa 1956–1957, which was not the Cardinal project but an unbuilt precursor to it; it seems reasonable to me that they would have at least contemplated an RR model, but I haven’t found any specific indication to that effect. The model Köln proposed as an alternative to what became the P4 12M/15M was a FR design, not a RR one.

            As for the engine, I can only take the article’s quoted power outputs with a sizable grain of salt. The 1,172cc inline-four in the late ’50s Taunus 12M had 43 hp by 1957; why would Köln propose investing a substantial amount of money in an all-new OHC engine that was no more powerful than the existing, rather elderly undersquare L-head engine? That doesn’t seem like a terribly prudent investment.

            The V-4 development was, according to Ludvigsen, in two directions. The initial conception was for a 1.1-1 or 1.4-liter 20-degree engine, very Lancia-like, development of which continued for a time in parallel to the now-familiar 60-degree type. Since the narrow-angle engine was canceled in the spring of 1960 due to too many unanswered engineering questions and a lot of balance issues, any reports of its output are either not representative (the output of a troublesome, cobbled-together prototype is not fairly comparable to a production engine) or really speculative.

            Again, the idea that there was a RR project seems reasonable, but I’d have to get in touch with Ford Archives to see if they have anything more substantive.

          10. You have a point regarding the 1.0-1.2 OHC engine.

            Shame the initial 1.1/1.4 20-degree V4 design never worked out, makes me wonder whether the related Cologne V6 was in turn also originally intended to be a narrow-angle design roughly similar to BMC’s own shelved more sophisticated narrow-angle V4/V6 engine project.

            Thanks again for looking further into this subject.

          11. Nope, the Cologne V-6 was conceived along with the 60-degree V-4. In fact, that was one of the reasons Ford decided the 60-degree engine was more viable: The development team said, “Hey, you know, we could make a decent 60-degree V-6 out of this pretty easily.” So, while the V-6 didn’t appear until several years after the V-4, the idea was on the table almost from the start. (Of course, you can also make a narrow-angle V-6, as Volkswagen reminded everyone in the ’90s, but a 60-degree bank angle makes it quite straightforward.)

      2. Guys, don’t forget the horrific Essex V4 used in the Corsair and the Transit :)

        1. Yup — as I understand it, the Essex family was originally conceived for the Mk1 Transit, which was the first real Dagenham-Köln joint development project. I don’t know offhand when the idea of making a V-6 of it to replace the I-6 in the Zephyr and Zodiac came into the picture, although given the timing, I assume that at the latest, it was around the time the Transit debuted.

          1. Where would the British kit car industry have been without the 3-liter Essex, though?

  25. I was working at a Ford dealer in Reading UK when the first Fiesta was delivered. In comparison to what we had been working on it looked like something other worldly :) A colleague noted that the driveline looked very Fiat like. But once the guys worked out that they could spin the gearbox around to do a clutch without removing the driveshaft’s, meaning they could do the job way quicker and therefore earn more money. The Fiesta soon became the norm.

  26. A curious thing about the mk1/mk2 Ford Fiesta is the fact they were only available as a 3-door hatchback.

    Turns out Ford looked at 2/4-door saloon variants, the European version looking rather attractive and suggesting there was potential for a Fiesta 5-door hatchback bodystyle.

  27. Not that many UK kit cars used the Ford V6 engine;far more were built using the lightweight(by the standards of the day)I4 Kent engine, and plenty of power was simple to obtain therefrom.The V6 found a home in the limited production Reliant Scimitar family, the Marcos, and the Gilbern.

    1. The line between “kit car” and “limited production model” is of course a narrow one, particularly with cars like the Gilbern that you could buy in kit form as a purchase tax dodge. (Scimitar fans might object to that characterization, I suppose.)

  28. Lotus, Marcos, Gilbern were sold for home assembly as complete sets of parts, really CKD cars, until the Purchase Tax laws were changed. Professional assembly was not allowed , otherwise the tax became due,
    but that didnt stop some smaller garage, on the quiet, putting the cars together for the mechanically inept.
    In the UK, a kit car is one in which the builder buys a kit, usually a bodyshell, a chassis, maybe the suspension, and the drivetrain mountings,and separately obtains the other parts from one or more donor vehicles.

    1. Yes, I’d learned that when I looked into Gilbern for the sidebar on shooting brakes in the Volvo P1800 article. It’s one of those details that’s really crucial to understanding the development of the “kit car” market in the U.K., especially when one considers that purchase tax could be 40% or more of the purchase price!

  29. Really a great article, congratulations!

    In my family there have been two older Fiestas, both bought well used; my mother had a 1986 Mk2 1.6 diesel Ghia from 1997 (paid very little) to 2000 and my brother had a 1991 1.1 SX 3-doors as his first car since 2001 to 2003. They were very good and dependable cars, ai feed very easy and simple to work on.

    1. A little note, side repeaters were added in 1986 for UK (because I believe they became mandated that year there) but they were already adopted since the beginning of the Mk1 for Italian market because compulsory since many years.

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