Fiesta – Fantastic At 40

Fiestas of all generations pose at Ford's Dagenham plant

This year, the humble Ford Fiesta turns 40. Not many cars get to say that, so it’s worth celebrating. Especially now that Ford has given us the ST200 version to play with. Yes, what was once a humble family runabout has now developed into something, dare we say, cool. Nice work, Ford.

Introduced in 1976, the Fiesta was Ford’s answer to the small car market. It was billed as a cheap yet spacious and fun way to get about. Qualities the car still embodies today. 1976 was a different time though, and there wasn’t much competition. Not of any substantial quality, at least.

Ford Fiesta
Ahh, 1976. Simpler times for advertising


The car got the name from Henry Ford II who like the alliteration with Ford. Oh, and of course, Fiesta was a great way to celebrate the fact a factory had been built in Valencia with Fiesta production firmly in mind. It was set to be a popular car, with dealers getting plenty of interested parties through the door before it was even out. That’s a good start.

All this ‘practical stuff’ was fine, but things really became interesting in 1981. That’s when the XR2 hit the streets, and people loved it. With stiffer suspension, a 1.6 CHV engine and sporty trim all round, who wouldn’t be excited? After all, the ’80s were rubbish, so it was nice to have something fun!

Fiesta XR2 Mk1
Imagine this in 1981. No wonder it was popular!

In 1983, we got the Mk2 Fiesta. Ford knew what we wanted though, so while some were happy with the 1.0, the 1.1 and the 1.3, most of us were champing at the bit for the XR2 version. Ford didn’t disappoint, and gave us what we wanted in 1984. Flared arches, lower suspension, those ‘pepper pot’ alloys. It was hot hatch perfection and we bought it en masse!

By 1987, Ford had sold 153,000 Fiestas in Britain. The accountants were pleased by this, so in 1989 were were allowed to have the Mk3 version and this time we were allowed to have the XR2i version within that year. Yes, the XR2i. The ‘i’ is for injection, which was a big deal in 1989! So were the flared arches, spoiler and side skirts, all in glorious body-colour. Oh, and it had – ready for this – a FIFTH gear. Four-speeds are for losers.

1989 Ford Fiesta Police car
This is not an XR2i. It’s a Police car. The Fiesta was DIVERSE!

As the years rolled on, so did the number of Fiestas being produced by Ford. People loved it, and the sales figures showed. The inclusion of diesel engines, Ghia ‘luxry’ trim levels and from the Mk3, the option five doors, the Fiesta was all things to all people. It became Britain’s ‘go to’ car.

Since those humble beginnings, Ford has sold 4,339,149 Fiestas in the UK alone. In total, including the US and Europe, the number is closer 18,000,000. It’s Ford’s best selling car since the Escort and it has no plans to slow its pace any time soon – 2015 saw 133,000 sold.

The introduction of the ST range in 2005 paved the way for the Fiesta to become a serious car in motorsport. Once you’ve got that under your car’s belt, you ca do anything. And it did, competing in the World Rally Championship to this day, as one of the premier cars on the stages.

Tom Cave Fiesta R5 Rally WRC
Tom Cave isn’t afraid to give his R5 Fiesta some abuse

Right now, the Fiesta is simply the best small car out there. You can’t argue with the figures, after all. And just think, this all started 40 years ago. Ford just wanted a small, practical car for the masses. What it did, however, was build a car that would shape generations. It gave them their first car, their first taste of speed or even the wheels needed to get into motorsport. You don’t think of a Fiesta, when you think of motoring icons, but it is one.

Fiesta ST200 Ford ST race hot hatch
The ST200 is the current pinnacle of Fiesta design

Never owned one? Don’t worry, you’re timing actually couldn’t be better. With options like the Titanium, the EcoBoost and the ST, Ford has all your Fiesta desires covered. Though if you want the best of the best, you really should go for the 200PS ST200 version. With a chassis to die for, aggressive looks and power on tap, it’s the current fitting pinnacle of the Fiesta’s journey. Though remember, it’s a journey that’s nowhere near over. You carry on, little Ford, you’re brilliant!

What do you think?

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