Forty years of the Ford Fiesta in the UK - a look back at the history of this iconic motor


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It’s hard to believe Ford’s little darling has spanned five decades from its development

The Queen celebrated her silver jubilee, the ban on Concorde at New York’s JFK airport was lifted and the Bandit and Snowman were bootlegging their way into cinema screens worldwide. Yes it’s 1977 and the year the Ford Fiesta finally went on sale in the UK.

From its initial proposals in the early 70s to its first appearance in 1976 and onto present day, the Fiesta became and continues to be an intrinsic part of motoring in the UK. We take a nostalgic look back at the Fiesta from 1977, when UK dealerships finally got hold of right hand drive models for sale here.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane and have a look at one of the motor industry’s great success stories, and the UK’s most popular car.

Introducing a legend - Ford Fiesta MK1 (1976 – 1983)

Launched in 1976, the Fiesta was Ford’s entry into the Supermini segment, albeit quite a late arrival but this gave Ford the opportunity to take its time and make the Fiesta the car it wanted from the start. And boy, did Ford get it right.

The Fiesta became a major hit, but in the UK we had to wait until January 1977 before being able to purchase the new beauty.

The delay did nothing to hinder sales though, with the Fiesta entering the UK top sellers list that year and remaining there ever since. If Ford took its time entering the Supermini market, it didn’t exactly rush to release a hot version of the Fiesta either. In 1980 the Supersport was released with a 1.3L Kent Crossflow engine, round headlamps replaced the original square units and the indicators moved to the bumper.

All this was basically Ford dipping its toe in to test the market ahead of the launch of the XR2 year later.

Fiesta XR2

Although the XR2 was just another model and trim option of the MK1, it became so much more than the sum of its parts, not that the sum of its parts weren’t impressive.

The XR2 was the work of Ford’s newly formed SVE (Special Vehicle Engineering) team and was only the second car to emerge from this new division, (the first being the Capri 2.8 Injection).

Along with the larger capacity engine the car also sported stiffer suspension and pepperpot alloy wheels.

The MK1 Fiesta passed the two millionth production mark in 1981 and continued to sell extremely well through 1982 but the writing was on the wall for the MK1.

Fact: the XR2 was the first Fiesta to top 100mph

The legend continues – Fiesta MK2 (1983 – 1989)

The MK1 had cemented the Fiesta as a Supermini success so Ford, eager to maintain the momentum got to work on the MK2 but not wanting to throw the baby out with the bath water, the design was refined rather than re-thought.

The MK2 was, for all intents and purposes, a facelift of the MK1 but there were enough changes to allow the new car to be labelled as the MK2. The straight lines of the previous car were softened; the bonnet line was rounded off to give a more aerodynamic front end whilst the indicators wrapped around the front corners of the car. One of the most significant changes with the MK2 was the new option of a diesel engine.

Along with the refreshed design and the diesel engine added to the line up, there was the hot version also carrying the XR2 badge. Sporting a much larger bodykit and featuring the 1.6L CVH the new XR2 was the epitome of cool.

Revolution replaces evolution – The MK3 Fiesta (1989 – 1994)

There were no revisions of a popular theme here; the MK3 was based on a new platform, incorporating semi-independent torsion beam rear suspension in place of the solid rear axle.

Another major addition the MK3 brought to the table was the addition of a five door model for the first time. The new Fiesta also brought a number of warm and hot versions.

The XR2i was introduced in 1989, retaining the CVH engine but now with fuel injection and continued with this set up until 1992. 1990 saw the introduction of the RS Turbo Fiesta which now took the top spot as the Fiesta performance model. Both these cars, however, were not as well received as their predecessors with reviews citing a lack of communication from the steering and woolly handling.

In 1992 the XR2i replaced the CVH engine for the new Zetec twin cam, the RS Turbo was also dropped in favour of the new RS1800I as the CVH engines were phased out.

This was sadly the last time an XR badge was seen on a Fiesta as Ford, in light of sky rocketing insurance premiums levied on the badge, now called its sporty model the Si.

Two for one – the MK4 and 5 (1995 – 2002)

The MK4, introduced in 1995 didn’t cause quite the stir the MK3 experienced on its launch. The car featured softer, more aerodynamic lines and a new range of Zetec engines but there was a sense of Ford playing it safe.

It definitely had its improvements over the previous model and was also the base for the wonderful Puma but the Fiesta failed to capture the imagination at least visually.

The next model, the MK5, was no more than a MK4 with a facelift but strangely enough got labelled as a new vehicle (at least in the UK), however, taking some styling cues from the new Focus, the MK5 became the car the MK4 should have been in the first place in terms of its visual appeal. While the Zetec S model added a bit of adrenaline to the mix.

Renewed confidence - Fiesta MK6 (2002 – 2008)

Here is where the Fiesta regained its confidence, the last few models failed to capture the spirit of the original, they were decent cars but they weren’t leading the way the Fiesta did at the beginning. The basics returned and the Fiesta got its first real visual separation from the previous model since the MK3 took over from the MK2 but even then there were similarities, however, the MK6 truly had its own identity.

The design was very familiar; the mini-focus styling was a perfect complement for the bigger car at the time. Ford of the late 70s and 80s was very enthusiastic about the family look where cars shared styling cues and this is evident once again.

If there is a weak point of the new design, it’s with the interior which, while not offensive, was hardly ground breaking or inspiring but, oddly enough, few small cars from this time period had exciting interiors (but that’s no excuse, just an observation).

Getting hot in here – the ST

Here is where the Fiesta took somewhat of a leap in terms of power and excitement. The ST was finally a Fiesta to get excited about, it handled well, ran well and looked great. It finally laid claim to being the spiritual successor to the XR2.

Present day – the MK7 Fiesta (2008 onwards)

The new Fiesta, released in 2008 continued the trend of improvement and style, the car has won numerous awards and in 2014 became the bestselling car of all time in Britain.

Ford continues to make hot versions of its (not so) small car and its bigger brother the Focus, some more leery looking than the others but as always there’s a Fiesta out there to suit everyone’s taste. An interesting point is the current Fiesta continues to out-sell its nearest rival by more than two to one.

Final thought

Which Fiesta is the favourite is impossible to say as so many people have memories of these cars - whether contemporary or from decades past.

For me, the best Fiesta is the one which started it all off, the MK1. The simple, uncluttered, honest design of even the base mode (with some tasteful but subtle modifications) can look a very mean and exciting.

My fondest memories of Fiesta ownership are of a MK2 E reg 1988 1.4 Ghia in metallic blue, this was in the 90s when I was much younger and the stories involving that car always bring a smile back to my face. 40 years on and the Fiesta is still making memories for its millions of owners.

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