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CATEGORIES (articles) > Donor vehicle information > Ford > Ford Fiesta history 1970s to present day

Ford Fiesta history 1970s to present day

The Ford Fiesta is a mid-class compact car designed by the Ford Motor Company in Europe, and also manufactured in Brazil, Mexico, China, India and South Africa. It is now marketed worldwide, including Japan and Australasia, but was only sold briefly in North America. It is one of Ford's most successful cars with over ten million sold in six distinct generations since 1976 and production continues as of 2004.


In the early 1970s, the demand from consumers for small cars were rising, Ford's competitors were launching cars like the Fiat 127 and the Renault 5. The effects of the 1973 energy crisis were also affecting demand. Ford needed a small car to compete in this emerging market. After research and many mock-ups a prototype and project known as "Bobcat" was created, which would be the basis of Ford's new car, the "Fiesta". After years of speculation by the motor press about Ford's new car, it was unveiled in late 1975.

Mark 1: (1976-1983): Birth of the Fiesta

The Mark one Fiesta was launched in 1976. It was also a breakthrough for Ford as it was its first truly successful front wheel drive car. It was also the first new Ford car since the Ford Granada five years earlier. The first generation Fiesta was also a "world car", an "Americanised" version being sold in the United States from 1978 to 1980 where it was called a sub-compact car. (The Fiesta's small size prompted American management to invest in what would become the Mk III Escort.) Mechanically, the Fiesta followed tradition, with an end-on four-speed transaxle mounted to a new version of the Ford Kent overhead valve engine dubbed "Valencia", named after the brand new Spanish factory developed especially to produce the new car. Ford's plants in Dagenham, England and Cologne, Germany were also used to manufacture Fiestas.

Mk 1 Fiesta

The Fiesta was a runaway success overnight, and the one millionth Fiesta was produced on January 9, 1979. The car was available with 950 cc, 1.1 and 1.3 petrol engines and in base, L, Ghia and S trim, as well as a van. A sporting derivative (1.3 Supersport) was offered in 1980, effectively to test the market for the similar XR2 introduced one year later, which featured a 1.6 litre version of the same engine. Black plastic trim was added on the exterior and interior, and the car looked exciting. In a stroke, Ford had created a cult car so beloved of boy racers throughout the 1980s. But with a four-speed gearbox and just 84bhp initially, the performance of the early XR2 was disappointing compared with later rivals.

Mark 2 (1983-1989): A facelift

The second generation Fiesta appeared towards the end of 1983. Essentially a mild facelift of the previous car, it featured a smooth Sierra-style nose, and an all-new interior. Mechanically there was little change, except for the substitution of the Escort's CVH engine for the Valencia motor in the 1.3 models, and the option of a five-speed gearbox. A 1.6 litre diesel engine was also offered. The XR2 made a comeback in 1984, equipped with the carburettor-fed 1.6 litre CVH engine that had previously seen service in the Escort XR3, while the S model made a re-appearance two years later when the 1.3 engine was replaced by the lean-burn 1.4.

Mk 2 Fiesta

A "Fiestamatic" had been rumoured for some years and the new CTX continuously-variable automatic transmission, also fitted in the Fiat Uno, eventually surfaced for the first time early in 1987.

The most bizarre feature of the Mk2 was that, throughout its entire production life, the fitment of an almost completely different dashboard was perpetuated on the lower-series trim levels compared to the more expensive variants, the sole common visible components (save for minor switchgear and lighter socket) being the fuse-box cover and fuel/water gauges.

The Ford Fiesta was regularly a top-selling car in the United Kingdom throughout the 1980s and was also popular in Europe. But towards the end of the decade it was getting left behind by more modern rivals like the Citroën AX and Peugeot 205.

Mark 3 (1989-1997): Five doors at last!

Launched early in 1989, the third generation Fiesta was a comprehensive reskin of the old car with an all-new body shell. This addressed one of the Fiesta's most serious shortcoming - the lack of a five-door derivative. However, apart from the long awaited addition of fuel injection to the XR2 (thus creating the XR2i) and a new version of the Valencia engine christened HCS (available in 1.0 and 1.1 litre), the old running gear remained, and the car was still uninspiring to drive compared to its rivals despite a comprehensively-revised suspension system. It didn't deter Europe's small car buyers, the Mk3 Fiesta sold a million inside 2 years, but the motoring press still weren't impressed. The real star of the new Fiesta range, however, was the RS Turbo. It had a turbocharged version of the XR2i engine and could touch 130 mph (210 km/h).

Mk 3 Fiesta

Specification on the Fiesta range was much improved for the 1990s, with top of the range versions getting anti-lock brakes, electric windows, central locking and, later on, twin airbags. A 1.8 diesel engine from the larger Escort was also added to the Fiesta range. A "high-cube" van variant was announced during 1991, sold in Britain as the Ford Courier.

1992 saw the RS Turbo being superseded by the new hot Fiesta, the RS1800 – as the CVH engine was being phased out the RS1800 shared its 1.8 litre Zetec fuel-injected engine with the 130ps version of the current Escort XR3i and had a top speed of 125 mph (200 km/h). The famous XR2 title was also dropped, in early 1994, and the insurance-friendly 'Si' badge appeared in its place on a slightly less sporty-looking model with either the 1.4 litre PTE (a development of the CVH) or 1.6 litre Zetec engine.

The inclusion of the Zetec engine in 1992 and an injection of safety features from the Ford Mondeo in 1994 kept the metal moving. Although superseded by the Mark 4 in 1995 it was still sold in small numbers until 1997 as the "Fiesta Classic". It was then replaced by the Fiesta-based Ford Ka.

Mark 4 (1995-1999): A new look

In 1995, things changed dramatically with the fourth generation car. Ford cashed in on the Mondeo's success and spread some of that car's excellence onto its baby. The Mk4 Fiesta was given the all-new Zetec-SE engine, a fully redesigned chassis and suspension, and the Valencia engine was reworked into the Endura-E. At a stroke the flabby handling became nimble and entertaining and the Fiesta was all of a sudden the enthusiast's choice. Like the Vauxhall/Opel Corsa, some variants were notable for being available in purple, which was an unusual colour for a car at the time.

In Brazil, a pick-up version of the Mk4 Fiesta was introduced, known as the Ford Courier which was also sold in South Africa as the Ford Bantam.

Mk 4 Fiesta

This version of Fiesta was also sold by Mazda, badged as the Mazda 121 in Europe and the Mazda Soho in South Africa, although this model was eventually dropped in the UK. In the US, Ford had already sold a Kia-built version of the Mazda 121 as the Ford Festiva, while restyled versions of Mazda's 323 and 626 were sold in Asia and Australasia as the Ford Laser and Ford Telstar.

The 1.0 and 1.1 HCS engines were dropped along with the 1.4 PTE and 1.6/1.8 Zetec units. The 1.3 petrol and 1.8 diesel units continued largely unchanged, as did the by now standard five speed manual gearbox and optional CTX automatic. A new 1.25 litre 16-valve Zetec engine was added to the Fiesta range and it set new standards for small car engine refinement, quickly followed by a 1.4 litre version.

The interior was also brought up-to-date in appearance, although a major criticism was the by then sub-standard passenger room, especially in the rear. However, externally the facelift of the Mk3 body shell didn't work as well as the new engineering – in particular the "fish-face" front end was always a subject of controversy.

Mark 5 (1999-2002): Minor restyle

A Focus-inspired restyle in 2000 was an attempt to address this problem, which had a newer face and a smoothed boot. This also saw the launch of the Ford Ikon, which was a four-door Fiesta sedan designed for India, where Ford was now producing cars in a joint venture with Mahindra. The Ikon was also introduced in other developing countries, such as South Africa, Mexico and China, where sedans are preferred to hatchbacks. However, this was a brief change as a totally new design was to come out soon.

Mk 5 Fiesta

Mark 6 (2002–): Sixth generation

In 2002 the sixth-generation car was unveiled. This was for the first time, a completely clean sheet design, with no genetic links to the 1976 original. Brand new engines from Ford's new Duratec family were under the hood, the styling was heavily inspired by the larger Focus. It has been sold in the Finesse, LX, Zetec, Ghia, Black and Limited Edition variants.

Engines available include 1.25, 1.3, 1.4, 1.6 petrol and 1.4 TDCi (A diesel engine developed in a joint venture with Peugeot). By the end of 2004 Ford hope to have a 2.0l petrol 150PS engine and a 1.6TDCi engine available. The 2.0 litre petrol model will only be available in the New Fiesta ST version, borrowed from the Mondeo.

Mk 6 Fiesta

The Ford Fiesta ST is the performance variant of the new Fiesta, capable of speeds of up to 130 mph (210 km/h) and hopes to relive the success of the XR2. To differ it from the standard Fiesta it will also have many visual enhancements, including 17 inch (432 mm) alloy wheels. It will soon go on sale in late 2004.

In Brazil, an exclusive Sedan version was introduced in late 2004 and may be exported to other countries.

Fiesta in sport

The Fiesta was well known for many sporting and "hot hatch" editions. Versions include Super S (Supersport), XR2(i), Si, RS1800 and ST. A Ford Fiesta famously starred in a 1979 rally at Monte Carlo, which sparked demand for sportier Fiestas

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