Friday July 8, 2016
Written by Andy Roberts: Writer, Author & Classic Car Fan
Picture the scene: It is July 1976, and it’s VERY hot. You are sat in a living room with George & Mildred style decorations, ignoring next door neighbour’s transistor blaring out Paul Nicholas wailing about out Reggae Like It Used to Be as you plan to buy a new car. Your criteria are that it should be small, front wheel drive and British, but that narrows the choice down to a version of the Mini and those are just too compact for your needs. Besides, you want a tailgate, but that would mean considering the Fiat 127, the Renault 5 or the VW Polo – i.e. ‘a foreign car’.
Then you see pictures of a new Ford, one with three doors, FWD and the promise of a dashing lifestyle previously associated with Hai Karate aftershave and crimplene slacks – the Ford Fiesta. Best of all, it was UK-built.
In fact, Dagenham was only one part of the Fiesta’s story as the body pressings were from Cologne and Valencia and the fuel tanks from Saarlouis to name but a few plants. Nor was it the first ever front wheel drive Ford - that was the German-built Taunus P4 of 1962 - but the Fiesta was to be the first British-built oval-badged car. Ford moved UK-market Granada production to Germany to create space on the factory lines for the new hatchback while dealers and mechanics who had spent their entire career with RWD cars were re-trained. The name Fiesta was chosen after’ Ford's management rejected "Metro" and, mercifully, "Bambi’" and "Cherie".
British sales commenced in February 1977 and as with all of Ford’s most successful cars, every version looked good. It did not matter if you placed an order for the 950cc base model with virtually nothing as standard or the decadently furnished Ghia as the Fiesta looked smart, regardless of trim level. The styling was from Tom Tjaarda who devised a cabin with a large glass area and a discrete front air dam. Within 18 months, no school run or Fine Fare car park would have been complete without at least one Fiesta, just as any upwardly mobile accounts manager needed the 1100S model to complement his image. Its top speed may have been well under 100 mph, but those ‘go-faster’ stripes denoted a driver so glamourous that he could afford to dine at the Berni Inn twice a week.
Production of the Fiesta Mk.1 ceased in 1983, and its last major version was the 105 mph ‘pepper-pot’ alloy wheeled XR2, launched two years earlier.
Today, it sometimes appears that there are more on the road than the 20,000 Ford originally built, and the rarest examples are the Popular, the base and the L– those Fiestas that for so many years were virtual street furniture across the UK.
And, as a mark of how remote 1976 now seems, one sales feature was that ‘you don’t have to heave heavy cases over a high sill. Women drivers will appreciate this point when they’re doing the weekly shopping’…