Top 25 Everyday Classic Cars: 17. Ford Fiesta Mk1

Ford_Fiesta_Mk1

The car that helped kick-start the trend for hatchbacks in the 1970’s, the Ford Fiesta is still with us even today and has always proven itself as the blue-collar hero of the open road.

The Ford Fiesta was by no means the trendsetter when it came to hatchbacks, with a slew of small cars like the Renault 5, the Fiat 127 and the Peugeot 104 having made their debut earlier in the 1970’s. However, Ford were willing to sit back and wait to see what their rivals presented before officially throwing their hat into the ring. The result was a combined development effort between the Ford design teams at their European factories at Dagenham in Essex and Cologne in Germany to create the perfect small hatchback.

Unveiled in 1976, the Ford Fiesta was an immediate smash hit for combining practical internal space and a rear hatch with a perky, reliable little Inline-4 engine and a comfortable, though basic, cabin. Such was the popularity of the car that in 1978 it knocked the Vauxhall Chevette from its perch as the highest selling supermini car in the UK and would hold the title until the launch of British Leyland’s Metro in 1980; though the Ford remained in second place as late as 1982.

The Fiesta’s popularity stemmed from its simplicity. It’s an incredibly basic car but for that it’s also very cheap to build, drive and maintain. It was, for all intents and purposes, the answer to the 1973 Fuel Crisis by providing a car that was incredibly fuel efficient and was of a more sensible dimensions to preceding Ford models. Therefore, the Fiesta, along with the Escort, was able to create a complimentary pair of cheap and cheerful family cars that would be easy to run and inexpensive to maintain; a perfect choice for the suffering populous who had spent most of the early 70’s queuing for petrol.

So, the good points of the Fiesta?

It’s cheap and easy to run, it’s incredibly fuel efficient, it’s got a lovely style, it’s Valencia Inline-4 engines will happily last forever and it’s got all the practicality and space you’d expect from a small family hatchback.

What about the inevitable bad points?

Rust.

The reason why you won’t find many old Ford Fiesta’s on the road today is because most rusted to pieces before the end of the decade. If the owner didn’t keep this car snug and warm in a garage while making sure to polish it twice a week, the dark brown patches of death would soon creep like the hands of the reaper over every surface on the car.

If you’re interested in purchasing an old Fiesta, I cannot express enough how much you need to check for rust and make sure that the previous owner had adopted an appropriate regimen to keep it at bay. The most critical place to check is on the front inner wings just above the strut top mountings, which are especially prone due to their position at the front of the car.

Further issues of rust come down to the car’s safety, as if the body has been compromised by deeply rooted corruption then, in the event of a crash, you will not come out of it lightly. Imagine placing a glass jar in the path of an oncoming train, it looks solid enough but it will disintegrate like it wasn’t even there when hit!

Another problem with the Fiesta is a result of the major weightsaving strategy adopted by Ford when designing the car. While the car’s lightness helped increase the fuel economy, it inadvertently had a catastrophic effect on the handling and grip. As a result of the car being so light, in certain weather conditions or on certain types of road it can easily lose its footing and send you careening into the nearest hedge.

Speaking of previous owners, one should really undertaken what is essentially a ‘background check’ on the last person who drove it as this can form the basis of more issues with the car’s running.

The Fiesta was a favourite among pensioners who used it for short hops to and from the shops or to their game of bowls on the green. In many cases, these elderly owners have held on to their cars for upward of 10 to 15 years, keeping them in a pretty much immaculate condition if they’ve managed to have the car serviced frequently and kept up with the polishing.

However, while this sedate life may be good for the car’s external appearance, mechanically it’s a nightmare. “Short-Run Syndrome”, as it’s often known, is where cars used on short hops over the course of several years have never actually been properly run-in or presented with a situation that requires the engine to be pushed to its limits. The results are the deceptive combination of low-mileage cars with worn out engines and clutches that will need to be replaced.

Further issues regarding previous owners are the DIY maintenance types. While the Fiesta is so simple even a 6-year-old girl could maintain it, there’s never any guarantee that the car will have been repaired properly and is being held together by a thread. A clear indication of a car with DIY maintenance is a lack of mechanic stamps in the car’s service history, meaning that, regardless of the previous owner’s mechanical skill, the Ford may have been repaired in a way that isn’t up to standard or could have been completely botched on the cheap.

If your heart is set upon the Fiesta, the best thing you can do after buying it is take it to your nearest official mechanic and have them give it a once over. It’s a lot better than having the wheel fall off or the brakes fail while you’re doing 70mph down the motorway!

Overall though, if you’re in the mood for a car with simplistic charm that will happily keep going for years and years (as long as it’s polished properly), the Ford Fiesta is definitely the car for you. Indeed it’s a basic machine and older examples are more for the adoration of enthusiasts rather than everyday commuters, but for an easy to use car that’ll get you from A to B reliably and comfortably, look no further.


Scores

  • Comfort – 8/10 – It’s a comfortable little family run around, but not exactly up to Granada standards
  • Practicality – 10/10 – This car made a name for itself for its practicality
  • Reliability – 7/10 – Rust is the car’s biggest problem, otherwise there are very few issues endemic to the car overall
  • Speed – 3/10 – It’s as fast as a slug
  • Handling – 6/10 – And handles about as well as one
  • Looks – 8/10 – Has a unique charm to it, but isn’t the world’s biggest headturner
  • Equipment – 5/10 – It’s a basic little machine, so not exactly crammed with all the mod-cons you’d find in a modern Fiesta
  • Price – 10/10 – Mint condition, single owner cars can be picked up for a song
  • Value – 5/10 – Prices are starting to see a turnaround for these things, but not fast enough to make it the resale icon of the century
  • Total – 62/90 – The British family car that went on to become an icon, but is also starting to show its age in places.

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