Ford's Fiesta

On sale at last

The British public must have been wondering what on earth had become of Ford’s interesting new front-wheel-drive small car, the Fiesta, which was announced last summer (Motor Sport, August), yet missed the London Motor Show and has not materialised in the showrooms, I hope potential customers have not lost interest in the meantime, for Fiesta goes on sale in Britain on February 2nd after a delay which must have been welcomed by manufacturers of Fiesta’s British and foreign-import rivals. Since the re-equipped Dagenham factory has belatedly gone into full swing it has produced 10,000 Fiestas ready for the showrooms on release date, a volume which must surely be a record. Those 10,000 ought to be free of the usual new car teething troubles for, as our more travelled readers will have noticed over the last three months, Fiesta has been on sale in Europe since October and 100,000 examples have been produced at factories in Saarluis, Germany and Valencia, Spain.

Hopeful of better winter weather than pertained at home, Ford recently took several parties of journalists to Monte Carlo for pre-release driving experience of the Dagenham-produced right-hand-drive cars. However good Ford may be at engineering other things, they can’t engineer the weather and the Princelpality was swimming in a constant downpour.

Giving one of his usual, admirably articulate speeches in the Hotel de Paris, Ford GB’s Chairman and Managing Director, Terry Beckett revealed that a market research programme had discovered that 55% of Fiesta owners would he women, 47% would go to multiple-car households, primarily for use by the Wile and offspring and 86% of those questioned listed shopping as their most frequent use of the car. Prompted by such significant figures, Ford invited journalists’ wives to Monte Carlo too, a rare and very welcome privilege for these ladies who usually see so little of their much-travelled husbands; they had to work for this unexpected experience by driving the cars and answering detailed questionnaires on them, which could be an influence upon some of the British models’ detail design.

Since August, most readers have probably forgotten what the Fiesta is all about, so first a re-cap. It is a three-door, transverse-engined, front-wheel-drive super-Mini in the same idiom as the VW Polo, Renault 5, Fiat 127, etc. Power comes from two versions of a development of the push-rod, crossflow, straight-four Kent engine, one of 957 c.c. capacity, the other of 1,117 c.c. It drives through a sealed-for-life transaxle in a lightalloy housing, with an all indirect gearbox mounted in line with the engine and a spurgear final drive behind. Solid, unequal-length driveshafts have constant velocity joints at each end. The suspension is comprised of McPherson struts, coil-springs and negative scrub geometry at the front and a tubular beam axle with trailing arms, braced shock-absorbers, coil springs and a Panhard rod at the rear. The steering is rack and pinion and brakes are disc at the front, drum rear.

Because this is being written some time in advance of the release date, it is not possible to give a true price comparison with Fiesta’s rivals, most of which are going up in price in February, as is the price of the Ford range, including the Escort Popular, which would otherwise undersell the basic Fiesta. Prices start at £1,856 for the basic 457 c.c. car (all these prices including seat belts but not delivery), which can be had with a 40 b.h.p. low compression engine in place of the 45 b.h.p. standard unit as a no cost option, a specification Ford expect only fleet owners to be interested in. The 957 c.c, L is £2,079, the 1,117 c.c. I. £2,179, the 1,117 c.c. S (not available with 957 c.c. engine) £2,360, the 957 c.c. Ghia £2,657 and the 1,117 c.c. Ghia £2,757. As a matter of interest, the Polo sells for £1,995 and the Fiat 127 3-door £1,821 at this time.

Unfortunately I was unable to try the complete range in Monte Carlo and the French coastal region down to St. Paul de Vence. The schedule prevented my sampling of the Fiesta S, which was disappointing, for this brightly-coloured model has stiffer suspension than the rest, including an antiroll bar. I tried two Ghias and a 957 c.c. L.

The Ghia is a beautifully appointed small car, tastefully trimmed with rose-wood and velour, as luxurious as its grandfather, the Granada Ghia. Radford and similar companies will find it difficult to make the improvement on Fiesta they were able to offer on the Mini. It has quite a high seating position—in fact I found the cushion of the Ghia seats too convex in the middle, adding to this impression—so with a huge glass area visibility is superb for normal driving or parking. The driving position is well-nigh perfect, the Ghia’s four-spoke, padded steering wheel and nicely spaced pedals falling just right without the complications of adjustment facilities. All the major switches, including powerful two-speed wipers (they needed to be!), are on the steering column. The Fiesta’s handling is a revelation, the roadholding on the wet and highly-polished roads of the South of France superb. There is very little roll, moderate understeer, which does not give way to violent tuck-in when the throttle is released in mid-corner, high geared, smooth and very positive rack me pinion steering and a tautness to the suspension which does not make the ride harsh. Ford engineers have done a splendid job in making the suspension work silently, too. Response to quick changes of direction it first-class, which means that the Fiesta is a wonderfully “chuckable” car, light-hearted and quite endearing in its manners. Chassis i excellence extends to the brakes, too, with which I could find no criticism in spirited descents of some quite mountainous roads, nor in the wet streets of Monte Carlo or Nice; they have good feel, firmer than most Ford brakes in fact, and showed no fade when exuding a stench of hot Mintex. All the foregoing applies both to the Ghias and the 957 c.c. L I drove; the L, being lighter, was a shade more responsive in handling than the luxury Ghias and its smaller engine revved more smoothly if more noisily and, again because of the weight reduction, felt a little nippier. Both my wife and I preferred the location provided and the comfort of the L seats to the luxury Ghia ones, which seems perverse.

Ford would have been hard-pushed to match the gear-change of the Escort in a front-wheel-drive application; they haven’t quite succeeded, but the Fiesta change is not at all bad, with just a little notchiness into second to mar it. The four ratios are perfect. Less satisfactory was the clutch operation, which varied from car to car. That of the two Ghias was fierce and unprogressive, that of the L quite acceptable. I thought this might have been something to do with the clutch installation on the larger-engined cars, but other journalists found had 957 clutches and good 1,117 clutches, so somewhere there is a consistency problem in the cable-operation, which includes a clever self-adjusting mechanism, or in the diaphragms.

The Ghias proved very quiet cars indeed, with very little road, wind or engine noise intruding. I would not like to say the model was any quieter than the standard Polo without trying the two cars together, however. With less sound-deadening material in its specification, the L was understandably noisier and the smaller engine buzzier, but not to any annoying extent.

I could find very few things to fault on this total departure from Ford ideology, The clutch was one thing, another was the key only operation of the full-depth tailgate on all except the Ghia, the boot is not very large when the rear seat is erect and the removable parcel shelf in place, which means that the Fiesta will nut prove an ideal car for family-of-four holidays, the doors are very tiny, even on the Ghia, and the metal handbrake needs a plastic grip.

Performance of the two models I tried was entirely adequate, though I dare say a 957 c.c. Ghia would be a little gutless. I shall look forward eagerly to the eventual announcement of the planned 1,300 c.c. sporting version. Undoubtedly the range as a whole is going to hit manufacturers of other small cars really hard, especially Leyland, who have only themselves to blame. W.B. anticipates a lengthy road test of a Fiesta soon. so I shall refrain from further comment.