Brief history of the Ford Fiesta

The Ford Fiesta is no more. 47 years after it was introduced to the world, Ford has announced production of the car will cease at the end of June 2023. 

Spanning 7 generations and having spent years at the top of new car registrations, the cheap to make and run small family hatchback is being consigned to the history books. 

The Spanish name Fiesta suited the car as the very first model was built in Valencia in 1975. It would be 2 years later when the first British built Fiesta rolled off the production line in Ford’s Dagenham factory. The company decided to build the car because of pressures to develop a vehicle which was more economical and cheaper to make as a result of the 1973 oil crisis. This is where fuel shot up in price which meant the cars of the time were not viable to own with their larger engines.

The Fiesta will always be held dear to Demon Tweeks, after having won the XR Challenge in an XR2, racing at circuits such as Oulton Park, Anglesey and Donington. 

Altogether, over 22 million Ford Fiestas have been made over its lifetime, across 7 generations. 

Let’s take a trip through the generations to find out how it became such an adored car…

Mark 1 

It was unveiled with a 950 cc engine at the base model, in various trim levels including a van! It was very well received in the UK, becoming the 9th best selling car in its very first year. Now a cult classic, a sports version of the car was made available in 1981, 4 years after its initial release. Branded the XR2, it featured a 1.6 litre engine and a sporty black trim added to the outside. It had a top speed of 105 miles per hour which at the time was pretty quick! 

The XR2 has always been a beloved and prized car for enthusiasts, whether that was back in the 1980s or collectors today with prices fetching up to £20,000 for excellent examples. 

Two Fiestas entered the 1979 Monte Carlo rally and although not setting the world on fire, one of the 2 fiestas finished 9th overall. This sparked the desire for more ‘hotter’ versions of the Fiesta going forward.

Thanks to its quick performance and nimble handling, the first generation XR2 became a firm favourite with Demon Tweeks Motorsport. It proved a useful and reliable tool in acquiring silverware on the track. 

Mark 2 

A similar story was written for the Mark 2 Fiesta which was built from 1983 to 1989. The Mark 2 Fiesta had some worthwhile upgrades but largely kept the styling of the original. It was instantly recognisable which was one of the reasons it too was so popular. The XR2 variant returned for the Mark 2 but with a more aggressive body kit and overhauled engine which came from the Escort XR3.

The Mark 2 was the first time a Fiesta was fitted with a diesel engine which helped with fuel economy and kept the car competitive with more ‘superminis’ entering the market.

Aftermarket performance upgrades made the Mark 2 a real hot hatch to be desired, with some upgrades giving the car up to 125 bhp! 

Mark 3

1989 saw a large overhaul of the car, from the styling right through to the engine and introduction of anti-lock brakes. One reason for this overhaul was due to competition from rival car makers Peugeot with their 205 and Fiat with the Uno. Gone were the straight lines which made the Mark 1 and 2 recognisable and in came sleek curves and more mechanical sophistication under the bonnet and in the cab. However, despite the changes, what remained was the XR2 name for the performance version of the supermini. Now called the XR2i it featured a fuel injected engine (a first for a Fiesta) and up to 110 bhp. 

The XR2i was no longer the top spec version of the Fiesta, the gen 3 car introduced the RS Turbo variant which had over 132 bhp and distinctive styling with 3 spoke wheels and green inserts in the cab.

The Mark 3 was a long serving Mark of the car, being produced from 1989 to 1997. The look and feel of the car still holds up, even to modern cars and it’s easy to see why it was considered such a leap forward compared to the Mark 2.

Mark 4

Built from 1995 to 2003 the Mark 4 was a well rounded car packed with modern (for the time) tech such as electric windows and mirrors and a sleeker body compared to its predecessor. The car was well received and became the UK’s best selling car for 1996, 97 and 98 until it was overtaken by another Ford, the Focus. Though it’s coming up to 27 years old, the Sigma (Zetec) engine used in this model is still being used to this very day! 

The Mark 4 was the first generation to not include a performance variant in its product range, although the Zetec S version certainly looked the part. 

Mark 5

Available in various trim levels and bringing back the ‘hot’ variants with engines ranging from 1.25 all the way to 2.0 litres, the Mark 5 first appeared in 2002 amongst strong competition. By the end of its life cycle many variants were available from 3 and 5 doors, petrol and diesel engines and sporty or affordable options. There was something to cater for all types of people.

This version of the Fiesta was the first to feature anti-lock brakes and passenger airbags as standard. 

After no performance version for the Mark 4, Ford brought it back and introduced the ST range, which could go all the way to 129 mph with its 150 bhp 2.0 litre engine. This version also featured large alloys and a sporty body kit to complement the improved performance.

As with previous models this variant was very popular in the performance car and motorsport worlds. It is used in lots of club rallying and road racing today as parts are still readily available and cheap enough to replace should an accident happen or you wanted to upgrade it.

Mark 6

Starting production back in 2008 and staying in production to 2019 – 2 years after the Mark 7 was introduced! The Mark 6 met the growing demand of consumers for cars to be more economical while still retaining style, comfort and performance at a reasonable price. This was key due to the financial crisis at the time. Ford understood the need for an affordable small car and spared no expense in making that happen for this version.

It was a considerable upgrade to the Mark 5, with enhanced styling, a striking outside and an ergonomic, easy on the eyes inside. However it wasn’t the looks which set it apart, but the feeling behind the wheel. Ford stepped their game up for this version, it had dynamic handling and impressive straight line speed. 

This was no more apparent than in the newly refined ST line of Fiesta. As with the previous iteration of the ST line, the Mark 6 ST quickly reinforced why it was the go-to hot hatch in the market, with its EcoBoost turbo engine capable of 0-62 mph in under 7 seconds. It also won Top Gear’s car of the year award in 2013.

The Mark 6 was adopted by the Ford World Rally Championship Team, replacing the Ford Focus. Developed by Ford Europe and M-Sport the Fiesta RS WRC was created, winning 6 rounds of the WRC in 2011 and 2012. From 2017 this was replaced by the Ford Fiesta WRC which won the championship in 2017 and 2018. The Fiesta was used in the top flight of rallying until the regulation change in 2022 where the new hybrid era started and the Ford Puma was used instead of the Fiesta. The 2 championships might be the biggest achievements for the car but it has won plenty of silverware in the lower classes.

The Mark 6 has also been used in other areas of motorsport from rallycross to circuit racing, as the rallycross championship was growing the Fiesta was a mainstay in the paddock, winning many rounds and championships in the lower class. The Fiesta also competes in many classes of circuit racing and even its own championship as it’s quick and nimble with parts being relatively cheap to find and replace.

Alongside the motorsport pedigree the Mark 6 Fiesta became the go-to car for many young drivers, no doubt helped by Ken Block who used the car in various iterations of his Gymkhana series, like jumping the car through the streets of San Francisco in Gymkhana 5. The Fiesta is a car which looks good but allows for modifications. Many outlets including us at Demon Tweeks understood this demand and promoted this desire for modification, which permeated all areas of car culture. You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing a Fiesta in some form.

Mark 7

Announced in 2016 and released in 2017 the Mark 7 is now the final generation of this long standing car. It was touted as a car for everyone, with various models on offer like a hybrid engine option for those looking to be extra economical. Trim levels also took this into account, a softer Trend line acted as the entry level model, and the ST which has more aggressive styling elements and new wheels. These elements make it stand out from the rest. 

Even though this is the last of the breed, Ford did not take their foot off the gas when it came to making a quality hot hatch. The Mark 7 has been heralded as one of the greats in the hot hatch world, alongside the Hyundai i20N and Polo GTI. 

The car marque’s decision to stop the Fiesta is part of their strategy for electrification, which by 2030 will no longer sell new petrol or diesel cars in the UK. They aim to have their entire portfolio electrified by 2035.

Many people will have grown up with the Ford Fiesta, so it holds a unique place in people’s hearts as it will have been the first car for many people whether passing their driving test or getting something for the family.

As the UK’s best selling car it’s hard to argue the importance of the Ford Fiesta and the hole it will leave in the car market when it officially ceases production in June 2023. The legacy it has is something very few other cars can hold a stick to. It will no doubt continue to be a go to for first time car buyers, as with each upgrade it held its core values which birthed the Mark 1 Fiesta – low running costs, value and excellent experiences behind the wheel. 

The roads of Britain and across the world will be a much sadder place without the Fiesta on them.

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1 Comment
  1. I had a 1st gen US model I had purchased new. My GF at the time called it “The Little B*stard” It was this tiny little nimble car amoungst all the V8 ill-handling beasties roaming the streets in the 70’s. The car was a bit of a joke. Something Ford US had slapped together after being forced to abruptly withdraw the Pinto. I had previously graduated from BSR at Summit Point with an IMSA comp license. Having raced Forula Fords and seat time in what was in the 70’s Forula Atlantic, both powered by a Ford Kent 1.6L block.
    The Fiesta was brought to the US to quicky replace the Pinto. All Ford had for a 4 cyl that was EPA certified was the 1.6L Kent from the Pinto. So they installed this powerplant which was way too powerful for the 1st gen Fiesta. Keep in mind we are talking a relatively high torque engine. However we are still talking those tiny 12 inch tires, puny disk brakes not designed for this power plant.
    So what I ended up with is a car that handled well with the available Continental tires, It would pick up the inner rear tire when cornering hard, much fun. The bad news was I was changing brake pads once a month, regular disk replaements when they heat warped. The front half shats were a problem as well. Bad assembly of the body resulted in rusted thru spots since assembly neglected to remove the flux after welding in some areas.
    Overall besides all the maintenance problems this car was equal or better for fun (I have access to many country roads) than my Datsun 510.

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