Friday 3rd September 1976
The Ford Fiesta was formally launched. It was originally developed under the project name “Bobcat” and approved for development by Henry Ford II in September 1972. Development targets indicated a production cost US$100 less than the current Escort. The car was to have a wheelbase longer than that of the Fiat 127 (although shorter than some other rivals, like the Peugeot 104, Renault 5 and Volkswagen Polo), but with an overall length shorter than that of the Escort. The final proposal was developed by Tom Tjaarda at Ghia. The project was approved for production in December 1973, with Ford’s engineering centres in Cologne and Dunton (Essex) collaborating.
Ford estimated that 500,000 Fiestas a year would be produced, and built an all-new factory near Valencia, Spain; a trans-axle factory near Bordeaux, France; factory extensions for the assembly plants in Dagenham, UK. Final assembly also took place in Valencia. The name Fiesta belonged to General Motors when the car was designed, as they had used the name for the Oldsmobile Fiesta in the 1950s; however, it was freely given for Ford to use on their new supermini. Ford’s marketing team had preferred the name Bravo, but Henry Ford II vetoed it in favour of the Fiesta name. The motoring press had begun speculating about the existence of the Bobcat project since 1973, but it was not until December 1975 that Ford officially announced it as the Fiesta. A Fiesta was on display at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June 1976, and the car went on sale in France and Germany in September 1976; to the frustration of UK dealerships, right hand drive versions only began to appear in the UK in January 1977. Mechanically, the Fiesta followed tradition, with an end-on four-speed manual transmission of the Ford BC-Series mounted to a new version of the Ford Kent OHV engine, dubbed “Valencia” after the brand new Spanish factory in Almussafes, Valencia, developed especially to produce the new car. Ford’s plants in Dagenham, England, and Saarlouis and Cologne (from 1979) in Germany, also manufactured Fiestas. To cut costs and speed up the research and development, the new powertrain package destined for the Fiesta was tested in Fiat 127 development “mules”. Unlike several rivals, which used torsion bars in their suspension, the Fiesta used coil springs. The front suspension was of Ford’s typical “track control arm” arrangement, where MacPherson struts were combined with lower control arms and longitudinal compression links.The standard rear suspension used a beam axle, trailing links and a Panhard rod, whilst an anti-roll bar was included in the sports package. All Mk1 Fiestas featured 12-inch wheels as standard, with disc brakes at the front and drum brakes at the rear. Ford paid particular attention ease of service, and published the times required to replace various common parts.UK sales began in January 1977, where it was available from £1,856 for the basic 950 cc-engined model.
It was only the second hatchback mini-car to have been built in the UK at this stage, being launched a year after the Vauxhall Chevette, but a year before the Chrysler Sunbeam and four years before the Austin Metro. The millionth Fiesta was produced in 1979.
The car was initially available in Europe with the Valencia 957 cc (58.4 cu in) I4 (high compression and low compression options), and 1,117 cc (68.2 cu in) engines and in Base, Popular, L, GL (1978 onward), Ghia and S trim, as well as a van. The U.S. Mark I Fiesta was built in Saarlouis, Germany but to slightly different specifications; U.S. models were Base, Decor, Sport, and Ghia, the Ghia having the highest level of trim. These trim levels changed very little in the F iesta’s three-year run in the USA, from 1978 to 1980. All U.S. models featured the more powerful 1,596 cc (97.4 cu in) engine, (which was the older “Crossflow” version of the Kent, rather than the Valencia) fitted with a catalytic converter and air pump to satisfy strict Californian emission regulations), energy-absorbing bumpers, side-marker lamps, round sealed-beam headlamps, improved crash dynamics and fuel system integrity as well as optional air conditioning (a/c was not available in Europe). In the U.S. market, the Ford Escort replaced both the Fiesta and the compact Pinto in 1981.
At the beginning of the British government’s Motability scheme for disabled motorists in 1978, the Fiesta was one of the key cars to be available on the scheme. A sporting derivative (1.3 L Supersport) was offered in Europe for the 1980 model year, using the 1.3 L (79 cu in) Kent Crossflow engine, effectively to test the market for the similar XR2 introduced a year later, which featured a 1.6 L version of the same engine. Black plastic trim was added to the exterior and interior. The small square headlights were replaced with larger circular ones resulting in the front indicators being moved into the bumper to accommodate the change. With a quoted performance of 0–60 mph (0–97 km/h) in 9.3 seconds and 105 mph (169 km/h) top speed, the XR2 hot hatch became a cult car beloved of boy racers throughout the 1980s. For the 1979 auto show season, Ford in conjunction with its Ghia Operations in Turin, Italy, produced the Ford Fiesta Tuareg off-road car. It was touted in press materials as “a concept vehicle designed and equipped for practical, off-road recreational use.” Minor revisions appeared across the range in late 1981, with larger bumpers to meet crash worthiness regulations and other small improvements in a bid to maintain showroom appeal ahead of the forthcoming second generation. In 1978, the Fiesta overtook the Vauxhall Chevette as Britain’s best-selling supermini, but in 1981 it was knocked off the top spot by British Leyland’s Austin Metro and was still in second place at the end of 1982.
The Fiesta has sold over 16 million units over 6 generations making it one of the best selling Ford marques behind the Escort and the F-Series.