By on November 20, 2010

The Korean invasion began in the late eighties with three shitboxes: the Hyundai Excel, the Pontiac LeMans, and the Ford Festiva. Korea Week CC pits them against each other to determine the outcome: the Festiva loses the contest by a large margin. Why?

It was way too good of a car. So losing is winning in this showdown. Now undeniably, the Festiva still falls into the shitbox category by virtue of its looks alone; in fact it’s styling couldn’t be more so: somewhere between a porta-potty and a litter box. As my eighteen year-old would say: strictly a no-sex box.

Yup, the Festiva took the form that the original Honda Civic popularized fifteen years earlier, and turned it into a generic Wal Mart version. No need to spend money for Giugiaro here. It’s almost a dead-ringer for the Civic in terms of size. But that’s not the only one: Ford’s very similarly named Fiesta obviously comes into the picture too. And given their similarities in name, form, function and both carrying the Blue Oval, comparisons are inevitable.

The Fiesta was a true little gem in its time, that being a critical part of the comparison. The Fiesta arrived before Honda started getting back to its performance roots; in the US, anyway. Since Ford only sent the 1.6 L version of the Fiesta, it was the hottest little pocket rocket of its day. Thus its cult status.

Things had changed dramatically by the time of the Festiva’s appearance in 1988. By then, hot Hondas and other rice-flavored delights of the mid-late eighties changed the landscape, so by the time the Festiva appeared with about the same performance envelope as the Fiesta, it was instantly relegated to shitbox status.

But if one’s appreciation for the timeless joys of minimalistic motoring was undulled by the late eighties’ excesses, the Festiva was the warm little ticket. Because unlike the Excel and the LeMans, nothing was lost in the translation from the Japanese Mazda 121 into the Korean Festiva. Kia followed the original faithfully, and the result is obvious. How so?

I considered myself lucky to find one example each of the gen1 Excel and the Daewoo LeMans. But I could go out and find half a dozen of these Festivas this morning if I needed to. There’s one for sale at the Official CC Sales Lot. The sheer numbers add up to the Festiva’s loss/win; but that’s not all. The Festiva is a blast to drive, if you’re into the underpowered shitbox thing. I am.

There’s no better way to enjoy automotive minimalism than with the Festiva. Forget all the chatter about electric vs. hydraulic power steering; unless you’ve savored the pleasure of no power steering at all in a light little car – that makes me wonder how many younger drivers have never driven a car without power steering. A show of hands, please?

Granted, the Festiva was best in urban settings, where its telephone booth visibility (and size) made it perfect for the task of gaining every inch of advantage possible in thick traffic. My experience in one was in San Francisco, and the Festiva shone there. Precious parking spaces that other cars would have needed casters to fit in were a breeze. And there’s nothing like catching a bit of air in a Festiva on the hills.

As alluded to earlier, the Festiva is a Mazda 121 in everything but name, and lives up to its zoom-zoom heritage; or at least tries hard to. Curiously, the 121 was never sold in Japan, but a Japanese-made Festiva was, at Ford’s Autorama dealer network. Japanese tie-ups and dealer networks are a complicated thing. And outside of the US, the little Kia was called the Pride, and  built up until to 2000. And like the LeMans that found an immortal home in Uzbekistan, the Kia Pride is still going strong in Iran. The license built SAIPA Saba and its successors including a pickup version account for some 40% of the Iranian market. It’s a small world after all.

Unless I was having too much fun last night, my memory tells me that the Festiva was the last of the true lovable shitboxes. The Geo Metro is close, but the Festiva’s 1.3 L four will blow away the Metro’s little three-pot. The Suzuki Swift with its 1.3 L four, perhaps. As Michael Karesh pointed out in his Hyundai i10 review, the i10 is within inches of the Festiva. And they both have that same tall stance with tiny wheels that makes it look like they will fall over in a strong breeze. It may look dorky, but it does the job, especially in the right setting. Manufacturers: the shitbox segment is wide open; these Festivas are holding up surprisingly well, but eventually they’ll need to be replaced.

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87 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1989 Ford Festiva – Korea Week Shitbox Shoot-out Loser...”


  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    There is one of these across the street from me soldiering on as daily driver.  It looks to be in much better shape than the one shown above and seems to run well, too.
     
     
     
     

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      I had a number of Fiestas to chose from, but the paint job on this one grabbed me. It looks pugnacious too.

    • 0 avatar
      vent-L-8

      pugnacious: /adjective/ 1) eager or quick to argue, quarrel or fight. 2) Having the appearance of a willing fighter.
       
      I had to look it up too.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Ack!  Paul, loveable as the Kia Festiva may be/have been, it is still a cardinal sin amongst former Fiesta-owners (or at least me) when this car is mistakenly refered to as a “Fiesta”…  ;O)

      Btw, at the end of 1988, midway thru engineering school, as my still reliable Fiesta was approaching decrepitude (I commuted daily, 40mi one way) I shopped for a new car … Festiva didn’t even make the first cut due to its seeming lack of solidity … in the end, after casting high and low for a worthy successor to the Fiesta formula, and finding none, even searching a good-condition 8-year old Fiesta, none was found, I sucked-it-up and bought a new  VW (Golf I) Cabriolet.

  • avatar
    Jellodyne

    The last of the true lovable shitboxes. Interesting criteria. I’d argue my 2010 Honda Fit is a small lovable car, but it’s too nice to be called a shitbox. That was probably also true of my 1985 Accord hatchback. My 1986 Skylark Custom was a true shitbox but was as unlovable as they come. I didn’t have my 8 speed Dodge Colt long enough to figure out if it was lovable. My 1980 Mazda GLC met both standards, for sure.

  • avatar
    Mehdi

    As you mentioned Paul this is a very popular car (sold as Kia Pride or Saba by Saipa) in Iran and I wonder if it would be even more popular if it kept the original Ford logo on it. Many people might not know that American cars have very good reputation in Iran because there used be a lot of 1960-1980 Buicks Chevys and Cadillacs before the revolution 30 years ago when they stopped importing them( and i don’t need to tell you why!!) In fact when I came to US I was really excited to buy a Chevy or a Dodge but then I realized those good old days were long gone!
    My mom has one of these , they are extremely cheap to maintain but not fun to drive at all.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Not fun to drive? Maybe something got lost in the Festiva’s translation to Farsi?

    • 0 avatar
      Mehdi

      Well they call it Saba (a poetic name meaning a gentle soothing wind , figure the contrast with Festiva!!!)
      I think the festivity was lost somewhere during the transition to the sedan and pickup version ( here is a piture of sedan:
      http://static.cargurus.com/images/site/2009/01/29/14/28/2000_kia_pride-pic-64752.jpeg ). Both have serious balance issues. The hatchback is not sold in Iran anymore.

    • 0 avatar
      fastback

      ‘and I don’t need to tell you why’

      LOL.   :)

  • avatar
    JimC

    So much better than its replacement, the Perspire… er, Aspire.
     
    One of my old cars had manual steering.  Parking and low speed steering was a lot easier once I learned to put my hands at 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock on the wheel (or 12 and 6 if I wanted to steer a lot).  Steering at city speeds and faster was… pretty much normal.  Just don’t expect to twirl the steering wheel a-la overassisted 1970s luxo-barge :)

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      For me, the Aspire (Expire) was the equivalent of a chinese-knock-off of the Pontiac Lemans (itself a chinese-knock-off of the Opel Aerocoupe)… seemingly suffering some kind of gene-pool dilution…

    • 0 avatar
      tech98

      The Aspire truly was crap, a step down from the Festiva. The worst rental car I’ve ever had — tin-can doors, horrible/cheap/nasty everything, a tach needle that froze at 4000rpm even when the engine was off.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Late ’80’s Ford tachs had an interesting quirk … they had a pin at zero … if, when the engine was turned off a) the needle was (I don’t remember exactly anymore, but say) less than 180° away from the pin, then needle would return to the zero pin in the ccw direction (as it should), b) if, it was more than 180, it would return in the cw direction, and thus be trapped on the wrong side of the pin … when the engine was restarted, the needle would like to travel cw to the actual motor speed but couldn’t because it was blocked by the pin … the only way to get the needle back in its normal orientation was to rev the engine up past the number indicated at the 180° point, then, suddenly, magically, the needle would quickly spin ccw to the ca. 180° point and all would be good again (as long as the engine was running below the 180° point when it was keyed off.)  Somebody discovered this during production , how?, and the quirk was engineered out of the product.  (some cars employ dual pins, one at zero, another at the top of the rpm range to also prevent this from happening.)

    • 0 avatar
      fastback

      Weren’t those Aspires 3 cylinder jobs???

      Got some good post wedding nookie (not my own) in a 1987? Aspire.   Hey… it’s doable, im only 5’8!

  • avatar
    PJungnitsch

    Great urban car, a lot of people are surprisingly fond of these things. I had a friend that drove his rusty example (he called it ‘The Egg’) in preference to his Lexus until his GF said ‘enough’ and made him put it up for sale.
    He said he hardly put the phone down for the ad when someone showed up at the door with cash and took it at the asking price.

  • avatar
    Mr. Gray

    Yes. The Shitbox segment is definitely wide open here in America. All we have here for small cars are supposed “sub-compacts” like the Honda Fit and the Toyota Yaris, which are bigger than a mid-size sedan was 15 years ago and still very expensive to purchase and maintain.

    Now that Hyundai/Kia have moved “upscale,” there’s really no option here for someone who wants a very inexpensive new car.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Mid-sized? I heard a news commentator refer to the Ford Flex as compact the other day. I wondered what a Fiesta or Suzuki Samurai could have qualified as…

      Could we define these sizes once and for all? Perhaps how much space a vehicle takes up vs how much it weighs places it on some official size chart???

      Compact my ***…

  • avatar
    Syke

    I had one in the late 80’s.  Bought new.  And I went to the high end version, rather than the bare bones job.  It was quite a nice little car, other than being equipped with the worst tyres I’ll ever see bearing the Yokohama logo.  I swear they were made of bakelite, and had just that much grip in the wet.  I had a couple of white knuckle moments when they caused me to spin out on a four lane at 55 in the rain, sending me into the ongoing lane, fortunately without ever hitting anything.
     
    The real grin of this car was about the time I got it, I got involved in 17th century military re-enactment (Jamestown, English Civil War).  And, at the beginning, I went in as a pikeman.  Yeah, 16-18′ spears strapped to a roof rack on the Festiva.  With the tail of the pikeshaft even with the back bumper, the heads were about a couple of feet in front of the front bumper, and given the bend in the shaft due to weight and gravity, they usually came even with the back window of the slow moving car in front of me.  Amazing what a little incentive can do for pushing down the loud pedal.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    There’s a late model 5-door (how did they fit 5 doors on such a small car?) Kia Pride parked outside my neighbours house all the time, I believe it’s his daughters boyfriends car but I could be wrong. it looks absolutely mint though, like it rolled out of a showroom hours ago. And it’s in a unusually nice blueish-green metallic. Almost looks like a real car , only smaller. If i didn’t have a family I’d love something as small and chuckable as that or a Suzuki Alto like a friend of mine had. They do almost everything the original Mini did, but better. (apart from looking good …)

  • avatar
    itsgotvtakyo

    LOVE me some shitboxes. What’s even more fun is turning them into fast shitboxes and blowing some minds. If I had a say in the matter I wouldn’t own a car with power steering. My Civic never had it and I removed it in my Integra. The system in my TSX is more complex on its own than an entire car of 70’s vintage is. There isn’t enough electronic gadgetry in the world that can provide a better feel than literally having your hands connected to the road.

  • avatar
    bg

    Back in ’85 I helped a girl friend buy a Ford Fiesta.  That’s what she wanted.  Even though most were less than 10 years old the plastic was brittle and cracked on most of them.  We settled on a ’79 Fiest with A/C(!).  I believe it had a 1.9 liter engine and a 4-speed.  My friend’s sister bought a ’79 Ford Fairmont 2-door with a four-speed manual.  (I didn’t know you could do that.
    So, two 1979 Fords, both with 2-liter engines, 4-speed manual transmissions and non-power-assisted steering.  The Fiesta was fun, zippy and responsive.  The Fairmont was slow and heavy, shifting was a chore, steering was a chore (even at speed), but the plastic didn’t crack.
    I had driven a 900cc eurospec fiesta in 1983 and loved it (may have had something to do with being 21).  And in 1989 I bought my GF some eurospec taillights for her Fiesta, you know the ones with the amber turnsignals.

  • avatar
    troyohchatter

    A buddy of mine had one of these, and drove it until he got rear ended at 270K miles.  My wife also had one when I met her, a later version with fuel injection and 5 speed.  I drove it like I stole it and got 42MPG.  I was having problems with the tires cupping, and the garage told me that the rear struts were bad, and would cost over $300 to replace.  The cupping was only on the rear, and the tires, 12 inchers, cost less than 20 bucks EA plus mounting.  Yes, the tire sale ads always listed the 145/80R-12 with the sale price.  “Those are only the 12″ tires, buddy.”  Yeah, I know, so put em on!!
    I pulled the rear seat out and used it to haul all kinds of stuff.  Alas, my wife had no idea what an oil change was and by the time I knew her the engine was using oil.
     
     

  • avatar
    TCragg

    When I was a UPS driver in Windsor, Ontario in the early-’90s, my local delivery centre had a fleet of Festivas for use as document runners.  Because Windsor was (and is) a border town, we had a brokerage office where all of the customs clearance was performed for international shipments.  The clerks from the brokerage used these cars to run paper customs documents to the various other brokerage houses in town.  They were all assigned UPS vehicle numbers,  the rear seats were removed, they had all of the requisite safety equipment and vehicle inspection books, and were maintained right alongside the package cars (UPS trucks) and tractors by the local UPS mechanics.  I often delivered only air letters and small packages, mainly to downtown offices.  Instead of my usual P-500 package car (Union City body, GMC chassis with a propane 4.3L V6), I would take one of the Festivas.  It was a joy to drive, and I could get that car into delivery spots that no UPS truck would fit.  The light manual steering, tight turning radius, and sprightly performance meant that I could make serious time when we got on the street late.  Sadly, as electronic imaging and customs pre-clearance emerged in the late ’90s, the Festivas were disposed of, and a vehicle that was unique in the UPS world was no more.

    • 0 avatar
      itsgotvtakyo

      I think this is one of the coolest things about ttac. There are a bunch of great writers that compose interesting pieces but I especially enjoy the comments and hearing people’s stories.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      @itsgotvtakyo, that’s what I love too.  Great writers, great stories, and the thoughts of the majority of the B&B are simply outstanding.

    • 0 avatar
      TCragg

      I’ve spent my career in courier, long-haul trucking, air and ocean freight, and now public transit.  If Paul wants to do a CC on UPS trucks, I’ve got lots of stories!  He pretty well covered the transit angle a few months back, but I’m always up for more bus stories.

    • 0 avatar

      So in the Brown Classification scheme it was the P5? Did they remove the Ford logo to “Not promote their vendors”.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    Two somewhat fond memories of the Festiva:
    1. I worked at a pizza place right out of High School that had a fleet of Yugos that were slowly replaced with Festivas as they fell apart from the abuse that high school aged delivery drivers would dole out. I actually preferred the Yugo to the Festiva, but the Festivas they owned had the advantage of a standard radio, which was optional (and therefore not ordered) on the Yugos.
    2. A couple years later I traveled out to Hawaii to visit a buddy who was in the Army and stationed at Schofield Barracks. He drove a 5.0 Mustang LX but his buddy had a Festiva that bombed around Oahu with for a couple weeks. Waikiki, North Shore, Waimea Bay, Hanuama Bay, H1, 2 and 3 (though the H3 was not quite complete at that time). A great way to spend a couple weeks in paradise for less than $50.

  • avatar
    don1967

    The first-gen Nissan Micra belongs in this group.  It was sold here in Canada up until the early 1990s, and was a lovable shitbox made all the more endearing by its 12″ wheels and finicky carburetor.   Rolling down the windows and revving the coarse little 1.2’s guts out on a curvy road was always good for a grin even at go-kart speeds.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    my bro had one of these for a yr, it was not a bad car. Then he complained abotu being a small car that a lot of driver cant see him, he wanted to mount some sort of camera to record all these bully actions. I simply told him as driving a bigger would cure all these, then he went to a W123 Merc 300 turbo Dsl.The passenger side is all rusted out, just short of the Flintsotne’s ride, one can push down with your feet in assisted braking. It get wet when rain, is quite prevalent in vancouver.
     
    Few days ago he said he saw a festiva, wanted to get back into it, I guess he had missed all the cut off, near missed incidence, need those to brighten his days.

  • avatar
    shiney2

    I managed a rental car office in CA in the early 90s, and we had maybe 10 of these that were used as low ball insurance replacement cars. They were SO fun to drive. Far better than Escorts or pretty much any other low ball car of the era. Lots of feedback, low but not unreasonable limits, and so narrow you could carve corners and play with the lines on normal surface streets.

    When it was slow we used to mark the pavement behind our office and race them!

    They were also very reliable.  The three cars in our fleet you could always trust were Ford Festivas, Toyota Camrys, and Lincoln Town Cars. The worst car? Without question Ford Tempos. Impossible to keep clean, and we would take bets on which one would be towed back to the lot with a failed fuel pump next….

  • avatar
    PrAl10

    Drove one from International Falls, MN, to Detroit about 15 years ago, in the middle of a heavy snow storm. I don’t know to this day how I made it home alive, driving on a snow-covered I-75… but the little Festiva kept soldiering on and got the job done.
    Overall, it was a nice, reliable – if spartan – little car.

  • avatar
    UnclePete

    Truth be told, I have a “rainman” like ability in remembering music and jingles. A picture, a snippet of conversation, a story or sometimes another jingle will set it off. I’ll hear these things in my head for days until another one takes its place. When I saw the picture of the Festiva, all I can think of is the old commercial jingle. I looked it up on YouTube, and sure enough here’s a copy of it in all its 1980s jingly glory. Enjoy. (I’ll be hearing it for days, I might as well share!)

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Thanks for the link.  Some other good ones:

      Running a 12-13s qtr mi:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5EOE211onwc&feature=related
       
       

       

       

       

       
      smoking a late-model GTO:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pzd5MXt0ZVA&NR=1
       

       
      Leno’s SHOgun Festiva:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_zEPRMYK4A

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Wow, the poor old Festiva gets sh*tbox designation and the Excel is a maybe deadly sin? Paul, I beg you to reconsider. The rolling phone booth was a great little car, better than most in this class. I’ve not owned one, but I have driven several and known many people with them. For a sh*tbox car, this was the car that engendered the most loyalty among the people who owned it. A former co-worker drove hers to somewhere in the mid 200K mile mark, until it was totaled. She replaced it with an Escort wagon that she never completely trusted. It too died in an accident, and was replaced with an Elantra GT.
     
    Even rusted out, 20+ year old versions are still on the road here in Western Michigan, earning their worth every day. Back when I owned my Yugos, I had a friend that owned a Festiva and we would race each other around the parking lot of a closed strip mall. I really can’t say it was a race, it was more like a couple of bored guys and a bunch of soccer cones pretending we were autocrossing. We switched cars occasionally, and I found I liked his Festiva way more than I did the Yugo. I know that sounds like a ‘oof da’ moment, but it was nice to see that the very smallest cars weren’t total sh*tboxes…
     
    I’m surprised no one mentioned the SHOgun… http://vlane.com/blogs_article/222/beat-recession-2-ford-shogun

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      geozinger: You misunderstand me; the Fiestiva loses the shitbox competition because its by far the best of the three!

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @Paul, OK, I guess I get the joke here…
       
      My kid reminded me of the accident we were in, where a DUI driver in a Festiva rammed into the back of my ‘racer’ Yugo and shoved me into a Nissan Maxima. My car was totaled, his was too but the Nissan had a few scratches on the bumper. I got hairline fractures in my lower legs and ruptured a disc in my back and was in pain, but the three guys in the Maxima jumped out of their car and helped me and my then toddler daughter out of mine. They had to pry my doors open with their bare hands, because they were jammed shut in the accident. They helped me get to the ambulance and helped me make sure my daughter was OK.
       
      In the state of Georgia, after an accident like this, you have to go before the magistrate to settle any claims or etc. Court day comes, and I can see the guy who hit me sitting on the other side of the crowded courtroom. The judge calls me to the bench and asks me if my business with the defendant’s insurance company are satisfactory, and I respond yes. He then dismissed me. As I’m walking out of the courtroom, he calls up the folks that were in the Maxima, I hadn’t seen them until this point. They come up to the bench, dressed in all kinds of slings and neck collars and etc… I had to leave the courtroom before I broke out in laughter. In a way I felt bad for the schmuck who hit us all, I wasn’t going to do anything beyond my legal rights, but these guys were going to sue him for the whole enchilada!

  • avatar
    Steinweg

    Not to steal the Fiesta’s thunder – it was colossally shitty – but who will speak for the Hyundai Pony? I’m horrified to admit I can still find them around rural Canada in an operable, if not registrable, state.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyundai_Pony

    • 0 avatar
      wmba

      Last year, I was amazed to see a completely rebuilt Pony shuttling around the Halifax-Dartmouth area of Nova Scotia. It was in very good shape externally.
       
      A couple weeks after I first noticed it, came upon an accident at the approaches to the harbour bridge. There was the Pony, completely smashed to pieces.
       
      Have no idea whether the owner has tried to rebuild the poor little thing, but have not seen another Pony since. Back in the ’80s the Pony seemed better than the Stellar that came after it and before the Excel. An acquaintance with the Stellar learned to drive it for many tens of thousands of mile without low and second in the auto trans. What a bag of utter shit that thing was!

  • avatar

    In 1987 I was 25 years old and ready to buy my first new car. I compared the Festiva with the VW Fox, both of which were without power steering.  The VW won out, only because I felt it was a better highway car and I was taking a lot of long trips.  But the Festiva ran strong and it was a tough choice.  A buddy of mine was facing the same dilemma and chose Festiva.  No regrets, except for the ridicule he endured about the phone booth on wheels.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    For those city dwellers to whom the interstate is but a means of shaving precious minutes between exit zones when scooting from errand to errand, and row houses or continuous upkeep victorians with curbside parking are the norm, these are the reference standard when it comes to ideal personal transportation. I tend to experience the joys of small car travel as a passenger in most cases; there are a lot of Metros, Aspires and Festivas among the company I keep. Most of their owners have trouble believing me when I say, “I’d rather you drive” but while I don’t have difficulty parking my behemoth Roadmaster, it’s a car which feels out of place when dashing to a downtown restaurant gathering or going on an old bookstore hunt.

    My favorite moment as a passenger in a “shitbox” occurred while riding with a friend on Denver’s Federal Blvd, which boasts a very high number of traffic accidents along most of its length. Having fitted into his Metro with one other companion, we were tearing along in the crowded but not slow traffic flow on the way to a shop which specialized in imported Japanese media and magazines. Our discussion was likely something involving politics, economics or social issues and we were especially engrossed in the topic when our driver slammed on the brakes in a nearly perfect threshold braking maneuver, stopping us mere inches from the rear of the big truck which had suddenly slowed to a stop over a matter of seconds. The conversation continued unabated even as the car rocked back on its springs, and a sentence later I said, “you see? Do you understand now? You just have that innate confidence aura which prevents us from being scared in traffic”. Prior to the start of the journey, our driver had admitted to only restarting his driving 2 weeks earlier (after a 10 year hiatus) and hoped we wouldn’t be too upset with his lack of skill.

    It it sad to think that for many of those city cars, the dings and crushed panels are not caused by bad judgements of clearance, but inflicted by other drivers whose big battering ram vehicles prevent them from seeing – or feeling – the contact fouls they are continually committing.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    God, I love cars where you can see sheetmetal in the interior. When I see a door like that with just a scrap of cardboard and vinyl  to cover the hole, I just think “Yeah. This is going to be a lot of fun.”.
    My friend’s dad had one of these. He delivered pizza in it as a 2nd job (1st job was on a Los Angeles class submarine, so don’t laugh). They always joked about how he drove like a bat out of hell while delivering his pies. Whatever. Well one night while cruising aimlessly, we saw that little Ford fly through the intersection and lift a wheel on the onramp.  We tried in vain to keep up in what  should’ve been a much more capable mini truck.

  • avatar
    Z71_Silvy

    And in 20 years…we will have the same article about the shit-box Fiesta…
     
    Way to go Ford…

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      And it will be compared to the Aveo. Guess whose going to lose/win that contest?

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      @PN:
       
      I think it’s a bit premature to declare Ford the “winner” here.
       
      The current Aveo certainly sucks, but Ford kind of knee-capped the North American Fiesta and the next-gen Aveo is supposed to be switched over to an updated version of the Gamma/SCSS platform. 

      GM hasn’t released a stinker in a while, I wouldn’t sleep on the new car.
       
       

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      I’m 6 foot 2 and don’t have a dog in this fight.
       
      There will be an assembled in Mexico, Cinquecento in the mix, as well.

      That is if you can find a dealer close enough to where you live.

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      I’m not so sure about the Fiesta and Aveo in 20 years. There’s still one little ‘shitbox’ left that everyone always forgets – the Hyundai Accent. That’s the big difference: all the old shitboxes (Fiesta, LeMans, Excel) were 2-doors and that lent a lot to the endearing, lovable quality. It’s tough to love a shitbox when it has 5-doors.

      As to the current Accent 2-door, has there ever been a review of it? It’s really not that bad looking (certainly light-years ahead of the previous, misshapen 2-door). For a current, no-power-anything, no A/C, no radio, strippo commuter car, the Accent is it. Seems like someone said they can be picked up for as little as $7k.

  • avatar
    Canucknucklehead

    I lived in Korea for many years and my daily driver was a much used Kia Pride 1.3 litre. My Korean friends swore by them and certainly gave my good advice to buy one. It was a four door sedan and the air blew ice cold on sticky days in Deagu. When I finally left, I was sad to part with it. It handled well, had a great seating position, was fun to drive and cheap to run. Even the 1.3 was adequate for Korea, where you cannot really get up to much speed.
     
    I have another Festiva story. In 1988 I had just left the army and was about to start university. I wanted a good car  that would get me through those years and the reviews on the Festiva were good, so I went to the Ford store in my hometown of Victoria to look at one. Nothing I could do could persuade said Ford store to sell me one. They practically tried to move the earth to get me to buy a Tempo, which I (correctly) thought was the worst POS ever built. I knew this first had since my folks owned a Firestone repair shop like 200 metres from the Ford dealer. I practically pleaded to the dealer to let me drive a Festiva, told them I had cash, etc, but nothing worked. I then stormed out of the dealership and bought a VW Jetta. A friend had told me of the joy of German engineering and in a way he was correct; then the Jetta actually wasn’t in the shop getting a warranty repair, I was a very nice car. But I digress; the warranty on the Jetta was two years and I couldn’t consider keeping it after that expired so I sold the Jetta at a not too bad loss. It made me wish even more I could have had a Festiva. I ended up buying a slightly used 1988 Accord and went on to drive it for many years. It actually stayed in my family until 2007, when my niece totaled it. I wish I had bought a Honda instead of the Jetta!
     
    I love this site because, like others have mentioned, the quality of the comments makes reading the articles even more interesting.

  • avatar

    to see the Festiva that had a bit part in Fly Away Home, go to motorlegends.com and click on CarToons

  • avatar
    forraymond

    What about the Dodge Colt of the 70’s.  I think it was built by Mitsubishi.  It was dead reliable and sturdy.

  • avatar
    troyohchatter

    I forgot the best “Festiva” story.  My wife was driving to work and the interstate was a slushy sort of slick mess, traffic running about 35-40MPH.  She hit an area where  the barrier wall on the east side by the slow lane ended, at which point a hard gust of wind hit the car.  The Festiva, being shaped like a cube, caught a lot of wind and, she swears, the car got blown from the slow lane to the fast lane, and she just about soiled her pants.  She further said how she didn’t hit anyone is beyond her.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Festiva styling wasn’t so bad. Essentially, it was a Fiat Uno with Audi quattro style box flares. It actually looked really good compared to the Subaru Justy, Hyundai Excel, VW Fox, and various Suzuki products that it competed with. And even though it sold in smaller numbers than the rest, there are far more surviving Festivas than the others combined. What looks right often is right. That’s why attractiveness exists.

  • avatar

    Not only did the Fiesta have a 1.6L, it was one of Ford’s Kent engines. That means that (with a little work) it can be fitted with a Lotus Twin Cam head.

  • avatar

    I laughed when I saw the headline. Last January I was talking with a GM suit at the Detroit show, where Chevy had shown some kind of Aveo concept (maybe it was ’09, I forget). I asked him why they kept using the Aveo name, “didn’t they know that in consumers’ minds Aveo = Korean shitbox?”
     
    +1,000 on the Aspire comments. I’d sooner drive a GM X-car. My ex and I got one as a loaner when the Dodge minivan was in for one of its periodic transmission replacements (one lasted about 6 weeks). “Horrid little shitbox” is how I described it to my ex. Though it did have A/C that ran very cold. I can usually find something to like in most cars, but except for the A/C, the Aspire was crap from bumper to tinny bumper.

  • avatar

    Hey Bertel,

    Aren’t you glad Paul used a NSFW word? Now I bet half the comments go into moderation because of s41tbox.

  • avatar
    TG57

    I can’t believe no one has mentioned the portable desk fan glued to the dashboard.
    Absolutely. Perfect.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    My future SiL had one. What a great car. I remember us going out on an all day excursion and her trying to apologize for it, me looking at her like she’d grown two heads. All the guys she’d ferried around had complained but I thought it was an absolutely brilliant little car for what it was. I certainly made her happy that day.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    My neighbor down the road from he has one and has been driving it for at least 15 years.
    I did an impound auction a few years ago and they had one, motor running, that could have been bought for $100. The inside was completely trashed but the powertain and most of the parts were perfectly fine.
    I still kick myself for not buying it and offering it to her. But I had to sell a lot of vehicles that afternoon and simply didn’t have her number handy. They are good cars but the safety factor has always made me a bit squeamish about driving them in my neck of the woods. Georgia isn’t exactly a bastion for safe drivers.

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    Love “minimalist motoring”. I’ve driven cars without power steering [71 AMC Gremlin and current 63 Plymouth Valiant <for the last 30 years>] and once you get used to what you’re dealing with the extra effort becomes second nature. The solid feel is reassuring on the road.

    The Saturn SL I test drove didn’t have it and would have been perfectly fine had I bought the car.

    Thanks for another great CC. It’s good to feature such cars. Beyond being called “sh*tboxes” they never get any editorial consideration.

    But with hyperconsumerism still demanding all the bells and whistles, where people whine about manual AC or crank windows and even the lowliest AVEO having to come as a “nicely equipped” as an RV or rolling condo… don’t look to any minimalist small cars coming from anywhere in the future.

    What is it the snobs say: “If you can’t afford a “nicely equipped” new car you shouldn’t be buying a new car anyway” ? Riiiigghhhttt.

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      There are a couple of theories as to why ‘hyperconsumerism’ has overtaken ‘minimalist motoring’. One is likely the amount of time drivers now have to spend in their vehicles versus years past. Long, daily commutes are tough, but imagine how tough they’d be in a sh!tbox. That old ’63 Valiant (or even the ’71 Gremlin) would seem like a Cadillac over a long distance in comparison to a Fiesta.

      The other reason is the huge shift to leases as opposed to actually purchasing vehicles. Taking into consideration the first theory of long drive times, leasors are a whole lot more inclined to cough up the few dollars more per month to get the nicely equipped versions then in the past.

      Just look at how many miles new cars rack up these days. Not that long ago, it would have been unheard of for a vehicle to rack up more than 100k miles. Now, it’s the rule rather than the exception. So, rather than spending cheap for a car that will only last 50k miles or so, consumers are a bit smarter and will spend extra for that better-equipped model that will make it to 100k miles (or more).

    • 0 avatar
      Canucknucklehead

      Leasing just makes financial sense; first of all, you are only financing part of the car. You do not carry interest on the residual. Second, if the car is in a major wreck, it is not yours; you can simply return it after the lease is up and not have to deal with the massive depreciation that a declaration causes. Third, here in Canuckistan anyway, a business can simply write off 100% of the least payment and all the HST as an Input Tax Credit; you are basically getting a sales tax free car. You can buy the car out any time you want and sell it if you want out of your lease.
       
      The key to leasing is not to get in over your head. I would never lease a car that I would be able buy in the first place. Second, lease a car with lower that average depreciation.
       
      Practically every car is “nicely equipped” nowadays and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  • avatar

    The pics made me LOL. Korean quality has sure come a long way, from the Festiva to the Hyundai Equus. Evolution can be fascinating at times.

  • avatar
    cmb1196x

    Anyone can say what they want about these little “shitboxes”…My wife and I drove our ’89 Festiva for over 300,000 km’s with no expenses other than regular maintenance…it was still running great when the front end literally collapsed and the we had to have it dragged out of the driveway…I wish they still built these!

  • avatar
    Disaster

    I owned two of these.  The biggest weakness was the criminally poor tires Ford decided to put on these.  The first set came off the first time I drove in the rain.  I made the mistake of thinking the second one I owned had better tires.  Driving up 75 in the snow it let loose…at all of 25mph.  The good news is you can’t do much damage playing bumper cars at 25mph when everyone else is going in the same direction doing the same.

    The car had a surprising amount of room inside and a very comfortable driving position. Handling was mostly hampered by the silly tiny tires, but it was fun to slap the stick around and listen to that little engine work…a truly nice little engine…reliable too.
     
    My first car was totaled by kid’s who weren’t paying attention and rear ended me.  I swear they couldn’t have hit the car at more than 15mph but the rear end folded up like an accordian.  Their Accord bumper and hood took terminal damage but their car was quite driveable.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    I have a friend who still runs a Festiva as a semi-daily driver here in the Rust Belt – remarkable.

  • avatar
    rembo666

    I had this car in the form of ’92 Kia Pride when I was stationed in Korea.  This thing was a blast to drive, despite the measly 75 horsepower.  This car is the VW of Asia.  They still produce these in Vietnam I think…

  • avatar
    ctowne

    These *were* great little cars. A buddy of mine in college had one. It was a total hoot hooning around a college town in one. It was pretty ratted out though inside. He used a 2×4 to keep the window up, since the lift had broken, and the stereo had only 1 working speaker. But it fit 3 kegs and 3 guys in it with no issues, and was way faster than it had any right being.
     
    The little Mazda BP engine was overbuilt, it’s the same architecture that powered later Miatas. Great torque, decent sound. Ahhh memories.:)

  • avatar
    Disaster

    Who can forget Ford renaming this the Aspire, which quickly earned the nickname the “Expire.”  Crappy, crappy name.  Plus the redesign made it less functional and actually…a bit of a copy cat to the older LeMans.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    Not having read any of the comments I have to say that my dad had one of these little buggers in kind of a lime green crossed with pus, as a replacement for a 1978 Buick Skyhawk (now that was a shitbox in my opinion – but this is colored by the fact that I fell out of the f-er and was almost run over) and he loved it. He liked the mileage and he was always into utilitarian transportation a real no-frills guy. This was replaced by none other than the Aspire. I don’t remember his impressions of that car, but I believe they were similar.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    This was my favorite car because it exceeded every expectation I ever had. There was really nothing this little car couldn’t do. Yeah, it looked too small and when I saw one speeding down the expressway, it looked a little out of it’s league, but when you were driving it and you got the best, widest 12 inchers you could order on each wheel – plus – a five speed manual, well, you got a great little car to speed around in.

    It held four adults comfortably. With the back seat folded away, it could hold more stuff than you could have imagined. I got 50 mpg during it’s first year on the highway, then after <i>twelve</i> years and 275,000 miles, it was getting 40 mpg on the highway.

    I thought the car would last two years, just like my other small cars. I ended up having it 12 years, and it is still on the road after I traded it in back in 2000.

    What went wrong during those years? I had a ball bearing start to squeal in the clutch fan. I replaced the exhaust system. I did the other basic 100,000 and 200,000 maintenance items such as replace the serpentine belt, spark plugs, and clean out the last-of-it’s-kind carberator. That was it.

    $6999 for everything. No exposed metal on the doors on my LX model. Electric mirrors, decent stereo, fog lights, rear wiper, split 50/50 rear seat, it had options on it that no stripped VW, Escort, Tercel or Civic offered at a similar price. Styling-wise the LX had blacked out door and window frames, wider tires, splash guards, blister stripes and better paint, so it did not appear as stripped down and cheap as your run-of-the-mill Festiva.

    The car handled remarkably, and it rode extremely well for such a small car. Each little wheel was pushed as far towards each corner as possible, and had independant suspension that resulted in a ride and handling unlike similar cars.

    My Festiva taught me the benefits of a well engineered car. Mazda gets kudos for such a fantastic job. Everything worked harmoniously. There was no waste anywhere.

    Finally, throughout the decade I had this car, uninitiated onlookers rolled their eyes. That is, until they got a chance to actually ride and drive a Festiva. I did cross-country in it, once for an entire month with two friends from Germany and all our gear. It repeatedly crossed the Contintental Divide without a problem – loaded. The AC always worked, as we crossed 115 degree deserts. On a solo trip I discovered that with an air mattress, I could fold down all four seats, chock the wheels, pop open the back windows and freaking turn the little car into a cozy full size enclosed bed. From San Francisco’s Chinatown to Bangor Maine. From Olympic Penninsula to St. Pete Beach Florida. From the below sea levels of Death Valley in 120 degree heat to 12,500 foot altitude Independance Pass in Colorado. From night clubbing in the Loop, my home town to night clubbing at Pleasure Island at Disneyworld. Remarkable little car. Great memories.

  • avatar
    Truckducken

    Man, it’s great to see these little POS’s get the credit they deserve! I picked up a brand new stripper (no radio, no air) at the end of the ’92 model year for a whopping $4995 cash – a good enough deal that the salesman called me daily for the next week asking for more money.

    All I wanted was a reliable beater to lug me to and from work ten minutes across my small midwestern city. What I wound up with was something I liked to describe as the automotive equivalent of a go-kart. Just plain fun to drive. Also exceptional in snow and ice – thanks to short length and light weight at both ends, the moment of inertia was low enough that any deviation from one’s intended course was very easy to correct.

    Were its many benefits enough to make this vehicle popular? No way. I recall one of these, in the same ‘surf blue’ color as mine, being featured as the very symbol of loserhood in the classic 90’s flick ‘Election’. But other than going through mufflers like a baby goes thru diapers (that’s what a 5 mile commute w/o stainless exhaust will do), I had no issues at all. And the damn thing cost me more in oil changes than it did in gasoline over the three years I kept it. 41 mpg on nothing but short commutes.

    Sadly, I punted it when I felt the driveway was getting too crowded in 95 or 96. Three years of driving, $1000 depreciation. Wish I had it today! I need to look into those Accent deals mentioned above…

  • avatar
    Stingray

    I’m out of town and don’t have enough bandwidth to make 2 replies.

    1) I have an Iranian friend who’s named Mehdi as the commenter above.

    2) I have never driven an original Festiva, but drove for some time one of the Iranian derivatives, the Saipa 141.

    The thing is fun to drive, up to 50 mph, after that the lack of power kills the fun of it. In the city they’re like rabbits, very agile and swift, you can even beat the SUVs for space.

    In the highway, well, I was able to take one up to 120 mph on a light downhill. I don’t recommend it. On its own power it will not go further than 100 mph.

    Brakes suck. The steering, as Mr. Niedermeyer pointed, is great. Light, precise, communicative, quick.

    The things have a lot of interior space, but the seats are not very good, and that didn’t got lost in the translation from Korean to Farsi. I saw a local 4 door Festiva and it had the same seats.

    Very simple to assemble and service. The only flaw I know for both Festiva and its sons is that they tend to need a LOT of front wheel bearings. No problem since they’re cheap and plentiful, and IIRC, also standard.

    I know the little buggers more than I want, and wherever built, they’re honest basic transportation, something that is not very common these days.


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