By on July 15, 2016

Ford Festiva

It’s like Woodstock, but for fans of 1990s econoboxes that make double-digit horsepower.

This weekend, the eighth annual “Westiva” gathering will take place in the rugged foothills of Kananaskis Country, Alberta, drawing proud Ford Festiva enthusiasts from far and wide. Heads up, Montana — if you’re a resident with a passion for slow acceleration and spartan interiors, there’s a group of friends waiting north of the border.

Alberta: big sky country. Oil country. Ranchers and roads populated with Super Duty/Heavy Duty crew cab 4x4s. I once rented a Mazda 2 there, and it was a thoroughly emasculating experience. The little Mazda, of course, could at least get out of its own way.

Westiva attendees don’t care about horsepower. The only time these subcompact hatchback aficionados leave rubber on the road is after they blow a tire on Highway 2. And they’re fine with that.

Organizer Ian Cassley likes his Festiva for its simplicity and mileage. According to Metro Calgary, he drove his first Festiva to 400,000 kilometers (249,000 miles) before trading it in for a fresher model. A body kit and turbocharged four-cylinder borrowed from a 1988 Mazda 323 makes Cassley’s Festiva hard to miss in a parking lot — unless it’s parked behind anything larger than a Fiat 500.

The festival is small but growing, and attracts drivers from as far away as Vancouver, Wyoming and Ontario. Cassley wanted to make the event more inclusive, so he opened it up to other vehicles of the same class.

“It’s not just for Festivas – I’ve put out invites on Geo Metro and Suzuki Swift forums – any kind of econo-box car from the late 80s early 90s,” he told Metro Calgary.

If you go, you’ll likely meet Ryan Prins, whose stock ’93 Festiva has 450,000 km on the odometer (280,000 miles). When the publication asked what kept the Festiva fires burning, he replied, “These cars are very, very easy to work on – I can probably fix almost anything on the side of the road. They have very little electronics.”

Anyone who has ever enjoyed Festiva ownership will likely agree — there’s very few things to break.

[Image: Baileyusa115/Flickr]

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55 Comments on “Tiny Econoboxes Head to Big Sky Country for Tiny Festival...”


  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    The obvious choice for this festival is a Daihatsu Charade or a Renault Alliance GTA.

    • 0 avatar
      IanCassley

      Either would be most welcome.

    • 0 avatar
      Piston Slap Yo Mama

      A friend’s Charade was an impressively built penalty box back in my college days. Built to a price point but also with an agrarian simplicity I haven’t seen since. She’s owned a lot of nice new rides since then but still fondly recalls the Daihatsu.
      I’d include the Suzuki Swift Gti too if we’re talking cars of only that decade.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    My sister had a Festiva. It was roomy for its size, but not very durable, I think she had it for six years and then it was pretty much used up.

    • 0 avatar
      VaderSS

      I purchased a 1990 Festiva that had 225,000 miles on it. The previous owner’s mechanic had said it was used up. It needed an engine flush and a new lifter. I put 40,000 miles on it and sold it for what I had originally paid. It is still running strong and the current owner loves it.

  • avatar
    Coopdeville

    “Anyone who has ever enjoyed Festiva ownership”

    Up to this point I assumed that most people “put up with,” “did the best they could,” or “put on a brave face about” Festiva ownership. I had no idea it could be “enjoyed.”

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      It’s fun to pretend.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      I had a 1990 L, and like these people, I appreciated it for what it was. These cars were fun to thrash around in. The had a 4 cylinder instead of a Metro’s 3, so they had more pep to them, especially with fuel injection and the 5 speed manual (as was my ’90). It didn’t get the crazy MPG that the Metro XFi or CRX HF could, but they could “get out of their own way”. Mine was 40 mpg just about everywhere I went, sometimes higher on extended highway (where I honestly did 75-80). It would bury its 85 mph speedometer, I’ve never gotten a metro past 85 lol.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      I dont think I ever really enjoyed small cars, except for parking them.

      Festivas can be “enjoyed” if you don’t mind fixing stuff on a disposable car and if you’re a masochist, you’d have to be to drive one of these past 200k.

    • 0 avatar
      VaderSS

      I loved mine. If I hadn’t run out of parking spaces, I’d still have it.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Given the fond memories I have of owning both a Ford Festiva and a Geo Metro, I wish I could attend this even. I’d be walking around with a big smile on my face.

    And yes, ownership of these kind of cars can be enjoyed. Of course, it helps if you like small cars to begin with, and have spent most of your car ownership in such vehicles.

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    I wonder if any Starlets are gonna show up?

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    I’d love to show up to this in a Maybach pullman, and act like I belong there.

  • avatar
    Adam Tonge (bball40dtw)

    Any excuse to hang out in Kananaskis Country is a good one. Can Geo Metros make it up the hills from Calgary?

  • avatar
    brettc

    If only I still had my old Jetta diesel and wanted to drive a 21 year old car to Alberta. Oh well. I was close to buying a Festiva back in the 1998 time frame, but it never happened. Ended up getting a Jetta diesel instead from a room-mate.

  • avatar
    e30gator

    I do miss the cheap plastic interior, crank windows, tachometer-less, hubcap-less, black plastic bumper, 4 speed manual, 12 valve engined ’89 Nissan Sentra I used to drive. I somehow felt more connected to the road.

    I’d think the base Versa would be the closest one could get to this type of vehicle today.

  • avatar
    PRNDLOL

    I think a manual ’90 Festiva would be the ultimate bootmobile.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    The only tiny cars I’ve seen lately are Toyota Echos.

    Wonder how fast a 2 door Echo with a 3.5 Camry V6 shoved in behind the front seats would be.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    I’ve had a couple opportunities over the years to sample the Festiva, and for it was it wasn’t bad, particularly for the time.

    While I was in technical school after high school, I took a job delivering pizza for a local restaurant, partially for gas money to get to school, but partially because they maintained a fleet of Yugo delivery cars. I wanted to be able to tell stories like this about having driven a Yugo. As the Yugos succumbed to the staff of high school age drivers, they were replaced with a smaller fleet of Festivas. Compared to the Yugo, the Festivas were better cars, mainly because they came with radios.

    A few years later I got to be the designated driver while visiting a friend who was in the Army and stationed in Hawaii. We drove around Oahu in a turquoise Festiva that belonged to a friend of his. Again, for a bottom-of-the-food-chain car, the Festiva was fun. Or at least the things we were doing at the time were fun, which made the car by extension fun.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      “Compared to the Yugo, the Festivas were better cars, mainly because they came with radios.”

      Now THAT’S setting the bar low…

      • 0 avatar
        Acd

        Compared to the Yugo Festivas were better cars because they were Mazdas built in Korea instead of Fiats built in Yugoslavia–it had very little to do with radio availability.

        • 0 avatar
          Jimal

          The 17-18 year old me didn’t think such things. To me they were just a couple dinky foreign cars. Having a radio to listen to while driving a pizza across town was important.

    • 0 avatar
      360joules

      The advertising jingle was some happy peppy tune and an alto belting out, “It’s a Ford…It’s a Festiva!”

    • 0 avatar
      JustPassinThru

      Hmmm. My Yugo had a radio – an AM-FM stereo Pioneer unit the previous owner put in before he found out how troublesome a new car from a Communist State-owned car works, could BE.

      And, actually, the Yugo was fun to drive. Fiats are like that; it’s why they continue to exist, against all their drawbacks; and the Yugo was a Fiat. Why it didn’t last, my Yugo or any Yugo, is another story…a long one of a car put together by the most demoralized workforce you can imagine, and without a QC or engineering department.

      I compare that to the Festiva. I may have driven one; I can’t remember. There was a time when I worked for a contractor to a major railroad. We worked out of a hi-rail truck; living out of cheap motels without our cars; so when we either wanted to hit the town or had legitimate long-distance driving to do, work-related, we called Budget. They picked us up.

      That I’ve forgotten tells us about how memorable those cars were. Like most Asian products, they were designed and put together well – but to a price. The opposite of Fiat/Yugo/Lada products.

      Hope the guys out there in Alberta have fun.

  • avatar
    rev0lver

    A good buddy of mine had red 1990 Festiva in highschool. It was a solid car for what it was. Lots of good memories cruising around in that old beast.

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      I was saddled with a Festiva as a rental years ago – just for the day – and I recall being pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t quite so bad, lol.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Yugos came with a Panasonic radio and full size spare tire ~ that’s the only thing they mentioned in the ads back then .
    .
    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      JustPassinThru

      Hmmm. My memory was Pioneer; but it could have been a Panasonic.

      Yup, the full-size spare. Know why? It was an integral part of the Crumple Zone engineered into the front of the car.

      That’s right. The spare was under the hood, in front of the driver…and it was supposed to be a rubber bumper that took the front of the car crushing in, and eased it against the firewall.

      When the NHTSB did their crash-test on the Yugo, they took the spare out. Why, I don’t know. But the whole engine compartment folded up miserably and the engine wound up in the crash dummy’s lap.

      Malcolm Bricklin was all over the government “engineers” on that one. I have no great love for Bricklin, but that time he was right.

  • avatar
    Blackcloud_9

    Wish I still had my 1981 Dodge Colt (aka Mitsubishi Mirage) for this thing. It’s not from the 90’s but it meets the other qualifications
    Econobox – Check
    Double-digit HP – You betcha, 67!

    It was Econo in almost every sense of the word
    No A/C
    Power Windows? – Puh-leeze! Crank it baby!
    The rearview mirror didn’t even have a “night” setting
    The two “luxury” items were an AM radio and carpeting

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      Colts were the bomb! I had a ’91 Plymouth Colt about as base as you could get, bought new for $5995 + tax and license. Great little commuter car, only had a 4 speed but it would busily cruise all day at 85.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Does my son’s 1997 Tercel (now with well over 230k on the original engine and transmission) count?

  • avatar
    IanCassley

    Thanks for posting this… quite a pleasant surprise. The writer obviously has a great sense of humor.

    I’ve owned Festivas for the past 16 years. We just retired the one we bought in 2002 and after 400,00km, 25 states, and 4 provinces is didn’t owe us anything. You can check out our adventures on our blog at http://www.ecoonoboxcafe.com.

    Ian Casssley
    the Westiva guy!

  • avatar
    Gedrven

    The Festiva may be an econobox, but is far from a crapbox. I, a BMW E34 owner, was pleasantly surprised by one I helped a friend buy some years back. They’re reasonably comfortable, surprisingly fast (officially 63hp and feels like a lot more), roomy, and unsurprisingly very, very easy to work on. With no instructions or prior reading whatsoever, I changed the timing belt on it in just over an hour using perhaps four sockets and a screwdriver. Other than failing smog (maybe due to an exhaust leak; it’s unclear), it didn’t have a single problem in the two years he owned it. About 150k miles on that one. Did I mention that it got 35-40+ mpg? And was not slow?

    News to some, not to others: they’re actually a Mazda 121, built in Korea by Kia (it’s a lot better than any Kia I’ve ever been in, including much newer models). The only thing Ford about it is the badge.

    I have less deep but broader experience with Geo Metros (aka Suzuki Cultus). Compared to the Festiva, they are slightly more efficient but otherwise inferior (ignoring styling), mostly because of less durable interiors and mechanicals, but also because they feel considerably slower than the 121.

    Glad to see there’s a fan club for these. By some measures – and decidedly not by others – they are the historical peak of automotive development.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      Dont Festivas have a 10 sec 0-60? Thats not half bad for uist 63hp, helps it weights nothing and has Mazda gear ratios.

      Its certainly quicker than any of my Volvos ever were.

  • avatar
    namstrap

    I remember walking down a major street in London, England back around 1992, and while waiting for a traffic light, I heard the distinct sound of a diesel next to me. What it was was a Kia Pride with a little 1000cc diesel engine. (Our Festiva)
    I think Mazda set up Kia’s factory, because under the skin, there was a lot of Mazda going on in the early Kias. Likewise, Mitsubishi set up Hyundai, with the same result.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    I used to see quite a few of these racing in the ITD (improved touring, class D) class at my local road course.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    I would stop and see the wee cars, but only on my way to the Mt. Kidd golf course.

  • avatar
    brenschluss

    Ascetic-Con 2016.

    Prizes awarded for most painful self-flagellation, lowest highway merge speed, and longest period of celibacy.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Festiva may have been a decent badge-engineered Mazda (which Ford had a ca 35% share in at the time), built by Kia (which for has a 100M$ investment in at the time), but it paled as a follow-up to Fords hot little sport-box, FOE’s 1978-80 1.6L Fiesta (which in the USA was essentially a de-trimmed version of the European XR-2.)

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    The inly way I could stomach a Festiva is if it had a Miata engine swap, Ive seen this done with Lemons racers which makes them pretty quick.

  • avatar
    macmcmacmac

    It’s all fun and games ’til the snobs in th Aspires show up.

  • avatar

    Although the weather forecast didn’t look promising it turned out to be a pretty good day. Five Festivas were there along with a Suzuki Swift convertible!Only two of the Festivas were stock. Mine has a 1.6lDOHC turbo engine from a Mazda 323GT. One had a 1.8l DOHC engine from a Ford Escort GT and another had a 1.6l SOHC Mazda powerplant in its engine bay.

    Next year’s event is tentatively scheduled for July 15th.

    Oh, #olddavid, the Mt Kid golf course has been closed since 2013 and probably will be for a while yet.

    Ian

  • avatar
    Big Al From 'Murica

    I’ll take Places I Won’t Find BigTrucks at for 200 please Alex!

  • avatar

    Well more power to the Festiva fans!

    Festivas are actually very versatile, as this cartoon demonstrates:

    http://motorlegends.com/cartoons.htm

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    My first wife had an ’88 Festiva L when I met her, in the blue color in the lede picture. It only had the four-speed, and dealer-installed Frost King a/c (from inside the car, you couldn’t tell it was dealer-installed). It was a decent little car that had no trouble getting out of its own way – it didn’t have many horses, but it was very light. In the few years we owned it, it didn’t need much work (a timing belt, front and rear brakes, an ignition switch), but the biggest disappointment was the a/c. It was already on its third compressor (Sanden SD-508) by 120,000 miles. The carburetor was also an eye-opener – Ford didn’t sell a rebuild kit, and wanted $750 for a new one. A friend found an aftermarket kit and rebuilt it for me. The later ones with EFI would probably be a better deal.

  • avatar
    lithiumbomb

    I had an ’88 Festiva as my second college car. For the money, it was hands down the best car I’ve ever had. It was a base model with only a 4 speed. I got 33mpg city, highway, didn’t matter. 33mpg. There was plenty of room on the inside (at the expense of anything safety related), it was easy to work on, and cheap to repair. It did get a little wobbly at 85mph

    I eventually rear ended someone with it and sold it to some teenager, who then totalled it properly.

  • avatar

    I’ve just uploaded a new post on my blog with a bunch of photos from Westiva 2016. In spite of the damp and cool weather we still had a good turnout.

    http://www.econoboxcafe.com/2016/07/westiva-2016-photos.html

    Hope you enjoy them.


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