Rare Rides: The 1978 Ford Fiesta, a German Car

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

Ford has executed an on-then-off strategy with regard to its Fiesta offering in the North American market. Currently in off mode, your local Ford dealer encourages you to look at the sporty and capable first-ever third-world offering EcoSport instead.

But today we’re stepping back in time to 1978 to take a look at the genesis of Fiesta. The Fiestasis, if you will.

Ford began development of the Fiesta in the early Seventies as a new competitor to offerings from the likes of Renault, Peugeot, and Volkswagen. A super mini, the Fiesta would occupy a size class below the (European market) Escort. The project received the go-ahead from Henry Ford II in 1972, and the final design work was carried out at Ghia by noted designer Tom Tjaarda. In development the project was called Bobcat, but Ford asked General Motors if it could use the Fiesta name instead. The General owned usage of the name ever since the Oldsmobile Fiesta of the 1950s.

“Have it,” GM said.

Ford implemented a coil spring suspension in the Fiesta, whereas most rivals used torsion bars. In cars equipped with the sports “S” package, Ford included an anti-roll bar. All first generation Fiestas came equipped with 12-inch wheels, disc brakes up front, and drums at the rear.

The project marked a couple of firsts for Ford’s European operation arm: It was the first time they’d developed a front-drive car intended for several markets, and the first super mini from Ford. A new factory was built in Valencia, Spain to handle Fiesta demand, estimated at 500,000 units per year. Production capability in the UK at Dagenham was also used, as well as the Cologne and Saarlouis sites in West Germany.

On sale in early 1977, European models used 957-cc or 1.1-liter Valencia inline-four engines. Models intended for North America had different specifications than their European brethren, and rolled out of Germany rather than Spain. U.S. versions had a larger 1.6-liter Crossflow four and catalytic converters. The U.S. also required impact bumpers and sealed-beam headlamps, and customers demanded optional air conditioning (not available across Europe). A four-speed manual was the only transmission available in any Fiesta. Hatchback Fiestas were the only option in North America, but other markets also received a three-door panel van.

The Fiesta was a global success for Ford, which replaced it in 1984 with a Mark II version. However, in North America it lasted only through 1980, as an America-centric Escort was ready for its debut in model year 1981.

Today’s Rare Ride is a very tidy 1978 example with the sporty S package that adds additional gauges to the upgraded suspension. Currently a Seattle resident, this Fiesta emigrated to the U.S. via Vancouver, which is a small blue-collar shipping port in Canada. With 33,000 miles on the clock, it asks $4,500.

[Images: seller]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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4 of 47 comments
  • 427Cobra 427Cobra on Aug 28, 2019

    My mom had one of these when I was in high school/college. I learned to drive stick on it. Fun little car. One night on her way to pick me up at college, she had some sort of issue that fried the electrical system. Luckily, a dealer managed to get it going, & we managed to make it back home, tho everything smelt burnt.

    • Robert.Walter Robert.Walter on Aug 31, 2019

      Did she have a/c option? My sister’s fiesta, then 6 or 7 years old at time, had the a/c pulley scuff the main harness (my guess is the harness shrank and the engine mounts became less resistant and the pulley could swing enough to short the harness. I spent a good day and a half on Labor Day weekend removing the harness to fix it. After my sister arrived at my folks vacation home without various external lighting. It occurs to me now that she was lucky as the lead in the harness that was cut could have been something vital like the radiator fan or airbag crash sensor (just kidding on that last one).

  • MQHokie MQHokie on Aug 28, 2019

    I inherited one of these from an uncle in 1985 as my first daily driver. He'd been trying to tune it up at some point and had it catch fire under the hood after a backfire, then threw sand all over it (with no air cleaner) to put the fire out. My father and I rolled it down the hill to our garage, pulled the carb and cleaned it and the manifold as well as we could, then poured some 2-cycle mix down its throat and started it up. Tough little bugger that it was, from that day forward it ran reliably until a couple years later when a school bus ran my father off the road in it and he tore up the suspension. I remember one night it broke the water pump belt late at night about 15 miles from home. Taking care with the throttle, I was able to nurse it home without overheating it - I doubt many modern engines would be able to do that.

    • Robert.Walter Robert.Walter on Aug 31, 2019

      Lucky it was only a fan belt. I had to replace water pumps in both our fiestas and since the pump pulley was so close to the inner fender, it was literally turn the tool 1/4 turn at a time. At the time I only had a metric monkey wrench and both times the seal failed in the brutal gold of a Detroit winter. Good times.

  • Tane94 If there is market demand, build the vehicle. That's what Ford is doing. Kudos
  • Cprescott Looking like that? Egads
  • The Oracle This thing got porky quick.
  • Kwi65728132 I'll grant that it's nicely kept but I'm not a fan of the bangle butt designs, and I know better than to buy a used BMW while living anywhere in the world other than in the fatherland where these are as common as any Honda or Toyota is anywhere else.
  • ChristianWimmer When these came out I thought they were hideous: now they’ve grown on me. This one looks pretty nice. Well-maintained, low mileage and some good-looking wheels that aren’t super fancy but not cheap-looking or boring either, they are just right.