Ford Fiesta: Retro Road Test

The nation’s favourite supermini celebrated its 40th birthday in 2016, and you’ve no doubt noticed all the hype around the eighth-generation Fiesta, which has just been revealed. For this week’s Retro Road Test, we’ve gone back in time to 1977 to drive this delightful Fiesta L.

What are its rivals?

The Fiesta was launched at a time of high fuel prices, when everyone was wanted smaller, more efficient cars. It competed in the new ‘supermini’ class against the likes of the Volkswagen Polo, Renault 5 and Vauxhall Chevette. The Fiat Uno, Austin Metro and Peugeot 205 followed a few years later.

What engine does it use?

In the early days of the Fiesta, buyers got a choice of an entry-level 1.0-litre petrol engine or a 1.1-litre fitted to higher-spec models. The engine fitted to this Fiesta L is the former, producing 41hp.

What’s it like to drive?

What’s it like to drive?

It’s an absolute delight to drive. You forget how small superminis were 40 years ago, yet the interior manages to be surprisingly spacious, while the large windows and tiny windscreen pillars mean visibility is much better than modern cars.

There’s a sense of vulnerability, though, which brings out an element of cautiousness. But once you get into the groove of the first-gen Fiesta, it’s a really fun little car. The steering is direct, but also surprisingly light (once it’s rolling – no power steering here), and the four-pot engine is sweet once it’s warmed up to temperature.

Most of our drive of the plucky little Fiesta was on the urban roads around Ford’s Dagenham plant, and we’ve no doubt we’d prefer a 1.1-litre if we wanted to do much out-of-town cruising. However, around Dagenham, the 1.0-litre is easily sprightly enough.

Reliability and running costs

The original Fiesta is brilliantly simple. A monocoque construction combined with a small pushrod engine powering the front wheels and none of the fancy electronics you’ll find on the new Fiesta mean the original should be fairly robust, even close to 40 years down the line.

Reliability aside, a Mk1 Fiesta should be affordable to run. It’s easily cheap enough for classic insurance, and fuel consumption should be marginal (just don’t expect the 65.0mpg of a modern Fiesta).

Could I drive it every day?

Mk1 Fiestas spluttering into life ahead of a day running errands were commonplace back in the late 70s and 80s. The mere thought of a Fiesta not being up to being driven every day would have been laughable.

Today, though, the idea of having to use choke to start a reluctant engine in the morning, along with zero creature comforts and little in the way of safety features, mean you’ll have to be very dedicated to drive a Mk1 Fiesta every day. If you do, keeping it protected from corrosion will be a challenge.

How much should I pay?

How much should I pay?

Like most old Fords, early Fiestas have a serious following – so don’t expect to pick one up as cheaply as any of its period rivals. Specialist dealers are snapping up tidy ones and offering them for extortionate money following a good valet. But if you’re lucky, you might find a cared-for, original example for around £4,000.

What should I look out for?

Mechanically, the Mk1 Fiesta is fairly robust, but rust is a killer. Get down on your knees and check the sills for signs of bubbling, as well as inside the wheelarches and inner front wings. An online search of a car’s MOT history can reveal wonders about how well it’s been looked after – have previous issues been fixed properly or bodged? Previous failures for corrosion-related issues should have you asking questions.

Other than that, we’d favour an original example over one that’s been modified to look like something it’s not. Many of those left have covered low miles, usually with a now-elderly owner or two, and have been stored in a garage. While this is generally a good thing, lots of short journeys won’t have been easy on the engine or the clutch. Be wary if it’s hardly been used for a number of years, too.

Should I buy one?

Find an well-kept example that’s not showing signs of the dreaded tin worm and you’ll have a lovely classic car that’s sure to attract lots of comments at classic shows. Early examples are approaching 40 years old, though, and with prices heading in the direction they are, it’d be criminal to run a Mk1 Fiesta into the ground.

Pub fact

Pub fact

Ford has created lots of cool Fiesta concepts over the years. The Ford Ghia Corrida, pictured here, was a concept car revealed at the 1976 Turin Auto Show. It featured brilliant, hydraulically-powered gullwing doors.