There was an upset in the new car sales chart last month: the Vauxhall Corsa overtook the Ford Fiesta to become Britain’s best-selling car.
Granted, the new Corsa has just arrived in showrooms, while the current (seventh-generation) Fiesta has been on sale since 2017. But number one or not, the Fiesta is a huge part of British life. You’ll struggle to find anyone who hasn’t either owned one or travelled in one.
We’ve taken a Tardis back to 1977, driving an original Fiesta 1.0 L from Ford UK’s heritage fleet. How much has changed in 43 years?
What are its rivals?
The Fiesta was launched at a time of high fuel prices, when many people 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 a mighty 41hp.
What’s it like to drive?
It’s an absolute delight. You forget how small superminis were four decades ago, yet the interior manages to be surprisingly spacious. Large windows and tiny windscreen pillars mean visibility is much better than modern cars, too.
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.
Plenty of room in the Mk1 Fiesta’s engine bay.
957cc four gives a top of 79mph. pic.twitter.com/g0zraYJ7Dk
— Tim Pitt (@timpitt100) April 15, 2016
The steering is direct, but also surprisingly light – once you’re rolling, no power steering here – and the four-pot engine is sweet once it’s warmed up to temperature.
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 venture out of town. However, in the suburbs, the 1.0-litre feels quite sprightly enough.
Reliability and running costs
The original Fiesta is brilliantly simple, with a monocoque chassis and a small pushrod engine powering the front wheels. There are none of the fancy electronics you’ll find on a new car, so the original should be fairly robust – even all these years later.
A Mk1 Fiesta should be affordable to run, too. It’s easily cheap enough for classic insurance, while fuel consumption should be modest (just don’t expect the efficiency of a modern Fiesta).
Could I drive it every day?
Back in the 1970s, the mere thought of a Fiesta not being up to daily driving would have been laughable.
Today, though, the thought of having to use choke to start a reluctant engine in the morning, along with zero creature comforts and few safety features, mean you’d have to be 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?
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.
Orange and brown Mk1 Ford Fiesta interior has a definite 1970s vibe… pic.twitter.com/AYwhI8icvH
— Tim Pitt (@timpitt100) April 15, 2016
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 the car hasn’t been used for 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 Ford that’s sure to attract lots of comments at shows.
Early examples well over 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.
Ford has created lots of cool Fiesta concepts over the years. The Ford Ghia Corrida, pictured here, was revealed at the 1976 Turin Auto Show.
Based on a Mk1 Fiesta, it featured brilliant, hydraulically-powered gullwing doors.