Ford Fiesta MkI Buying Guide
The original Fiesta introduced several firsts for the blue oval, which make it very appealing – whether you buy a sporty edition or something more prosaic
How much to pay
• Project £500-1000 • Good £1100-2900 • Concours £3000-8000 •
Running costs ★★★★★
DIY friendly ★★★★
Although the world is now awash with superminis, when Ford launched its first in 1976 the segment was in its infancy. And while the Fiesta wasn’t revolutionary to the outside world, it marked a series of firsts for the blue oval. It was the first front-wheel-drive production car that the company sold in Britain, the first with a transverse engine and the first family-oriented hatchback (the Capri MkII was Ford’s first hatch, in 1974).
Over the next seven years the Fiesta would sell by the bucket load, buyers loving its affordability, usability and dynamics. That period would see relatively little development of the model, with most line-up changes restricted to special editions and extra trim levels.
However, Ford did find the time to introduce a couple of sporty editions: the Supersport and the XR2. These editions are most in demand, but if you can find a superb example of one of the more prosaic variations on the Fiesta theme you’ll have a car that’s highly unusual and fun to drive – and it shouldn’t cost much to either buy or run.
Your AutoClassics Ford Fiesta MkI inspection checklist
Ford developed a new overhead-valve, three-bearing, four-pot engine especially for the Fiesta, available in either 957cc or 1117cc guises. Called the Valencia, it was a development of the Kent unit already seen in numerous stablemates. The smaller engine put out 40bhp in the basic Fiesta, but a higher compression ratio spiced things up a bit (to 45bhp) for the Ghia and L versions. Tappet and valve guide wear is likely, but is easy enough to fix.
A year into production the Kent engine was added to the range, in 1298cc form, and in 1982 a 1598cc version was fitted to the XR2. An uncomplicated motor, the Kent is cheap and easy to fix once it’s worn out. The worst that’s likely to happen is for the timing chain to get noisy (although it’ll normally soldier on) and for the valve guides to wear, along with the piston rings. The rocker covers also leak oil, and from August 1981 these powerplants got electronic ignition, which can cause problems. The module on the side of the distributor breaks down after a while because of engine-bay temperatures, but the set-up can be replaced.
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It wasn’t until the MkII Fiesta arrived that there was an auto option, so all MkI cars were equipped with a four-speed, all-synchro transmission. Although the gearboxes are interchangeable between the different models, the final-drive ratios vary. The 950 and 1100-engined cars used the same unit, but the 1300 and XR2 had ratios of their own.
With the exception of selector-rod bushes wearing out (easily fixed), the gearboxes are pretty much bullet proof – or at least until 120,000 miles or so.
The only other likely transmission problem is that of split gaiters. The CV joints themselves are very hardy, but if the gaiters have split and been left, the whole assembly will need replacing before too long.
Suspension and brakes
Both the Fiesta’s steering and suspension are very strong, so problems should be few and far between. Because wider wheels were fitted to the XR2 and Supersport, they had a lock limiter fitted. If wider wheels are fitted to a lower-spec Fiesta they’ll probably rub the inner wings; they may have overloaded the rear wheelbearings, too, so do feel for play.
The solid discs fitted to the front of all cars (except the XR2, which got vented units) aren’t really up to the job. At least a servo was fitted to most cars, although some 950s didn’t have one. Retro fitting a servo can also be problematic, as the bulkhead where it’s mounted can crack if the unit is fitted incorrectly. At least the upgrading of solid to vented discs is easy enough, as it’s a bolt-on job.
All MkI Fiestas have a three-door monocoque, with corrosion par for the course. Cars finished in metallic paint are especially likely to be rusty, as these finishes chip and flake off readily; they also fade quickly.
Predictably, a Fiesta’s value is in its bodyshell, which can rust just about anywhere and may have suffered crash damage – especially if it’s one of the sporty variants. The best way of ensuring that it’s sound is to start at the offside front corner and work round, checking every panel and the floorpans very carefully.
The areas most likely to have dissolved include the wheelarches, sills, jacking points and front valance where it is (hopefully) attached to the crossmember. The A-posts rot, as does the metal around the headlamps; also inspect behind the headlamps, where the inner wings meet the slam panel.
Other common rot spots include the front edge of the bonnet, the seams between the inner and outer wings, the sunroof surround (if one is fitted), seatbelt mountings, boot floor and tailgate. The rear valance fitted to XR2s and Supersports has a different profile to accommodate the larger spare wheel; replacements are not available. As if all this isn’t enough, the rear spring hangers may have rotted away, while the suspension turrets corrode, too.
If you’re looking for Fiesta interior trim, you might as well give up now. The occasional bit of new-old stock occasionally crops up, but there’s nothing available new from Ford and nothing is being remanufactured. Even used trim is scarce, but at least XR2 trim is much more hardwearing and easier to find.
The plastic trim fitted to basic cars doesn’t like sunlight and the cloth trim fitted to Supersports is equally temperamental; whichever the model, the parcel shelf will probably have collapsed. XR2 and Supersport dashboards also don’t like sunshine, with replacements unavailable, new or used. Lesser models don’t normally give problems, but the padding on the more sporty cars is what causes the problem.
Exterior trim is equally hard to find, with the chrome front and rear bumpers virtually impossible to source. This is unfortunate, as they get damaged easily.
The wiring loom can go brittle and crack, and many Fiesta electrical systems have been butchered with aftermarket stereos. So check the loom carefully under the dash and in the engine bay – it’s easy to see everything, so nobody should be able to pull the wool over your eyes.
The switchgear doesn’t generally give problems, but the instrumentation can. Once again, you’ll be lucky to find any new parts – but you should be able to track down serviceable used bits.
- 1976: The Fiesta is launched in Europe, with 957cc or 1117cc engines.
- 1977: The first Fiestas are sold in Britain, and immediately the car becomes the UK’s best seller. A 1298cc powerplant joins the range, and Ford introduces factory-approved sports kits branded X-Pack. On offer are engine, brake and suspension upgrades, along with flared wheelarches and airdams. Few are made, and they’re virtually extinct now.
- 1978: The Fiesta Solitaire marks 75 years of Ford; the Kingfisher appears just a few months later. Later would come the Sandpiper, Firefly, Festival and Supersport along with the Bravo, Carnival, Quartz and Finesse.
- 1979: The millionth Fiesta is produced, and Ford rolls out the Fiesta Million available in black or silver.
- 1980: The Supersport goes on sale; it’s effectively the forerunner of the XR2, with a 66bhp 1300 engine.
- 1981: The XR2 reaches showrooms.
Depending on which type of Fiesta you’re looking at, it’ll have had a hard life or a very easy one. XR2s and Supersports may well be hiding poorly repaired crash damage, while lower-spec cars generally have covered lower mileage and are in better mechanical condition. But if you can find a decent example – and there are some out there – you’ll have a car that’s good to drive, economical and becoming increasingly rare. And all for pennies.
Between the MkI Fiesta’s launch and its demise in 1983, there was very little development of the car. In fact, it was mainly restricted to working out what special editions could be created and how to shoehorn in extra trim levels.
As you’d expect, it’s the sporty editions that everybody wants – the Supersport and XR2. If you look at one with a view to buying it, you need to make sure it’s the genuine article, and don’t pay over the odds for it. Prices for these halo models are all over the place, with some vendors asking for stupid amounts of money.
Picture courtesy of MagicCarPics
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