Theme : Special – Ford Fiesta Finesse

Here’s a Special Edition that was real class – middle class, that is.

Fiesta Finesse
Fiesta Finesse. Image: fiesta-mk1.co.uk

The Fiesta Finesse holds a very specific place in my memories. It helped me to understand that I was middle class. It also taught me that minor details can matter inordinately in people’s perception of things, and, in particular, cars. The car itself was introduced in 1983 as part of Ford’s ‘special edition model programme’, according to a press announcement made at the time. Looking back, this programme featured models (also including the Cortina) that just happened to be at the end of their life and so were in need of a little marketing boost to support sales.

The Finesse in question was based on a Mk1, although the label appeared again on subsequent iterations. The Mk2, which was in fact a major facelift, was just around the corner. The Mk1 was a pretty little car (prettier than what replaced it) – a fact recognised even by a major competitor, Fiat, in a UK-market TV advertisement – with good proportions and nice, crisp lines and relatively simple surfacing. The Finesse was based on the Fiesta Popular Plus with either 950cc, 1,100cc or 1,300cc engines: a 1,100 economy (low compression) engine was also available.

Specific, extra exterior fittings included:
• Tilting/removable sun-roof
• Halogen headlamps
• Reversing lamps
• Remote control driver’s door mirror
• Passenger door mirror
• Heated rear window
• A tailgate twist-lock, and,
• 13 in. wheels with 155/70 tyres and (vitally important this) bright wheel rim embellishers.

Inside the car, the additional equipment included:
• Reclining seats with unique trim
• Door bins and armrests
• Adjustable head restraints
• 4-spoke steering wheel
• Electric screen-wash and intermittent wipe
• Radio/stereo cassette player
• Cigar lighter
• Front grab-handle/rear coat-hooks
• Improved sound insulation and instrument panel.

It is so instructive to note some of those items. Clearly, a tailgate twist-lock was something to behold. A Radio/ stereo cassette player was most definitely a thing of envy at the time. Writing “Electric screen-wash” brought a smile to my lips. This underlines the basic age of the Fiesta’s design, then some 8 years old. Cars without this feature relied on the driver applying a pump action to a button somewhere; I can’t quite recall where it was on the Fiesta, but on my Dad’s Cortinas it was a rubber cone in the foot-well by the pedals.

The car came in a range of solid and metallic paint finishes, three of which (Ocean Blue, Pastel Grey and the metallic Nimbus Grey) were unique to the Fiesta Finesse. Maximum retail prices for the Finesse range, including car tax and VAT, ranged from £4,162 for the 950 to £4,617 for the 1,300. Clearly, every pound mattered and I find myself charmed by the need for such pricing precision.

The Finesse came into my consciousness as one appeared on a neighbour’s drive on the 1st of August 1983. Those who can remember that far back will recall that this marked the introduction of the new A-Plate in the UK, a big deal at the time. The Finesse in question was dressed in black. This was set off very nattily by the red and grey stripe that adorned the flanks of the car, just above a feature-line.

The stripe started narrow at the leading edge of the front wing and then gradually broadened as it reached the rear lamps. It was kind of feathered towards the rear. On the left of the rear tailgate panel was the red “Finesse” decal, in a flourishing looking font. The classy effect that Ford clearly sought was slightly spoilt in this case by the fact that the decal had been applied somewhat wonkily. A shame that – but not unusual (23 years on, the “Desire” on our Xsara Picasso (I know, the sheer chutzpah of Citroen UK!) suffers from a similar shonkiness).

It did look rather smart (the Finesse, not our Desire). My Mum definitely thought so. Her perception was totally dazzled by the bright (i.e. chromed) wheel rim embellishers. To be fair, they did add a certain lustre especially against the black paint. Amazing isn’t it? I wonder how much those items cost Ford? Whatever, the visual impact was inordinately greater than anything else. We took heed and went out and bought a similar set that BL made for the Metro of the time, and so our Standard car took on a look of the Vanden Plas. In our small way, we had kept up with the Joneses.

The Finesse was owned by the lady of the house, and rightly very proud of it she was too. It caused a stir in our street. A barbeque was held, and even if it was not in the car’s honour (it may have been, at least implicitly), the Finesse was the main subject of conversation. We were not allowed near the car, probably for fear of it being smeared with grease, or ketchup, but it was still a focus of attention.

I recall the man of the house proclaiming that it was exclusive, a “limited edition”, and that it was not being built any more … as if pre-empting any thought that anyone neighbour might have of buying one with a, “well you can’t, it’s too late!”. I was an innocent, well brought up, 15 year-old and so the flickering temptation to insert a correction that, in fact, Ford had suckered him into buying an outmoded, soon to be defunct car, was extinguished by well-ingrained good manners.

Hence, I registered my first behavioural glimpse of middle class values in the form of small aspirations of demonstrating personal progress, of upward-mobility. A little later in the decade, it took more than a bright wheel rimmed Fiesta to make a show of good taste. The Finesse in question was consigned to memory a few years later by an Audi 80 convertible, bought for the lady by her then new boyfriend; clearly a signal that she, at least, was moving up in the world.

Author: S.V. Robinson

Life long interest in cars and the industry

25 thoughts on “Theme : Special – Ford Fiesta Finesse”

  1. SV. This rather delightfully reads as the synopsis of an Alan Ayckbourn play of the period, say “Fiesta Time”.

    The wonky badge thing is so odd. It’s so common, but it is really easy to make up a template in order to put a badge on straight. So, does one assume that the calculation went like this?

    Operative peels off and applies using template: 41 seconds @ £3.76 per hour = 4.28 pence
    Operative peels off and applies by eye : 18 seconds @ £3.76 per hour = 1.88 pence

    Saving over 5,000 units = £120.00. And this is how Ford got to be where they are today.

    1. Alternatively the template was made and couldn’t be found (or cared to be found) the morning after payday?

  2. Absolutely lovely SV, I don’t recall the middle class has being summed up so succinctly without resorting to elitism. Brightened my day.

    1. It helps that he used the modern continental definition of middle-class, not the traditional English one…

    2. Laurent, you attribute far more subtlety to me than I deserve – to be honest, I had no idea …

    3. Laurent. I think we’ve had this discussion before. Broadly the old middle class, that first appeared after the Industrial Revolution and prospered in the Victorian era, fizzled out after the Depression and WW2. Some of its social values and snobbery carried on, and it carried on in certain enclaves such as the military, but it was replaced by a more fluid and aspirational middle class that wasn’t afraid of the odd chrome wheel trim. But, Europhile that I am, I’d dispute that we imported the concept from Europe and suggest that the whole concept of middle-classness is subtle and multi-layered and differs from country to country.

    4. Laurent: I hope you won’t be offended at me recounting that I’m still recovering from a fit of giggles having read your response – I think people outside my office think I’ve finally lost control of my faculties … to answer your questions: no and no … Funnily, though, my grandmother was one of two cleaning ladies for that very British 80’s working class icon, Arthur Scargill; so would that, by default, have made him Middle Class? I wonder if he knew? LMAO

    5. I bet he had a driver as well – although he probably called him ‘Comrade Driver’ (aka Pickup Andropov?).

  3. In rural Ireland is was quite common for middle class people to have a cook/cleaning lady. Both my grandparents had this sort of help up until the late 1980s. You didn’t need so much to get by so the cleaning ladies didn’t cost a great deal in comparison with today. I didn’t know that counted as part of being middle class. What about you Sam? Did the Eagle family forebears have a little old lady in the kitchen? (I can’t help imagining something from a Francois Mauriac novel though it’s a century to early).

    1. No such thing at home. That said it was quite common among local middle-class families to have a cleaner once a week (maybe more – I wouldn’t know), mostly where both parents worked. But I do remember that one of my school friends family had a maid, but his dad was a doctor and they lived in a rather grand townhouse, so they were definitely upper class of the local ‘(grande) bourgeoisie’.

    2. Laurent. I think I’ve mentioned before that the only family who ever entertained me who had a maid an a cook was a French one (the father worked for IBM, so they weren’t grande bourgeoisie). As a sensitive 17 year old I found it rather embarrassing, but then I assumed that was just the French way – Liberté, égalité, gastronomie?

    3. I take it that was in the 70s? Were they engineers by any chance? Was the food any good?
      Either way it wasn’t/isn’t a common thing to have a cook – very upper middle-class.

    4. It was 1969. I think he was an engineer by training. The food was very good. This was at their house in Brittany – they lived in Paris the rest of the year, so maybe the cook was just an annual indulgence and the same point that Richard makes above applies. I won’t go on – I’m weakening my argument.

    5. So they didn’t have a teenage daughter to “hold your hand” then? ;- )

    1. To be fair, I have always wanted to be described as “louche”. Like Lord Lucan, without all the murdering. And “louche” is certainly preferable to the usual “douche”.

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