Compromise: On the road to Fiesta – Part 1

Driven to Write looks in depth at the Fiesta’s development.


Lest it should pass un-noticed, January 2017 is the fortieth anniversary of the Ford Fiesta’s launch in the UK. Production at Ford Germany’s Saarlouis factory began in July 1976, with the core Almusafes plant coming on stream in October 1976, so the lucky continentals were introduced to the car a few months earlier.

To mark the occasion, I found myself re-reading Edouard Seidler’s “Let’s call it Fiesta”, the story of the Fiesta Mk.I, along with some other publications from around the time. The “auto-biography” was launched at the same time as the car, so there is no hindsight – Ford were entering unknown territory; a new market sector, their first transverse-engined car, and a huge new production facility in a country in which they had no previous presence.

Edouard Seidler was a giant of European journalism, a safe choice of author, and the big name needed to ensure that the book’s market extended beyond hard-core car enthusiasts.

It is very much the book Ford wanted to have written.  Ford’s people are portrayed as capable, resourceful, and hard-working, but also strong on human character.  The decision-making and change control processes are shown to be effective and robust in the face of evolving priorities and missed targets. I would characterise it as a book about management, rather than design and engineering. There is a mildly irritating tendency towards melodrama; less than convincing fly-on-the-wall reportage of moments of high intrigue.

Appropriately to this month’s theme, Seidler states that the development process of a new car is:

“an infinite succession of compromises, a process of evolving priorities”

This is a general remark, rather than being specific to the Fiesta. However the compromises which informed the development of the Fiesta are intriguing, as a huge, technically conservative American multinational adapts to European thinking, while pragmatically applying its own systems and processes.

Even with the passage of four decades, I’d commend the book to anyone interested in the management aspect, but there are also some curious “might have beens”, and “nearly happeneds”. Later on, I’ll look at some of the engineering compromises, from the days when Fiesta was “Project Bobcat”, but as amuse-bouches, here are some detours on the long road to Fiesta.

The world car that wasn’t

This three-box proposal came from Dearborn, at a point where large scale sales were contemplated not only in North America, but also in Brazil and Argentina.  That ‘toothy’ grille has a Japanese look to it, possibly intentionally, as Far Eastern small car imports were making huge inroads into the United States at the time of the Bobcat development.

Source: Edita

And no, Giorgetto, they haven’t…

Elsewhere, there’s an unexplained European four door saloon proposal:

Source: Edita

It’s a neat little thing, which is never mentioned in the text.  There never seems to be an intention to make a five-door Fiesta Mk.I, despite Spain being keen on such things – SEAT made four-door 600s, 850s, and 127s. Could Ford have been contemplating a rival to FASA-Renault’s four-door-and-boot 5-based 7?

Source: autovia-media

There was very nearly a two door Fiesta

In the 1970s, the hatch was far from being a “holy writ” to small car design.  A two-box with boot Fiesta was in the plan from its early stages, when it was expected that the hatchback would only be taken up by 40% of customers.  In August 1974, a decision was taken to sell the two door cars only in Spain and Italy, and to standardise the fold down rear seat back across both bodystyles.  At the end of October 1974, two door Bobcats were excised from the planned production schedule at Saarlouis.  A few months later the two door was dropped completely from the production plan.

Source: Edita

Here’s how it might have looked, with added Bill Bourke – President of Ford Europe at the time of the Bobcat project, he was promoted to Head of North American Operations before it went on sale.

We might regret the loss of a lighter, more rigid, potential rally weapon, but Ford clearly saw the way market sentiment was going, and took the decision to rationalise production to a single bodystyle.

Note also the Renault 5-style bumper ‘shields’. The mean-spirited would say that an interesting feature was lost through timidity and parsimony during the design development process. We should be more understanding. The technology was new, and largely untested in its colour matched form. A Renault 5/15/17 -like button and recess door release arrangement also appears, production cars had a more conventional recessed flap handle.

I’d put this down not to compromise, but a strong will for their new supermini to look and feel like a true Ford, rather than a synthesis of the European competitors with which it shared its dimensions and elements of engineering principles.

8 thoughts on “Compromise: On the road to Fiesta – Part 1”

  1. Am I alone in thinking that the unknown white small saloon looks better than the Fiesta? That drooping window line is execrable. Everything else on the car is straight and that curve shouts out. It made sense on Tjaarda´s car. In the context it ended up in it jars.

  2. Another ‘compromise’ in the transition from Bobcat to Festie was the drip rail treatment. Both prototypes appear to have roof mounted body seams, possibly ahead of their time and most likely too expensive a solution for a car as inexpensive as this was intended to be. In fact, even the Sierra had the same old fashioned roof gutters, although the Sapphire saloon facelift did not.

    1. Good observation. So who did introduce that? Is it possible the model didn´t have them because they were taken as a given at that point. The gutters are a flange made of two sheets of metal pressed and folded (as far as I know). They´d be fidly to make as details on a model.
      Still and all the white saloon prototype has a lot going for it. There is some of the 1974 Escort in their but done far better (there´s a car I don´t care for, rare as they now are).

  3. Another thing. That saloon concept has some noticeable Harris Mann DNA, wouldn’t you say?

    1. Which one? The blue Dearborn car looks very like the Maxi saloon which very nearly made it to production (easily found on The World’s Most Plagiarised Car Website). Roy Haynes joined BMC in 1967, The Mann followed him very shortly afterwards.

      Which is all rather puzzling, except that the Ford vibrations lived on through the Maxi, Mini Clubman, X6 Tasman/Kimberley, and Allegro, fading only with the ADO71 and TR7.

    2. The blue car: I see a lot of Allegro in it although I can understand why you mention the three volume Maxi. Perhaps when I say Mann, I mean Heynes, since he would have been in a position to influence its shape during his short tenure at BLMC. The Ford concept is less rotund in the flanks and perhaps offers a vision of how an alternative Allegro could have looked. (With some of the air let out). I doubt there was any influence here given the timeline and direction of travel, but it’s interesting nonetheless…

    3. The white one would have made an excellent Fiat.

  4. Never knew Ford was considering 2/4-door Fiesta saloons with a mk2 Escort / mk3 Cortina style rear, wonder how much longer it is compared to the existing mk1/2 Fiesta in saloon and theoretical 5-door hatchback forms?

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