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.
And no, Giorgetto, they haven’t…
Elsewhere, there’s an unexplained European four door saloon proposal:
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?
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.
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.