Theme: Compromise – The Fiesta Mk.1 – Almost Revolutionary

Let us consider the conventional wisdom about the first generation Fiesta.

Source: Autocar

It arrived some time after the revolutions in small car design which raged through Europe in the fifties and sixties, and continued to bear fruit into the early seventies.  It was thus a rationalised ‘best practice’ car, standing on the narrow but solid shoulders of at least four influential and successful rivals which arrived early enough in the 1970s to influence and inform Ford’s designers.

The design process was driven from America, with strict cost and time constraints; There was no place for experimentation, nor technological flights of fancy. In its engineering, it was a follower, not a leader.

Well, possibly, but a few sentences in the Seidler book suggest that the Fiesta’s designers had ambitions to make a unique and distinctive contribution to automotive technology.

Seidler refers to: “A revolutionary new front suspension using double torsion bars of a completely novel design: U-shaped bars which would act as springs, anti-roll bars, and radius arms all in one piece.” Regrettably, I have been unable to find any drawings or photographs of this remarkable chimera.

There is also mention that the design was so compact that it would have allowed the spare wheel to be stored under the bonnet.  That one baffled me at first.  Surely the biggest obstruction would be the engine? Looking at this illustration it really does look as if elimination of the strut towers would have freed enough space for the wheel to sit horizontally, offset to the gearbox side, in the space partly occupied by the windscreen water tank.

1976- The New Fiesta unveiled in Cutaway Form.

It is also stated that the torsion bar suspension would have saved 4kg in weight and up to $5 in cost. It seems that this system was firmly in the plan until June 1974, when Hoesch AG, a major and trusted supplier, advised Ford that they could not make the required components within the tolerances proposed.  It could be achieved, but the risks were considerable.  Ford took due heed, and retreated to the comfort zone of MacPherson struts.

The surprise is that Ford ever considered anything else. Earle S MacPherson was one of their own, although he had established the principles of the component which immortalises his name before leaving GM for Ford in 1947. Furthermore, Honda, Peugeot, and Fiat had combined MacPherson struts with front wheel drive many years before the Fiesta arrived. The simple front strut set-up used in the production Fiesta Mk. I was effective and cost efficient, managing without an anti-roll bar even in the big engined versions.

There’s another surprising suspension story in the Bobcat saga. The rear suspension design was only finalised in April 1975, little more than a year from the start of production.  Again simplicity ruled, with a cranked solid beam located by a pair of pressed steel trailing arms and a transverse Panhard Rod. Separate vertical springs and slightly splayed shock absorbers bear on the axle just inboard of the trailing arms.  The anti-roll bar is only specified on the ‘S’ versions, and the 1300 Ghia. There’s a bit of Alfasud homage in the design, with the aft-mounted anti-roll bar hinting at the little Alfa’s longitudinal Watt’s Linkage, but without its full mechanical rigour.

Source: Fiesta

What was proposed before is never described in detail, but it is implied that it was an independent system, softly sprung in deference to American preferences. As the centre of the Bobcat project migrated inexorably to Europe, the suspension compromise settled upon reflected that continent’s tastes and expectations.

Curiously, the Fiesta’s simple suspension was significantly different from the more complex independent arrangements of its older Fiat, Honda, Renault and Peugeot supermini rivals. It could, however, be considered a couple of evolutionary steps away from the Audi 50 / Polo’s torsion beam, which would conquer the world within a decade.

4 thoughts on “Theme: Compromise – The Fiesta Mk.1 – Almost Revolutionary”

  1. Interesting article. What shines through is Ford’s discipline in costing development and production. It was left to other companies to assume the risk in pioneering new niches and engineering solutions. Once established, Ford could move in with a rationally specified and competitively priced package that was almost guaranteed to make the company money. Impressive stuff, given the haphazard approach taken by many competitors at the time.

  2. This all makes me realise what I should have realised 40 years ago. With hatchbacks popping up everywhere, and even dear old VW pulling their fingers out of the Beetle’s exhausts to espouse the transverse engined hatchback, why did Ford make such an enormous meal about doing so themselves (ditto GM several years later)? Was it insecurity, ignorance, etc, etc? Surely not yet at the time I couldn’t work it out. Dear, unmaterialist boy that I was. Of course they wanted to be sure the Fiesta wasn’t their Mini – it needed to make decent money.

    1. More on this story later, as they say.

      Good point abut GM. CAR August ’76 has scoop pictures of a GM supermini full scale buck at a customer ‘clinic’. It’s rather nice – part first generation Mitsubishi Mirage, part Fiat Uno, both before the event. Yet it took them more than six years fom then to put a supermini into production, using what could be a photocopy of the Bobcat/Fiesta development strategy. The September ’82 Corsa / Nova was a pretty decent competitor for the 1976 Fiesta, but the Uno and 205 were just months away.

      I should not be too hard on GM – the 1979 Kadett D was outstandingly good in its own right, not just as a first attempt at making a modern front wheel drive small car.

  3. Vauxhall did investigate designing a small car with 700-1000cc transverse-engine and FWD as far back as the late-50s via the XP-716 project that appeared to be developed in parallel with the Viva HA and Opel Kadett A, along with the RWD S Car and FWD Scamp projects.

    Vauxhall S Car –
    Vauxhall Scamp –

    As to the mk1 Ford Fiesta, am interested in finding out more about the 1963 FWD World Car project that almost resembles a RWD Reliant Rebel as well as the later RWD Ford Cheetah prototype that was said to be based on a cut-down RWD Escort platform.

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