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