Hello Neighbour

An encounter with the Ka’s more glamourous cousin has prompted Driven to Write to seek the word on the Street.

Image: Driven to Write

The 2002 Ford StreetKa was first shown at the 2000 Turin motor show as a concept, but its roots go back to 1996, when Ghia presented the Saetta, a teaser for that year’s Ka hatchback, but also the StreetKa’s direct forebear.

Seven years: Why did it take Ford so long to greenlight the model? Probably a mixture of politics, economics and the pre-existence of the 1997 Puma coupé. But by the tail-end of the ’90s, small cabriolets had become big business, with everyone from PSA to GME getting in on the topless action. So late to market it might have been, but StreetKa was perhaps closer to a pure roadster concept than most of its putative rivals.

StreetKa and its 2002 SportKa brother marked the Ka model’s first serious brand extension, which does suggest that Ford’s product planners had been hitting their heads off a metaphorical wall for some time. But while the SportKa name enjoyed a soupçon of onomastic logic, StreetKa was clearly the 3.30 am conclusion of a marketing beard stroking session where the remaining even less prepossessing alternatives were consigned to the waste paper basket.

Launched at the 2002 Paris motor show by diminutive antipodean songstress, Kylie Minogue, RueKa was targeted by its makers at ladies (or gentlemen) who lunched, for whom fashion and music were key interests. The inference being (one assumes) that it would appeal to those who aspired to an Audi TT but couldn’t quite stretch to it. StraßeKa offered open-air fun in an (almost as) desirable, stylish, but a good deal more affordable package.

While some have suggested ViaKa to be the first Ford model to be built in Italy, that isn’t the case. That honour falls to the Filmer Paradise-inspired Anglia Torino of 1964, which was built by Officina Stampaggi Industriala (OSI) in Turin and was the stylistic work of Giovanni Michelotti. It did however mark Ford’s first Significant tie-up with carrozzeria Pininfarina, who was contracted to build it.

Sharing the basic (albeit strengthened) floorpan of the standard hatch (itself derived from an earlier Fiesta model), CalleKa was mechanically identical to the SportKa of the same vintage, power coming from a 1.6-liter 8-valve Duratec (Rocam) unit, producing a heady 94 bhp, so while no ball of fire, it proved a good deal more willing than the wheezing pushrod lump fitted to the first-series Ka hatch.

Reviewing GötuKa in January 2005, UK’s Automobile Association said a mite waspishly, “As much a fashion accessory as a mode of transport it is cute enough to have character, cheap enough to be bought by a single girl about town (or as Mum’s special treat by the family) and sensible enough to serve a useful purpose while it looks good. The solid underpinnings of the car have been stiffened and tweaked to release a wee bit more performance, but this is not a vehicle with any serious sporting pretensions”.

I harbour a strong suspicion this was (not particularly well) written by a man. A matter which is confirmed by the following tract. “Only women look ‘right’ behind the wheel though. On the rare occasions that you do see a man driving one, you can bet he’ll do his best to avoid eye contact.” [You will have to excuse the author at this juncture while he breathes a heavy sigh of exasperation and mutters a rather impolite expletive under his breath].

The spectacularly butch and irredeemably masculine AA reviewer praised the car’s endearing character, exterior styling (although not the interior), well executed (manual) roof, and overall fun factor. Less praiseworthy was a lack of body rigidity (hardly surprising), lack of interior stowage space (where to stow those Kylie cd’s?), small boot, choppy ride and noisy engine. For all that, SokakKa sold in reasonable numbers, with 37,076 (Wikipedia) produced when production ceased in 2005.

Today’s SráidKa was spotted in West Cork and it’s probable that it’s the only one in Munster. A 2004-vintage UK import, it’s in pretty good fettle, although the owner would be advised to keep a close eye on the underside. All Ka’s rust with a ferocity that is staggering for a car of this vintage, but Pininfarina clearly did as poor a job of rustproofing as Ford did themselves, with UK website, HonestJohn warning of likely severe corrosion of the front subframe and the floorpan ahead of the rear suspension.

Lacking prior opportunity to look over one of these in detail and while I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked, (the dog was getting impatient), I must say I found David Wilkie’s work rather convincing. The styling is quite well executed (only the bonnet and headlamps are carry-over) although if I was being picky, I’d suggest the rear haunches are a touch overdone.

Image: autogids.be

There is also a strong resemblance (probably coincidental) to the 2001 Lexus SC430 at the tail. But as a poor man’s (or woman’s) TT, KylieKa succeeds rather well from a stylistic perspective, although on a personal level, I’d favour it with the factory-option hard top, which would most likely do wonders for body rigidity. Either way I’d choose one of these all day and every day over anyone’s 206 CC or Opel Tigra of similar stripe – or even Diahatsu’s more cutesy Copen.

Dismissed, derided and generally patronised, the word on the street is that Streetka’s a girly-mobile. A rather silly device no self-respecting male would be seen in, even with the requisite brown paper bag as headwear. Yet the more acceptable Audi TT is no more of a thoroughbred (anything but), nor indeed is it any more ‘masculine’ looking.

Frankly, the only silly aspects of StreetKa I can discern are its name (which I’ll admit is a nonsense), its lack of rust protection and the sort of puerile jibes that surround cars such as these. Usually emanating from the same sources who lament the fact that mainstream European manufacturers no longer make inexpensive, fun cars.

But while we cannot lay the full brunt of responsibility for this lamentable state of affairs at the motor press’ door, they certainly held the nails as they were hammered in.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

15 thoughts on “Hello Neighbour”

  1. The StreetKa’s front lights are not carried over from the standard Ka, don’t know about the bonnet.

    Does the Fiat barchetta count as a StreetKa competitor?
    Of all small car based ragtops it surely must be closest to old roadsters.

    1. Dave: I think you’ll find they are. The Sport / StreetKa’s re-profiled front bumper / wheelarch mouldings are shaped to drape over the existing unit, lending an impression of being a different shape. Pull the plastic away however and the trompe l’oeil is revealed. Similarly, the bonnet pressing looks identical (speaking as a former Ka owner) and I’d go so far as to suggest the front wings are carry-over parts as well. It was rather clever work on the stylists’ part as the bean counters would hardly have sanctioned bespoke parts for such a low volume programme if they could get away with cleverly disguised carry-over. The business case would have been tenuous enough as it was.

      You make a good point about the Fiat Barchetta, although I’d suspect it was a more expensive product. It also had the added advantage of styling that didn’t reference a cheaper hatchback model. Having said that however, I think Ford’s David Wilkie (thanks Peter Stevens) did a fine job on StreetKa and given Ford’s chassis development skills, I’d imagine the Ka being the nicer of the two to drive.

  2. Thank you for pointing out the David Copperfield tricks of the StreetKa. It’s cleverly done then.

    As a proud barchetta owner, I am clearly biased but that car is a far better drive than the Punto it’s based on. With its much lower centre of gravity it could be given a more compliant suspension setup without toppling over in the first bend. It is also astonishing how good this city car chassis copes with the relatively big engine which can deliver serious power for such a small vehicle. In all, the barchetta probably is no match for Ford’s famous chassis wizardry (I only tried the tin top standard Ka which is real fun on the road) but as long as you don’t go around bumpy corners on full throttle it’s pretty docile.

  3. I’d say the rear haunches looked a bit supersized for the rest of the car – like a man wearing trousers that are a couple of sizes too big for him – the Barchetta was a far nicer job, but then it wasn’t restricted by having to look like it was based on the core hatch. I was a bigger fan of the SportKa, which looked chunky and a bit mean – although I felt another small FIAT outdid it (the Panda 100HP); I know I am repeating myself. Would that Ford could produce anything like as funky these days: the Ka+ looks horrific and should never have been allowed any association with the Ka name. The bigger worry is the incoming new Focus: the increasingly less disguised ‘spy-shots ‘ (aka Ford press releases) depict something with all the appeal of a fortnight’s holiday in Whitley Bay.

    1. A left-field alternative to the Barchetta and SportKa is the Copen.
      The Barchetta was a pretty good drive. A friend of mine had one and it was a hoot. It was low and nimble. The Ka seems to be a bit higher, H-point wise.
      Regarding the journos: yes, the sneering at “hairdresser´s cars” is very, very tiresome. Apart from some extreme cases, the job of the journo is to ask will the car suit its audience not to judge the audience. How about a Marxist review of cars? “The Rolls-Royce is just a car for the exploiters of the proletariat and unless you want to be seen as a downtreader of the poor, best keep a paper bag on your face.”

    2. A friend of mine has a Suzuki Cappuccino. This isn’t based on a small hatch but must be the modern car closest in character to a Frogeye Healey and it has a truly ingenious roof.

    3. I like the Copen … and the Cappucino … and the Beat … They are all a bit smaller, though (being Kei cars, I think).

  4. The link between cars and the sex or sexuality of the driver is oft discussed, always tedious.
    Those who would label others based on what they drive probably explain to some extent life on the road. We’re either zoning out while following a carefully aimed Nissan Micra (Metro is dead, long live Micra!) at 43mph anywhere you care to imagine except motorways. Here the curious mélange of homicidal pilots of Deutsche Wunder Wagen and spacially challenged van/truck drivers who really have little idea of the size of their vehicles or the laws of physics guarantee a certain frisson.
    When we are either walking or being transported by autonomous white goods we will miss our cars. I’d rather be laughed at for having a strange one than the bleak alternative.

    1. The sneers that attach to non-macho cars is irritating. It reflects the apparent lack of minorities in motoring writing or at least the reflection of their existence. The question for a journo is not “do I like this car” but does this car suit its audience. Not everyone is Troy Qweef.

  5. Notions like “hairdressers car” or “car for girls” bother me endlessly. Having worked in car journalism for a few months, I know it can be hard to find an original angle of attack for articles. But any self respecting journo should resist succumbing to the easy path of using lines like “of course, you could only drive this as a girl with a second job as a waitress in a vintage hamburger restaurant”.

    1. If one can´t be original and good then write something neat and professional. That said, any good writer can find an angle that isn´t a clichee. Some types of car seem to stimulate a Pavlovian response from writers: Volvo = boxy and boring, American = brash, small convertibles = hairdressers and so on.

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