Ged Carroll

Ford Fiesta

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My Ford Fiesta driving experience

The Ford Fiesta will be forever linked to my early driving experience. I started learning to drive in the 1990s. Back then leasing agreements and car finance weren’t really a thing due to high interest rates. (There is a whole other blog post that I should write at some point about the risk of sub prime car loans, but not today.)

Car insurance was cripplingly expensive. It was even more expensive when you had no no claims and three points on my licence for an accident that I still claim wasn’t my fault.

I also have a Dad who is a time-served mechanical fitter and all-round engineering wizard. At the time we had access to a garage with a vehicle pit, welding equipment and an engine hoist on the evenings and from Saturday afternoon on during the weekend. My Dad had good personal relationships with a number of people who ran scrapyards. You went in, tore the parts you wanted off the cars and took them to the owner and negotiated a deal.

One salvage yard took things a step further by tearing cars down themselves and selling the parts alongside the basics that you’d need for servicing and usually buy from a motor factors. They’re still going strong and still only do business in-person or over the phone. No fax machine, email or website.

My Dad had been servicing and repairing cars since the mid-1960s and worked repairing a wide range of tracked and wheeled vehicles for the likes of Bord na Mona and Massey Ferguson.

Driving bangers

The vehicles that I owned were nothing to brag about, but they were really, really cheap and at least one of them was really, really dangerous. The most dangerous car was a Fiat 126. It cost £150 and I bought it off a former colleague who I met working one summer repairing tools and equipment rented out for use on construction sites. Even in the early 1990s that was a ludicrously cheap car.

The engine was terrible, as were the drum brakes. The body work crumbled in a way that one would expect for a Fiat made in the 1970s. Drum brakes ‘fade’ with repeated use (like going through a set of turns), they don’t work particularly well in the wet and they were prone to locking up on occasion.

Because of the noise, dangerous brakes, exceptionally poor build quality and Russian roulette-like standing starts it was tiresome to drive anywhere for anything more than an hour. The lights were pathetic the wipers were ineffective and the all the rubber seals leaked.

But it also put a smile on my face more times than any other car that I have owned. It handled really well. You could go sideways around corners and still stay in lane. You had a ludicrously low seating position and an exceptionally direct gear change. As a young man with a complete lack of appreciation for risk, it taught me that small cars can be fun.

Also as a cash-strapped young man, I appreciated that paying less to run a car was a good idea, so I aspired to own a diesel.

Building a Ford Fiesta

Eventually, through my Dad’s contacts I managed to get the diesel engine from a Ford Escort van that had been rear-ended and a Ford Fiesta delivery van with a blown petrol engine. At the time a friend that I knew through scuba diving had done a diesel engine swap into a mark two Ford Fiesta XR2. My vehicle was much rattier.

1987 Ford Fiesta XR2
A mark two XR2 very similar looking to the car my friend transplanted with a diesel engine. The only difference being that his had the ‘pepper pot’ alloy wheels. Picture by Kieran White on Flickr (creative commons licence)

We used the beefier Escort springs to handle the increased engine weight, but kept the Fiesta braking system and gearbox. So I had a diesel Ford Fiesta van. Over a weekend, we used a Makita jigsaw to remove the van panels were the windows should be. New window gaskets and rear side windows from a totalled Ford Fiesta mark one. In went the mark one seats and rear seat belts and I had a car.

The van was old enough that I didn’t need to pay VAT after converting it to a car according to the DVLA at the time.

The gearbox was less direct than my previous cars, the steering lacked the go-kart feel of the Fiat and there was more body roll, but the Fiesta was a good car to drive. It had enough power for confident standing starts at junctions and motorway driving was comfortable. The best part was the fuel economy, I typically got 70 miles to the gallon (over 29 kilometres per litre).

I read that Ford was getting rid of the Fiesta and I was reminded of my old car and the role that it played in taking me around the country and allowing me to earn a living before I had moved to London.

Why are Ford Motor Company likely to be binning the Ford Fiesta?

I suspect that it is down to a number of factors:

Ford Fiesta Van.
Carl Spencer | Flickr (creative commons licence)

Goodbye to the Fiesta

Ford of Europe put together a farewell video to announce the end of Ford Fiesta production.

Ford of Europe

YouTube channel Big Car did a great history of the Fiesta that is worth watching. Until I watched this video I had no idea that the impetus to develop the Ford Fiesta didn’t come from within Ford of Europe, but from American executive Henry Ford II. Henry Ford II is most famous amongst gear heads now as being the executive who drove support for the Ford GT40 after talks had collapsed with Ferrari.

Hank Deuce as he was known was portrayed by Tracy Letts who acted opposite Matt Damon and Christian Slater in the movie Ford vs. Ferrari.