Memories of Fiesta as Ford retires Britain’s best-selling car after nearly 50 years

Fiesta IV (1996-1999)
Fiesta IV (1996-1999)

Thousands have learned to drive a Fiesta before buying a first car, family car, fun car – we could go on and on. More than 22 million have been produced in factories around the world, and it has regularly been the UK’s best-selling car, and remained until 2021, when the Opel Corsa overtook it.

Despite still being a popular choice – as of late September 2022 it was the sixth best-selling car to date – Ford has now announced that production of the supermini will end before the end of June 2023, after 47 years of continuous sales. Let’s take a look at the history of the iconic Ford Fiesta.

It had been fifty years since Ford began work on the car that would become known as the Fiesta. Designed as a ‘small car for the world’, the 1973 oil crisis added the urgency to the need for an affordable, efficient model.

The Fiesta name was chosen in 1975 by Henry Ford II to celebrate the brand’s link with Spain – the model was to be produced in Valencia, together with Saarlouis, Germany, and also in Dagenham, near London.

The Fiesta was officially launched in 1976 and became an instant hit – Ford had sold one million units by 1979. In 1981, the XR2 was the first Fiesta hot hatch, a trend that continues to this day.

While there may not seem to be a huge difference between the first and second Fiesta, this newer Ford was bigger and more fuel efficient.

New engines were introduced, including a 1.6-litre diesel, while the revised XR2 in 1984 brought improved suspension and brakes. An automatic transmission was launched for the first time in 1987.

The Fiesta III marked a major change in design and continued efficiency with new engines designed to meet European emissions standards.

This was the all-hot hatch generation, with Ford initially launching the XR2i with a new 1.6-litre petrol engine, before following in 1990 with the significantly faster Fiesta RS Turbo in 1990. A Fiesta RS 1800 hot hatch followed, with this model gets a 1.8-litre petrol engine with 16 valves.

The Fiesta IV arrived in 1996 with a much more rounded shape than its predecessor and was given a more aerodynamic shape to further improve fuel economy.

A range of new engines were introduced, while this Fiesta formed the basis for the sporty Puma coupé, launched in 1997.

The arrival of the fifth Fiesta turned out to be nothing more than a midlife facelift. Arriving just three years after its predecessor went on sale – and replaced just two years later – it also saw the introduction of the Fiesta Sport as a racing version.

The previous three generations of Fiesta models were all very similar, so the arrival of the Fiesta VI proved to be a big step forward. With a boxer design than its predecessors, a range of new engines was launched. It also proved fantastic to drive and helped develop the model’s reputation as a fun driver’s car.

In 2005, Ford introduced a new Fiesta ST. With 148 horsepower on tap, it was the most powerful Fiesta to date. Ford marked three decades of the Fiesta with a Zetec S 30th Anniversary Edition, finished in bright radial yellow and with a checkered roof.

A much rounder Fiesta was introduced in 2008 as the next generation car. The design was slightly softer and Ford aimed to appeal to more female buyers with the model.

Low running costs continued with the introduction of an ‘ECONetic’ model, which became the UK’s most fuel-efficient five-seat family car.

Although it was little more than a midlife update, Ford came to call this reworked model the Fiesta VII. Introduced in 2012, it brought a sleeker design and more technology (including a ‘MyKey’ feature that allowed parents to program a speed limiter when their kids were in their car).

Ford also introduced its clever new EcoBoost petrol engines, while in 2013 the 180hp Fiesta ST was introduced – widely regarded as one of the best hot hatches ever made. This model would evolve into the Fiesta ST200 – a limited-run special was painted in a unique Storm Gray color and saw a power increase to 197 hp.

The most recent generation of Fiesta to launch is the ninth iteration – arriving in 2017 as a smarter, more high-tech model. It was available with a wide choice of trim levels, including a more luxurious Vignale trim and rugged-looking Active equipment. These ensured the continued popularity of the model as tastes evolved.

The 197bhp Fiesta ST was due to arrive in 2018, but this time with a three-cylinder 1.5-litre petrol engine, although it still offered a highly entertaining driving experience. The model was updated in 2021 with a reworked front end, new technology and mild hybrid technology to improve performance and efficiency. Production of the Fiesta will continue until the end of June 2023 at the latest.