Econobox Dreaming: 1979 Ford Fiesta

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Even though my old Volvo has proved to be a reliable driver, I must admit that I have secretly been dreaming of something a little newer for my daily commute. The perfect car has yet to be built, but since I value smiles-per-dollar and practicality, the new Ford Fiesta ST is on my short list. Sure, it may be a little juvenile for a guy like me, but after reading multiple rave reviews, I became intrigued. So, I did more research and discovered that the Fiesta has quite a heritage of its own. Take a look at this 1978 Ford Fiesta + parts car that I found here on craigslist for $600 and then keep reading to learn more.

fiesta-rally-car

Now before you laugh about my heritage statement, hear me out. A race prepped version of Ford’s little runabout was entered in the 1979 running of the Monte Carlo rally. It didn’t win, but it did place 17th overall and that was quite an accomplishment for an econobox. Since that time fast Fords have been a common sight on tracks and rally courses around the world. Ford has even released a few hotted-up versions of the Fiesta over the years. They are all different, but the formula has always the same – take an economical car and inject it with sportiness.

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The car featured here isn’t one of those “special” models, but being a US spec car it should have the 1.6 Kent Crossflow under the hood. It isn’t going to get you anywhere fast, but that wasn’t the point of a little car like this anyway. Being small and lightweight meant that these cars were entertaining to drive and cheap to run. A lot of horsepower will provide thrills on the straights, but for long lasting fun you need something that will handle well in the twisties. Obviously, this car is going to need some attention before you will be entering any corner at speed, but luckily a parts car is included.

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We may not get too excited about the Fiesta here in the States, but I have read that over in the UK it is the top selling car. Times are achanging though and with a souped up version of the Fiesta now being sold on our shores again, I could see the values of these early cars going up here too. It might take a while before that happens though so until then you might want to drag these home to work on during the weekends and then pick up a new ST to drive to work during the week. I would do just that, but until I can convince my better half that hot hatches really are hot, I may have to keep dreaming…

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Comments

  1. Carsh

    I thought these early Fiesta’s were made by Kia and badged as Fords just like Mitsubishi did for Dodge in seventies?? Was it really the Kent engine like the one found in early Capri’s?

    • Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

      Close, but that’s the Festiva.

      Like 1
      • Zachary Stephens

        I used to have this 1979 ford Fiesta and never had an problem with it for last 2 years. I had it in 1985 just after I graduate High school and been thinking about get the car back again and see if I can rebuild it with new Ford Focus RS engine in and put 5 speed transmission. Hope I can try to do it
        As if I can find the car and I would pay $500.00 to $1000.00

        Like 2
  2. geomechs geomechs Member

    We had one come into our shop for a brake job some years ago. I swear the rear brakes were smaller than the brakes on my Norton motorcycle.

    • jim s

      yes and if jacked up by the rear axle the parking brake cable and the rear brake backing plate would be damaged.

    • z1rider

      When you factor in the static weight distribution and then dynamic weight transfer under hard braking those drums were big enough.

      • geomechs geomechs Member

        I don’t dispute that the brakes did their job or Ford would’ve put in larger ones. I just found it curious (almost funny) to see such small shoes and drums on a passenger car that was designed to carry four people. But I just fix ’em; I don’t design ’em. Overall, what I’ve seen with these little putt-putts, they were well-built. The only enemies they had were full-sized vehicles and the tin worm.

        Like 1
      • Wyatt Stills

        My Fiesta was definitely one of a kind around Christmas.

  3. jim s

    they did come with a kent motor but just a 4 not 5 speed transmission in the USA. finding tires may be an issues. i think they make great autocross cars. need to do a PI looking for rust, as they rusted out in wiper area very fast. also need to keep in mind they did not do well when hit, even when they were new. they ran in SCCA SSC class, back in the day, and ITC, i think. nice find

    • Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

      Many years ago, I went to an autocross on a very tight course and an old Fiesta like this took FTD…shocked the Corvette owners!

      • jim s

        yes that would have been fun to watch.

    • Scott Hunter

      The 1978 – 1980 Ford Fiesta did race in Showroom Stock C of the Sports Car Club of America. I know this because I raced one. It came standard with the Kent 1600 4 cylinder overhead valve motor that was found in the Cortinas and the SCCA Formula Ford Class. The main difference between the English Version and American version Fiestas was the English had a 5 speed gear box and the American had a 4 spd with a 4 gear that was an overdrive. (The VW Rabbits with the 1498 cc motors had a 1 to 1 fourth gear that killed us).

    • Mike

      I used to race my Fiesta in Regional WDCSCCA events at Summit Point and National events at SP, Pocono Lime Rock used to have the 12 inch tires shaved replace the front pads every race And it was my only car!

    • zero250 jeff steindler

      Yes, four speed transmission, but the fourth gear was an OVERDRIVE ratio……something like 0.96:1 ( I am guessing )…..good for 43 MPG on mine back in 1980….

      Like 1
  4. Mark in Medford

    The Kia made cars were Festivas. The bumpers on the Fiestas were the same front or rear.

  5. Clarence

    I bought one of these new in the fall of 1979. For less than 6k dollars new! I bought it because gas was getting to an unreasonable 1 dollar per gallon or so. I remember that the cars were offered in M&M colors: Bright Orange,green,red,yellow. I got the green base model and it was a perfect M&M shade of green. Loved that Fiesta. My first front wheel drive vehicle. Learned about front wheel drive throttle induced understeer in that car.( No rear stabilizer bar on the base model) ! Also learned about trailing throttle oversteer on that M&M green Fiesta! I drove in Texas at 75MPH on the interstate highways and got 30 MPG plus at that speed. The factory exhaust pipe went UNDER the rear beam axle-in a straight run! It had a “strong” 1600 Kent pushrod engine with 66 angry horses under the hood. The Texans thought that the engine looked about the size of a sewing machine–and sounded like one! That mighty Fiesta weighted about 1700 pounds-if I remember correctly.

    Like 2
    • Jeff Lavery Staff

      I know of one of these rotting in a long-forgotten junkyard in that bright green color. I’ve often thought it’s one of the more cheerful shades of paint I have ever seen!

      • phoneman91

        That M&M Green Fiesta may have been mine! I sold it 29 years ago. What was I thinking at the time?

      • Kris

        Hi…I just bought a MINT example, and am searching for a parts car! Any assistance in locating one or two of these AWESOME little go carts would be DEEPLY appreciated! I am up in Boston area. Thanks……Kris

      • Marc Montoni

        I recently parted out a see-through rustbucket Fiesta and may have a few of the things you might need. Also found a box of new stuff from my Fiesta days.

        Join up with the US Fiesta club:

        http://groups.yahoo.com/group/US_Fiesta_Enthusiasts/

        Or the US Fiesta Facebook page:

        https://www.facebook.com/FiestaMk1

  6. Tom S.

    For a few weeks in early 1983 I enjoyed the use of a Fiesta Ghia while I waited for my new company car to arrive. The Ghia version was a little fancier than the base model, with more trim, nicer upholstery and a flip-open sunroof. But it still had a manual transmission and was really fun to drive. I could’ve cried on the day it was replaced by my new company car, a Chevy Citation.

    Like 2
    • z1rider

      The Citation made lots of people cry.

  7. Jim

    I’ve owned ten of these but never an ST.
    They where made in three versions.
    All Fiestas suffered from the lack of a 5th gear.
    Even though Ford put air on these cars the cooling system wouldn’t hot driving conditions.
    After some miles the valve stem seals caused oil puffs on starting.
    But it was an easy repair.

  8. Leon P

    Wasn’t there a windjammer pkg with a decal of a sailboat ? I have a faint memory of that. What’s with the fence post on back bumper ??

  9. Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

    Posting is down…did you pull the trigger, Jesse?

    • jim s

      did anyone on the site buy these?

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      I was tempted, but it wasn’t me. The owner emailed me a few hours after we featured it here on the site saying it had been sold. I haven’t heard if it was someone from the site yet though. It would interesting to see if it really was a good buy or not. It would have been fun to drag these home, but I need to get a few if my other projects done!

  10. I an

    If these were here in the UK there would be a queue round the block for them! Like Mk1 Golf’s they are small and practical, a bit of style and Very much sort after here. Spares are not too bad either making them a very desirable on trend ‘old skool’ Ford

    • RickyM

      Totally agree Ian. I had a Mk 2 Fiesta XR2 and it was brilliant. An absolute Pocket Rocket !!

      I did not realise these even came over to the US.

  11. DT

    I rearended a Festiva with my Toyota 4 wheel drive,It put a scuff on my bumper

    • Mark R.

      I hit the left tail light at about 25 mph and that tin can was totaled.

  12. grant

    My buddy had one of these in school. His dad passed it down after using it for a work beater. Great little car, not special but it never let us down. We did spend an uncomfortable night in it once when our camping plans went awry. I must point out that Ford’s have been Flat Out Race Devices since long before 1979; though.

  13. 8banger Dave M Member

    I owned two ’79s back in the early 90s – one was the S version. Both great cars, easy to maintain and the S had (an aftermarket?) Weber on it, and it was quite zippy.

    • Clarence

      That Weber was stock-two stage. The body of the Fiesta was made in Germany,tranny in France,engine in England. It was truly an international sourced wunder car!

  14. gearjam1

    I had one identical to the parts car, that I ended up giving away to a couple of guys that were wanting to race it.. (that could even be my old car…who knows…) Kent motor could be hopped-up with parts from BAT, but as they were racing parts..it was always out of my meager budget… But, even with the stock motor the little car felt-like I was driving a go-kart. Definitely most-blast for the buck, as I only paid $300. for the running car, from a friend who had to “get out of town” quickly… There’s one rusting away beside a shed, down the block from me… I’m always tempted…

    • phoneman91

      It was definitely a “go-kart” with lights and a roof! Too bad it was imported only three Model years.I got laughed at when I brought the front rotors in to get them resurfaced–the shop couldn’t believe them tiny things actually came on a car and not a go-kart! About 7 inches in diameter-if I remember correctly!

  15. Alan (Michigan)

    For a while in the 80’s these were highly competitive and popular for Ice Racing in the Great Lakes State. One proudly wore a huge hand-drawn bat on the sides. Although BAT was likely not a sponsor, he did source hop-up parts from them. Those were fun years, out on the ice. Hard water racing is pretty much the best way to survive winters here. I miss that.

  16. Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

    BAT is still around! Their catalog can be found here: http://www.batinc.net/fiesta.htm

    • jim s

      it is nice to know they are still in business.

  17. Grid Member

    Rented one in Europe in the early 70s, bought one in ’78 to stem $$ hemorrhage. We put a 2-stage (BEEP and MOVE OR DIE) electric horn on it. Use the #2 position, it would drop 3MPH when you blew the horn. At 112,000 miles you could watch the highway where the floor used to be; my long-legged (now) ex didn’t think it was funny,. Don’t miss her, but sure miss that hot-rod..

  18. LeftShark

    Drove one extensively as a teen. Slow off the line with a tall first gear but once it got moving it wasn’t bad. Sometimes can’t believe I’m alive after all the stupid things I tried in it.

  19. Marc M

    I have had close to a dozen of the 78-80 Fiestas. The unicorns are the “S” (Sport) and the Ghia models. The S came with a rear sway bar and a few other choice bits along with some blacked-out trim; while the Ghia was the “luxury” model that was most often found with AC.

    There is an online club for these cars:

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/US_Fiesta_Enthusiasts/

    BAT (British-American Transfer) linked above is not really into much Fiesta stuff any more; they have a few things left but the Fiesta end of their business is winding down.

    There is also a Facebook group for the US version cars: https://www.facebook.com/FiestaMk1

    I have sold off my collection of Fiestas and most parts. Still have a few things buried in the attic, though.

    • Kris

      hi….I’m Kris, the guy in Boston with the M&M green one! Be VERY interested in what parts you might want to unload. Finding things for a Fiesta is brutal! I am in Afghanistan at the moment, but can make arrangements to send payment via Western Union……I can call the US, but good luck trying to call ME! lol

      Kris

      • Marc Montoni

        Kris,

        Get out of that hell hole! ;-)

        Feel free to contact me on gmail.com (AMCAmbassador).

        Yes, I have a thing for AMC Ambassadors also.

  20. lrry

    Raised on MOPAR. Dad let me drive his throughout High School. Bought one in ’79. sitting on the showroom floor at 9pm, out the door at 11pm. TOO many fantastic times. 4 speed. stock engine. signal yellow, black interior. 12″ wheels didn’t like East Coast pot holes, they usually ate struts, rim(s), tires each event. learned rally driving in Penna. those years. Ran like a stuck pig. Parts became tough but available from the UK.
    Probably, limited car ownership, the best little screamer I ever drove. Drove a lot of friends cars in high school, Capris, P 1800s, Opel GTs. They were the rich kids cars, stock. Fiesta was stock. had to get rid of it. Parting with childhood posesions. Been waiting to see if one ever showed here. Thanks for the flash backs.

  21. Dean

    I held Fiesta Fest 2K at an SCCA event in MA back in 2000. Many 78-80s arrived and raced throughout the day. A blast was had by all.

    Like 1
  22. Barry

    A friend once had one of these back then when they were new. Not a car to drive on a windy day as it became quite exciting.

    • phoneman91

      Definitely one of the bright automotive happenings in the 1970s! And was told to keep the speed down-because of the Fiesta’s light weight more than once ! I don’t remember cross winds being an issue though ,for some reason, on the plains of West Texas! It was always fun to run behind a 70s supercar and see the reaction of the driver in their rearview mirror! The only downside to the Fiesta was that many people would confuse it with a 2/3 scale version of the VW Rabbit!

  23. phoneman91

    The sad thing is though: when was the last time that you saw a Fiesta on the street or even on Ebay? I saw one about three years ago-all beat and rusted–but still running. Very sad! Where did all of this cars go? Not enough loving and committed owners?

  24. Dean

    ****If you own a 78-80 Mk1 Ford Fiesta, you should consider joining the US Fiesta Enthusiasts user group on Yahoo Groups. It’s free to join and be a part of, has hundreds of proud Mk1 Ford Fiesta owners from all over the planet and is loaded with great information. If you need a part, someone probably has it.

    The group can be found at:

    https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/US_Fiesta_Enthusiasts/info

    • phoneman91

      337 members? I will join up-but currently I have no Fiesta Mk1. It will be interesting to see other Fiesta’s .

  25. lrry

    If only I had kept it. Sold it non-running too cheap in 93. Only had 44K on it.

  26. zero250 jeff s

    I bought a 1978 Fiesta in Kingsport, Tenn, for $4300 in 1980………..30,000 miles old with A/C and the stock overdrive 4-speed………..GREAT CAR for a 25 year old married couple with no kids……….Light and fun, its 1600cc Kent pushrod engine was plenty peppy ( and reliable ) and it always got 43 MPG on the highway…….With front wheel drive and Continental Contact snow tires, it could go anywhere in the snow…….We put 95,000 miles on it and when it was totaled in a low-speed collision, a customer of my import car repair business bought the engine from the local junkyard and installed it into her Fiesta………..so, the memory of this fine little car continued on in my West Virginia town…..They don’t make them like that anymore……..

  27. john b

    I miss my ’79 base Fiesta. Ran it one year in SSC and had a blast! Handled like crazy and that Kent 1.6 would rev forever. Ran out of $$ but would have loved to keep racing it. God smiled upon me one day and I turned a 1:30.9 at Nelson Ledges running the stock 12 inch tires (155 SR 12, as I recall) and at the time the entire car had to be bone stock. Not like today’s “showroom stock” where you can mess with exhaust, change shocks, etc., etc. Typically would run all day in the high 1:32’s…

    A couple of things…the ’78’s were built in Spain. the ’79-’80 models were built in Germany and the build quality was much better. the Ghia and Sport models came with things like a tach, the base model did not. Curiously it was the quickest car Ford made in the quarter mile in 1979 – faster than the V-8 or Turbo Mustangs.

    Would love to have one again!

  28. lrry

    Pirelli 12″ 225. Good memory. Drove it out the door for $5250.00. Wished I had kept mine too.

  29. zero250 jeff steindler

    My fiesta was a Ghia……………I still have the glass ( removable ) sunroof ( and its padded storage sleeve…………..it came with TWO: shaded glass and painted metal!………….the car had a four speed transmission and fourth gear had an OVERDRIVE ratio…………..great car………

  30. Stephen Hunt

    I had a 1978 Fiesta in Sport trim. It was Oyster Gold Metallic. I Believe the Sport was different than the base in that it had anti-sway bars and a fancy stripe down the side. It also had upgraded bucket seats and a tachometer. I really loved that little car. I can’t remember the last time I saw one on the road.

  31. Greg Pierson

    I have a 1978 base fiesta I’ve owned since new. Less than 100K on it. Now sports an 86 fiesta 5 speed with hubs a n front vented brakes. Has ford cierra rear disc’s. Rebuilt motor with a mild cam. Hasn’t run in a long time as I’ve a lot of ‘projects’. I sure had a LOT of fun in that little car! One of the first things I did was dump the 12″ rims for the ‘large’ 13 inch rims(only had 5 choices of styles back then!) huge difference. Really want to get it going again. Still need to plumb all those new brake parts.

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