A fun little name for a plucky little car: Fiesta!
Funny how a word from another language can ingrain itself into our popular culture in a way we could hardly have imagined.
The name Fiesta (meaning “party” in Spanish), was chosen personally by Henry Ford II for its alliteration with Ford and its celebration of Ford’s new connection with Spain.
In Ireland, as elsewhere, the car proved itself a real little party animal and was admired as such - right from its introduction in 1977.
The Fiesta was originally approved for development in 1972, just after the launch of two cars in the same class: the Fiat 127 and the Renault 5.
It’s difficult to imagine now, but back in the early 1970s, Ford’s decision to build a small front-wheel drive car was seen as a huge risk
The Fiesta was an all-new car in the supermini segment, and was the smallest car yet manufactured by Ford. Engine production for the new car began in Valencia, Spain in 1975.
It’s difficult to imagine now, but back in the early 1970s, Ford’s decision to build a small front-wheel drive car was seen as a huge risk for the US-based car-making giants. To that point, their smallest car on sale in Europe was the Escort and the company was worried it would struggle to make a profit on such a small car. However, Ford never looked back and in 1979 they built the one millionth Fiesta worldwide.
By 1982, the Fiesta had been the best-selling car in its class in Britain and Germany for six years running.
When I think back on these early Fiestas, I think of the Roscommon sheep farmer who, in his retirement, fell into the ownership of a tidy little Fiesta. It belonged to his sister who, at the same time, was winding up her career as a district nurse in the leafy suburbs of Montenotte, Co Cork.
Of course, a retired farmer never retires
The silver-coloured beauty was accustomed to the finer things in life, and it arrived among the Rossies smelling of expensive cigarettes and fine perfume.
Of course, a retired farmer never retires and, even though his tractor days were over, with fresh wheels at his disposal he was now off to sheep fairs and cattle marts every day of the week. The roads of Connaught in the 1980s were hallmarked with deep pot holes, and the abuse they inflicted on small cars at that time was phenomenal. Soon, the rebel Fiesta began to feel the pace.
Daily trips to places as far flung as Ballyshannon and Ballyvaughan were taking their toll on the car – whose former escapades had amounted to nothing more than a 30mph journey between one ingrown toe nail to the next.
I remember fitting a new stereo under its dashboard one Saturday and later attaching a set of spot lamps to its front bumper. It seemed to run even better after that
Eventually, the riches-to-rags Fiesta crawled in along a ditch near Athleague, closed its eyes and died. It was said later that it died of a broken heart.
My own first adult car was a little grey Mark I Fiesta. I bought it secondhand, but it was a pristine. It ran like a dream, responsive and economical, simple yet fashionable. I remember fitting a new stereo under its dashboard one Saturday and later attaching a set of spot lamps to its front bumper. It seemed to run even better after that.
The Fiesta has been reinvented many times since the mid-1970s; each generation bringing something new and innovative to the car which, to this day, remains a best seller. When all is said and done, whatever it was about the Mark I Fiesta; its bantam-weight attitude, its suburban freshness or its utter unaffectedness, it really was a little dote… the sweetest little car of its time.