Ford Fiesta: The car that changed the Spanish automotive market forever.
Introduced in 1976, the first small Ford was an important product for the European market. But in Spain meant a whole new era in terms of freedom.
From 1939 and until 1980 the Spanish automotive market was heavily controlled by the government. The nationalist character of Franco's dictatorship and the isolation that followed the end of the Second World War, where Spain declared itself neutral, but supported the Axis powers, turned the Spanish economy into a closed and heavily protected one.
All industrial sectors were controlled directly by the government. In those declared as "Strategic", the government didn't allow any kind of private ventures, being all them state-controlled monopolies.
The automotive industry was heavily controlled by the government. Through the Instituto Nacional de Industria (INI), the government founded ENASA in 1946 to build trucks and buses, and SEAT in 1950 to build passenger cars under FIAT license. However there was space for private ventures. In 1951, FASA was established to build Renault cars under RNUR license, and in 1957, Citroen Hispania was founded as a branch of the French company.
For private entrepreneurs, was not easy to establish a car manufacturing venture in Spain back then. The project needed to be approved by the government, and the process was anything but crystal clear. In fact, new authorisations to build cars were given based mostly in political reasons. FASA and Citroen had the luck of having some kind of political backing, that was stronger than the INI and SEAT pressures. Other brands like Glas Goggomobil or Volkswagen, didn't.
However this changed in 1964. With the country's economy expanding as much as the demand for cars, the government had to balance their protectionist policies with the desire of multiple foreign investors to establish themselves in Spain to build cars, and the way that would help the economy to keep growing.
Between the summer of 1964 and early 1965, new bills were passed by the government. In those laws, were written the conditions for possible new ventures to be allowed to build cars in Spain:
80% of Spanish-made parts the first year, growing up to 90% the third year and a minimum of 250000 cars to be produced per year. While the first condition was achievable, the second one was way more problematic, as the export market was not big enough yet and the domestic one could not absorbe such a big increase in production. Mr Lopez-Bravo, Minister of Industry back then allowed Barreiros and AUTHI to keep going under the conditions previously negotiated, but under the new conditions, no new companies entered the market.
From "Small cars, small profits" to the Fiesta: The Bobcat project.
For the first time, an American company built a small car that became a big success. The Fiesta broke many taboos in the American industry.
Since the beginning of the automotive story, America and Europe were worlds apart. American huge distances, big landscapes and cheap petrol allowed the industry of that side of the ocean to build opulent big cars with thirsty engines. In Europe, the more expensive carburants, the intrincated maps of historic cities and the hard post war eras in the first half of the century, made the European cars more fuel efficient, small and cheaper to build and cheaper to run.
There was also a cultural, business related difference. In America, most of automotive CEOs thought that small cars meant small profits, and because of that, during the economy-expansive era of the 1950's and 60's, they thought that small cars were uninteresting.
However, there is always a person who is able to think outside the box. And in the 1960's American automotive world, that person was Lee Iacocca. During his stay at Ford Motor Company, starting in 1960, the company made very revolutionary moves: The company launched the Mustang, a sports car based on a big-volume seller as was the Falcon, which allowed the Mustang to be cheap to build and affordable to buy. He was able to merge both the German and the British operations under the Ford Europe umbrella, which resulted in a car that was a great seller as was the Escort, and managed to open the eyes of the rest of the board to the necessity of building a "supermini", a kind of car that would mean the future of the automobile all around the world.
By the late 60's something was changing, specially in Europe. Car makers were relying more and more in FWD vehicles as a future strategy. But the revolution was yet to come: A kind of car, small on the outside, but big on the inside, with a rear hatch and front wheel drive. Renault began to prepare the future Renault 5 in 1968, FIAT was planning the 127 with the results obtained with the Autobianchi Primula, VW, owner of NSU, was using all the NSU expertise in FWD automobiles to develop the future Golf, but also the Audi 50, a car that would fight with the FIAT and Renault vehicles, And Honda in Japan was developing a car that would change its game all around the world: The Civic.
In 1969, Ford Europe, aware of what its competitors were developing, asked to Ford HQ in Dearborn for funds to develop a study of a B segment car that could allow them to compete with the upcoming European and Japanese rivals.
It was not an easy task, as Ford's previous experiences with FWD vehicles were not good. In 1962, and just when it was about to enter production, Ford cancelled the Cardinal project, a small FWD sedan, powered by a V4 engine and co-developed with Ford Germany, whose development was costly and very problematic. But times had changed, and small FWD cars were the foreseen future. Ford USA approved the study and by 1971 the project was greenlighted. The B Car was going to be a reality.
With the project baptised now as Bobcat and using the FIAT 127 as a test mule, two prototypes were developed in 1972, one, the Mini Mites at the Ford Dearborn headquarters, other, in Italy by Ghia, in a team leaded by Tom Tjaarda, was known as the "Blue Car" Ford Europe was not directly involved, as was developing another car that was key on the European market: The Escort Mk2. Finally, the Tjaarda project was chosen to be developed into a new model.
The final Bobcat project, developed by Tjaarda and his team shows clearly the lines of the definitive Ford Fiesta. Note the Renault 5 style door opening system.
With the final design frozen by late 1973, the Bobcat development was going according to plan. The new front wheel drive, small hatchback should be ready to take on all the markets by mid 1976. Those market included the United States, Japan and all Europe. Although in Europe, there was a small problem called Spain. However, by the time the design was frozen in 1973, the Spanish problem was going to be addressed.
Welcome Mr Ford: How FOMOCO changed the rules of the Spanish automotive market.
King Juan Carlos I (Right) and Henry Ford II meeting on the Almussafes, Valencia factory inauguration.
By the early 70's Ford was present in all the European markets except one. Spain. The harsh conditions planned in the 1964 and 1965 laws, prevented Ford and any other companies to enter the market starting 1966. In fact, Volkswagen tried it by asking to reduce the production quota from 250000 to 125000 units per year, so they could build the Beetle at the MEVOSA factory in Vitoria. But the government declined that petition.
Henry Ford II and Lee Iacocca were sure that the Spanish market had a big growth potential and what's more: Important competitive advantages. While the automotive workers were as efficient as the French or Italian, the wages were still lower that the European average. That made Spain an ideal place to build cars to export. Ford was decided to open a factory in Spain, but it would be under their own conditions.
In 1971, and almost in parallel with the Fiesta development Ford Motor Company and the Spanish government began to negotiate the conditions to open an factory in Spain. While the Spanish laws and rules were quite tight, the possibility of such a big company opening a factory in the country was too tempting to not negotiate.
Negotiations came to fruition, and in 1972, the Spanish government passed two laws: 3339/1972 and 3757/1972, commonly known as "Ford Decrees" In them, the percentage of Spanish-built parts was reduced from 90% to a mere 50% for new ventures created after the laws passing. Also the companies should comply to the following:
·Minimum capital investment of 10000 million Pesetas (1154 million € today)
·2/3 of total production had to be exported
·The amount of cars to be sold in Spain would be no higher than the 10% of the total of the cars registered the prior year.
The 3757/1972 law declared the automotive industry as "preferential". That granted the car makers that by the end of 1976 were building 500 cars per day, notable fiscal advantages, improved access to credit and better access to industrial soil to build factories.
The decrees were taylor-made to Ford. that took full advantage of them. But they also changed the automotive industry in Spain forever. From a closed country, with severe import restrictions, it was about to become a major export car force. And with the wages still low, many other foreign companies would join Ford in the following years.
Meanwhile, in 1972, Ford began to build its new factory in Spain. The place chosen was Almussafes, a small town next to Valencia. A very strategic place, near an important sea port, a chemical industry area and the Valencia University.
From now on, Spain and the Ford Fiesta were bound. So much, that when it came to choose the commercial name of the car, Henry Ford II himself chose "Fiesta" to make clear that connection.
A small American car to conquer Europe
The Ford Fiesta was the first small car launched by an American company. Its success pushed the panic button in General Motors, who followed Ford's steps years later to build the Opel Corsa / Vauxhall Nova in Spain.
During the 1974 and 1975, Ford finished the development of the Fiesta. Also, apart from the Spanish factory, another one was inaugurated in Bordeaux, France where all the gearboxes would be built.
In the Spring of 1976, production of the Fiesta started at the Saarlouis factory in Germany, with sales in Europe starting in July. Meanwhile in Spain, the Almussafes factory started to build engines for the Saarlouis assembled cars in early 1976, but no complete cars would roll off the factory until October.
While in Europe, the Fiesta was facing a serious competition against the FIAT 127 and the Renault 5, as was going to happen in Spain, it also had to compete against the Peugeot 104, the Volkswagen Polo, the Audi 50, the Opel Kadett, the Innocenti 90 / 120, the Datsun Cherry or the Autobianchi A112. The Fiesta however had a weapon that was revolutionary in Europe, but completely game-changing in Spain.
Finally, freedom: The Ford Fiesta arrives to the Spanish market.
In October 18th 1976, the first Ford Fiesta built in Spain, pictured here, rolled off the assembly line. The license plate, V.-1810-V was specifically reserved for the chassis number one as it made reference to both the date and the city of Valencia.
In October 18th, with both Henry Ford II and King Juan Carlos I of Spain (who replaced General Franco as Head of State) as spectators, the first Spanish Ford Fiesta, a metallic brown 1.1 Ghia model, rolled off the assembly line. Finally, after many decades absent from the Spanish market, Ford was back.
The Fiesta was launched with a range of two engines and four versions. It could be powered by three versions of the new Valencia engine, a development of the venerable Ford Kent engine, available in two displacements: 957cc available in low (40 hp) and high compression (45 hp) variations and 1117cc, that developed 53hp. For the Spanish market, the Fiesta was available in four trim levels, Base, L, S and Ghia.
And with that, came other of the revolutions the Fiesta brought to the Spanish market: Freedom of choice. Until then, a customer who wanted to buy a SEAT should ask the dealer for the model and the colour he wanted. There was no other choice. Most of the times, the customer would receive the model desired, sometimes with the engine specified and almost never in the correct colour. If the customer wanted a Simca, a Renault, an AUTHI or a Citroen, they had more freedom of choice but very limited. All models were available in closed couples of engine and trim level, and there was almost no options. That meant that if a customer wanted, for example, a Renault 5 GTL, the customer had to accept the 1037cc engine, the equipment associated to the GTL trim level and maybe, would be able to install an aftermarket radio.
Fiesta L with halogen lights, fog lights, metallic paint, vinyl roof, tinted glass, headrests and radio as extras. The customization possibilities were almost endless.
Ford with the Fiesta offered for the first time, freedom of choice. The Fiesta was completely customizable, with multiple combinations of engine, trim level and factory options, something never offered before in Spain. So, a customer had the possibility to order an L model, with 957 LC engine, tinted glass, sunroof, 8 track radio and headrests. Or a Ghia with vinyl roof, sunroof, premium radio casette and metallic paintwork.
Of course, all that came at a price: The Fiesta was slightly more expensive than its rivals in its basic form, but with options, it could be almost as expensive as a Seat 124 or a basic Renault 12, cars bigger than the small Ford. Despite all that, Spanish motorists loved the variety of choice the Fiesta offered, and the car sold very well from the beginning.
Breaking production records: The Fiesta makes history
In 1977 the Fiesta received the 1300 Valencia engine, becoming the most powerful small car in the market.
Despite production starting in October, 17500 Ford Fiestas were built at the Almussafes factory in 1976. By June 1977 Ford built the 100000th car. No other car in the Spanish automotive history reached that amount so fast.
In November, Ford introduced the 1300cc engine. Developing 66hp, the Kent 1300 power unit made the Fiesta the fastest of the small cars available in Spain, except the racing oriented R5 Copa. With that extra power, the Fiesta added to its optional equipment another novelty: Air conditioning. No other small car would have that option available for many years. The Fiesta Ghia 1300 became a true luxury small car.
By the end of 1977, Ford had built 214000 Fiestas at Almussafes. That was 60000 cars more than the SEAT 127, and meant a change on the status quo of the market. For the first time SEAT was not the biggest player on the marke. Despite being sales leader, the 127 struggled to compete against the Fiesta and kept losing ground against it.
With no new products on the range during 1978, the year ended with another production record: 258000 Fiestas left the Spanish factory during the year, becoming again the most produced car in the country. This time, the difference with the 127 was almost 120000 cars. Times had definitely changed.
Something Special: Limited editions for 1979
Launched in April 1979, the Fiesta Cosmos was the first limited edition ever offered in any car in Spain. That marketing tactic would became an staple in the following years.
1979 started with another record. In just two years and three months Ford has managed to build half a million of Ford Fiestas. Let's remember that, for example, SEAT took eight years to build 650000 SEAT 850, a car that topped the sales charts for years.
To celebrate such an impressive figure Ford did something that nobody had done before. In April, launched the first limited edition ever to arrive to the Spanish market: The Fiesta Cosmos. The Cosmos was basically a two tone painted Fiesta 1100 L, finished in silver and metallic light blue with features from the Ghia and the S added at no extra cost, like were the velours upholstery, chromed side trim, cigarette lighter, tinted glass or headrests. Limited to 1000 cars, the Cosmos was rare even when new, but helped with the domestic sales of the rest of the range.
Later, to celebrate the third anniversary of the Spanish production, Ford launched the Ford Fiesta Del Sol.
Ford Fiesta del Sol. The second limited edition of the Fiesta, launched in 1979 to celebrate the third anniversary of the Spanish operations
The "Del Sol" was a Fiesta L, with 957cc HC engine, and sunroof, vinyl roof, Ghia door mirror with remote control and rally lights. Again, despite the very few of them offered, those Fiesta Del Sol acted as hookup for the rest of the range. And it paid off.
By the end of 1979, something that never had happened before since the foundation of SEAT in 1950, happened. For the first time, the best selling car in the country was not a SEAT. The Fiesta managed to sell 75888 cars, 15000 more than the SEAT 127, and 22000 more than the Renault 5.
The Fiesta had definitely changed the market.
New models, new laws: The Fiesta becomes a millionaire.
The Fiesta Super Sport was a marketing operation to offer a sporty Fiesta.. With the same 1300 engine used on the Ghia and the S, the Super Sport was slower than both due its huge tyres.
1980 was a very busy year for the Spanish automotive industry. Late in 1979, the first democratic government, presided by Adolfo Suarez, passed a new bill, known as Sahagun Decreets. That law, that was taylor made for General Motors, in a very similar operation to the one that allowed Ford to disembark in Spain three year ago, allowed the companies that would open a factory in Spain to import cars with no tariffs or quotas. Also, by 1983 imports would be completely free.
Ford took advantage of the new law, introducing on the Spanish market new models to be sold along the Fiesta, like were the Taunus and the Granada. Both cars were sold at an inferior price as its SEAT rivals, the 131 and the 132. SEAT protests halted the new Ford imports for a few months.
However Ford was still selling Fiestas like hotcakes. In 1980 two new versions were introduced: The GL, slotted between the L and the Ghia and not very succesful, and the Super Sport, an sporty version with alloy wheels, special graphics, chunky tyres, rear spoiler and rally lights. Despite its appearance, the Super Sport was slower than other 1300cc Fiestas, and was discontinued the following year.
The Fiesta GL was slotted between the L and the Ghia offering the engines of the L and equipment details from the Ghia. It was not successful. This one was owned by yours truly.
1980 was another great year for the Fiesta. Again, it was the best selling car in Spain, although due to the financial crisis the country was going through, only 56000 Fiestas found a buyer that year.
In January 1981 the Ford Fiesta reached an incredible milestone. That month, the millionth Ford Fiesta rolled off the Almussafes assembly line. It was not only the first car built in the country to reach that figure. The most incredible thing is that it did it in less than five years.
During 1981, the marketing department launched more limited editions for the Fiesta, like the Bravo, that commemorated the millionth car. But the most important novelty was the XR2, a true sporty version that turned the Fiesta in a hot hatch.
Launched in october 1981 the XR2 anticipated some of the changes of the 1982 range.
Equipped with the 1600cc Kent engine, used before in the cars exported to the U.S.A and Japanese market, but tuned up to develop 84 hp, the XR2 also added round headlights, similar to the ones used on the American model, 13 inch pepperpot alloy wheels, ventilated front discs, rally lights, specific upholstery, side graphics and rear spoiler.
The XR2 also anticipated some of the modifications that would be found on the 1982 model, that got its first restyling in six years. New bumpers, painted in black and with plastic corners, new 13 inch wheels and more equipment would be the novelties for the last years of the Mk1
Some cosmetic modifications allowed the Fiesta to compete with new rivals until the arrival of the Mk2 model in November 1983
While sales were still very good, the Fiesta was feeling the weight of the years. Accompanied by the Escort MK3 since early 1982 at the Valencia assembly line, the Fiesta was facing an ever growing competition.
The Sahagun decreet opened the Spanish market doors to many new rivals, so, for 1982, apart from the Renault 5, which took its sales crown in 1981, and the SEAT Fura, the Fiesta had to fight against the Talbot Samba, the new Opel Corsa, the Autobianchi A112, the Peugeot 104 or the Austin Mini Metro. Ford kept launching new limited editions, like the very basic Fiesta UNO, that could be bought at the same price than a SEAT Panda 45, or the more equipped Bravo II or Festival, that offered distinctive exterior graphics and colours and equipment like high end audio system at no extra cost.
By 1983, the Fiesta Mk1 was patiently waiting for its replacement. Heavily based on the structure of the Mk1, the Fiesta Mk2 was introduced in November 1983, ending not only the production of a car, but the production of myth. After more than a million and a half cars bult in Spanish soil, the Fiesta Mk1 said farewell.
Epilogue: The small car that changed a country
Very early november 1976 Ford Fiesta. The car that changed everything.
When we think about the Spanish automotive market, and the history of the automobile in Spain, always the same cars are remembered: The SEAT 1400 as a pioneer, the SEAT 600 as the car of the people, the Renault 4/4 as the first serious alternative, the majestic Dodges built by Barreiros, the popular 850, the sporty Renault 8 TS...
All them were important, but the true game changer was none of them. The true game changer was a product thought in America, developed for Europe and built in Spain. Ford managed to change all the tight protectionist rules that were enforced in Spain back then in order to build its product. With the arrival of the Fiesta, the market changed forever not only for the manufacturers, bur specially for the customers, that for the first time were able to buy the car they exactly wanted, with features never seen on the segment, like the air conditioning or the special editions that allowed people to own a special car without expending a fortune.
The Fiesta changed everything, even the economy of the country, as it turned Spain in one of the biggest car exporters in Europe and in the World.
By the time the Fiesta Mk1 said farewell, it had changed the automotive mind of a whole country. Quite a lot for such a small car.