We begin the important and global story of the subcompact hatchback today. Your author referenced it last week in Part I of our big Kia car series, and now it’s time for the promised comprehensive Rare Rides coverage! Manufactured in various locations around the world, our subject vehicles are long-lived and have no less than 10 identities over an impressive 17-year span. We’ll party, karamu, Festiva, forever.
The story of the Festiva begins in the seventies, when Ford increased its stake in the friendly and healthy Japanese automaker, Mazda. The relationship between the two companies began in the latter part of the decade. Mazda had been in a tough spot financially since the 1960s, and Ford bought its holdings on the cheap. Ford’s first investment was a seven percent stake in the Hiroshima company.
Relationships deepened in 1979 when Ford poured in more money and increased their stake in Mazda to 24.5 percent. The time happened to align for the two companies with regards to new subcompact offerings, as Ford’s products were outdated and Mazda had some free design capacity.
As far as Ford is concerned, the subcompact offering is divided into the Pinto for the North American market, and the Fiesta for Europe and elsewhere. The Pinto has a bad reputation and is nearing the end of its life having been on sale since 1971.
The West German and British made Fiestas are a bit newer, but won’t last much longer in their first-generation ’70s guise. Sold since 1976, German examples were available in North America between 1978 and 1980. The first Fiestas were generally well received, especially in North America because of the poor Pinto alternative.
The Fiesta continued production until 1983 in its initial version, before being replaced by the Fiesta Mark II. But the Fiesta, like the first, is more for European consumption and will not serve as a world car as well as something designed for a specific purpose. Hold that thought.
At Mazda, there has only been one subcompact car in the company’s history, and that’s only on the technical side. Called the Carol 600, the coupe and sedan are slightly larger versions of the Kei R360 coupe, which was also sold as the Carol. Its name is 600 because of its 586 cc engine, and it passed from the Kei to the subcompact because it has a bigger bumper. Inside, it’s the same space as a smaller car.
The “larger” Carol 600 had a higher tax bracket and proved unpopular because it offered no advantages over the Kei version other than a larger engine. The 600 was sold over two model years before being pulled from production, with about 8,800 units sold. Mazda didn’t make another subcompact until 1986. Back to Ford.
Given that the Pinto is finished and the Fiesta isn’t meant for North American consumption, Ford will go without a subcompact offering for a few years. In 1981 the compact Escort became the successor to the subcompact Pinto, which had straddled its size class by how big it was. The replacement for the Fiesta in North America is CORRECT subcompact.
In Europe, the Fiesta Mark II will continue to be the smallest car offered in the supermini class, while the European Escort is in its third generation and is considered a small (compact) family car. The newly created subcompact will not be sold in Europe but will be eventually by Ford Australia to that market.
Analysis of product requirements, Ford approached Mazda with a sizable early ’80s shareholding and directed the people of Hiroshima to develop a new subcompact car. The name Ford chose was Festiva, of course in the hope that the reputation and success of the surviving Fiesta of the same name would rub off on its new imports. The resulting vehicle Mazda developed was a practical, square, three-door hatchback.
Despite wearing the Ford badge, it was immediately clear that the Festiva was a Japanese design. The overall theme is “practical squares.” The unadorned fascia features two square composite headlights, which blend into the grille and use yellow corner markers. The grille in between is body color and features a very simple single blade with the Ford emblem in the center. The bumper is finished in gray rubber (or body color on higher trims) and has almost no embellishments other than two turn indicator lights.
The hood has minimal decor and only a simple electrical bulge that tapers in front of the front end of the grille. The top of the Festiva’s hood has one raised detail, in the form of a black plastic windshield spray nozzle placed in the center.
Fenders feature a single character line that runs straight to the ends of the short body. It was interrupted by the very obvious fuel door on the driver’s side, and the black door handle pulled from the Ranger. The side scrubbing strip continues from the front to the rear wheel nicely and features a contrasting ribbon strip inside. They are black on lower-end models, but body color if the trim is more zesty.
At the rear, the tall greenhouse meets the simple rear hatch for maximum practicality and visibility. The pillars around it are thin, referring to the rather loose 80s crash safety standards. There’s little embellishment on the rear, just a simple set of badges, rear wipers, and a bumper with a cutout for a small exhaust.
As expected in such a class of car, the interior of the Festiva was built for a certain price and was used as less is more design theme. In front of the driver is a two-spoke Mazda steering wheel, and on the outside a very simple set of gauges. Speedometer, temperature and fuel are the only gauges offered. There is no tachometer, even with a manual transmission. Elsewhere, the cabin has a very simple HVAC slider, a very simple stereo, and no center console. Between the flat bucket seats is the shifter and parking brake, and nothing else.
The Festiva chairs are somewhat unadorned, although some examples use the more luxurious striped velor as the seat material. The door panels are equally simple, covered with little padding, and are mostly finished in vinyl. Seat belts are the type that everyone dislikes the most: Automatic and door mounted for shoulders, with manual lap belt. In general, comfort and convenience features are kept to a minimum, to ensure the lowest possible price.
There’s not much to say about the Festiva’s super simple exterior and interior styling. We’ll end there, and learn about the techniques and mechanics of the Festival in Part II. We will also discuss his important world debut.
[Images: Ford, YouTube]
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