A History Of The Ford Fiesta – Britain’s Best Selling car EVER


The plucky little hatchback from Ford has sat at the top of Britain’s best selling car lists for the last few years now. Quarter after quarter, holding its own against everything else to maintain the spot at the top of the leader board.

Last year it managed to surpass its older brother, the Ford Escort to become the country’s best selling car EVER! Yes, you heard that right, ever! The Fiesta is now in its seventh generation, having been with us in one guise or another for the last thirty seven years! Last year, the Ford Fiesta surpassed 4 million sales, overtaking the 4,105,961 that its sibling clocked up.

Mark Ovenden, chairman of Ford Britain and managing director, said: “The Ford Fiesta has gone from strength to strength and today’s car combines style, value, driving dynamics and remarkable technologies such as the multi-award-winning 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine. It continues to outsell its nearest retail competitor by more than two to one – and that really tells the story of this extraordinary car.”

Almost all Brits will have at some point known someone that owned a Fiesta, if not owned one themselves. Some have been so bold as to say that owning a Fiesta is almost a ‘rite of passage’ here in the UK. The perfect car for new drivers – small, economical and cheap to insure. Technology has moved on in the last four decades, enabling the Fiesta to become far more environmentally aware than it was in the seventies. We take a loving look back at the little hatch that has a place in the hearts of Britain.

Mark I

Developed originally under the code name ‘Bobcat’ the Fiesta was signed off by Henry Ford II for development in September 1972. A year later it was approved for production. In the year before the launch Ford cleverly began leaking snippets to the press to build the hype around their upcoming entrance into the B Class segment. The Fiesta went on sale in Europe in September 1976 with the first cars hitting the UK’s showrooms in January 1977. Ford estimated their new model would sell around 500,000 units per year.

The Fiesta was only the second small hatchback ever to be produced in the UK. In 1978 it won the design council award and was one of the key cars in the Motability scheme when it was first launched by the government. Early success came when in 1978 it knocked the only other supermini to be manufactured here, the Vauxhall Chevette off the top spot, becoming Britain’s best selling super-mini. It was, however, short lived when the Austin Metro overtook it in 1981. In 1982 they introduced us to their hot hatch the XR2.

Mark II

Introduced in the summer of ’83 the revised Fiesta sported a new facade. This second generation saw the first ever diesel engine added to the Fiesta line-up. The sports XR2 also underwent some changes such as a larger bodykit, five speed manual gearbox and a 1.6 CVH-Engine which was taken from the Escort XR3. Hot hatches were all the rage and tuning was rife for the XR2 due to Ford not making the most of their entrant in the hot hatch race, in the hope it wouldn’t detract sales from the XR3. One of the tuning companies offered enhancements that would make the XR2 unbeatable in its class. Ford recognised this and offered the upgrades through approved dealers.

The Fiesta was a huge success, in 1987 it saw its best ever year selling 150,000 units beating all others in it’s class playing second fiddle only to its larger brother the Escort which sat at the number 1 spot for the country’s best selling car.

Mark III

This version was introduced at the beginning of 1989. This third generation saw the Fiesta’s biggest weakness addressed with the introduction of five door variants. Of all the Fiestas this version had the longest shelf life and thrashed the success of the previous mark two’s sales figures clocking up 1 million sales in its first two years. In 1991 the Ford Fiesta based van the courier was released, this year also saw the introduction of fuel injected engines to the line-up.

In 1989 the revised XR2i capable of 104ps was released. Sadly it was this generation that saw the last ever XR2 badge, when it was retired in 1994 in favour of a more insurance friendly ‘Si’ badge. The XR2 can still get many pulses racing today, an icon of the era of the ‘true hot hatches’

In 1995 a new generation was launched, the mark IV but this model lived on until 1997 as a lower trim level named the Fiesta Classic.

Mark IV

Launched as mentioned above in 1995, this version of the Fiesta managed to climb to the top spot and become Britain’s best selling car between 1996 and 1998. Featuring a heavily revised Mark III chassis with a new range of Zetec SE engines.

This generation shared its design and a production line with the Mazda 121. Despite also sharing most of its components, the Mazda version managed to score slightly better in the JD Power customer satisfaction and reliability surveys of the time.

Mark V

In 1999 we were introduced to the Mark V Fiesta, which was basically a face-lifted version of the previous model to bring it in line with the look of their new Focus which had replaced the Escort. This was the last generation to be manufactured at the Dagenham plant, it was also the last model to be produced here prior to its closure in 2002.

The Fiesta was Britain’s best selling supermini in 2001. The highest trim level available for this generation was the newly introduced Zetec S trim which was capable of 102PS and had a heavy following online with websites available to help owners get the most out of their cars, tuning was again rife with a number of companies selling performance upgrades for this vehicle.

Mark VI

In April 2002 the sixth generation Ford Fiesta went on sale. This was the first ever variant of the Fiesta to come with ABS and airbags as standard. This version went on to become the best selling Fiesta to date and was the first generation to be sold to the Asian and Australasian markets.

The Mark VI went on to receive a slight facelift in 2006 with a new palette of colours, improved interior, redesigned lights and some tweaks to the bumpers and wing mirrors. These changes seemed to boost sales of the Fiesta with sales up 25% in 2006 from the previous year. In 2006 and 2007 it was again Britain’s favourite super mini after years of being pipped to the post by the Vauxhall Corsa.

In 2004 Ford also decided to introduce a hot hatch version in line with the popular Focus ST model, the Fiesta ST was born with 150PS and a top speed of 129mph. Again Ford sold on performance packages produced by specific tuning companies through their approved dealer network.


In 2008 the current generation of Fiesta went on sale. This is probably the best looking Fiesta of all time in my opinion. An award winning car with rave reviews since the day it was launched. More than 40% of today’s Fiesta buyers in the UK choose the turbo-charged 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine. The higher spec models such as the Zetec, Zetec S, Titanium, Titanium X and ST seem to sell far better than the entry level models too, probably because they are such good value for money.

Fiestas have come on miles since they were first manufactured. For instance, it would take more than 80 current Fiestas to generate the NOx emissions of its 1976 counterpart. The seventh generation Fiesta is 300kg heavier than the original, which was capable of achieving 37.7mpg with CO2 emissions of nearly 150g/km compared to todays 1 litre ecoboost model which boasts a combined fuel economy of 65.7mpg and just 99g/km CO2 Emissions.  

Why not have a play with our calculator and see how affordable one of these impressive new Fiesta’s can be.

Back to top