I don’t know how old I was when I realised that the word ‘fiesta’ actually meant something. That it is Spanish for ‘party’. Obviously, a ‘fiesta’ was a car. A small Ford car. But as a car-mad child, I had zero interest in the Ford Fiesta – it was a boring, prosaic, slow, homegrown motor. Suitable for single people, young couples, the elderly. It came – as all cars did in those days – in a range of horrible colours: parsnip beige, waiting-room blue, dirty-protest brown. I didn’t have a toy one – why would I? It wasn’t a Ferrari, a cement mixer or a Challenger tank. It was only later that I realised what the Fiesta really meant.
Ford has just announced that the Fiesta will be discontinued as of next year. Since 1976, it’s been through umpteen versions and facelifts and hasn’t been built in the UK for donkey’s years. But in its heyday, it captured a bit of this country’s soul, for good and bad.
Born in an era of endless strikes at Ford’s Dagenham car plant, the Fiesta was entry-level not just to motoring, but to life. The Ford Fiesta wasn’t just a car, it was a safe space. Sometimes an unsafe space. Other Fords of its generation had aspirational foreign-destination names: Capri, Cortina. The Fiesta just went with ‘party’. Maybe a party where your mate is found passed out in the front garden with no trousers or pants. Maybe a cheeky seaside STI. My first experience of weed was in a Fiesta hotbox parked under an electricity pylon with some sheep staring at me. The Fiesta suggested freedom and good times when there wasn’t much of either, especially if you were young. It has been beloved of car customisers, because it has no class and isn’t up itself and you don’t get called out if you make it look like total arse. The Mini and the Volkswagen Beetle are icons: to be lovingly restored and put in design museums. The destiny of the Ford Fiesta is spoilers and a giant exhaust pipe like a week-old open tin of beans and stickers suggestive of much high-end tuning expertise and layby dogging.
If – as Charlie Brooker said – Matt Hancock was ‘your sister’s first boyfriend who had a car’, that car was a Ford Fiesta
There’s a brilliant car rally up north somewhere called the Festival of the Unexceptional where unmolested everyday motors are championed and pored over nostalgically. The more basic the better: low levels of trim and options; standard rims. That’s where the Fiesta belongs: back with its kin. If – as Charlie Brooker said – Matt Hancock was ‘your sister’s first boyfriend who had a car’, that car was a Ford Fiesta. Suitable for what 1970s TV called ‘nookie’.
The Fiesta might be remaining in production till next June, but spiritually (and appropriately) it retired to Spain a long time ago. There are still plenty banging around the Mediterranean, where the rust takes longer to kill.
The Ford Fiesta – the package holiday in vehicle form – belongs in an era when a car was ‘fun’. Before we learned that cars (and foreign holidays) have destroyed everything. No one should be nostalgic for the era that produced it. It was a shit era. But even in a shit era, you can’t blame people for wanting to have a party. Or doing reverse donuts in Tesco’s car park.
ICYMI: meet the trespassers fighting for our right to roam.