The humble Ford Fiesta is the UK’s best-selling car of all time – boasting over four million sales – and has an illustrious history.

But where did it start? How did the Fiesta work its way into the hearts of the nation – and why do we still love it?

The Fiesta story began over four decades ago, in 1972, with the launch of 'Project Bobcat'...

“Do you know what Ford needs? The most outstanding small car that the world has ever seen.”

“No, we can’t do that! It’ll never sell.”

“Just you wait.”

While the conversation above might be artistic liberty, there’s no denying that since its launch in 1976, the Ford Fiesta has cemented its place in history as one of the greats.

It’s arguably the most iconic supermini on British roads, and to this day remains a firm favourite among first-time drivers, young families, and people who like affordable, reliable, fast cars.

But producing a small, front-wheel-drive car was a risky feat for the US manufacturer. Over a decade before, Ford had already dismissed the idea of making a small car to rival BMC’s Mini but deemed the production costs too high.

Up until Project Bobcat, the Ford Escort had been the smallest Ford on sale in Europe, and the brand was worried they’d make no profit on an even smaller vehicle.

But the trend for small vehicles was slowly growing.

And then the 1973 oil crisis hit, and skyrocketed the need for affordable, compact vehicles. Fiat and Renault had already launched the Fiat 127 and the Renault 5, and Ford had a task on their hands to not only keep up but to overtake. But they’d done their research and analysed 48 of their competitors, as well as keeping a close eye on where the Mini was failing.

With Henry Ford II approving the development of the small vehicle in September 1972, all that was left was to name it.

Easy, right?

Ford Fiesta Mk1

Ford Fiesta Mk1

1976-1983: Ford Fiesta Mk1

Before the Fiesta was revealed, there was bickering about its name.

The marketing team was pushing for the name ‘Bravo’, but Henry Ford II vetoed this. He wanted to name the new car the ‘Fiesta’. Not only did the alliteration trip off the tongue, but ‘fiesta’ means party in Spanish – it captured the spirit of the small vehicle and honoured the partnership with Spain and the opening of the new Ford factory in Valencia.

Name decided, the Ford Fiesta – after years of speculation by the motoring press and several crafty leaks – was put on display at the Le Mans 24 Hour Race in June 1976 and went on sale in France and Germany in September.

The UK launch followed in early 1977 – and it was just what the public wanted.

Affordable to buy and affordable to run, the Ford Fiesta Mk1 quickly became a huge success, and by 1980 over a million had been sold worldwide – just four years after its launch.

Ford Fiesta Mk2

Ford Fiesta Mk2

1983-1989: Ford Fiesta Mk2

Though the updated model didn’t look radically different – Ford gifted it with a rounder front, spruced up interior, and a new dashboard – and for the first time the Fiesta had a 1.6L diesel engine on offer.

These minor changes helped the Fiesta to hold its own in an increasingly crowded small car market. By this point, it was facing down rivals like the Vauxhall Nova, Volkswagen Polo, Austin Metro, Peugeot 205, and Nissan Micra.

And although Ford never released a truly ‘hot’ Fiesta Mk2, there were plenty of aftermarket conversions available, with the best-known – Turbo Technics – providing such a high-quality conversion that installations were undertaken by approved fitting centres and the changes didn’t void the warranty.

With special variants like the Finesse, Festival, and Olympus Sport joining the core model range (Popular, Popular Plus L, Ghia, and XR2), the Ford Fiesta Mk2 made sure that the supermini remained super-popular.

Ford Fiesta Mk3

Ford Fiesta Mk3

1989-1996: Ford Fiesta Mk3

With the advent of the third generation Fiesta came a new look, a new platform, and the first five-door variant.

It was bigger (and better) than its predecessors and offered growing families an affordable hatchback without the struggle of cramming children and bags into a three-door.

The Ford Fiesta Mk3 was also the first-ever small car to be fitted with ABS, and Ford also released 1.0L and 1.1L versions to help keep their running costs even lower.

Continuing the Fiesta’s legacy of success, over two million were sold in the first two years of the Mk3.

1996-1999: Ford Fiesta Mk4

The Ford Fiesta Mk4 was Britain’s best-selling car from 1996-1998, and for good reason.

The new Fiesta, with updated interior and exterior styling, now came with a choice between the Zetec-SE 1.2L and 1.4L engines, along with plenty of colour variants. It was Ford’s step into a brave new future, with its aerodynamic body, electric door mirrors and windows, and the iconic oval grille.

But for those who liked to keep things simple and affordable, Ford kept the lower-spec models available. The Fiesta Mk3 also stayed in production until 1997 and was remarketed as the ‘Fiesta Classic’.

Ford Fiesta Mk5

Ford Fiesta Mk5

1999-2002: Ford Fiesta Mk5

A Mk4 with a facelift, the Mk5 took many of its styling cues from the Ford Focus.

Fresher and more stylish, it was initially introduced as a five-door with its engine selection including the new 1.3L and 1.6L Duratec petrol. The three-door variant was then launched later, as the demands of the small car market changed.

There was also the option of the Fiesta Zetec-S, with its impressive body kit, 101bhp, and firm chassis.

It was this model, the fifth generation Ford Fiesta, that truly cemented the supermini’s position among its loyal fanbase of young families, first-time drivers, and students looking for an affordable run-around.

Ford Fiesta Mk6

Ford Fiesta Mk6

2002-2008: Ford Fiesta Mk6

Continuing the trend, to no one’s surprise the sixth generation Ford Fiesta was another smash hit.

With ABS and airbags now included as a standard, Fiesta marketed this latest model as a ‘world car’, with the Fiesta going on sale in India, Japan, and Australia.

Hot hatch fans weren’t left in the dust either: Ford treated them to the new Fiesta Zetec-S and ST models.

Along with the new super-quick superminis, Ford introduced the Fiesta ECOnetic to keep up with the demand for more eco-friendly cars – remember the days before electric cars rose to popularity?

The Fiesta ECOnetic did become the most fuel-efficient five-seater car in the UK at the time, and the Fiesta firmly cemented itself as an excellent family car.

Ford Fiesta Mk8

Ford Fiesta Mk8

2008-2012: Ford Fiesta Mk7

The Fiesta Mk7 introduced a whole host of new features into the timeless Fiesta, including keyless entry and power steering, along with a stylish new grille. Ford succeeded in keeping the Fiesta formidable while bringing it in line with the changing automotive landscape.

The Fiesta Mk7 gained a reputation as one of the best front-wheel-drive cars on the market.

In 2012 the Mk7 underwent a facelift, as well as the addition of new technology like Ford’s MyKey and – for the first time – a three-cylinder 1.0L EcoBoost engine.

This timely update served Ford well.

After topping best-selling lists time and time again, in 2014 the Ford Fiesta became the UK’s best-selling car of all time. Ever. It beat out the Ford Escort for the title, and to date has over 4 million registrations in the UK.

2017-2021: Ford Fiesta Mk8

Again and again, Ford has proven with the Fiesta that they know how to take a winning formula and bring it smack up to date, keeping its timeless appeal without letting it become outdated.

The eighth-generation Fiesta boasts a variety of models – each one suiting a different lifestyle – including a standard entry model, a sporty S-Line, and a luxurious Fiesta Vignale.

Ford also introduced the efficient Fiesta Mild Hybrid, helping to keep eco-conscious customers happy, along with reducing running costs thanks to its lowered emissions and fuel consumption - and with a Ford lease making an already affordable car even more affordable, it's an excellent choice. 

2021 Ford Fiesta

Brand-new 2021 Ford Fiesta line-up

2021: All-new Ford Fiesta

In September 2021, Ford announced their brand-new Fiesta model, with a plethora of new trim options and plenty of tech.

None of the fundamentals have been changed – it’s still the same Fiesta the world knows and loves, but with a stylish 2021 flair and up-to-date features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and wireless phone charging capabilities.

The Fiesta ST legacy continues in this new generation too, but this time with 197bhp and a three-cylinder turbocharged engine. It’s also available with the Ford Puma’s ‘Mean Green’ paint too, so you can live out all your racing fantasies. Just without the actual racing bit.

There are also hybrid powertrains available – it’s the same 48v engine used on the Puma, which gives a boost to the petrol engine, upping efficiency and reducing running costs.

And with Ford's pledge that by 2026 all European-bought Fords will be zero emissions, and by 2030 every new Euro Ford will be fully electric, this might be the last time you can get your hands on a brand-new purely internal combustion-powered Fiesta. 

One thing is for sure though – the Fiesta’s popularity isn’t disappearing any time soon.

Ford Fiesta R5 WRC

Ford Fiesta R5 WRC

The Ford Fiesta in motorsports

But it’s not just road cars where Ford has excelled with the Fiesta.

The Ford Fiesta has also had an illustrious career in motorsports, with two Fiestas first appearing in the 1979 Monte Carlo Rally. Though neither won - but the German entry placed ninth - it was an encouraging start for Ford, and a push for sportier Fiesta models was sparked off the back of the race. 

Through the years, Ford - often together with M-Sport - released different variants for WRC races, including the Ford Fiesta Super 2000 rally car, the Ford Fiesta S2000 Mark VI, the Ford Fiesta R5, and the Ford Fiesta R5 WRC. This last model also proved popular with private drivers thanks to its good driveability, reasonable price, and availability. 

The Ford Fiesta also excelled in Rallycross, and would eventually go on to win the 2011 and 2012 Global RallyCross Championship, driven by Tanner Foust, win it again in 2013 driven by Tooman Heikkinen, and once more in 2014, this time driven by Joni Wiman. This spate of wins truly cemented the Ford Fiesta's legacy in the history books and proved it wasn't just a beloved, affordable family hatchback. 

Timeline to success: a quick overview of the Ford Fiesta’s history

1976: Production begins in Valencia, Spain
1977: The Ford Fiesta launches in the UK
1979: The millionth Fiesta for worldwide sales is built
1981: Launch of the Ford Fiesta XR2 – the first to reach 100mph
1983: Ford Fiesta Mk2 is launched
1987: Best sales year in Britain – 153,000 Fiesta’s sold
1989: Introduction of the Ford Fiesta Mk3
1990: Launch of the Ford Fiesta RS Turbo at the Turin Motor Show
1996: Ford Fiesta Mk4 released
1999: Launch of the Ford Fiesta Mk5
2002: Launch of the Ford Fiesta Mk6 
2005: The Ford Team RS release the Fiesta ST as their first production offering
2008: Ford Fiesta Mk7 unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show
2014: The Ford Fiesta becomes the best-selling vehicle ever in the UK, surpassing the Ford Escort with over four million registrations
2016: Ford Fiesta ST2000 launched – the fastest ever production Fiesta
2017: Launch of the Ford Fiesta Mk8
2021: Ford announce the brand-new Fiesta and Fiesta ST

Fancy getting in on the action? A Ford Fiesta lease is an affordable, easy way to experience this automotive legacy for yourself - after all, four million people can't be wrong.

Beth Twigg

Beth Twigg

Beth is our Content and Paid Media Specialist, tasked with creating great articles to keep you both entertained and informed. She has two years previous experience, but has been writing and scribbling for much longer.