1981 Ford Fiesta Supersport – Project Profile

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By Chris Pollitt

For as long as there has been the hatchback, there has been the hot hatchback, and from the hot hatchback we got the warm hatchback. You see, it wasn’t long before the insurance companies realised just how hot the hot hatches were. Be that because they were fast, because oiks liked to steal them or for myriad other reasons. The bottom line was that for many, the bona fide hot hatchbacks were simply too risky or too expensive a proposition. 

Manufacturers weren’t going to chalk the whole thing up to experience though. Oh no, they knew that sportiness meant sales. They also knew that people were buying hot hatchbacks because of how they looked, not just how they performed. This was an angle worth capitalising on, and Ford did exactly that. A case in point being the car we have here, a Mk1 Ford Fiesta Supersport. It was an XR2 at first glance, but with 300cc less under that forward-hinged bonnet. And it was a hit. Cheaper to run, cheaper to insure, but with all the looks and the ‘go faster’ charm of the XR2. For many, it was the perfect balance. It may come as a shock, but not everyone wants to go fast, some just like to look fast. 

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Of course, the Supersport was a vital sales tool in terms of being a stepping stone for customers. If they bought a Supersport, it would be easy to get them into an XR2 or XR3 when the time came to change. Ford has always been the king of the stepped trim grade, as it took one car and made it into several different cars. Very clever indeed.  

Despite its important position in the Ford range, and the fact it was the vehicle in which people got a flavour for sporty, performance cars, it was soon forgotten. Naturally, it was the XR2 that found favour in later years, but by that time, the Supersport was super thin on the ground. As such, the car we have here is a very special find indeed. 

What is it? 

The car we have here is a 1981 Ford Fiesta Supersport in Sunburst Red with grey stripe and the incredibly rare Savannah/Carla Supersport Red interior. It all looks to be in reasonable condition, at least in terms of it being an old Ford (they love to rot, after all). 

The Fiesta Supersport was only available in three colours, namely the Sunburst Red we see here, Diamond White or Strato Silver metallic. Though, some black cars were built, too. They all had the black arch extensions, front and rear spoilers and black bumper overriders. Some would have had the optional driving lights mounted to the front bumper. The headlights were the standard square type, not round – that was only on the XR2 version. 

The Supersport sat on 13×6 four-spoke alloys wheels, which all seem to be present and correct here. This is pleasing, as they are getting hard to find. Suspension-wise, the Supersport was upgraded with lower sports suspension and a thicker rear anti-roll bar, while the brakes (disc up front) were boosted by servo assistance. 

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Under the bonnet, there would have once been a 1,300 Kent four-cylinder petrol engine with 66bhp on tap (oh the power). Sadly, that original engine seems to have gone wayward, as this Supersport is now fitted with a 1,600 from the XR2. Not a bad thing by any stretch, but does hurt the car’s originality. 

Why is it a project? 

Looking at the Fiesta, it seems to be a project that was started some time ago, but for whatever reason, was never finished. The vendor states that the car has been off the road since 1992. Work has been done since then, though, as there looks to be a set of new wings fitted, a new front panel and also a new bulkhead panel. The inner wings look to have been treated and protected, and as you can see from the picture, the car is partially stripped in, presumably, readiness for the remaining bodywork. Crucially, the car looks to be solid and free from any hideous issues, which is score one on such an old Ford. The vendor does state that some work has been done on the boot floor, which may need some sorting, but it doesn’t sound like anything terminal. Though the advert does say a ramp is available, so you’ll be able to get under and around it before handing over any cash, which offers a nice bit of peace of mind.

The vendor goes on to explain that the car is largely complete with the exception of the original engine, the front door cards and any carpet. Everything else is there though, including the original body-kit – something that’s very hard to find these days. Same for the glass, which is all present and correct. 

There is some paperwork with the car such as the logbook and some past MOT certificates along with some spares. The V5 apparently backs up what the car is, as do all the parts included. The poor old thing just needs some love now, and some paint, and the right engine…

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Five things to look for:

1) Rust

It’s a Ford, so you need to check it for rust and then, when you’ve done that, check it again. The sills, inner rear arches, the bulkhead, boot floor, scuttle, roof channels – if it’s metal, check it. 

2) Parts

The vendor seems to be well aware of what’s here, but it never hurts to have a rummage yourself and do a mental checklist. For example, the body kit is present, but is it usable? What about all the other parts? Being there and being in working order are two very different things.

3) Paperwork

Never hurts to have a look at the paperwork, see where the car has been. See if there is anything in the past MOTs to suggest any serious works. Does the V5 match up with the current 1.6 engine?

4) Electrics

The car is largely stripped, so you’ve got good access to the electrical system. Is it all there or has it been chopped about in the past? What about the front end, has the loom been saved or was it chopped in the name of all that panel repair?

5) Engine

What’s the deal with the 1600 engine? Has it been fitted well or has it just been thrown in the hole? What about the transmission? Has it got the right four-speed transmission? Furthermore, if you want to go to original, is the 1.6 in good enough condition to sell on?

What should you do with it? 

Given the rarity involved and the fact this isn’t the cheapest car in the world, we would suggest that the only way you could really go would be to restore it to original specifications. Not only would this be the easiest path, it would also build a lot of value into the car when finished. The absence of the 1300 engine is annoying, but it’s not the end of the world – it was a widely used engine, so finding one should be easy. The door cards and carpets might be a bit of a nightmare, but that’s what owners clubs and forums are there for – someone must have these parts lying about. 

This Mk1 Fiesta Supersport looks to be in solid condition, certainly solid enough to be a viable candidate for restoration. And it’s a sought after car, and one that will carry a great deal of value should the restoration be done well. It just needs someone out there in classic car land to take the plunge.

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