Cars and Car Conversions - Technical: Barry Lee Fiesta Handling
"Part 1 - Laying it on The Line"
April 1978



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Technical: Barry Lee Fiesta Handling

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Laying it on The Line

Barry Lee gets to grips with Ford Fiesta handling

Having been away from your camp for some three years I must say it's nice to be back. I have lots of interesting cars to test for you but I just had to start with the one that is foremost in my mind at the moment. Yes, you have guessed it, the Ford Fiesta.

Ford's code name for this car was Bobcat but my name for it is FF - Flying Flea. You'll understand things better as my report goes on.

I would like to make one thing quite clear when you read about the test car: it's not been specially built for that purpose, and is just an ordinary car that has been assembled like all the others. For the record, I phoned Gates of Woodford, the main Ford dealers, and picked up one the salesman had been using.

But, before we go into too much detail about the handling, you have got to know what it is I've been driving. One was the ordinary, 1100S Fiesta, and the other had some RS parts fitted. From now on the car you see in the photos will be our test car. Later on we will get to a full house racer. First, let's have a look at the basic set-up

The front suspension on all Fiesta varients is of McPherson strut design with bolt-on forged knuckles or spindle carriers. In common with other McPherson type designs the main strut incorporates a rubber top mount, a coil spring mounted between two seats and an integral shock-absorber, in one assembly.

It is located at the top by a two bolt fixing which retains the top mount of the strut to the side panel. The lower end of the assembly is located in a lateral direction by a fabricated track control arm, and in a front to back direction by a tie bar connecting the outer end of the lower arm to a body mounting bracket positioned towards the front of the vehicle.

The driveshaft outer spindle is carried in two non-adjustable tapered roller bearings which seat in cups in the spindle carrier. The shaft incorporates a splined end on which the hub locates, the assembly being held together by a staked nut on the end.

Although the basic design concept of this suspension is conventional, it incorporates several significant features to ensure good durability and serviceability.

The front suspension strut is retained to the spindle carrier by two bolts and can therefore be renewed independently of the carrier. The angular relationship between the carrier and the strut is accurately controlled in production, by holding the components in a jig while the retaining bolts are tightened.

For the DIY man this can be overcome by fitting special close tolerance bolts, in place of the standard production bolts, which ensures the correct camber. Then, checking - and if necessary adjusting - the toe-in/out setting. When removing and replacing the strut assembly it is necessary to prevent the piston rod from turning. The end of the piston rod incorporates a female hexagon to allow the rod to be held using a suitable Allen key.

Now to the rear axle, which on a Fiesta consists of a transverse tubular steel member which has the centre position cranked upwards, providing adequate clearance for the exhaust system.

A stub axle is welded to each end, on which run the tapered roller rear wheel bearings, housed in the brake drum and hub. The axle is located in the front back direction by two pressed steel lower trailing arms. A locating strut, welded to each of the telescopic shock absorbers and fixed to the axle tube by a rubber bush and steel pin, counteracts any tendency for the axle to rotate about its axis. The axle is located transversely by a pressed steel Pan-hard rod, which has a rubber bush in each end and is bolted between the axle housing and the car floor pan.

Road shocks are absorbed by coil springs situated between the axle beam and the body, telescopic dampers supplement the ride and handling control. Certain models also have a rear anti-roll bar.

The first Flea I picked up was shod with 155x12 tyres which are normally supplied as standard equipment. They made the car feel very neutral and it was not very obvious the car was front wheel drive. After a while I started to abuse the car as it was so simple to drive and it proved to have very few vices.

The next car had different tyres and wheels and I used 185x13 on 5½J's, which exaggerated the FWD of the car. After about 100 miles or so I found I had got used to the car again and started to abuse it in the same old way. It is a terrific little car. and on the road I never really found the limit, although I gave myself a scare once or twice having been used to rear wheel drive for so long

In the wet there's a little tramping at the front but I hope we will be able to cure this when I mod the suspension and fit an anti-dive kit some time in the future. I will report back on that and tell you how I get on.

Under severe braking with only one person in the car I found the rear of the car tended to lock up - - but with four people up the car stopped as well as I needed. When accelerating from a standstill, starting or turning right or left, the front wheels tend to spin and you can feel a slight kick in the steering, but this is the only time a novice would know he or she is driving a FWD car. It is a most pleasant ride for both .driver and passenger, has terrific acceleration, easy gears and is what I would call a park-it-anywhere motorcar

As far as a road car goes, for the average motorist, Ford have done a terrific job and the car strikes me as being very safe. Really it's virtually idiot proof, but there are bound to be one or two of you out there who are going to prove me wrong, and show what idiots can do!

After I had had a few days of fun driving round London in the Flea, I took the car, which by now had had one or two RS parts fitted, to a test track in Surrey. Most of the mods are obvious from the pictures but for those who want a run down, here they are: RS driving seat, reclining passenger seat, quick shift gearchange, lamp brackets, two spots and two fogs, front spoiler, arches (these are made of structural foam just like the front of the RS2000), four branch exhaust, inlet manifold, 2V 1300 carb with auto choke, heavy duty rocker assembly (this is one way of stiffening the rockers which is required when we go to a high lift cam). Also, just a word about the tyres, which were 185.60x13 Phoenix Stahlflex. having the same rolling radius as 155x12 Michelins.

Right, back to the test track somewhere in Surrey. I mean "somewhere" as I met Terry and John (of this mag) at the offices of Triple C in Croydon and they took me across country to this fantastic place where we spent some of the day testing the car and the rest dodging Centurian and Scorpion tanks out for their daily exercise session

On the way there we managed to reach 6000 revs in fourth gear which gives a top speed of about 108mph out of this little 1100 engine A lot of big cars have trouble reaching that, so I was really chuffed. At the time I was hoping to get a tow from Grimwood's slipstream but he accelerated away just a fraction too soon. Anyway, while we were hurtling down this motorway at 108mph the car felt remarkably steady, which could have owed something to the front spoiler. I wasn't particularly happy about the tyres, though, and will get some different ones fitted for the next stage of development. In fact, later on I did fit some 7 inch wheels but the car was the most lethal thing I had ever driven and the whole geometry will have to be changed. I reckon 5½J wheels with 185x13 tyres is about the maximum with the standard set-up.

I started off the tests, at this place somewhere in Surrey, on a crisp dry day doing the thing I know best (or second best), driving round in circles on a slab of road about the size of a football pitch. It pretty soon became clear to me that the Fiesta was even easier to drive than I had thought. I reckon Ford have built the first car for an armless.....