Few suspect that there’s anything other than period power lurking beneath the bonnet of Nathan Curtis’ stock-looking Fiesta SuperSport. But still waters run deep.
The Mk1 Fiesta SuperSport has gone down in Ford lore as one of the all-time great experiments — the brand’s initial toe-in-the-water to see if the public would be receptive to a sporty hatchback. They were, of course, and this short-run special paved the way for the XR2, and all the hot Fiestas which followed.
As revered as the SuperSport is, however, one might argue that 75 bhp isn’t quite enough in a modern context. Sure, it’s sufficient to hustle a car that only weighs 770 kg, and it’s eager and willing to please, but the world’s moved on a bit in the last three-and-a-half decades. And it’s this issue that Nathan Curtis sought to address here: stock SuperSport looks, modern performance.
This hasn’t all come out of nowhere. In fact, the car used to belong to his sister long ago, and Nathan clearly remembers being picked up from school in it and thinking ‘Yep, this’ll be mine one day’. Funny how the universe looks after you sometimes, isn’t it?
By the time he acquired it, the SuperSport had spent a fair bit of time languishing unused on their parents’ drive, so a certain amount of recommissioning was required. A job list was drawn up, which grew and grew as these things are bound to do, and before he knew it Nathan was spending every evening and weekend for six months revivifying the Fiesta. All of which he enjoyed very much — he’s a guy who relishes a challenge!
More than more
“Over those months of working on the Mk1, I had a 1600 Crossflow fitted along with a five-speed gearbox,” he recalls. “The car went really well, but as we all know you always want that little bit more… so I decided to fit a 1700 Crossflow, which had been modified with head work, valves, cam and a rejetted carb. It was brilliant until one day the rings went! Being a 1700 I was told I would have to have the engine bored and linered as there was too much damage to the cylinders, and I decided the best thing to do was sell the engine and park the car back up for a while.”
At this point, Nathan met his wife and decided to buy a Mk2 XR2 — a more user-friendly daily driver that saw a few years’ use before the kids came along and they had to upgrade the family wheels.
But after a time, as you might expect, Nathan started to get itchy fingers. He hadn’t had a Ford on the road for over a year, and the SuperSport was sitting there unused and under-appreciated — the solution was obvious: it was time to get it back on the road!
“One of my friends works in a bodyshop, so I had a chat with him to see if he would be interested in painting the car for me,” says Nathan. “He agreed to do it for a very good price, along with fitting new stripes.” And so the project had fresh momentum. But what to do about that engine?
After a decent quantity of headscratching, an answer fell into Nathan’s lap. “I’ve always loved the CVH, and a guy I know had an engine for sale which he only wanted £20 for — if that’s not a bargain, I don’t know what is! I bought a four-branch manifold and a Kent cam, and the engine went like a dream — it was quicker than the 1700! It ran well and lasted around four years being driven daily, until the head gasket went.
“So after four years of great fun and enjoyment I decided it was time to take it off the road again, and do a mini restoration on the engine bay and a few other areas. Well, that was the plan, until my late friend, Steve decided he wanted my car and a friend’s as his wedding cars. My plan was to go Zetec on injection, but my mate reckoned we should do a Zetec turbo, budget-style…”
Nathan was keen to take this idea and run with it, so he wasted no time in sourcing a Focus RS manifold and the turbo from a Saab 9000, along with an RS Turbo intercooler and XR2i eight-valve management (which runs no MAF so it doesn’t mind being boosted). After three months of evening engine building — and much despair from his wife — Nathan had his hillbilly turbo build up and running… but it didn’t go totally smoothly.
“The first start-up was a disaster,” he recalls with a grimace. “Big school boy error on my part! I’d only gone and fitted the inlet and exhaust cams the wrong way round! So 16 bent valves later I needed to get this fixed and quick, as the wedding was drawing closer. I removed the head and sent it to our local machine shop to have new valves fitted and the cams redone. The head came back within a week, and thankfully this time the car started on the button and was ready for Steveo’s wedding.”
All fun and games, but after a year or so the motor started smoking and it was back to the drawing board. A Silver Top 2-litre Zetec was acquired along with some freebie management, and this presented an interesting opportunity: the mapping highlighted that the Saab turbo was struggling, which was all the excuse Nathan needed to upgrade to a GT28 — and, consequently, the fuelling needed an upgrade, so he threw in some bigger Subaru injectors, too.
“I wanted to keep the car looking original, and being a SuperSport I definitely didn’t want to cut the front panel to make way for any big intercoolers,” he says. “A friend made the suggestion of going down the chargecooler route to keep things hidden and tidy, which has worked out perfectly.”
This SuperSport has evolved constantly over the decades, which is only fitting for the model that sparked the Fiesta’s entry into the hot hatch sphere. “I love the fact that no one expects this little SuperSport to have a Zetec turbo fitted, and it certainly surprises a lot of more powerful and expensive cars,” Nathan laughs. “I must admit that, on reflection, I sometimes think I would have preferred to stay nat-asp rather going the turbo route, as it’s a bit much for these cars to handle and tries to pull itself apart on a daily basis; that being said, how many turbo SuperSports are there? The car’s used on a regular basis and gives me great enjoyment, and as much as I can admire a concours Ford they just don’t do it for me. I’m a firm believer that a car is to be driven and enjoyed.”
We couldn’t agree more. And just imagine how excited his eight-year-old self would be if he knew what his sister’s Fiesta would become!
Words Daniel Bevis
Photos Adrian Brannan
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