The Mk1 has a cult following in Europe, and this retro race-inspired Belga Mk1 Fiesta has to be one of the best yet.
The UK is blessed with a staggeringly good selection of Mk1 Fiestas nowadays, and it’s remarkable to actually stand back and think that just a handful of years ago, these cool, cult little cars were worth very little and played only a bit-part in the classic Ford scene. We all know how much that’s changed, and good Mk1s now command a premium; great news for the model’s continued survival, not so good for those seeking out a bargain!
With so many great cars at home, it’s easy to forget just how popular the first iteration of the Fiesta was all over the world, with pretty much every country in Europe falling for its neat good looks, reliable (not to mention tuneable) pushrod engines, and sheer practicality. We’ve featured German Fiestas before, and the cars have a seriously passionate and loyal following over there, with most aficionados owning more than one at any given time!
Herbert Abst certainly fits the bill, having owned countless examples of the Mk1 Fiesta over the years. Regular readers may recognise him from our Classic Ford Tour in 2014, when he and his friend (and equally passionate Mk1 fan) Stephan Müller helped myself and Ade Brannan source and fit a replacement differential to Ade’s Sierra Sapphire Cosworth. We saw the bare bones of this very car back then, though it was still a long way from looking anywhere near as fantastic as it now does, though it had been treated to a huge amount of prep work.
“The project actually started back in 2012 when my girlfriend decided she wanted my car to drive through winter — a Mk1 Fiesta pick-up! That meant that I needed to find something suitable for myself, and it had to be an old Ford,” laughs Herbert.
Various cars were looked at and discounted for a myriad of reasons, including a Mk4 Escort and a Mk2 Fiesta, but it soon became clear that only another first-gen Fiesta would suffice as a replacement. An extensive search followed (early Fiestas are probably even rarer over there than they are here thanks to the draconian TüV rules), Herbert and Stephan eventually coming up trumps with a red, base-spec 1-litre, mere miles from the pair’s workshop.
“It was a nice car, but there was no way I could leave it standard — I never drive standard cars,” says Herbert.
Days after buying it, the Fiesta boasted Koni dampers and KAW lowering springs, an RS three-spoke steering wheel and a pair of period-correct Scheelmann seats. The Fiesta’s bodywork was actually in superb condition, again thanks to those ultra-restrictive TüV regulations that ensure that all but the cleanest of older cars are quickly swept off of Germany’s roads, so Herbert was free to jump right in and start tinkering with his latest purchase.
One side-effect of fitting the lowered suspension was that the standard 12 inch steels looked decidedly out of place, something that Herbert set about rectifying, first with alloys from a top-spec Ghia, then wider steels. This done, the Fiesta was quietly tucked away for winter while Herbert set about amassing a selection of parts to totally transform it, including a replica wide-arch RS kit.
“I offered it up to the car and carefully taped it into place, and the overall effect was really good. The only problem was that it meant that I needed a front spoiler, otherwise it’d just look out of place.”
There were a number of deep front valances produced for the Fiesta in period, though all are now rare and highly sought after. Herbert considered offerings from Ford’s RS department, Kamai and Zender, but none looked exactly at home on the front of the car, so he opted to look further afield, eventually settling on the spoiler from a VW Polo.
“It’s a Group 2 spoiler, but I’d only seen it online so actually buying it was a shot in the dark! I taped it into place and it looked perfect though, it really suits the RS kit,” explains Herbert.
These bodywork alterations marked a change in the overall look of the car, Herbert deciding to throw caution to the wind, ditch subtlety altogether and build himself a road-going race car. A full roll cage soon followed, along with a set of 8×13 inch Alleycats (there’s no point having wide arches if you’re not going to fill them!), and, most importantly of all, a new engine.
We’ve already discussed the limitations imposed by the TüV regulations, and they effectively mean that swapping to a totally different powerplant is forbidden. This means that tuning the smaller capacity Fiesta engines is still popular in Germany, hence Herbert’s decision to go with a highly-tuned 1100cc unit. It’s a motor that’s well suited to the car it now resides in, with twin 36 Weber carbs, lots of head work, an aggressive cam and a lightened and balanced bottom end, all of which adds up to roughly 100 bhp – not an earth shattering amount, but certainly enough to have fun in a lightweight car like the Mk1 Fiesta!
It helps that Herbert’s also spent time improving the car’s chassis, though of course we all know that any Mk1 Fiesta is good fun to throw around corners! Those Koni dampers and KAW springs have been joined by a Wiechers anti-roll bar and a front strutbrace, plus the massive increase in strength and rigidity offered by that multi-point roll cage, all of which mean that this is a car than exploit its modest horsepower near enough anywhere.
“This is the first car I’ve built that’s mixed newer components with older, period ones. The cage, dampers and carbon door cards aren’t very old at all, but obviously the engine, arches and the livery are very old school,” Herbert explains.
That livery is key to this car’s identity, but it certainly wasn’t part of Herbert’s original plan for it, it just grew out of his desire to make the shell suit those bulging arches and imposing front apron. Photoshop was used to judge whether the look would be a successful one, then Herbert sent the whole car off to a friendly local bodyshop for some red and white paint, all while a local graphics company designed and printed sheets of period-perfect Belga stickers.
The car was eventually finished late last year, just in time to be trailered to the Classic Ford Event in Holland. Predictably it went down a storm with the thousands of show goers, especially as the Belga livery will forever be associated with Dutch rally heroes.
There’s still one more hurdle though – passing the TüV, though that’s something that shouldn’t be too tricky as Herbert’s been careful to build the car around the various regulations. Here’s hoping it’ll be back on the road and making its presence known real soon.
Words Jamie Arkle
Photos Adrian Brannan
See more photos and read the full spec in the original feature on Herbert’s Belga Mk1 Fiesta in the April 2015 issue
Click here for more Classic Ford features
Subscribe to Classic Ford via Direct Debit today and take advantage of our special offer — enjoy your first six issues for £15 – that’s just £2.50 an issue! https://shop.kelsey.co.uk/subscription/promotionOffer/offer/CFD352/source/TRY15