Built for fast-road and track hijinks, and very much at home at Goodwood, Sam Austin’s hot 1700 Fiesta Mk2 is a lightweight tearaway for a new generation.
Sam Austin’s Mk2 Fiesta is a very clear embodiment of how the scene is evolving. There was a time, back in the ’90s, when a stock-looking Mk2 in base trim and white paint wouldn’t have turned any Ford enthusiasts’ heads; back then you’d have to at least turn such a thing into an XR2 rep or they wouldn’t let you into the McDonald’s car park. But these beautifully-packaged hatchbacks, once so ubiquitous and now so scarce, have passed into another realm of retro appreciation: today, this car looks wonderfully focused and unadorned.
Of course it’s not really all that stock-looking; the eye is drawn to the cheeky details indicating the secrets lurking within Pandora’s Box — the rollcage, the four-spokes, the hunkered-down stance… those in the know get an immediate sense that something’s going on here. And the more we pick Sam’s brains about it, the more we discover. The spec of this Fiesta is little short of sensational.
Rather pleasingly, this is actually Sam’s first car — although the bushy beard on display illustrates that he’s not some fresh-faced 17-year-old bouncing to the shops on his mum’s named-driver policy. “I bought this car for the cheap insurance, and absolutely fell in love with it; I drove it everywhere, as you do when you first get on the road,”
he recalls. “And it’s now been rebuilt three times over the last eight years…”
It’s clear that Sam isn’t a man who gives up on things easily. Having grown up around the show-winning Ford hot-rods his dad was building, and with a youth spent going to car shows with the family, an affinity with petrol-powered toys was inevitable. When the time came to start his own automotive adventures, his brain was positively bubbling over with ideas.
“It came into my life with a rather tired 950 engine,” he says. “Three engines later, I built this CVH! The car was completely original when bought, so every mod you see was me; it’s had three new arches, half a floor, a few panels here and there, inner and outer sills on both sides, and a new boot — so pretty much nothing is untouched.”
It’s fair to say Sam’s keen to get stuck in with hands-on tasks, and the paintwork is a strong example of this: having decided he wanted to learn how to paint it himself rather than pay someone else, he bought a £200 Mk4 Fiesta as a daily runabout, took the Mk2 off the road, and set about stripping it down. “Dad showed me the ropes on the engine bay, and I carried on from there ending in a full respray,” he says. The starting point of this latest makeover occurred over Christmas two years ago, when Sam rolled the car into his dad’s garage to embark upon a full body restoration. Being a boat-builder and metal-worker by trade he had a basic idea of welding, but wanted to really hone his skills and the Fiesta proved to be the perfect blank canvas. After 5 months of cutting, welding and bracing, the shell emerged blinking into the spring sunshine in its fresh coat of Diamond White — and it really does look glorious, doesn’t it?
This stage of the evolution wasn’t just about the aesthetics, naturally. That CVH motor had long been occupying Sam’s thoughts, and the final spec has more than a hint of motorsport prowess. Running a beefier 1680cc displacement, the hemi is now strapped to a pair of downdraft carbs, bolstered by a Facet pump and Malpassi fuel regulator. Beneath the ported and polished cross-hatch head we find a Kent Cams CVH33 cam, ARP bolts and a thorough balancing, and Sam estimates peak power to be somewhere around the 125-130 bhp mark. Given that the overall weight of the Fiesta is a slinky 805 kg, that’s enough for a power-to-weight ratio akin to a Sapphire RS Cosworth.
“I’ll always remember that first drive after I built it back up, having lost 2 Stone and absolutely wearing myself to the bone,” Sam recalls. “It drove like absolute crap; I drove up round Waterlooville with no bonnet on, and the suspension was all over the place, the steering was way out because of the new rack, the thing was so out of tune I barely made it home… but my god, it was the best day of my life. I’ve got to say the most difficult task has been setting the carbs up to run nicely, they are rather fiddly!”
A labour of love, for sure, but Sam’s been keen to ensure that the car is built holistically to handle the massive power increase. Suspended by Avo GTZ coil-overs, he fully polybushed the chassis during the rebuild, adding bracing and adjustability wherever possible. The brakes are XR2 items, more than strong enough after shedding all that mass to rein in the thrust effectively, and inside the car we find a pair of Recaros flanked by multiple gauges and a rear cage. With a Quaife LSD ensuring the steering wheel’s not fighting back too much, it makes the perfect companion for the Suzuki GSX-R that sleeps beside it in the garage. The dream toybox for an irrepressible speed freak.
“The line I hear most often from people is ‘I had one of them as my first car, and even new it didn’t look as good as that’,” Sam grins. “It’s a real conversation-starter.” And that’s very much the point: you don’t need an XR2 rep to turn heads these days — Sam’s fast-road screamer is the perfect Mk2 for the 2020s.
Words Daniel Bevis
Photos Jason Dodd
See more photos and get the full spec in the February issue
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