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John MacNiven’s put his heart and soul into the latest build of his Mk1 Fiesta XR2, with enough trick touches to keep you guessing for hours.

Sometimes it’s hard to look at a car as a mere machine — as something that gets you from A to B. But then, because we’re reading a magazine about preserving and modifying old Fords, I guess it’s safe to say, none of us are normal. 

The longer you’ve had a car, the more difficult it is to part with, especially if you’ve been modifying it from the day you bought it — it becomes part of your soul. Even if it were a stocker, when someone says, why don’t you just sell it, it’s impossible to explain why you simply can’t – it’s yours, has your stamp and even if it were a rusty wreck in the corner, it’s like losing a limb to let go of.

mk1 fiesta xr2

John MacNiven’s XRZ-badged Fiesta is a car he’s had for forever. Back when he first bought it, it was a white stock XR2 and it’s true to say it’s evolved. John’s gone through plenty of paths — from the usual hot Crossflow to the current Zetec power that simply looks like it should be there, hence the XRZ graphics – a clever play on XRV, the now rare Mk1 Fiesta van but sporting XR underpinnings — but the shift up the alphabet to hint at the more modern powerplant.

Evolution theory

The good thing about the evolution process is that it paved the way for things to come. The Fiesta’s a great car and the XR2’s a fantastic base because it already has a lot of the stuff everyone strives for. The brakes for a start are excellent so they don’t really need that much to bring them up to scratch. It’s true to say, the Mk1 Fiesta modifying process is getting towards formulaic – which is a good thing because it simply gets more of our type of car on the road. Great it maybe – and light too, so any sort of hot power’s going to make it go like the proverbial rocket – but it does need a touch of modifying to get there – stuff you kind of need a welder for – or know a man that has…

Unlike the later Mk2, early Fiestas only came with a four-speed manual so to get the later box in, means modifying the nearside chassis leg with a rather large notch. That allows for the longer five-speed BC or as in this case, the even later IB5. It was part of John’s hot Crossflow conversion that he did this in the early stages of his ownership.

Crossflows are great engines but in the Fiesta they’re starting to be seen as the natural choice if you’re simply restoring an XR2. But if you want cost-effective power then a Zetec makes far more sense. John really tried with the Crossflow and he had more than one. “I fitted a hot cam and it was quite quick but in the end it was the reliability that swayed me – it just kept breaking down. I wanted to be able to drive it knowing I wouldn’t be coming home via the RAC, plus the added bonus of a bit more easily attainable horsepower.”

You have to agree that modern fuel-injection’s hard to beat. Set up correctly, it starts every time and with an easy 130 bhp on tap – and way beyond that if you’re really serious – what’s not to like? Although, it didn’t actually start there because first off, John swapped in a Fiesta Si 1600 Zetec. “It was OK but a bit slow, to be honest,” which is why the current 1800’s sitting in the bay and it looks like it should be there.

Twin cram

John started with a Black Top Mondeo lump from a donor car via Paddy and Jo Millar who previously ran the Fiesta Farm. Now it’s been kind of reversed with a Silver Top cam cover and Mk5 Escort-based injection system – note the intake pipe feeding the throttle body has original 1800 Zetec stickers. We guess it’s really aping towards a Mk1 Fiesta RS1800.

It isn’t standard though. “There’s a Superchips piggyback upgrade to the ECU,” which makes perfect sense as the original system’s good to around 155 bhp. That may not seem like rocket power now but it’s enough to make the light Fiesta shift and reliably too – which of course, is what John wants – plus it’s almost like a resto – it just looks like it should be there.

mk1 fiesta xr2

All this kind of glosses over the actual shell because it sounds like he’s done nothing to it, which is far from the truth. Fiestas do like a bit of rot and this one was no exception. “It was really bad – the whole front crossmember had separated and I’ve since replaced the doors, sills, tailgate plus a new pair of wings, too.” It stayed white for quite a while, accentuated with a set of Pepperpots although it’s now succumbed to that trick XRZ theme using custom replica graphics with that unique twist made up by DMB Graphics. Then there’s the added bonus of Kawasaki green paint – really in your face but it just works.

That’s probably because there’s a lot more subtly to back up the XR-yet-loud theme. The interior too looks like it’s almost stock but it’s been carefully thought out — those Fiesta RS Turbo Recaros have not just been simply recovered. Bailies of Linwood have taken the centres out of the original back seats and used them as the centres for the fronts. Then the sides have been reupholstered using grey leather.

mk1 fiesta xr2

The dash has had a whole load of work too — it needed replacing but the one John got was cracked. He used that opportunity to build in a load of modern twists; like the iPod dock, push-button start and loads more instruments before having the lot flocked. It is the well thought-out trick touches that seriously make a car.


If you’ve got a Mk1 Fiesta XR2, you can’t really move too far away from the original theme, yes those graphics make it, but with the added bonus of refurbished Supersport four spokes, it wraps the whole lot up. Subtle 40 mm lowered stance and a tone of details make this keeper something you’d never want to get rid of – that’s because it’s got way too much soul that not everyone will understand. 

Photos Adrian Brannan

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