Buyer’s Guide: #Ford-Fiesta-XR2-MkI
/ Words Richard Barnett
The XR2 was a revelation back in #1981
, and it’s still a frontdrive favourite today. Here’s how to pick a good’un...
Launched at the end of 1981, the #Ford
Fiesta XR2 MkI might have been Ford’s first foray into small, pokey hatchbacks, but what it lacked in stature it sure made up for in performance.
However, while the Fiesta had been a sales success, the yawning gap at the top of the range for a seriously rapid version needed plugging — the 1300S was more of a styling exercise than a highperformance model, because it was more visual than re-engineered for performance — but creating the XR2 was a simple task.
Once again Ford’s engineers looked at what could be taken off the shelf and stuffed into the Fiesta’s bodyshell, and the result was a simple yet highly effective car, whose only real rival was the first generation Renault 5 Gordini.
Using the tried and trusted 1.6-litre Crossflow and breathing through a twin-choke Weber and out through a 4-2-1 exhaust manifold, performance was pretty lively. An XR3 gearbox was used, and the result was an 84 bhp hatch that could be bought for £5500. As Autocar put it in 1981: “Get it whizzing along country lanes, or grabbing the few overtaking opportunities that may exist in urban traffic, and one begins to wonder what might beat this manoeuvrable and responsive little car from A to B.”
The XR2 was not merely about a bigger engine and gearbox able to handle that grunt, though. Ford boffins had worked the suspension, altering tie-bar brackets and changing damping rates, and sitting the XR2 1 inch closer to road than the standard models. They also fitted Sonic wheels, like those fitted on early 2.8i Capris.
Meanwhile the engine and gearbox were lowered 15 mm so that, to quote Autocar again, “We have come to expect something special in the way of handling from Ford’s SVE department.”
Inside, the XR2 used the Fiesta Ghia’s interior, but with Recaro seats from the XR3. Don’t expect the luxury of today’s small hatchbacks though: there are no electric windows or air-conditioning in Ford’s first 100 mph Fiesta. However, you’d be hard-pushed to find another car that’s as fun to drive. So forget the fact it’s frontwheel drive, because the original XR2 is a true classic Ford.
Age, and the fact this was a performance car, means you’ve got to check any XR2 thoroughly: because an XR2 is likely to have some form of rot, and there’s every chance of accident damage, too.
At the front check the spoiler area for stone chips and rust, as well as the bumpers. Front wings can rust around the headlamps, at the bottom behind the wheels and along the top — almost anywhere in fact! Bottoms of windscreen pillars can also bubble up, which is a serious sign of rot.
Lift the bonnet and check the condition of the slam panel, which might have been damaged after a front-ender. Look at the condition of the suspension towers, the inner wings and the way the bonnet is aligned.
Doors can rust on their bottom edges and while you’re at it, check to see if they drop when opened. Rust can also develop around the rear arches. Pay special attention to the area around the filler neck, which is a notoriously weak point. It’s highly likely this rear will have been repaired, but make sure, as far as you can, repairs have been done to a fair standard. Tailgates can rust around the glass, and they can also leak, which in turn fills the spare wheel well. If you can, see if there’s been any accident damage repairs.
Don’t expect to find an immaculate, little-worn cockpit, unless the car you’re looking at is a low-mileage example. Seats can collapse and wear through, as can the carpet, while the rear parcel shelf can collapse. Door cards can fall apart and dashboards can crack. Window winders and door handles can crack and fall apart.
When inspecting the interior beware of worn seats as they can collapse.
Unlike other Ford ‘boxes, this one wasn’t known for the slickest of shifts, and it’s likely to have some wear by now. Loose-changing means the linkage is on the way out, while a worn synchro will be shown up by crunching between gears, especially between second and third.
The XR2’s simplicity means there’s very little to go wrong. During the test drive watch out for vibration during braking; if that’s the case, the front discs have warped, but replacements are easily available. At the back the only source of trouble you may encounter would be weeping cylinders.
STEERING & SUSPENSION
Expect any car you try to handle well: if it doesn’t, there will be some glitches in the suspension. At the front, get under the arches and have a good look at the dampers — check for damage and signs of leaks.
Front springs can break after a time, so be aware of this too. On a test drive keep your ears open for any noises as ball joints can wear out.
The original wheels were 6x13-inch alloys with Pirelli P6 tyres.
You’ll have to expect some wear in an engine this age. Wear in the pistons, bores and rings is likely, and if that’s the case there will be plenty of exhaust smoke and the engine won’t tick over smoothly. However, if the breather is blocked you’ll get the same symptoms, so make sure that it isn’t the culprit...
Timing chains and valve gear can rattle badly, which isn’t too much of a worry, but what’s more serious is the ticking sound coming from the valve gear, which means cam followers might be cracked.
Luckily, because the XR2 came from a pre-electronic era, there aren’t many gizmos, either with the engine or for the car’s occupants. Do the usual lights/ wipers/horn test, but don’t forget the rear wiper and the heated rear window.
Dave is a 25-year-old test engineer for the aerospace industry. Fancying a slice of early ’80s blue oval, he bought his MkI XR2 three years ago, in a modified state and has spent the last 18 months bringing it back to fine, standard fettle.
He’s got three years No Claims Bonus and also has a clean licence. Valued at £3000, he keeps the Fiesta tucked up in his parents’ garage in Bedford, and has a second car for commuting to work.
Dave pays £226.48 to insure the Fiesta fully comprehensive on an Agree Value, limited mileage policy. Quote provided by Classic Ford Insurance (0800 0276146, www.classicford insurance.co.uk).
Engine 1598cc #Ford-Kent
, featuring castiron cylinder head and block, single twin-choke #Weber-DFT
carburettor. Compression ratio: 9.0:1.
Max power: 84 bhp at 5500 rpm.
Max torque: 91 lbf. ft at 2800 rpm.
Front: Independent, featuring coil springs, MacPherson struts and telescopic dampers.
Rear: Beam axle, coil springs and telescopic dampers.
Brakes 9.4-inch ventilated discs, 7x1.5-inch drums.
Wheels And Tyres 6.0Jx13-inch alloy wheels fitted with 185/60 HR13 tyres ( #Pirelli-P6
tyres originally fitted).
Should get you a complete non-MoT’d car in need of major restoration.
Should get you a running car, perhaps with a short MoT, but in need of bodywork for next test.
A decent XR2 (with tax and MoT), some rust but nothing major (probably need a resto in the next few years), and probably had previous welding work.
A very nice XR2, (original or restored) with some history. Maybe some subtle mods on it. Very nice condition interior (maybe some wear).
Past this mark you should be able to buy an XR2 that needs little or nothing doing — probably already restored.
Prices will vary depending on amount of history and if standard (standard cars seem to fetch more, but not always the case). Should have an excellent interior.
Should buy you a show car, restored to high standard, or a lowmileage original model (if you can find one). Full history, mint interior.
Many thanks to Mitesh Parmar of www.fiesta-mk1. co.uk for his help with the above values.