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Ford Fiesta XR2
A great deal has been written about the Ford Motor Company's methods of conceptualising and marketing cars, and if all the bits of paper on which those words had been written were laid end to end, they would undoubtedly stretch the length of the original Model T production line. Suffice to say, from CCC's point of view. Ford is one of the few mass producers of cars that acknowledges there is a desire from the public for more than lazy-handling, boringly equipped boxes suitable for sales reps and fleet buyers, and is quite prepared to engineer and develop specialist and high performance derivatives of its volume production models.
The Fiesta XR2 is the second vehicle to appear from the company's Special Vehicle Engineering Department, essentially a restructured version of the old AVO operation under the control of Rod Mansfield, whom some of you will no doubt remember as a conductor of rapid Escorts in Ford's original one-make championship.
It is perhaps not quite so well known that Rod is also a highly qualified engineer who derives a considerable amount of personal satisfaction from modifying and developing production cars into vehicles with a distinctly sporting nature. The first indicator of things to come from this team was the 2.8 Injection Capri, (CCC September '81).
The XR2 turns out be a similarly taut package, but at the other end of the scale from the Capri. It also bears an uncanny resemblance, both mechanically and bodily, to the X Pack version which we sampled in the autumn of 1980 (CCC September '80), right down to the American-specification circular headlamps and bolt-on Rallye Sport aerodynamic aids. That prototype exhibited a certain amount of competition car-type "nervousness", which has been converted into tightness and responsiveness in the production version.
The car is still powered by a variant of the well-known 1598cc crossflow Kent motor, but refinements include electronic breakerless ignition, a high lift cam, Weber twin-venturi carburettor and a cast exhaust manifold feeding into twin downpipes and thence into a large-bore exhaust system.
Transmission is a four-speed, all synchromesh unit derived from the latest Escort 1.6, and a 3.58:1 final drive has been chosen with a view to economical high speed cruising. The braking department has been improved with servo-assisted, ventilated front discs, there is a 14mm diameter rear anti-roll bar fitted and front suspension geometry has been revised to produce increased castor and reduce camber. Other modifications involve lowering the front spring seats, mounting the engine lower in the engine compartment and altering Fiesta S specification damper settings to improve the handling and roadholding.
Final external touches include the RS-type wheel arch extensions, circular slot 6 x 13in. alloy wheels similar to those fitted to the 2.8i Capri, and 185/60HR low profile radials. The interior decor is tastefully restrained but the best touches, especially for the high mileage driver, are the very supportive, fully reclining front seats with their head restraints and cloth upholstery.
Driving impressions were necessarily brief, being limited to some beautiful, twisty roads running through the snow-covered countryside around Bath. At first, the performance seemed a little disappointing, presumably the result of the relatively high final drive, but once you had got used to the idea of keeping the engine on the boil at over SOOOrpm, the XR2 became an ideal weapon for covering the winding roads. Memories of the X Pack car came flooding back as the powerful brakes and beautifully predictable handling made light work of the tightest corners. Even the occasional patches of slippery slush did little to upset the car from its path.
This Fiesta has got to be the closest thing to a refined, 1980's version of the Mini Cooper, but in true inflationary-times style, it doesn't come without a pricetag. Including car tax and VAT, prices range from £5500 for a solid-colour XR2 up to £5584 for one with a metallic paint finish.
Said Rod Mansfield of his involvement with the SVE Department, "Developing cars like the 2.8i Capri and XR2 is, in a way, a very personal thing. I know the way I like my cars to go and handle and that has to have an effect on the specification we come up with. It's just very gratifying to find that quite a lot of other people must think the same way." All we can say, Rod, is more power to your elbow. GJ