Words: Aron Norris | Photography: Mike Clarke & Sam Rutter | Owner: Mike Johnson
The VW scene is dead, long live the Ford scene?
Whenever I run a feature, I’m always excited to meet the owner and hear the story behind their car. If I’m ever having one of those off-days and feeling like the ‘scene’ is losing its way a bit, spending time with and talking to fellow car enthusiasts about their pride and joy reaffirms all faith.
No longer do we rely on monthly printed media to dictate next trends; Instagram brings us inspiration minute by minute, in real time, as it happens. And refreshingly, the rise in popularity of 'non-VAG' cars just keeps on growing. In my totally unbiased opinion (I own a Mk2 Golf myself), the non-VAG section on Edition 38 always was better than the designated, pigeon-holed VW-only topics.
I say "was" because I haven't been on Edition 38 in years; I was banned for posting "cool story bro" in the Mk2 section in response to the 1563th "look at my Votex centre console" topic. I digress; my point here is that if you're anything like me, you're growing a little bored of seeing the same old modifying cues – praise the rise of non-VAG is all I’ll say. Shows like Players (and of course our own events) provide the ideal one-stop-shop to see all makes, models and styles at one location. Variety is the spice of life after all, which brings me nicely onto Mike Johnson’s 1983 Ford Fiesta. This is a beige car.
Finkle is Einhorn, Einhorn is Finkle.
Think back to your first car, what was it and, more importantly, how might it look if you still owned it? I guess 90% of drivers found themselves in a cheap run-around, just to get moving. Mike, on the other hand, doesn't need to exercise many brain cells to imagine, because we're stood outside his house drinking tea as his 'first time' still sits angelically on his drive. And they say romance is dead...
The formula here is simple, take one bone stock poverty spec ‘83 Fiesta and throw away the rulebook. We all know about Ford’s motorsport success with the likes of those rear wheel drive Escorts of the 70’s and 80’s, as well as the rally stage 4WD "whale-tailed" Sierra and Escort Cosworth’s of the 90’s. We're well aware of the more performance-focussed Ford’s donning the letters “RS”, but does that mean the ‘lesser’ models get forgotten? Possibly, but not by RollHard. Mike’s Fiesta doesn't wear an RS badge and that's exactly what I love about it. After all, who doesn’t love an underdog?
I admire Mike’s attitude towards this car. His Fiesta has been built to be enjoyed and to be driven hard. In Mike’s 11 years of ownership, there have been countless changes. In fact, looking around the car, I struggle to spot any completely original parts. What started out as a 950cc Fiesta Popular L has morphed into something altogether more ‘beast-mode’.
For me, this car ticks every box. We’re all pretty used to seeing cars ‘aesthetically’ inspired by motorsport on the show field, but rarely are they set-up to actually perform on track. What I’m getting at here is; an all-rounder is quite rare.
Under the louvered quick-release bonnet lays the beat of a modern heart. With the interchangeable functionality of Ford engines and gearboxes, the Ford gang have a wide choice when it comes to engine swaps. When deciding what would replace the monster 950cc lump, Mike was drawn by a modern Zetec. Compared to the 'period correct' but often leggy (and laggy) CVH turbo setup it gives more scope for reliable power and looks right at home nestled between the front wheels.
This car might have been built for 'go', but Mike certainly hasn't held back on the 'show' either. The Fiesta's bay has been smoothed and tucked to within an inch of its life and the results are impressive, given how much 'stuff' has been shoe-horned into the bay. Mike opted for an Area 6 race-spec engine to replace the weedy original. This is a heavily breathed-on re-bored 2.1 Zetec with forged internals and big valve ported head and boy does it take centre stage in the smooth bay. Not content with ‘fast-road’ NA, Mike wanted even more ponies and an M90 supercharger was added to the mix… as you do.
You could be forgiven for thinking that this car has been built using an A to Z of off-the-shelf performance parts, pieced together like an expensive puzzle, but you'd be wrong. The workmanship and ingenuity behind the build is testament to what a home-brew build can achieve, such is the standard of finish. Mike has fabricated countless custom parts, from the eccentric strut tops to the header tanks, as well as the four-branch exhaust manifold, the modified radiator and the chargecooler. When mounting Eaton M90 supercharger, Mike found himself hand-making the supercharger’s inlet, outlet and brackets to get things plumbed in ‘just so’.
We can all talk pub ammo, claimed figures and willy-waving BHP, but Mike hates that and I agree with him. Mike concerns himself with how this thing drives. Me being me, I did push for an estimate and with around 260bhp on tap in a very light shell, there's more than enough ‘umph’ to upset unsuspecting victims on the track. In contrast to more 'traditional' turbo tuning, this setup is all about low down torque. This little car is a livewire right across the rev range, making 12psi at 1000rpm.
Well, that’s the heart of the build well and truly tackled, so what about the inside? Well, Mike stripped the car of all its creature comforts (not that it had many to start with, let’s face it), which keeps things basic, raw and, more importantly, lighter. Harnesses keep you pinned into your Kirkey stock-car seat, which are surprisingly comfortable considering there’s very little foam between your butt cheeks and the road.
Details. Lots of them.
Despite work undertaken to shed the little motor of as much weight as possible, this car is littered with nice little touches. Details that demand you take a long minute to appreciate. As you approach it, your eyes are greeted by wide Ford arches, a Kamei front splitter and a rather beastly home-grown beastly rear spoiler. The FPE fans, which adorn the three-piece wheels, help this mk1 Fiesta cut a stocky little shape.
The coral beige paintwork and side graphics ooze early 80’s charm. This car may be small, but it really does make a big impact. Mike clearly has an eye for the little touches.
And, not only do the stock-car inspired high-level brake lights and custom cage allude to the performance aspirations of this little thing, it sounds good, too. This car makes the right noises and spits all the right flames.
Where will it end?
Like any true car builder, is a project ever really finished? As I type this, Mike has a few more crack-pot ideas on the go and by the next time we see this car, it really wouldn’t be surprise me to see a few more changes. Mike is just that type of guy, always fettling. Make no bones about it, Mike Johnson is a car guy - his Fiesta is a product of blood sweat and tears, built by him and his mates over the course of more than a decade. Mike’s love affair with this car shows no signs of letting up, although I would love to see him tackle a VW... :)
This car somehow manages to be both achingly retro at the same time as being really rather fresh in today’s car ‘scene’. This 1983 Fiesta, for which I’ve grown very fond, breaks down the walls between different car enthusiast 'scenes' and just shows that with a sprinkle of imagination it is still possible to build something truly unique.
Come and check out Mike's Fiesta at our Cressing Temple Barns event. By then he might just have strapped in the jet engine...