Curbside Classic: Ford Festiva – A Festival of Longevity, And How To Live In Your Festiva

How can it be? We’ve never given the Ford Festiva the full CC love it so rightly deserves. I can’t think of another car that’s worked harder for the accolades about to be bestowed here.  It’s determined to keep showing up in front of my camera until it gets its propers, although I’d hate to stop seeing them everywhere.

I’ve been shooting Festivas since the get-go, and some of these have been here before in Outtakes. But I just shot a few more this fall, so it’s time to gather them up in a Festiva festival. And I’ve invited an outsider to join, the world’s most famous Festiva. It’s got 515k miles on it, and it’s been used for years by a couple that live in it. Seriously. The Festiva is also the world’s smallest motorhome.

First, a wee bit of history, which is a bit unusual. Ford essentially requested that Mazda come up with a sub-compact hatchback. Or so the story goes, which seems slightly odd, although Ford’s the relationship with Mazda was a bit complicated at the time. But then Ford’s global reach was wide, and it would appear that Ford NA was clearly becoming intrigued with the idea of importing from Korea to lower its cost in a segment of the market that was notorious for generating razor thin profits, if any.

So instead of importing the European Fiesta, as it had done in the late ’70s, Ford created a partnership with Kia Motors, which already had a license to build Mazda cars and trucks. It all made a lot of sense. And the little hatchback Mazda cooked up was a winner, as well as zinger.

Even then it was quite small, but from today’s vantage point, it’s minute. A wheelbase of 90.4″, and overall length of 136.8″. That’s a full 19″ shorter than the Golf Mk1/Rabbit. Yet it was remarkably space efficient, thanks to a very upright and boxy body that didn’t waste a cubic inch anywhere.

That applies most of all to this Festiva, the PeaceLoveCar that was turned into a rolling home back in 2009, when it was gifted to the owner, Sam, who originally lived out of it by himself. Amazingly, he found a companion (Raquel) who was willing to join him on the journey, as well as share the little narrow bed that is mounted where the front seat used to be. Well, they are yoga teachers, and it would take a bit of advanced yoga to pull that off for years. The Festiva now has over 515,000 miles on it, and the owners have turned it into a successful blog.

Here’s the living space. Very carefully organized.

They’ve driven it all over the North American continent. A testament to its intrinsic durability. But they recently did replace it with a Japanese market used 4×4 van, so the PeaceLoveCar’s days are apparently over. It’s had a good run.

For those not looking to live in their Festiva, the accommodations are quite decent, although pretty basic in the low end L trim. The LX was decidedly posher, in relative terms.

Given the Festiva’s length, the rear seat is nothing short of amazing. Has there ever been a more space-efficient car? Perhaps. But this is a contender.

Given the Festiva’s near-legendary durability, one might assume its engine or other elements had been used before and were well-proven. Not so; this is a clean-sheet design, Mazda’s first go at a really compact FWD hatchback.

Now we come to the good part: The Festiva was quick, and a ball to drive. Although the 1324cc SOHC four was rated at a mere 58 hp in US trim, it managed to scoot the 1720 lb hotbox from 0-60 in a mere 10.2 seconds. And through the quarter in 17.8 seconds. Faster than just about anyhting in its price class. And of course get mileage in the high-30s.

And its handling brought just as many smiles per mile as did its performance, with the major limitation being the tiny 145SR-12 tires. But that could be readily fixed, with some bigger wheels and rubber.

Festivas have been working hard here to earn the status of ultimate shitbox (“beater”, in other words). They’re cheap, and apparently just keep on going.

And they earn their keep in all sorts of roles, including hauling unspecified long objects. Plumbing pipes? Hang gliders?

And here’s the other extreme: the world’s shortest roof rack. For purses, I presume.

Yes, they’re one of the consummate Eugene-mobiles, along with Corollas, old Subarus and of course the VW bus, especially so in Westfalia regalia.

It’s not hard to shoot them in multiples; there’s a blue one back there in the driveway. The only thing missing here is a good shot of one next to a typical SUV of the current times. the Festiva is the ultimate opposite.

The Festiva turned out to have a long lifespan in more ways than one, as it’s still being built as a five door sedan in Iran as the SAIPA Pride. And it was built in its original form until 2003, as the Kia Pride Y hatchback in China. Even in Korea, the Pride was built until 2000. A rebadged Mazda 121 version was designated for various other markets, including Australia and Europe. Yes, the Festiva has become a living testament to its good genes.

I suppose I could easily have waited another decade to give the Festiva its day in the CC sun, but why? We can do it again in 2031. I’ll wager now that there will still be one on the streets here.


Here’s a Car and Driver Vintage Review of the Festiva