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Hooniverse Early Korean Car Weekend – The Ford Festiva and Ford Aspire

Jim Brennan October 16, 2011 Cars You Should Know, Weekend Edition 26 Comments

Continuing on with the Hooniverse Early Korean Car Weekend, let’s discover a very popular Ford model that wasn’t a Ford at all, the Ford Festiva, and the follow-up model, the Ford Aspire. Remember the Hyundai Excel post I did earlier today about the Voluntary Import Restrictions placed on Japanese car companies? Well, Mazda was under the same restrictions, and could not furnish Ford with a fuel efficient sub-compact, and the European Ford Fiesta was way too expensive for the States, so it turned to its new partner Kia to produce a Fiesta replacement. By the way, did you know that Kia changed their logo to appear similar to the Ford Blue Oval? Let’s discover the Festiva, and the follow-up Aspire, by Kia.

The Ford Festiva was marketed by the Ford Motor Company between 1986 and 2002, and was built by Mazda in Japan and Kia Motors in South Korea. The primary markets for this car was the Americas, Japan, the Australasia region, and in certain European markets. Designed by Mazda using the DA platform and B series inline-four engines, the Festiva continued the trend of Fords built and designed by Mazda for the Asia-Pacific market, that would eventually be sold in North America. In mid-1986 Kia Motors began production of the Festiva under license as the Kia Pride. Starting from mid-1987 for the 1988 model year, Kia began exports to Canada under the Ford Festiva name, with United States sales commencing by the end of 1987.

Ford offered a single 1.3-liter B3 four-cylinder engine and three trim levels. The two base models featured a four-speed manual overdrive transmission, with the LX upgraded to a five-speed unit. A tachometer and tilt steering wheel also featured on the LX trim, as did alloy wheels, remote mirrors, cloth interior seating, and an AM/FM cassette radio. Ford released a minor facelift in North America for the 1990 model year. Over the life of the Festiva in the United States, Kia exported roughly 350,000 units.

The second model Ford Festiva was jointly developed between Kia and Ford, retaining most of the drivetrain of the previous model with a more rounded body style. This new Festiva was slightly longer, wider, more aerodynamic, and suspended by MacPherson struts in the front and a torsion bar axle in the rear. While it was sold in certain markets as a second generation Festiva, Ford renamed it the “Aspire” in North American markets, where the five-door model was offered for the first time. The Aspire was dropped from the US Market for 1997 just after a facelift. In other markets, the Festiva continued until it was replaced by the European designed Ford Ka. The Festiva itself was replaced by the Kia Rio, developed without any input from Ford or Mazda. The relationship between Ford and Kia was terminated due to the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis when Kia declared bankruptsy, and 51% of the company was acquired by rival Hyundai Motor Company who outbid Ford.

The Ford Festiva was actually a tough and economical little car, and there are plenty of them available for sale throughout Craigslist. Here is a 1989 Festiva L 3-Door Hatchback with a 4-Speed Manual, faded paint, and 124,000 miles on the odometer. There isn’t much else to go by, and the asking price is $1,895, which seems like a lot for the car in its current condition. See the Craigslist listing here.

The Ford Aspire doesn’t seem to garner the interest the Festiva does, even though they are the same under the skin. Here is a 1995 Ford Aspire 5-Door Hatchback, with roughly the same amount of miles as the Festiva above. This one does have a 5-speed stick, and the asking price for this very blue oval is $1,995, which again seems like a ton of money for this particular car. See the listing here.

If you own a Festiva or Aspire, you could have joined these people in a celebration of the Korean Ford. See the listing here. So do you have what it takes to go out and seek out what is the oldest Kia products in North America?

  • TurboBrick

    1986 New Subcompact Car Buyer dilemma – Ford Aspire, Yugo GV or Chevy Chevette?

    • tonyola

      Short answer: Honda Civic.

      If I'm limited to the above three choices, presumably by a tiny budget, then the Chevette is the best choice. Yeah, it was old and crude, but it was also sturdy, simple, decently reliable, and could be fixed cheaply anywhere. The Festiva wasn't actually available until the 1988 model year.

      • I know they're all considered subcompacts, but the Chevette and third-generation Civic strike me as too large to be lumped together with the Festiva and Yugo. I've got to wonder how many potential new-car buyers would have seen them as comparable.

        Edit: The Justy and Charade just mentioned by yellofury, below, seem more likely competitors.

        • TurboBrick

          Well, let's replace Chevette then with Chevy Sprint, since Festiva wasn't available until '88. When did Excel hit the market, that might be in the mix too? And yes, we're going for the cheapest-of-the-cheap here. I assumed Civics were more expensive than the competition.

      • 4DoorNoMore

        '88 also brought the Pontiac (Daewoo) Lemans…another Korean abomination wearing American badges.

    • Subaru Justy or Daihatsu Charade?

  • tiberiusẅisë

    IIRC, Car and Driver said that one of the best features of the Festiva was that you could reach the fuel door without getting out of the car.

  • tonyola

    I drove a Ford Festiva a fair amount in the late 1980s. It might have been tough and economical with a decent amount of room for its size, but "pleasant" and "fun" weren't part of the driving vocabulary. The size didn't bother me at all – after all, my daily driver was a CRX – but the tepidness and crudeness were wearing, particularly on long trips. This is one car I don't miss in the least.

  • hwyengr

    The sixth pic down, the red Fiesta L, was the exact version my sister had when she was in high school. Just seeing that picture brings back the memory of the smell of the awful deodorizer she used to hide that she was smoking.

    That little car was a champ, but sub-zero temps and the sludge from a teenage owner who refused to change oil ended up sending it to the yard.

  • CJinSD

    I bought one of the first Festivas to arrive in the US, during the summer of 1987. It was a 1988 model, and I don't believe that any were imported with earlier model years. The real competitors of the time were the Hyundai Excel and the VW Fox. Of the three, the Ford Festiva has clearly proven to be the most dependable and durable. They are a regular sight here in San Diego, which is remarkable for any car that has to pass SMOG and is worth less than $5,000. Mine only saw 44K miles though, as I flipped it by Monticello.

  • Devin

    My brother used to have a Fiesta, in blue with a kicky pink stripe that only the early '90s could produce. They used to have all sorts of stripes available in the brochure for some reason, and his was pink. I'm betting his wife picked it. I don't remember much about it other than that.

    Aspires I keep seeing around, but only pink ones with badly faded paint.

  • Jim-Bob

    The only issue I have with the Festiva is that it isn't a Geo Metro. While this may sound like an absurd statement, the reason I say it is simple: Fuel economy. For someone shopping at the bottom end of the market, fuel economy is very important and the Metro delivers where the Festiva does not. In a Festiva you would be lucky to get 45 mpg on the highway and 35 city while the Metro would easily hit 45 city and 55 highway. Yes, I am a bit biased as I am a Metro owner/fanboy (and do see those numbers) but the EPA figures tell much the same tale.

    However, for an engine swap it is tough to beat the Festiva. The turbocharged Mazda B6 engine from the Australian-built Capri XR2 and the 323 GTX bolts right in to a Festiva, making what some call a Fastiva. It would be quite a fun little sleeper too as no one would expect it.

    • CJinSD

      I was in highschool when I had my Festiva, and gas really wasn't an issue when these cars were new. IIRC, the tank held about 10.5 gallons, and most fillups were about 9 gallons at $10 a tank. I drove mine flat out at all times, so I only got 27-34 mpg, but it wasn't even a dent in my $6 an hour landscaping pay. Filling up my Civic the other day was $44, which means that I still need to work about an hour and a half to buy a tank of gas for an economy car 18 years after I graduated from college. What the heck?

    • Devin

      Engine swap you say?

      <img src="http://www.jaylenosgarage.com/app2/img/500x495xS/scet/photos/78/3636/shogun__031.jpg"&gt;

      I give you the Ford SHOgun, SHO engine in the back.

    • discontinuuity

      1500 lb, 180 hp!
      [youtube hBv0WjxgdA4 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBv0WjxgdA4 youtube]

  • FuzzyPlushroom

    Festivas still pop up, albeit rarely, around here (in New Hampshire), but for whatever reason Aspires seem less common. I always thought their build quality was subpar even compared to the Festiva's, but that was only a childhood impression.

  • njhoon

    The only thing I can add is that the Festiva was almost bullet proof. A guy on my crowd had one in the early 90's, he never did much maintenance and it ran well. It was also stolen 5 times, he got it back 4 times with just less gas in it. You could start it with a butter knife or screw driver. Looking back, I really liked that car.

  • dukeisduke

    My first wife had an '88 Festiva L when I met her. A 4-speed with stereo and a/c, it was a decent car. It had enough torque to spin the tires on launch, yet it consistently got 30mpg. It also had a nice, roomy, interior, but I would rather have had a GL with a 5-speed and alloys. Its low points were the dealer installed a/c made by FrigiKing (I had to replace the Sanden compressor twice), and being an '88 model, it had a carburetor, that, when it wore out, was a nightmare to rebuild (the dealer only offered a new one, at $700). Yikes.

    The rest of the car was okay; the timing belt was simple to replace, and the brakes were the same as used on the Mercury Tracer and Mazda 323/Protege (the Festiva was sold in some places as the Mazda 121).

    I got to drive an Aspire as a rental one time. It was a little more refined than the Festiva, but the fastback roof ruined one of the Festiva's best attributes, the tall roof and roomy back seat.

    • CJinSD

      Fastbacks are idiotic for anything with a real back seat. Too bad even 4 door sedans have them now.

  • P161911

    I never realized that these were the same car underneath. The Aspire was a car name that wrote its own jokes. "It Aspires to be a real car." Still see a few Festivas on the road. Don't remember the last time I saw an Aspire. If I could find a cheap enough Festiva in halfway decent shape I might consider it as a cheap on gas beater to drive to work. A <$1000 car getting ~40mpg wouldn't take long to pay for itself compared to a ~16mpg Silverado.

  • rocketrodeo

    The second generation design ruined the utility of this car. I was well into my Honda phase when this came out–had just bought a brand new first-gen Acura Integra–but I thought that this was a fairly decent car for what it was. A couple of acquaintances bought them and got good service out of them. But it was cars like this that made Honda the standout that it was throughout the 1980s. The difference between the top and bottom of the econocar market was just astounding then. There is nothing like that now, at all.

  • The_Yellow_Box

    My first job was at Domino's Pizza ten years ago and there was a Guatemalan delivery guy who has a blue Festiva. It had 300,000 miles on it and this guy drove it like he was doing power laps around the Laguna Seca corkscrew. I only remember two emotions; Scared for my life because it felt about as safe as a soda can and gleeful joy because feeling that thing take those turns was embarrassingly fun.

    As it turns out a year later another delivery guy got hired that had a turquoise Aspire that he so cleverly customized with a yellow and blue interior and emergency vehicle sirens. Being in that thing was just embarrassing.

  • Ol' Shel'

    Between the Aspire and Festiva, I'll take a Fiesta. THOSE were cool.

    That said, the Festiva has pretty decent styling and isn't trying to trick anybody. Whenever I see them, it gets me thinking about a mid-engine rally project.

  • I'm late to the comment stream, but…
    I had a top-of-the-line, last year (1993, IIRC) Festiva GL. Absolutely loved that car. Stupid teenage driver turned left into me and totalled it after only a couple years. I then bought what I thought would be a similar-feeling '94 Ford Escort wagon. I quickly named it the "penalty box." The Festiva was much more fun to drive.

  • neanderpaul

    I was at festiva madness in Raleigh NC pictured above for the past 3 years. We call it the madness because we just can't stop buying them. I've owned 25 since 1991. I have put many many people in their festivas. They love me for it! I have 3 keepers right now and one that will soon will be ready to sell. it has 68K! This article is well written. Most written about our beloved festiva are not. I usually have to correct a bunch of info. Often they think it's a true Ford or a true KIA. Instead as this article explains it is a Mazda design with Mazda components. I do have to respond to the comments however.
    njhoon got it right! Bullet proof! CJinSD, got it right too. Clearly the most durable. Devin made the common mistake… He called it a fiesta. ugh. :(. Jim-Bob however gets both barrels. Seriously the only problem with a festiva is that it's not a metro?! Straight to the point here. Why do you want to get the best gas mileage? To save money of course. The festiva destroys the metro in this category because of insane durability. The_Yellow_Box 29p above stated the pizza festiva had 300,000 miles on it. Guess what, that's the NORM!! I know of 11 with 500,000 miles. How many years of not buying replacement engines and labor for the metro is that? And the festivas routinely break 50 mpg so the gas mileage competition is much closer than you'd think. I know a festiva and metro specialist. He buys, restores, and sells them both. He would know right? He says the metro is for buying, fixing, and selling and that the festiva is for buying and driving. He delivers his metros with festivas towing them! Getting 40 mpg! Festiva whips all other competition in it's class EVEN the civic and CRX. Especially at the TRACK! Yes I said it. Here is a 1.6 turbo festiva whipping up on a new GTO. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pzd5MXt0ZVA

    We have a name for the aspire. It's called a brake swap. I've bought a couple just to scavenge the brakes and suspension. The aspire has the same engine but it has 400- 500 lbs more weight to lug. And when you bolt the brakes and suspension right up to a festy it turns the festy into a gocart! Good times!

    rocketrodeo mentioned the Honda. The festiva beats the Hondas at their own game in a few ways. Honda reliability, better gas mileage, more interior room, easier to work on, and … wait for it…. non-interference engine FOR THE WIN. I know many festivas with 250-350k on their original timing belts! Try that on your Hondas and watch them self detonate. When a festiva timing belt breaks you put on a new belt, reset the timing, and GO! Another 200 – 300k! I raced a stock 90 civic hatch 4 speed against my stock 89 festiva 4 speed and smoked him my a couple of car lengths. The SI beats the festiva of course. But it doesn't beat a festiva that has a 1.6 16 valve like the SI has.

    The fun factor is off the charts. They are a total blast stock. When you throw, simple, cheap, easy swaps to the engine, brakes, and suspension then it's on. You can kill a LOT of cars. Power to weight ftw. There are countless videos all over the web of festivas dominating on road courses, autocrosses, and at the 1/4 mile. One guy named quaddawg has a simple 1.6 single overhead cam swap from a 323 with a weber carb (about 100hp), major weight reduction, advanced suspension and huge hoosier slicks. He got the fastest time of the day at 3 autocrosses in a row. The last one was at a Porsche club! That has to sting. A $500 car with $2000 in mods mopping the floor with $250/k Porsches at their own event!! LOL!!! Here is his car. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o5KAiN1JHWM&fe

    There is a festiva ftw face book page. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Festiva-FTW/131773… There is of course fordfestiva.com.

    This guy now has about 600k on his festiva. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oz_Yto_-PMs
    Another friend delivering pizza has about 750k on his festiva!

    Festiva for the win again!

  • Karl Spaulding

    I'm a member of Fordfestiva.com. I have three and two-thirds Festivas right now. The Aspires were much the same, but with better brakes and about 3 to 400 more pounds, powered by the same 63 hp engine. Their suspension bolts right onto a Festiva for an awesome upgrade.

    I drive Festivas because unlike anything else nowadays, they are simple, relatively easy and cheap to fix, fun to drive, and get good gas mileage. My five speed gets 35 mpg or better in every day driving and 41 mpg at 70 mph highway. I put in an 82 hp Mazda 323 engine. My next swap will probably be a Protege DX 1.8 SOHC with 103 hp. Compare that with the stock 1.3's 63 hp.

    The Festiva is the perfect car for those who, like me, despise today's complicated, fancy, heavy, insanely overpriced cars that make no sense in today's financial environment. I have about $1300 in my daily driver, which I mostly rebuilt. I built it the way I wanted it instead of some stupid car company selling me their "power glove compartment with the gold plated preferred platinum package" luxury behometh. "Little cars" nowadays weigh 2400 pounds and up, and their prices start around $11K! INSANE!! Festivas are under 1800 pounds. By fixing Festivas up, I'm also learning how to work on them, becoming more self-sufficient all the time.

    Festivas are cars you can actually feel the road in, instead of status symbols replicating a living room suite full of play junk.

    Plus I don't worry too much about dents. They are standard equipment in twenty year old cars! 🙂

    "Safety Guy" Karl