Fuel economy was a key element in the Fiesta's success, but not its only strength. Through remarkable technological innovation, the Fiesta proved that the measure of a car is not only in its dimensions.
Weighing just 700 kg, it was among the lightest in its class, yet its 1.2 cubic metre load room was the largest in its class. It had the best all-round visibility and the most aerodynamic design, giving it significant competitive advantage.

Many of its advances were groundbreaking. Crash behaviour was optimised thanks to Ford engineers' application of early computer simulation programmes. The front grille functioned as an aerofoil: at low speeds its slats allowed air to flow through, while at higher speeds efficiently guiding it over the engine hood. This Ford patented system accounted for its best-in-segment drag coefficient of 0.42 Cd, which in turn helped drive down fuel consumption to extraordinarily low levels. At a constant speed of 90 km/h the 1.0-litre 40 PS version used 5.6 litres/100 km, at 120 km/h 8.2 litres and in urban driving 7.9 litres.
The Fiesta's front wheels were driven by a pioneering axle construction - a patent that Ford engineer and later Ford Motor Company Vice President, Earle S. MacPherson registered in 1949. The rear axle carried a newly developed anti-dive system. Sportier drivers were offered the Fiesta "S", with stiffer suspension plus a front stabiliser bar to resist lateral force.

Features such as safety glass, automatic safety belts with height-adjustable retractors and a heated rear window, were already standard on the first generation Fiesta. The long list of options would have flattered even a premier class vehicle of the time and included items such as a range of transparent (and removable) glass sunroofs.

Ford sold 67,172 Fiestas during 1976 as production started to ramp up and Germany's Bild am Sonntag declared Fiesta winner of its Golden Steering Wheel trophy. Production in Fiesta's first full year - 1977 - topped 350,000 units and Fiesta was on a roll.

Part of the 1977 new-car registrations were Fiesta's foray into the North American market. Fiesta sold in the United States for four years until the arrival of the new Ford Escort at the beginning of the Eighties. Nearly 300,000 Fiestas were European Ford ambassadors for American customers during this period, demonstrating the functionality, practicality and driving fun of Ford's small car.
In 1978, Fiesta was awarded the British Design Council Award as well as a Car of the Year by the readers of German magazine mot. Continuing strong sales in 1978, 1979 and 1980 provided an early peak in the Fiesta sales chart. Fiesta had touched a nerve in Europe.

The production of the first million Fiestas was celebrated in January of 1979, a new record-setting pace for Ford. A second landmark in the early Fiesta history was reached 11 days later when a key event in the motorsport calendar, the Monte Carlo Rally, saw a Ford Fiesta on the start line for the first time with Finnish superstar-to-be, Ari Vatanen, at the wheel. The competition car was developed under enormous time pressure and the most difficult circumstances, as Britain was experiencing widespread industrial strikes. The 800kg "Fiestissima"with double Weber carburettors, electronic ignition and dry sump lubrication, had a 1.6-litre engine capable of 7,250 rpm despite its side-mounted camshaft, and delivering 155 PS. A close-ratio, four-speed gearbox was created for the job and a mechanical-hydraulic locking differentiation provided the traction that won this rallying mini a sensational 10th place first time out.

Fiesta sport fans were also able to enter the spirit of the Monte Carlo success with a specially developed and rally-derived tuning kit, available from their local Ford dealers. Base for the conversion was the 1.3-litre, 66 PS model, which could be upgraded to 75 PS for correspondingly lively drive performance, with Weber twin carburettors as well as modified exhaust manifold and mufflers. The engine was specially mounted 25mm lower, and modified pull rods and sport brake pads rounded out the dynamics enhancement.

In the form of the limited edition "Super S", the Fiesta also flexed its sporting muscle at the 1980 Geneva Motor Show. A lowered chassis, greater track width, lightweight alloy wheels and 185/60 low profile tyres guaranteed tremendous cornering adhesion. Front and rear spoilers provided aerodynamic fine tuning, while appropriate head-turning characteristics came from its widened fenders and striking feature stripes along the flanks and rear. The refined interior included sports seats with integrated headrests. This trendsetting hot hatch came with a choice of a 1.1-litre 55 PS engine or the "1300" with 66 PS, all within a budget-friendly price range.

The "Super S" (Supersport in the UK) was, in fact, the forerunner of the first Fiesta XR2 - a 1.6 litre, 84 PS version of the car introduced in 1981. With ride and handling neatly tweaked by Ford's Dunton-based Special Vehicle Engineering department, who had established a reputation for performance Ford cars like the Capri 2.8 Injection, the XR2 sewed the seeds of Ford's commitment to driving quality. Exterior cues signalled its enhanced performance - "pepper pot" alloy wheels, bumper mounted spot lamps, front and rear spoilers, and unique interior trim. The early XR2 is now a sought-after classic.
The XR2 also provided the basis for Ghia design studio's neat, fresh two-seater sports car concept, the Ghia Barchetta, which debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1983. The Ghia Barchetta concept would inspire the Australian-built Mercury Capri production car for the US market.

Early production peaked in 1980 with Fiesta's sale pace a torrid 435,155 units across Europe. Fiesta even outsold its new big brother, Ford Escort, which had been named European Car of the Year.
The year 1981 saw two milestones. Valencia celebrated its millionth Fiesta and by March, Ford was celebrating a total European production mark of two million units. It was a new production record to reach the two-million mark in less than five years of production. For the fourth year in a row, mot readers voted Fiesta their 'Auto der Vernunft' (Car of the Year). Lower fuel consumption led the list of selection criteria supported by economical running costs, favourable base price, high resale value and attractive styling.

As the first generation of Fiesta drew to a close, it completed its clean sweep of the sales charts. With freshened details inside and out for 1982, it was again the best selling car in its class in Britain and Germany, as it had been every full year since launch.