Heated leather seats, panoramic sunroof, torquey diesel engine with great MPG, big boot, practical four doors and half tidy alloys. The Golf GT TDI Sportline estate had everything to make it a sensible MAXERS shoot car (and occasional family mobile!) but it came at a cost. It was boring. Boring to drive, boring to look at, boring to own. So it had to go.
With just over two grand in my back pocket I decided to do what every self-respecting Maxer would do… until I remembered lap dancing clubs are still shut. Curse you COVID! But plan B was also pretty solid – go into an internet wormhole searching for suitable replacements.
The requirements were as follows; it needed to be fun, it needed to be reliable and it needed to be £3.5k max. It probably needed a passenger seat with enough adjustability to get Dan’s unfeasibly long legs in too. Here are some of the cars that made the initial shortlist… and reasons why I probably don’t own one now:
· MINI Cooper S – Never been a fan of the retro interiors, but the fun factor definitely gets ticked. You can easily buy one of the turbocharged versions for the budget, but horror stories about timing chains are scarier than being interviewed by Dan on a Max Power DVD.
· Golf GTI – My heart said Mk2 Golf, my intrigue said Mk3 Golf, my more common sense said Mk4 and my bank balance said ‘don’t look at Mk5s!’. But a decent Mk2 is too much money anyway, most Mk3s appear to need a full restoration, Mk4 1.8Ts are cool but need a lot of modifying to feel special and the Mk5 Golf was out of budget for a decent one… and still had a vague whiff of sensible. Golfs were out.
· Toyota Celica T-Sport – I had the use of one years ago when they were brand new and always quite enjoyed that ‘lift’. I got as far as calling a guy about one… but it was in Bradford. Naturally I thought better of it.
· Honda Civic Type R FN2 – These look like a bit of a bargain at the moment. The unloved son of the EP3. It was tempting just to piss off Dan a bit, but ultimately that rear axle and fact I can’t love the shape without serious modifying saw it crossed off the list.
· Mazda MX-5 Mk3 – Fun. Yes. Practical. No. Shame, as I’ve always liked the shape and still regret selling my old Eunos. Also, the missus told me I wasn’t allowed.
· Citroen Saxo VTR/VTS – There really aren’t many for sale nowadays and those that are either look like they need a lot of work or have a ‘future classic’ price tag attached to it by some chancer… and while I can be a mug, I’m not that much of a mug.
Then I started looking at Fiesta ST150s. Back in the day I remember getting hold of the press car when they were new to the market and feeling a little underwhelmed. The seats sat too high, the performance wasn’t particularly mind-blowing and, while the handling was sweet enough, I just felt a little let down. Time has shown they modify well though, so like getting a blowie off a chick with a brace, I was willing to give it another chance.
But when you search for ‘Fiesta ST’ on eBay, Marketplace or Autotrader strange things start to happen… ST180s start popping up. Now, I know they have a bit of a reputation. Well, they have a dual reputation. On the one hand, everyone knows that they’re an excellent package – strong engine, excellent handling and all the practicality of a Fiesta. On the other hand, well, they go pop, pop, bang a lot. Like the Saxo before them, and the Nova before that, the Fiesta ST is probably the definitive boy racer car of the 2010s, and that means plenty of people hate them.
Not me though! I’ve always liked how they look and even took one for a test drive before buying the boring Golf. That one supposedly had the Mountune kit on it, but felt lethargic and couldn’t sway me to spend twice what the Golf cost me. It handled nicely though so didn’t put me off wanting one.
So, when I saw an advert for a white Fiesta ST-2 with 67,000 miles on the clock for £5k – and it was for sale in a nearby town I was driving to later that day – I figured it couldn’t hurt to have a look. When I phoned up though, the trader wasn’t at his unit, he was actually seeing a mate approximately four minutes walk away from my house. Oh oh, this is feeling like fate. The pictures from the advert are below.
About 10 minutes later I’m sat in the super supportive Recaro driver’s seat thinking “this feels much more lively than the last one I drove”. This was shortly followed by thinking “I’m obviously going to buy this… I just need to figure out where to find the extra money”.
Fortunately, I’d started saving some money for the next M3 mods and possibly getting some MAXERS merch sorted. So in a hive of seemingly rational brain activity I reasoned that the M3 already has seats, so the Nogaros could wait, rollcages need more research anyway and you guys don’t really want t-shirts and stickers (do you?!). Without having much control of my mouth I found myself uttering the immortal words “what’s the best you can do it for?”. We shook virtual hands on £4.5k.
Now, the eagle-eyed of you may have noticed the front bumper isn’t exactly mint. And this is where the story of the bargain Fiesta ST gets a little less rosy. The trader had bought it from auction as Cat S salvage with a damaged front bumper and an intercooler that had somehow been speared. The intercooler was replaced but he left the bumper as it didn’t cause any issues to driving. And he reasoned that seeing how minimal the damage was might help sell it. Well, that worked.
Obviously this may all come back to bite me in the ass but for now I’m blindly looking forward with my fingers firmly lodged in my ears. The good news is, I haven’t found any nasty surprises… yet.
Initial drives confirm the chassis is everything the press has said about it though, and the engine pulls strongly. In fact, it’s a pretty fast little car in standard form. The SYNC infotainment system even works, so I’ve somehow been dragged into the modern age.
Sure, the M3 project has stalled a little because of this… but it’s not like the competition with Dan’s still-in-pieces Civic is imminent. And at least I now have two cars I love driving (well, three if you count the Forester S/TB that’s sat on the drive MOT-less and looking sorry for itself), which is what it’s all about right.
The other plus side is that the little ST is such a nice package it doesn’t really need any modifying, which should help keep finances aimed at the M3. Maybe just a new front bumper. Possibly some wheels. Perhaps an exhaust… and may as well get an induction kit and a map at the same time… oh oh.
UPDATE: It's been about three weeks since I drafted the above (I know, I'm slacker than Dan's rim after a night with his boys!) so thought I'd add a few thoughts for anyone tempted to buy a Fiesta ST. Main thought is 'do it'.
Round town they don't feel that special, you sit too high in the snug Recaros and on the motorway they're a bit noisy, but get it on a backroad and none of that matters. The torque can be a handful when launching from standstill, but once you're moving it gives you everything a hot hatch should give; crisp turn-in, a lively rear and enough pace to keep your adrenaline pumping. By the time you're stepping on the brakes you know you've been on a properly fun drive. And that's what it's all about. I've let a few car-fiend family members take it for a blast and they're all in agreement. I swear my brother-in-law would swap it for his boring (his words!) Golf R if the Golf wasn't worth about four times as much. Even then, I reckon he's tempted.
Sure the Golf is faster, but it's definitely not more fun. This realisation has made me think about the ST's modifying future too. I get why some people chase big power out of them (around 350bhp is pretty readily available!) but I think you'd be in danger of detracting from the overall balance of the car. Some decent springs, a map to about 215bhp and some uprated brake pads feel like decent options, and I'd be interested to see what a proper mechanical LSD would add to the package. Perhaps if I didn't have the M3 I'd chase more power, but the Fiesta does exactly what I need it to do now so I'm in no rush to alter that.
Actually, I was enjoying the Fiesta that much I started wondering why I needed the M3 at all. Then I took the Beemer for a spin and realised what nonsense that was. Honestly, however much fun a hot hatch is you just can't beat a decent slug of power through the rear wheels. Yet the fact that the Fiesta even made me have that thought though tells you how highly I rate it.