Farewell to the Baby Ford That Was an Instant Classic
Will the second-generation Ka be as loved?
By Andy Bannister
When automotive historians start to think about the most significant cars of the 1990’s let’s hope they don’t forget a humble little European Ford that is about to take its final bow.
The oddly-named Ka burst onto the scene looking like an alien from another world alongside the dull-as-ditchwater Fiestas and Escorts in the company’s showrooms at the time. Unusually, it didn’t replace anything in the Ford line-up, so it was open season for attracting new customers.
With its extreme curves inside and out, the Ka polarised opinion and some ridiculed it at the time. Clever Ford played it safe technically as the baby car’s high-tech looks disguised a cut-down Fiesta platform and venerable 1.3-litre mechanicals dating back many years, meaning it was pretty much certain to be reliable.
Sure enough, many early versions are still going strong and the looks haven’t dated nearly as badly as you’d expect in a car which has been on the market for 11 years without a single facelift.
In fact, if it wasn’t such a familiar fixture on nearly every European high street it would probably still turn heads even today.
Ford probably didn’t make much money on the Ka but got it spot-on in terms of capturing the first-time buyer market and keeping the blue oval presence strong in the cut-throat world of small car marketing. They even won over quite a few premium customers with clever variants like the leather-trimmed LuxuryKa
By contrast, GM failed miserably with its response, the Vauxhall/Opel Agila, a rebadged Suzuki Wagon R which was much roomier but had all the charm of a wardrobe-on-wheels. It failed to make much impact.
If Ford did make a mistake it was to leave it mysteriously late to introduce Ka derivatives, which eventually turned up in the shape of the 1.6 litre SportKa – a great little fun car, sadly much underrated – and the tiny little StreetKa convertible, which didn’t really quite hit the spot but will probably be a future collector’s item.
The Ka, together with the even older and equally long-lived Renault Twingo – itself just replaced – almost single-handedly reinvented the European city car market and paved the way for the host of new entries vying for buyers today, including the Toyota Aygo/Peugeot 107/Citroen C1 triplets, the Brazilian-built VW Fox.
The Ka’s replacement is due to carry on the name and will be a twin of the newly-launched Fiat 500, built alongside it at Fiat’s Polish factory. Whilst the Fiat is already being hailed as the must-have small car of 2008, it remains to be seen if Ford can pull off such a dramatic success story a second time around.
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