Is the Ford Festiva really just a front-wheel-drive Miata?

By Guest Writer
Feb 10, 2024 | Ford, 24 Hours of Lemons, Low-Buck Tech, Festiva, Low-Buck Racing | Posted in News and Notes | From the May 2023 issue | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: Nick Pon

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Story by Nick Pon

Lemons racing is a great provider of excuses. Want to race a car that few others do? Want to try an engine swap that should work on paper? Want to see if your unconventional idea can beat superior machines in an endurance race? 

Lemons is your playground. And if you want an excuse to do all of the above, the Ford Festiva is a great starting point. 

The Festiva was originally designed by Mazda by request from Ford, and production models hit the streets in overseas markets in 1986. A short time later, Kia (another Ford partner at the time) started producing license-built copies in South Korea. 

The Kia-built version was then imported into the U.S. for the 1988 model year. That Maury-grade genealogy had one interesting (to gearheads, anyway) side effect: The engine in the Kia-built USDM Festiva was a 1.3-liter version of the venerable Mazda B-series engine, common in earlier Miatas and a handful of other much-sportier-than-the-Ford-Festiva models.

Texas-based Braking Bad Racing took the next logical step and fitted a factory-turbocharged B6T version of the Mazda B-series from a Mercury Capri XR2 into their Lemons Festiva. Complete with an external intercooler (underhood space in a Festiva is predictably limited) and a few low-buck tweaks to increase boost, the engine makes close to 200 horsepower, the team figures–more than enough for the sub-1-ton Festiva. 

All that is great for winning arguments on the internet, but in Lemons you actually have to race your car for true bragging rights. Braking Bad was more than up for that challenge, entering no fewer than eight team cars in a Lemons event at MSR Houston. Their entries featured some pretty impressive-sounding hardware, including two V8-swapped BMWs, two Miatas, two Mustangs and a Celica-powered Toyota Tercel.

After two days of racing, the Festiva crossed the line before all of them, finishing 13th overall in a field of 110. If the team was looking for an excuse to say, “We beat most of you people in a Ford Festiva,” they were clearly successful.

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Noddaz GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
4/7/23 10:28 a.m.

FWD Miata?  Not sure about that.  But I do believe that for awhile it was the unofficial state car of West Virginia.  Those little buggers were EVERYWHERE.

amg_rx7 (Forum Supporter)
amg_rx7 (Forum Supporter) SuperDork
4/7/23 10:49 a.m.

FWD Miata is the 323 / Protege :)

it even has the same engine 

calteg SuperDork
4/7/23 10:59 a.m.

really missed an opportunity to call it the fastiva

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
4/7/23 11:06 a.m.

In reply to amg_rx7 (Forum Supporter) :

So does the Kia Sephia GS :) And the Ford Escort GT. And the Festiva has a relative, as noted in the article. If you define a car by its powerplant alone, the Pontiac Vibe is a Lotus Exige.

But it's a good title for clicks. Even if the car actually got a non-Miata motor from the car that is really best described as a front wheel drive Miata :)

I'll bet it was fun to drive, though. We had one of these behind our shop for a few years, an employee bought one to jump in the desert and then abandoned it. Would have been a good racecar donor, it got turned into washing machines or something.

Toyman! GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
4/7/23 11:44 a.m.

I grew up friends with a set of twins. No, boys. I'm not that lucky. 

In 1987-88 they both got Festivas for their 16th birthday. One in blue, one in red. We raced those little cars all over town for years (It was a small town back then). Cat and mouse, cops and robbers, call it what you want, we had a blast with those little cars.

I've never driven a Miata so I can compare, but I could see them as being similar. 


Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
4/7/23 11:48 a.m.

In reply to Toyman! :

That's classic slow car fast :) I worked at a Ford dealership in the 90s as a used car jockey, and my favorite car on the lot was a teal automatic Aspire because you had to drive the wheels off it to keep up with traffic, and nobody every noticed. If we'd had two, there definitely would have been a race series.

As someone who isn't skilled enough to handle that short of a wheelbase, I opt for the afore mentioned BG chassis cars (323, escort, MX-3, protege or sephia) 

Toyman! GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
4/7/23 1:31 p.m.

In reply to Keith Tanner :

Probably less of a slow car fast and more of two equally matched cars. Of the 3 of us, I was the better driver.  devil

It didn't matter which car I was driving I could usually take them. 

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
4/7/23 1:36 p.m.
Captdownshift (Forum Supporter) said:

As someone who isn't skilled enough to handle that short of a wheelbase, I opt for the afore mentioned BG chassis cars (323, escort, MX-3, protege or sephia) 

The steering is so remarkably heavy, with a strong return to center, that I would impressed if you could run into short-wheelbase problems.

In reply to Pete. (l33t FS) :

They're a Prius EPS box addition away from becoming an issue. 

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