The cars we loved.
Small cars are just starting to catch on in a way that goes beyond basic transportation in America. Europe, long a mecca for subcompacts has seen more than its share of interesting small cars. So important is the category in Europe, that the big players like Ford will have multiple brands from one platform. Ford’s B Platform was the home to the Fiesta, Ka, Puma and Courier. To make an even cheaper alternative to its popular Fiesta in Europe, Ford developed the Ka.
Besides some confusion in how to pronounce its name, its styling was controversial. Jack Telnack, the man who introduced Americans to the aero age at Ford in the 80’s (Mustang, Taurus and Tempo), headed the styling team that refined the Ka’s distinctive look. Refined is an appropriate term because the Ka was born of a concept called the Saetta from Turin based Ghia in 1997. The New Edge design movement had been going on within Ford of Europe and the Ka represented it in its purist form.
Very little research and development was needed by using as many Fiesta components as possible and wrapping them in a more tidy package. The short 96.5 inch wheel base was actually longer than the Fiesta’s. Those compact dimensions made for a simplistic curve themed shape that was devoid of embellishments, down to the urban friendly black bumpers. Although efficiency was paramount (mpg in the high 30’s to low 40’s), the Ka was all about fun and style on a budget. Fun and style more commonly seen in Super mini’s than a company’s least expensive car.
Initially the Ka was only available with a 1.3L inline 4 “Endura”. The OHV engine could trace its roots back to the 1950’s with the Ford Anglia. It was crude, but provided sufficient torque. Its light weight meant that it’s modest 59 horsepower was enough to move along with city traffic. Later, the modern 1.3L Duratec would replace the Endura and the range of options for the stripped down Ka would grow to include things like air conditioning. The Ka had always been a manual shift car in keeping with its mission as a value leader for Ford. The Getrag 5 speed would be part of what made the ka fun to drive.
With its little 13’ wheels and bug-eyed headlights, the Ka was cute and functional looking. The cute factor would play a big part in the many boutique variations of the Ka like Blue Sun in addition to the regular Studio, Style and Zetec Climate models. The range grew to include sporty variants like the convertible StreetKa and SportKa by 2003.
As a convertible, the StreetKa look far more expensive than it was, with lines that echoed the Audi TT Roadster. Although Ka’s are made four locations and sold worldwide, the Street model is built in Italy by Pininafarina. Besides the Italian connection, Kylie Minogue commercials could’nt have hurt sales. Despite global coverage, the ka never made it the United States.
Both sportier variants used a 1.6L version of the Duratec that produced 93 hp, making the Ka quite the fun little go-cart. Some Brazilian built cars used different 1.6L called the Zetec Rocam. All models of the sportier Ka featured handling and road grip that were impressive for the segment. The Ka in general was fun to drive regardless of the engine or model.
The dynamic chassis was anchored by simple front strut and rear torsion-beam suspension. The SportKa used a wider track, 16’ wheels and a stiffened suspension to achieve its go-cart like handling. Ford extended the Ka’s sporting pedigree by promoting the Ka in racing. A rally championship was created in 1998 just for the Ka. Suddenly the Ka had become a popular low-cost racing car as it was easy to modify and easier to buy cheap. This would be part of the reason that the Ka became a huge success for Ford (especially in England) with high sales figures even as an update loomed in 2008.