M-Sport’s continued participation in the World Rally Championship for the last 25 years is something to be admired. During a large chunk of that, the team had the backing and cooperation of Ford, operating as a factory team. But since Ford officially pulled out of the WRC in 2012, it’s been shouldering that responsibility as a privateer yet continuing to prepare and run the Fiesta. Sébastien Ogier claimed two of his eight drivers’ titles with the team in 2017 and 2018.
I raise this little M-Sport history lesson to make it clear that the outfit knows rally. Which means that when it sets out to Frankenstein a Fiesta R5 into a Type 141 Fiat Panda, you can be sure it’s not only going to get the job done — it’s going to do it right. The result is the Panda by M-Sport.
First off, the Panda greets us in a delightful video, whereby a totally unassuming man pushes his shell of an Italian hatchback to M-Sport’s garage to get it looked at. It goes in a blue metal box on sofa casters and comes out a rally terror. A short while later we learn our humble protagonist actually happens to be quite decent at driving sideways. We get a cute cameo from M-Sport owner and team principal Malcolm Wilson about two-and-a-half minutes in, too.
The video’s description offers a bit of background behind the build. The Panda’s body was widened by about 14 inches to fit the Fiesta’s platform, improving both cornering stability and, obviously, looks. The Ford’s turbo 1.6-liter four cylinder was dropped in as well, pushing just under 300 horsepower and 330 lb-ft of torque through a five-speed gearbox.
The result almost resembles a less ugly MG Metro 6R4, which I’ve always felt was the most awkward-looking member of the Group B stable. You can also easily tell it apart from the MG because the Panda has its name embossed in huge italic lettering right on the tailgate, a quintessentially ’80s/early-’90s design touch exhibiting stellar attention to detail. I wish M-Sport had a facility here in the U.S. — I’d love to see if their mechanics could “fix” my Fiesta in similar fashion.