The Complete History of fiestaturbo.com
Part 2: The Site
I’ve written about the car journey that lead me to the point in time where I decided to make a Fiesta website, but the first Fiesta website I made wasn’t ft. We’ll talk about that shortly but first, we need to delve back to the late 1990s and the rapidly increasing accessibility of the internet.
In 1999 I’d been online for a few years and had dabbled quite a bit with web and graphic design. With no formal training in either I learn by examining the code of sites I liked and reading tutorials. After various basic sites based on my interests, mostly music, I decided to build one about Fiestas. I started in March of 1999 at which point I’d had my XR2i for nearly a year and had really got the modifying bug.
I called the site “Zetec Fiestas” and wrote basically everything I knew about the modifications available, along with a some photos and specs of famous Zetec engined Fiestas including Paul Ripley’s Si 16v. As I knew what I was doing I didn’t have to use a template or rely on a very basic layout like so many of the sites that were around at the time. Although without access to a scanner or camera of any sort, every image on the site was lifted from somewhere else on the web and re-used.
I don’t remember promoting this anywhere or even showing it to anyone. It’s possible I made if for my own enjoyment and didn’t care, I can’t recall. Or it’s possible that it never even got uploaded as a few months later in July 1999 I bought my RS Turbo. The screenshot shows a Freeserve URL but this is a reconstructed image rather than one made at the time. The email on the pages is that Freeserve one).
Not long after buying it I became very active on several car related message boards, mostly the Ford RS Owner’s Club. Having gained knowledge through research and doing stuff to my own car, I was in a position to help out other members with their queries. One of the questions that popped up frequently was how to fit 17” wheels on a Mk3 Fiesta. Pretty soon I got tired of typing or copying & pasting the same responses so I had the idea of taking the Zetec Fiestas site and rebuilding it with more of a focus on the RS Turbo and adding a guide to arch modifications.
I’d got a free domain name with the ISP I was with and chose “fiestaturbo.co.uk” which I registered in September 1999. I took the content from Zetec Fiestas, tweaked it and added a few more bits including the “Fitting 17s” guide. This was still really just a prototype, with a lot of bits still missing, which I retrospectively called version zero.
This proved quite popular and spurred me on to really spend some time on it. My skills were improving all the time and over winter 1999 I worked on a “proper” version of the site which I launched in April 2000.
There were plenty of other Fiesta sites already around, but they all tended to be very personal - more of what would later be known as a blog - about one person’s car. I had a few advantages which let me create something more engaging.
Firstly I had recently acquired a scanner so I could scan and upload pictures of feature cars from the magazines, and not long after I got an early digital camera. This meant it was quick and easy to take photos for the guide pages and also upload photos I’d taken at shows. Keeping with the online magazine style format, I also added a feature car section with articles I’d written and taken photos for, or had the owners send me pics.
What really got the site some traction was when I added the forums. These went through several different software systems hosted in various places as the site grew, and the name changed from “Message Centre” to “Bulletin Board” and finally “Forums”.
In February 2001 I started on a total redesign and rebuild of the site. The existing system of separate HTML pages was replaced with a database driven PHP version and an updated design featuring colour coded sections and “panels” down the left and right sides.
The familiar blue background was retained and a new logo with a yellow “.com” was introduced as the site moved from .co.uk to .com. A rudimentary search function was added, along with printable versions of the pages and a WAP site - a basic text layout compatible with very early mobile phones.
This version went live exactly a year after the initial site, on April 20th 2001. As the years passed I added more and more content - shows, feature cars, tech articles and the forum usage skyrocketed. This was a curse as well as a blessing as the hosting costs were approaching £180 a month at one point.
I was always pretty transparent about the costs and I’m grateful for the ft community which at the time were hugely generous with donations. I still have a box of hand written letters from the early days where people would post me cash and cheques. I later launched a more membership system, which offered a few benefits but was mostly a more formalised and efficient way of supporting the site financially.
I had stickers made which I sold, and looked into additional merchandise like T-shirts, but unless you’re getting huge amounts made the profit margins are too thin to really make it worthwhile.
Eventually I managed to get some commercial financial support, most notably from Auto Specialists, who at the time were a small outfit selling mostly chrome dress up parts and yet to create the now universally recognised Airtec brand. SCC were also another huge help. Other sponsors came and went, and I added Google Adsense as another revenue stream but even with sponsors, memberships and ads the site never came close to even breaking even. I’ve never worked out how much it’s cost me over the years, but I suspect it’s well into five figures. As a business proposal it’s not been a very viable one, but that was never the intention.
While a lot of sites redesign frequently, there’s only really been three versions of ft in the 21 years it’s been online. The next major change came on August 23rd 2012, which again was a total rebuild. I’d been working on a new version on and off since 2001 and started from scratch three times. The latest version I began in December 2009. The technology remained PHP and as before I chose to build something myself rather than use WordPress. I put together a modular content management system that I could re-use for other sites.
A more modern design and tweaked logo debuted, but the most noticeable difference was the quality of the photography, which leads us neatly to part three.
Screenshots of old versions are interesting, but no substitute for actually being able to click around. I’d had a semi-functioning version of V2 since V3 went live but getting Zetec Fiestas, V0 and V1 back required dusting off an old PC and transferring the files. Due to the age of the code some of it needed updating as it didn’t work with modern web browsers.
- ICE and Links pages don’t work
- I think “Fiesta GTI” is a fantasy spec for what my own XR2i could become. I vaguely recall wanting to badge it with a GTI badge off a Mk6 Escort just to be a bit different.
- Lots of technical mistakes and other errors (The black car under “mods” belonged to James Wheeler, not James Northam)
- Some less than professional writing! e.g. “piss tiny 13 wheels”
- Comic Sans fonts, ugh!
- I never completely finished transferring the content before redesigning as V1 so a lot of the links on the menu do nothing.
- It’s my old RS Turbo in the photo, but before I owned it so the previous owner is driving. Scanned from the Performance Ford feature.
- The Spec and Details pages seem to be a mixture of what my car actually had (Spax coilovers, Pioneer head unit) along with stuff I either planned to get, or more likely just fantasised about having. I have no idea why I did that.
- A link but still no ICE & Security page content. I left it out for the next version.
- Amazingly, some of the other sites under links are still around (Corsasport, but also Mark’s with a name change, he’s now at mwstewart.co.uk
- The red Fiesta used in the header of the site for 11 years isn’t actually a Fiesta Turbo. It’s a 1.6S.
- Some links within the newsroom don’t work, but going to that page via the menus does.