Taut, muscular, impressively powerful – and the Fiesta’s not bad either. Former body-builder Al Smyth has just what it takes to pump up the adrenaline in this lean and fit modified Fiesta ST Mk8.
Feature from Fast Ford. Words: Dan Bevis. Photos: Ian Allen
Dedication is key when it comes to body-building. The obsession with perfection is an all-consuming mantra, 24-7, 365. Endlessly focusing on your plyometric exercise and your progressive resistance, building sharp definition beneath your onion skin.
A key facet is the idea of the overload principle – applying a greater load than normal to a muscle to increase its capability, a concept that has a clear crossover to the car tuning scene. This is something Al Smyth appreciates all too well, being a former body-builder “I competed up to professional Mr Universe standard,” he explains. “I was Mr Northern Ireland twice, Mr Britain, and a Mr Universe top-three a total of three times.”
Since retiring from competition, all of that endless daily discipline has been rediverted into his passion for fast-road motoring. Al readily admits that this Mk8 Fiesta ST is the first car he’s really modified, but it’s evident that his extraordinary sense of focus when it comes to optimisation and cause-and-effect has translated very clearly into the pursuit of fast Ford perfection.
Al assures us, “I’ve been a car fanatic all of my life. During my competitive years I certainly enjoyed a fast car, but they had to take a bit of a back seat as I didn’t have as much time to wash and look after them as I’d have liked. But since retiring, I’m not spending so much time in the gym – and the cars are certainly benefiting.”
The thought process behind buying a Mk8 ST was dictated by the simple fact that Al had owned a Mk7 for a number of years and really rather liked it. It was all bone-stock aside from a warrantied Mountune map, and was used as a daily driver while a BMW M4 CS was the weekend toy.
He’s owned six BMW M cars in the last 20 years so its place in the garage kinda makes sense, but Al never loses sight of the fact that his first car was a Mk2 Fiesta XR2, and those still waters run deep.
He says, “I loved that dearly, all 96bhp of it. After that I had an Escort RS Turbo, then a Fiesta XR2i. But this Mk8 – which I bought brand-new – is really the first time I’ve modified a car to any great extent. I’m enjoying working on the car myself, along with a couple of tech friends who help me with the more complicated procedures.”
Having appreciated the merits of a Stage 1 Mountune map on his previous Fiesta, it was Al’s immediate go-to for the new car. But before long he found himself hankering after more, and following online research it seemed Collins Performance would be able to provide the sort of bang his buck demanded. After a number of in-depth conversations, it became clear that Gary at Collins was a kindred spirit, with an intuitive understanding of how to achieve what Al was after.
Al says, “I purchased the Collins CP2 package back in February 2020, with a view to going Stage 3 whenever the newly-developed turbo setup would be ready. I could have gone straight to a hybrid turbo with another company, but I gelled with Gary and, although I know very little about turbos, I reckoned that Turbo Technics have always had a great name in the field, especially with Fords, so I waited.”
See, it’s that sense of discipline manifesting itself again: eyes on the prize, rather than rushing into quick fixes.
Al’s been busy with the rest of the Fiesta too; this isn’t just about horsepower gains but ensuring the car is ready to deploy them when they come galloping in.
The car sits tautly suspended, agile and cat-like, on KW V3 coilovers, while the brakes have been addressed with EBC discs and pads out back and a full EBC big brake kit at the business end. The latter comprises lightweight four-pot callipers and fully-floating two-piece discs; a hardcore setup, and Al’s favourite part of the car so far. They peep out behind OZ Racing Ultra HLT wheels, again reducing unsprung mass and contributing to the body-builder-like keenness for fit-for-purpose solutions at an elemental level.
The exterior makeover has an impressively muscular vibe as well, the Maxton Design front splitter and side skirts having been colour-coded in matching white to give the impression in your rear-view mirror that you’re just about to be nutted by a Stormtrooper’s helmet.
With the spec list buttoning up nicely, the quest for power was evolving apace too, but of course 2020 wasn’t the friendliest year when it came to getting anything done.
Al says, “Unfortunately we all know how the year went, so everything was put on hold. But the new hybrid turbo is finally available and it’s now been installed. Ben, the tech at Collins Performance, was left to it and when I returned it was all ready – the Turbo Technics hybrid, along with a swap to a Pro Alloy intercooler, plus the Stage 3 software.”
The car’s now running great and making a proven 250-plus bhp (at the wheels) on Collins’s dyno, which equates to around 285bhp and 320lb.ft – although that’s on 99RON V-Power, which isn’t readily available in Northern Ireland.
The balance of logic here is all part of the overarching sense of discipline, knowing what everything will do instead of guessing and taking risks. Debuting the box-fresh Turbo Technics hybrid for the Mk8 is a big deal, and Al and Collins Performance were keen to get it done right. The results speak for themselves, with the modified Fiesta ST Mk8 now enjoying a new-found urgency; the 0-to-60 run is similar, largely due to the element of traction, but the 60-to 120mph time has dropped by a massive three seconds. The implications for day-to-day usable power are huge.
Al is philosophical about the trajectory of this project, and has a word of wisdom to those who may follow in his footsteps: “I would advise young guys on a budget to think carefully about expensive mods. After this experience, I can definitely say that not all modifications give the extra power they promise in flashing lights. Stick to tried-and-tested: a Stage 1 map can yield 40bhp for £350, that’s great bang for your buck. Over and above this you can spend a lot of money for little return, so be careful…”
Pearls of wisdom from a man elbows-deep in the process, and the obsession with perfection endures. Teasing out the overload principle, the little modified Fiesta ST Mk8 just keeps getting more muscular – and Al’s the perfect coach to guide its athletic future to victory.
Tech Spec: Modified Fiesta ST Mk8
1.5-litre three-cyl EcoBoost, Collins Performance Stage 3 tune, Turbo Technics S285 hybrid turbo, Pro Alloy induction, full Milltek exhaust system with decat and resonated GPF delete, Collins torque mount, Pro Alloy intercooler, Airtec coolant tank, Paintmodz carbon-effect engine covers, sunstrip and graphics from DMB and PrintPeel&Stick
285bhp, 317lb.ft (on Shell V-Power)
Stock ST, Pumaspeed short-shift
KW V3 coilovers
EBC front big brake kit, EBC rear discs
Wheels & Tyres:
18in OZ Racing Ultra HLT wheels, 215/35×18 Goodyear tyres
Colour-coded Maxton Design front splitter and side skirts, carbon-effect V2 rear diffuser, Delta Styling spoiler riser
Stock ST, plus CEUK footwell and interior light upgrade