Cars Through the Decades

13 Dec 2019 by Sam Bisby

Fashions may come and go, but some trends stick with us, be it for good or bad reasons – we’re thinking flares for all the wrong reasons! While many may not associate cars with trends, they too fall prey to the ravages of times with certain shapes, styles and even types of cars having popular eras. So we thought we’d take a look back at some of the most popular cars in the UK throughout the decades.

The 1960s

Over half (64%) of classic vehicle owners rate the 1960s as the era of classic motoring that they have the most interest in – and we can see why! Take a look at some of the most popular cars from the swinging sixties!

1. Ford Anglia (1939-1976)

The Anglia was a compact car produced by Ford from 1939-1967 (nearly three decades!). The Anglia was heavily influenced by American styling, which proved popular with the UK market as it became one of the most popular cars of the ‘60s. The Ford Anglia (the 105E Deluxe, anyway) was even used in the Harry Potter films! By 1976, however, the Anglia was falling out of fashion and was replaced with the more modern Ford Escort, which itself lasted into the 21st Century.

cars of the decade - Ford Anglia
(Image: Ford Anglia 105E 1959)
cars of the decade - mini
(Image: Austin Mini Cooper 1961)

2. Mini (1959-Present)

The Mini has been an icon of British Pop culture since its release in 1959. The Mini was originally produced by BMC and marketed under their two brand names ‘Morris’ and ‘Austin’. However, in 1969, during its peak of popularity, the Mini finally became a marque in its own right.

The classic Mini has been used in a range of film and tv roles, from the original blockbuster Italian Job film to classic TV comedy Mr Bean. The Mini has also proved popular with celebrities, with stars like Mick Jagger, Enzo Ferrari and Steve McQueen all having owned a Mini. 

3. Lotus Cortina (1963-1970)

The Lotus Cortina (also known as the Ford Lotus Cortina) was a high-performance sports saloon produced by Ford and Lotus in a collaboration. As a unique model, just under 7,400 examples were produced during its seven-year lifespan from 1963-1970, making it highly desirable in the current classic car market.

The Cortina was famous for its wins in many car races and was even driven by double F1 champion Jim Clark. Clark’s Lotus Cortina went up for sale in 2018 with a guide price of £200,000! 

cars of the '60s - Lotus Cortina
(Image: Lotus Cortina MK1)

The 1970s

It was the decade that saw manufacturers ditch the chrome grills and the wooden interiors in favour of the American Coke bottle style of plastic fascias and matte black grills.

1. Ford Escort

The replacement of the Ford Anglia, the Ford Escort proved just as popular in the ‘70s as the Anglia was in the ‘60s. While it was deemed as an ‘affordable driver’s car’, the Escort was used for a variety of purposes. As well as being a capable family car, more potent models were produced to function as police and rally cars. So it’s no wonder this car was sold for over thirty-six years.

cars of the decade- Ford Escort
(Image: Ford Escort 1.3 two door Sedan 1977)

2. Rover SD1 (1976-1986)

The Rover SD1 was built from 1976-1986 by British Leyland under the Rover marque. The models were marketed under various names, usually according to their engine size. The SD1 was created by the Special Division of British Leyland and was the first car to come from the in-house design team. Around 303,345 were produced. The Rover SD1 V8 was even used as a police car for some time during the ‘70s.

Cars of the '70s - Rover SD1
(Image: Rover SD1 3500 1976)

3. Vauxhall Chevette (1975-1984)

The Vauxhall Chevette was a compact family car produced from 1975-1984. Prices for the vehicle began at around £1,593. The Chevette was originally produced with a 1.3 engine and 4-speed gearbox. From 1975-1978 it was the best-selling hatchback and was particularly popular with families. In 1977, a special edition Silver Chevette Jubilee was created to commemorate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.

Vauxhall Chevette
(Image- Vauxhall Chevette)

The 1980s

Cars in the ‘80s tended to focus on practicality as opposed to style, with boxy angular shapes being a key feature of the decade. However, that didn’t hold back innovation, as in 1984 the world’s first car CD player was marketed by Pioneer. 

The ‘80s also saw growth in the UK car industry, with Nissan in 1976 becoming the first Japanese manufacturer to set up a UK factory a key sign of this progress. Not only did this provide thousands of jobs for British people, but it also helped to strengthen the UK’s share of the car industry.

1. Peugeot 205 (1983-1998)

The Peugeot 205 was launched in 1983 to replace the Peugeot 104 and Talbot Samba. This distinctive ‘supermini’ was designed by Gerald Welter and proved popular, with around 5.3 million units produced between 1983-1998. Peugeot also released a more potent Peugeot 205 GTi model which was available with either a 1.6 or 1.9-litre petrol engine, the latter producing a spritely 126bhp. 

It went on to win a host of awards such as the ‘Car of the Decade’ in 1990 and also won ‘What Car?’s’ car of the year in 1984, largely down to its achievement in bringing the capable hatchback to the fore. 

Peugeot 205
(Image- Peugeot 205 GTi)

2. Citroen BX (1982-1994)

The Citroen BX was produced from 1982-1994 and replaced the Citroen GS/A. Approximately 2,315,739 units were built to keep up with rising customer demand. The BX was unveiled in Paris under the Eiffel Tower in 1982 and was the first Citroen body to be built that had been computer developed. The BX was designed to be a lightweight vehicle and so few body parts were used and the ones that were used were predominantly plastic parts. In 1985 the GT version was launched with a 1.9 engine for those wanting a sportier experience.

Citroen BX
(Image- Citroen BX 19 GTI)

3. Audi Quattro (1980-1991)

The Quattro was a popular choice during the ‘80s and was produced from 1980-1991. The Quattro was inspired by old military vehicles in Iceland and was the first car that fused four-wheel-drive technology with a turbocharged engine. This contributed to a 0-60mph sprint of less than seven seconds. In 1981, Michele Moulton made history in the Quattro by being the first woman to win a world championship event.

Audi Quattro
(Image- Audi Quattro)

The 1990s

The ‘90s were an era of safety with widespread adoption of ABS, power steering and fuel injection for improved safety and dependability for drivers. But big changes were taking place inside cars of this time, too, with electronics rapidly advancing and electronic features becoming increasingly popular and affordable. 

1. Ford Mondeo (1992-Present)

The Ford Mondeo has often been deemed as a ‘World Car’ due to the huge popularity it has been enjoyed by drivers right across the globe. More than 88,660 units sold in the UK during its first year of production alone.

In 1994, the Mondeo won the European Car of the Year Award, and, in 1997, was included in the Top 10 most reliable cars made in Britain. In 1998 it also won an award for the best-selling family car of 1998. 

Tony Blair coined the term ‘Mondeo-Man’ in 1996 to describe the typically ‘self-made, financially stable, English man’. However, the Mondeo was not just for families and ‘self-made men’; it also raced in the BTCC between 1993-2000, taking both titles in its final season, leaving it well-deserved in making it onto our most popular cars of the 1990s. 

Ford Mondeo
(Image- Ford Mondeo LX 1.8 1994)

2. Vauxhall Astra (1979-Present)

The Vauxhall Astra was deemed an impressive, affordable and enjoyable car to drive and was the fourth most popular car ever sold in Britain. Safety was paramount in this car and it featured a two-side steel impact bar built into the frame, seatbelts with pre-tensioners and airbags.

Vauxhall Astra
(Image- Vauxhall Astra)

3. Rover 200 (1984-1999)

The Rover 200 was a small family car produced from 1984 to 1999 before it was replaced by the Rover 25. The third-generation Rover 200 was voted Britain’s 7th bestselling new car from 1996-1998. The 1.8 model has been named as one of the fastest accelerating Diesel hatchbacks of the late ’90s.

Rover 200
(Image- Rover 200)

4. Citroen Saxo (1996-2004)

The Citroen Saxo was marketed as a ‘city car’ and replaced the Citroen AX in 1996. It shared many body parts with the Peugeot 106 with the main difference being the body panels and interiors. It was later replaced by the Citroen C2. 

In 2017, Richard Hammond bought himself a Saxo VTS, calling it the ‘fabulous, proper, fizzy little hatchback’.

Citroen Saxo
(Image- Citroen Saxo)

The 2000s

The noughties saw the turn of popularity and demand for Estate cars shift to SUV vehicles, with the ever-changing needs and desires of drivers requiring something more stylish but just as practical.

In addition, more people were driving now than ever before especially younger drivers, who desired smaller and sportier vehicles with the latest technology. So smaller, city cars like the Fiat 500 arrived on the scene in higher numbers.

new Mini Cooper
(Image- Mini Cooper R50 2001-2006)

1. Mini Cooper

In 1994, BMW bought the Rover group (who owned the Mini brand). In 2000, BMW sold Rover but decided to keep Mini, sensing an opportunity for a new landmark vehicle.

In 2001, BMW decided to produce its own take on the Mini, making it into a fresher, more contemporary car, but keeping the charm that served the original so well. One of the biggest changes was the personalisation options with a wide range of different trims and colours available.

It was maintained that the Mini Cooper was not a retro design, but an evolution of the original. It had key characteristics of the Mini but were more powerful, larger and muscular. The Cooper saw huge commercial success and as a result, more models were released including a Convertible, Cooper S and Countryman model.

2. Fiat 500 (2007-Present)

The new and updated Fiat 500 was released in 2007 and was a modern interpretation of the original ‘Cinquecento’ (1957). The new 500 was based on the popular Fiat Panda and available with over 500,000 personalisation and combination options. The new Fiat 500 was a great success and has continued to be produced, even branching out to offer a variety of spin-off models like the Fiat 500C (convertible) or the 500X (a compact crossover). 

Fiat 500s were and still are extremely popular, and have seen the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Charlie Sheen as proud owners. 

new Fiat 500
(Image- Fiat 500 2007)

3. Nissan Qashqai (2006-Present)

The Nissan Qashqai really kick-started the SUV movement in the car market and has been deemed as the bestselling crossover car in Europe, with over 2.3 million sold since its 2007 launch. The Qashqai received 14 awards in its first year of production and has been built in Sunderland since December 2006.

Nissan Qashqai
(Image- Nissan Qashqai 2007)

Your favourite car decade

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