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Cars that defined their decade

By Richard Hipkiss - Car trivia

What would top your car lust list if money was no object?

A highly impractical two-seater head turner or sensible family and dog friendly estate? A classic Morgan, complete with picnic basket, or a state of the art, tech-loaded Tesla? A quirky retro Beetle, maybe? Or would you be sensible and get ahead of the green game with an EV?

Cars are always a point of dinner table discussion, office chat and pub banter.

Miles to the gallon, boot space, brake horsepower, max speed and the merits of smart and audio tech can occupy hours of idle chat. Heated debates about the merits of the original versus remodelled and relaunched Minis and Beetles. Which is the best James Bond car? Is white the new black? Hard or soft top convertible?

Car fads and fashions change as fast as an F1 pit stop team.

For some, a car is just a means of getting from A to B. For others they are a passion and a status symbol.

Since cars first became accessible to the masses with the launch of the 1908 Model T, by the Ford Motor Company, and they have evolved from being a luxury to a necessity. Fast forward 110 years, and there are now over 40 million cars on UK roads.

But which were the most iconic, popular and most memorable cars of the last few decades?

Get in, belt up and enjoy the ride as we take you on a journey to discover the most coveted cars that defined their decades.

The 1960s

The swinging sixties were famous for Beatlemania and Mary Quant mini-skirts – and of course the British Leyland Mini. The Mini became an icon of British culture since its release in 1959, after being driven by celebrities such as Mick Jagger and Steve McQueen. A small car with a big personality – the Mini still has car kudos today.

The Ford Anglia was one of the most popular cars of the flower-powered decade, but the Capri was the car that really got people talking.

When it first came to market in 1968 it was launched as ‘the car you always promised yourself’. It disrupted the industry like few sports cars have since. 400,000 Ford Capris were sold in the first two years and almost 1.9 million worldwide by the end of production.


The Ford Escort proved just as popular in the 70s as the Anglia in the 60s and was still selling well thirty-six years later.

However, as a driver in the 70s, it’s highly likely you owned a Ford Cortina or Morris Minor or Marina but the Vauxhall Chevette – the compact family car was the best-selling hatchback from 75-78.

Ditching the practical functionality of the Ford, the glamour of the convertible was big news in the 70s. Some of the classics such as the Jaguar XJS, Alfa Romeo Spider, MGB and TVR 3000S are still collectors’ cars today.

In Britain we still buy more convertible cars than any other European country despite our wet weather.

The 80s

Boxy angular shapes were a key feature of this decade – for cars and clothes! Music add-ons also became a key selling feature with the world’s first in-car CD player marketed by Pioneer in 1984.

The understated Peugeot 205 was launched in 1983 and sold around 5.3 million units and won 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. Peugeot also released the Peugeot 205 GTi model to satisfy the car fanatics. 

But the Audi Quattro was the first car to deliver 0-60mph in less than seven seconds, making it a popular choice for the Filofax generation, along with the VW Golf or BMW 3 series. That’s before they grew up, got promoted, got married and converted to the 5 series.

Magazines, posters and Top Trump cards were adorned with Miami Vice worthy pictures of Countaches, Esprits and various numbered Porsches.  Back in reality, the family car of choice was a boxy, sensible estate.

Although socially acceptable now, nobody bragged about owning a Volvo Estate back in those days. But nobody can deny that they were perfect for family life – dens in the boot, camping gear, dogs and trips to the beach.  

Sometimes practicality and safety trumps style.

The 90s

Were you a Mondeo man? It was a phrase coined by Tony Blair to describe the typical ‘self-made, financially stable, English man’ in the 90s. More than 88,660 units sold in the UK during its first year of production and in 1994, the Mondeo won the European Car of the Year Award.

The 90s were an era of safety, with widespread adoption of ABS, power steering, air bags, seatbelts with pre-tensioners and electronic features becoming increasingly popular and affordable. This helped make the Vauxhall Astra the fourth most popular car ever sold in Britain – and it is still going strong today.

The Renault Espace, and other seven-seater-as-standard space shuttles, were also in vogue in the 90s but their reign on the roads was short-lived once middle-class families fell for the lure and space of the SUV.

The noughties til now

Move over estate cars and space shuttles and make room for the sleeker, more stylish but still practical SUVs. 

The Nissan Qashqai kick-started the SUV love affair and this bestselling crossover car has sold over 2.3 million since 2007.

Now SUVs, MPVs and crossovers are taking over our roads. Middle-of the road, mid-range, mid-sized vehicles are being nudged off the roads. The school run of the 20s is a rally of Range Rovers.

At the other end of the size scale, small and compact city cars like the Fiat 500 are currently very de rigueur among young drivers.


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