The 1970’s best selling UK cars


The 1970’s best selling UK cars


The 1970’s was mixed bag of fortunes for both UK manufacturers and consumers. Huge gains were made from post war developments, such as exports, road development, advances in technology and safety but by 1970 the once prosperous British car industry had lost ground. An increasing number of the public could now afford to buy cars, therefore had better buying power and expected more from their product. However due to the events that plagued the era, like the constant strikes in the over manned factories, the fuel crisis, a lack of financial investment in products, mergers and the failure to recognise strengthening competition from foreign built cars, meant that the British car industry was on a downward spiral. This echoed the issues of the period, manufacturing in general was in decline, due to government strategies and advice to shed factory workers, to make industrial overmanned companies leaner and free up labour for new businesses followed privatisations and an economic policy geared towards a housing boom and the city.

The home grown UK car industry never recovered. It was the decade where dozens of UK manufacturers became obsolete, either due to poor management, declining sales or mergers. Those who survived became reliant on foreign investment and parent companies to support the workforce, those multinational car companies like Ford and GM, reduced the visual autonomy and identity of their cars for the UK to save costs. The company that started as market leaders in 1970, British Leyland, were to start their slow and drawn-out fall and eventual demise of the organisation.

Public tastes

The best selling cars of the 1970’s show a typically conservative trend carried over from the 1960’s, with British built cars dominating the sales list. At the start of the 1970’s British Leyland were just clinging on to the best selling car in the UK, but the well documented lack of investment and development (both sales leaders, the Morris/Austin 1100/1300 and Mini were over 8 years old) meant that companies like Ford and Vauxhall soon started to increase their market shares in the sales charts.

The trend of foreign built cars with increasing sales had been developing since the 1960’s with companies such as Fiat, Renault and Volkswagen becoming popular on UK roads throughout the decade, but it was only in the 1970’s did their products start making noticeable rises on the sales records. Renault, being a close neighbour to the UK and long time importer, started the 70’s as the number one importer of cars with a strong line up of innovative cars for every pocket and size. The mid sized Renault 12 and 16 became a huge success in the UK, with the smaller 5 increasing Renaults market share in the UK. Fiat too had a long established presence and dealer network and their charismatic 128 and 127 models enhancing Fiats reputation as makers of practical and efficient cars. Volkswagen were one the most successive postwar companies and had developed huge sales in mainland Europe. Their successful export strategy across the world also helped the Beetle to become the worlds most popular car. A very successful company decision to ditch their rear wheel drive rear engine air cooled philosophy, for the crisp Italian styled FWD Passat, Golf and Polo hatchbacks ensured an almost seamless transition into the sales market. Citroen with their GS/GSA and Peugeot’s 504 range also allowed those French companies to make significant market gains in the UK. However it was the Japanese car company Datsun, who had staged the most remarkable achievement in the UK. The first cars were imported in 1968, yet it took just 4 years for the company to overtake Renault to become the biggest importer of cars into the UK. The sales were led by three successive Sunny models in the 1970’s (often appearing in the top ten UK sales), with the smaller Cherry and larger Bluebird also contributing to Datsuns massive UK success. This demand for Japanese cars forced the British government to impose import quotas on Japanese cars towards the end of the decade as an attempt to protect the UK car industry.

The best selling British cars of the decade

The Ford Cortina had been launched in 1962, with the Escort following in 1968 and both became instant successes. By the end of the 70’s Ford had established itself as the UK most successful company of the decade. Although the majority of cars were assembled in the UK, as the decade progressed imports from Ford Germany were becoming more widespread, and the consumer soon caught on that these were generally better built cars. Fords reputation was enhanced with good sales from all of the other Ford models available, like the Capri and Granada and towards the end of the 70’s, the Fiesta. Despite Ford’s domination of the sales charts, BL still managed to maintain a large percentage of sales, helped by the conventional Marina and the archetypal small car, the Mini. Other BL products such as the Allegro, Triumph Dolomite, Maxi and Princess also appeared in the top 10 monthly sellers on a regular basis too. General Motors were restructuring their European car line up, and while both Opel and Vauxhall carried over their own designs in the 70’s, it was clear to see that the only way to survive was to amalgamate the company, in lieu of design independence and identity. The British designed Vauxhall Viva and Victor/VX made regular top 10 appearances up until the mid 70’s, when taken over by the more resolved but globally developed GM Chevette/Kadett and Cavalier/Ascona, both cars helped to stabilise Vauxhalls UK market share towards the end of the decade. Another company which initially had a strong share of the market was the Rootes group owned by the American based Chrysler. The Hillman Avenger was an all new platform when launched and its decent sales records is testament to this. Other Rootes models which maintained respectable sales were the conservative but dependable Arrow models (badged as the Hillman Hunter and Minx) with later French developed cars like the Chrysler Alpine and Horizon helping maintain strong sales.

Technical conservatism

The trend shown when comparing the top 10 cars in 1970 to 1979 follows the public demand for conservative RWD 3 box designs. Sales of saloon cars in the fleet market, may well have contributed to the success of the format. In 1979, with the exception of the RWD Chevette and Cavalier and recently introduced FWD Ford Fiesta all of the top 10 sellers were cars that had been developed in the early 70’s or earlier. The then recent innovations and refinements that had been made by European companies had yet to be transferred to the UK volume sellers, however the gradual demand for the FWD hatchbacks in Europe did start to influence UK tastes. Cars like the Chrysler Horizon and Alpine, VW Golf and Renault 5 were becoming common and offered full practicality, with modern engines, built in safety features and decent fuel economy. There were trends towards the more common use of independent suspension and overhead cam engines, as well as significant driver aids and comfort that were missing on the majority of the best selling UK cars, suggesting that despite the technological advances available by continental manufacturers the public were still happy buying British, despite the inherit faults and age. It wasn’t until the early 1980’s however when this shift become more evident, simply due to manufacturers like GM and BL (by now Austin Rover) utilising the FWD format on most of the their new models. With the exception of the Fiesta and the 1980 Escort, Ford stuck to rear wheel drive throughout the 1980’s.

1. Ford Cortina 1,272,880 sales

The most popular car of the 70’s was the Ford Cortina. Once ubiquitous on every street, on every sales court and eventually in every scrapyard. Sales of the Cortina had always been strong, but it wasn’t until the European developed MKIII generation did Ford replace BL as market leaders. 35 different models in estate and saloon bodies with various trim and engine options were offered, allowing fleet and private buyers to specify a pecking order and hierarchy of models.


The original Cortina was launched in 1962, followed by this restyled squared up redesign in 1966.

The initial engine choices ranged from the entry level 1.3 litre up to a German built V4 2.0 litre. Different headlamp arrangements helped designate the pecking order, the L and XL trim models were sold with single circular headlamps (post 1973 models were sold with rectangular headlamps) Early GT and GXL models were recognisable by their four circular twin headlamps.


1971 Ford Cortina 2000 GXL

They were comfortable, roomy, used proven mechanics and offered relative ease of maintenance. Being a Ford, also offered a countrywide service and parts network in every region, with spares parts very easy to obtain.


1972 Ford Cortina 2000 L

While the range of 4 door saloons, 5 door estates and rarer 2 door saloons fitted the bill for the average driver, several issues blighted the car, the main one being its poor resistance to rust and initial ride issues. Strikes had also affected it’s launch, but the public did take to the car and within 2 years the Cortina finally reached the top of the sales league and remained there through out the decade.


1973 Ford Cortina 1600 L

The high sales figures heavily relied on fleet markets sales, but the car also proved to be popular with private buyers with the luxury orientated 2000E and later GXL variants offering some level of desirability.


1974 Ford Cortina 2000 XL

The MK4 was launched in September 1976 and continued to maintain the huge sales. The car itself carried over the same running gear as the previous generation in a smoother styled body shape. Ford had carefully marketed the car to appeal to the ‘Everyman’, but unlike the first and second generations of Cortina, Ford never offered a performance version of the car. The emphasis was on to keep the performance options concentrated on the Capri range so the Cortina never really marketed to the sports oriented driver.


1978 Ford Cortina 1.6 L

While the MK3 styling was unique for British (and some Export) markets, the MK4 was virtually identical to the continental Ford Taunus model. The same body options were available, with the high spec Ghia models now offered with the 2.3 V6 option, although it didn’t offer too much performance gain it did offer improved fuel economy over the 2 litre.


1978 Ford Cortina 1.6 L


1979 Ford Cortina 2.0 Ghia

The final incarnation, a subtle facelift model arrived in mid 1979. This was to be the last of an era of RWD family saloons, as a shift towards developing more space efficient FWD layout were being prepared. However there was still a market for simple conservative 3 box designs as evident by the strong sales of the Cortina right up to its demise in 1982. The Cortina’s replacement, the Sierra was a slow starter, the public were initially reluctant to embrace the ‘jelly mold’ 5 door hatchback.

2. Ford Escort 1,119,208 sales

Despite the 1960’s advances supporting the use of FWD technology – proven by Fiat and Renault as well as BMC, Ford had calculated based on its research and marketing that it wouldn’t need to develop an all new concept and assumed that the perceived space saving and technical innovation wasn’t a major factor for its new model. What it lacked in cutting edge engineering, it made up for versatility, offering something for the both utilitarian and performance driver.


1968 Ford Escort 1300 Deluxe


1970 Ford Escort 1300 Super

Throughout the 50’s and 60’s Ford UK had maintained a relatively independent range, with its own British identity but there were a series of mismatched and overlapping models. Some of these were exported across the world but Ford needed to rationalise designs, engines and platforms to continue making a profit. The Escort became the first Ford designed for European as well as UK consumption (both UK and European factories built Escorts) with all markets sharing the same common design, part of Fords new entry level Pan-European lineup for the 70’s.


1972 Ford Escort Mexico

Released as a 2 or 4 door saloon and a 3 door estate in 1968 to replace the ancient Ford Anglia, the range offered a typically wide variety of trim and specification levels. The Escort also complemented the recently launched Capri, and benefited from the larger cars engines which helped the Escort became established in motor sports. Trim levels were typical of Ford, with Deluxe/L models notable for their circular headlamps, rectangle on Super/XL/E models. Sports models were sold with black grills and circular headlamps, the special models, such as the Rally Sports range and the Mexico (called because of the 1970 World cup rally win) offered Ford the ultimate successful car marketing tool, which they fully capitalised on.


1973 Ford Escort 1300 XL


1974 Ford Escort 1300 L


1974 Ford Escort 1300 E

Despite the immediate positive response to the Escort, the Escort remained behind the Cortina for sales, with the exception of 1976, presumably when the combination of the new facelift MK2 Escort and the end of MK3 Cortina production gave the Escort sales the edge.


1976 Ford Escort 1.3 L


1978 Ford Escort 1.3

Despite it’s success in the sales charts, Ford were losing small car sales and they needed to cater for the FWD hatchback market, which at the time was dominated by Renault and Fiat. When the MK2 Escort was launched the new Fiesta was being readied for launch, and the Escort range had been suitably lined up for the imminent arrival.


1978 Ford Escort 1.3 GL


1978 Ford Escort Mexico

The replacement MK2 model was a typical design of its period, perhaps somewhat undistinguished but a typically uncluttered design. As before the range offered the same body options (including a virtually unchanged body for the estate – a typical Ford trait) with an even wider trim and engine options. As before it was sold with two different grills and headlamp designs, the base versions and sport models used circular headlamps, GL and Ghia models had square headlamps, with later L models also sporting square headlamps. The flagship of the range, the 2 litre RS2000 was recognisable by its polyurethane sloped nose and twin headlamps but was a slow seller.


1978 Ford Escort RS2000 Custom

Sold with typical Ford values – ease of maintenance, common dealer networks, simple and sensible design, the Escort was also easy to drive and offered a buyers a safe motoring option. Escorts were sold for every budget, while the majority were family cars, the sports models continued to offer the range a prestigious sporting element. The Escort was replaced by an all new FWD hatchback design in 1980, which continued the success.


1980 Ford Escort 1.6 Ghia

3. Mini 847,995 sales

The Mini quickly became an iconic design as soon as it was released, offering clever packaging, road handling and compact design established it as a best seller from the start. The concept marked a new era of car design and influenced the future of motoring, however it was established fairly early on that BMC lost money on every single model it produced, as it cost more to produce than it did to make. Offered in 2 body styles, a saloon and an estate model with characteristic opening twin rear doors. Sold as a town car it offered a useful turn of speed and handling, it also offered cheap motoring for those looking for genuinely classless and economical transport. The initial models were sold with both Morris and Austin badge, with upmarket variations of the design being produced by Riley and Wolseley models. It was also available as a commercial vehicle, selling as a pick up and van variants.


1970 Mini Cooper S

It soon became apparent that the Mini also made an excellent competition car, something that BMC initially capitalised on. The Cooper models were launched in 1961, with successive developments tweaked by F1 tuner John Cooper. It allowed the basic design to be pushed towards 90mph speeds and instantly created a potent rally tool. Successive updates increased the engine capacity culminating in the 1275 MK III Cooper S.


1974 Mini Clubman

There were relatively few production developments of the Mini during the 70’s, with the square nosed Clubman being the exception. The Clubman was an enhanced version of the Mini, with a squared off nose which allowed better access to the engine. There was also a significant upgrade in terms of dashboard design. The company had also been rebranded from BMC, to BLMC to finally BL. Investment for the ailing BL during this period would have been the main reason why a series of new and related concepts around the Mini never made it beyond prototype stage, despite keen press interest in the numerous concept cars seen on test. Despite this, the car maintained credible top 5 sales throughout the 1970’s, offering increasingly affluent families a useful second car.


1971 Mini Clubman 1275 GT

While physical engineering and styling development was minimal, equipment and trim modifications including the introduction of the Clubman which helped to freshen up the range and keep the car in the public eye. The Clubman 1275GT was based on the new model and was essentially the replacement for the Cooper S, but sacrificed performance for economy.


1974 Mini 1000


1974 Mini 1000

The transverse FWD layout with each wheel placed at each corner hosted a wide range of imitators. Virtually every car manufacturer that copied the concept, from Alfa Romeo to Volkswagen bettered it in most respects, while the Mini remained unchanged through out its eventual 41 years of production remaining true to the 1959 original. The car also suffered from build quality issues, as well as reliability and corrosion drawbacks but retained its unique character and charm, which went some way to maintain its credible UK sales.


1977 Mini Clubman 1100


1979 Mini Clubman

The Clubman estate model was a hybrid of the Clubman and the obsolete timber framed Mini estate. The Mini was available in 4 different engine specs, the 850 was only fitted in the standard mini, the best seller was the 1000 model, the 1.1 litre engine from the Allegro were only fitted in the Clubman (and a special limited edition model known as the Special) the 1.3 litre engine was fitted in the Clubman 1275GT only. Sales eventually tailed off in the early 80’s as the supposed replacement, the Metro arrived. The Mini in turn outlived the Metro and retained its status as a must drive car until the last one was produced in 2000.

4. Morris Marina 740,691 sales

The Morris Marina was BL second best selling model of the 70’s. It was an important car for the company as it had to carry the brand into the 70’s against the Cortina and the onslaught of new imports. The dependence on older models meant that BL were keen to make sure the car was a success, and employed Ford designer Roy Haynes to style the car but this didn’t create any form of continuity and link between the numerous cars BL produced. The Marina offered a conservative but no nonsense solution to replace both the ageing Morris Minor and Morris Oxford/Austin Cambridge models.


1971 Morris Marina 1.8 De Luxe

Initial sales which started in 1971 were strong, with demand outstripping supply but somewhat typically for BL, the car had been rushed into production and it soon became evident once the press test drove the car, that handling issues were being an unwanted characteristic. However it was comfortable, easy to drive and available with a variety of engines in a 4 door saloon, 2 door coupe and 5 door estate body shape, with a van and pick also being sold as commercial vehicles. Engines were inherited from previous BL cars, the 1.3 litre (signified by its chrome grill) and the 1.8 B Series engine with a single colour coded bar across the grill.


1972 Morris Marina 1.3 SDL


1975 Morris Marina 1.3 SDL

The 4 door saloon was the main seller of the range, with MGB engined 1.8 TC models being available in both saloon and coupe form. However due to the inheritance of running gear from the robust but ancient Minor, its potential as a credible family sports car was hampered.


1973 Morris Marina 1.8 TC

At the time BL were still divided by the separate marques, and the Marina had to compete against models within the BL group. The main advantage that the Marina had was that the car was not sold with any other badge in the UK (although it was briefly sold in the States and some European countries with Austin badges) and offered a roomy estate model, as well as a coupe variant – both were almost unique in BL mid range sector. BL continued to suffer from industrial strife during the Marina’s period, which hampered the cars build quality, development and export opportunities.


1977 Morris Marina 1.8 HL

In 1975 the range was rebranded Marina 2, with new grills, bumpers, suspension updates, front brakes and fascia changes. Integral grill mounted foglamps were fitted on the larger engine models. This refresh sorting out some issues but the upgrade didn’t significantly increase yearly sales.


1978 Morris Marina 1.3 SDL

The range was lightly revised in 1978, with the 1.8 litre engines being replaced by the 1.7 O Series engines. Other visible amends included a front air dam, larger bumpers, larger rear lamps and upgraded equipment. By this time the BL range had been extensively rationalised, with new management and an attempt to improve the quality of the cars, but it was becoming clear that there was not going to be enough funds to develop an all new replacement for the Marina.


1979 Morris Marina 1700 L


1979 Morris Marina 1700 L


1980 Morris Marina 1700 L

Its practicality, reasonable fuel consumption, brakes, roomy interior and ergonomics made the car a popular fleet market choice. Always selling more than its Austin Allegro cousin, it maintained its top 5 best selling status as BL best selling car throughout the decade. Production was superseded by a facelift model in 1980, the poorly received Morris Ital, which became the last passenger car to wear the Morris name.

5. Vauxhall Viva 565,809 Sales

General Motor’s European restructuring was still underway when the MK3 (HC Viva) model was released in 1970. Like Ford, who benefited from an American controlling arm, Vauxhall had been allowed to develop its own products for UK and its export markets but the Viva became the last Vauxhall design not to have an Opel badged equivalent. The Viva had gained a unfavourable reputation for rust in its first and second incarnations, which forced GM to make rust proofing a priority for their new model. Offered as a 2 and 4 door saloon, 2 door coupes and a 3 door estate with a wide variety of trim levels and engines ranging from 1.3 to 2.3 litres. Similar to the Marina in the respect to conventional no-nonsense engineering and styling, the Viva was considered a somewhat under achieving but worthy fleet market car.


1972 Vauxhall Viva 1300 Deluxe

The Viva also became the basis for the Firenza coupe range, a rival to the Ford Capri. Larger engines were sourced from the Victor and while there were some notable motorsporting achievements, it wasn’t quite as popular as the Ford and Firenza production ceased in 1974. Remaining body shells of the coupe were either sold off as entry level models (1.3 litre Viva E) or the high performing ‘Droopsnoot’ 2.3 models. The Viva range then branched out during this period, with large engined models being rebadged as Magnums, recognisable with more upmarket trim, four headlamps and wider tyres.


1973 Vauxhall Viva 1300

All Viva’s used rectangle headlamps and silver grills, with the Firenza being sold initially with twin circular headlamps and chrome grill. Magnums used four headlamps in a black grill.


1972 Vauxhall Viva 2300 SL


1972 Vauxhall Firenza 2300

The Viva was an important car for Vauxhall’s UK sales, in the 1st half of the 1970’s the car was a regular in the countries top 10 best selling cars and help Vauxhall to main a market share until the new platform developments for a range of forthcoming GM products like the Chevette and Cavalier arrived in the mid 1970’s. Production of the Viva continued until the end of the decade, and while the model was not directly replaced as GM recognised that the small saloon market was changing, its place in the line up was replaced by the all new FWD Vauxhall Astra/Opel Kadett in 1980.


1974 Vauxhall Firenza Droopsnoot


1974 Vauxhall Magnum 1800

6. Rootes Avenger 489,242 Sales

The Avenger was an all new design for 1970, developed by the Rootes group under the controlling arm of the US Chrysler company. The car was built and sold across the whole world, most noticeably in South America, which allowed the development costs to be shared. Typically for the era, it used a conventional RWD layout in a conservative but not unattractive range of saloons and estates. Designed with ease of manufacturer and efficient part sharing in mind the contemporary no-nonsense design fitted the bill perfectly for many buyers. Like its Viva and Escort competitors, it was sold as both a 2 door, 4 door saloon but had the advantage of also being available as a 5 door estate, something that it’s two main UK rivals, the Escort and Viva couldn’t offer.


1972 Hillman Avenger 1500


1972 Hillman Avenger 1500 Super

The Avenger was offered with 1.2 and 1.5 engines initially, with engine sizes increasing to more the more efficient 1.3 and 1.6 for post 1973 versions. Trim levels and equipment were similar to the Ford Escort, even offering twin carb sport GT model. Like the Viva and Escort, different grill and headlamp arrangements help define the trim level, the 1.5 litre standard, DL and Super versions featured rectangle headlamps on a black plastic grill, GL, GT and GLS models were sold with twin circular headlamps.


1971 Hillman Avenger 1500 GT


1974 Hillman Avenger 1600 GLS

A 1.6 litre engine was introduced in 1973 to replace the previous 1.5, with the existing 1.2 litre engine increased to 1.3 litres. The were some specification changes too, with the GLS model gaining twin carbs, external trim additions bring the model closer to the GT model.


1972 Hillman Avenger Tiger

This combination of new engines with the decent handling and road manners of the car would pave the way for a motorsports career, culminating in the Chrysler Competitions Centre assembled Avenger Tiger. The Tiger was sold with the same 1.5 litre seen on the GT, with an uprated engine. Sold in yellow , with a bonnet bulge, rear spoiler and side stripes as standard, the Avenger Tiger showed the potential behind the cars brief but affective motorsports career. Later version where placed on full production, distinguishable by its twin headlamps and matt black bonnet without the bulge. These versions where also sold in yellow as well as red.


1974 Hillman Avenger 1600 Super

Sales in the UK were good, with the car appearing in the top 10 best selling cars during the first half of the 70’s, but sales noticeably slips down as the car reaches middle age. This might be due to its underwhelming qualities and the advent of a new series of Chrysler models, like the European developed FWD Alpine and Horizon.


1979 Chrysler Avenger 1.6GL

For a Rootes car of mixed heritage, it was typically badged under several names during its production run, starting out as a Hillman, then a Chrysler after Rootes started to rationalise its company names. The renaming of Hillman to Chrysler also provided the Avenger with a facelift with redesigned rear and front designs, to freshen up its appeal. Sporting models were not continued, but the newly developed Sunbeam model used the same chassis and was credited to a prolific career in rally sports. However, the Chrysler brand was still experiencing financial trouble and subsequently sold to Peugeot in 1978. It was this final iteration that it become a Talbot in 1980. Fittingly for a global car it was badged as a Plymouth in South Africa and North America, sold in Europe as a Sunbeam and bizarrely as a Volkswagen in South America, as VW acquired Chrysler International’s remaining shares and assembly rights.


1980 Talbot Avenger 1.6 GL

The Avenger continued well into the 1980’s, selling with showroom virtues of a competitive equipment specification. Peugeot announced that there would be no future for the Talbot brand, and it became the last Rootes period model to be assembled at the Ryton plant.

7. BMC 1100/1300 428, 139

The Morris/Austin 1100/1300 series started production in 1962, it used the same basic principles as the Mini FWD concept. It also maintained the character and handling inherited from the Mini and became BMC’s volume seller. While the car was very much a design of the 60’s, it’s remarkable popularity can be seen by the sales figures throughout it’s life, having spent 10 of its 12 years in production as the UK best selling car. The range was still maintaining over 150,000 sales in 1968, and although the numbers dropped slightly into the 1970’s, it was still selling very strongly in it last full year of production.


1970 Morris 1100

The cars popularity wasn’t just limited to the UK, BLMC still had a credible reputation particularly in commonwealth countries but became the last volume export for BL. While exports were strong, several countries including Chile, Austrailia, Yugoslavia, Spain, South Africa and Italy produced domestic market versions of the car. It was sold with a 4 door and 2 door saloon body, joined later by a spacious 3 door ‘Traveller’ estate model.


1971 Morris 1100

Two main versions were sold in the UK, badged as a Austin or a Morris. They were recognisable by their different grills, the Morris version sporting a cleaner horizontal slatted chrome grill, while Austin versions used a crinkle style chrome grill. There were no significant differences in specification asides from different facia panel layouts. It was clear to see why the pininfarina designed car sold so well, it utilised a FWD transverse engine layout which made the most of the interior space, as well as using the hydroelastic suspension which offered good ride and roadhandling. MG and Vanden Plas models were also added to the range, offering a level of sporting and luxury options.


1971 Morris 1300


1972 Austin 1100 (with incorrect grill)

Later models are distinguished by the their black grills, smaller 1100 models have a single chrome strip in the middle of the grille, with the 1300 model being sold with triple bars. While exterior developments were limited to bolt on parts, the gearboxes and interior fittings benefitted from continous updates and improvements.


1972 Austin 1300 GT

BL developed the 1300 GT version as pseudo sporting saloon, which helped maintain the strong sale of Britians favourite car. The twin carb engine was tuned similarly to the MG and Riley versions, and offered in bright new hues which was finished with sports style hubcaps and GT badges. The GT also had lowered suspension, black and chrome wheel trims, a vinyl roof, three spoke alloy steering wheel, a rev counter, and revised seat cover design.


1970 Riley Kestrel 1300

The Riley Kestrel and the Wolseley 1100 were announced at the 1965 Motor Show, were both mechanically identical to the MG and Vanden Plas versions. The Riley’s facia incorporated a rev-counter and seats trimmed in leather, with all interior metal worked covered up with wooden door cappings.


1970 Vanden Plas 1300 Princess

The last of the ADO16 models (the BLMC code name for the whole series) was produced in 1974, slightly after the introduction of it’s Allegro/Marina replacement. Despite the rust reputation that the car had developed, it was a well liked car, and very much represents an end of an era for the company.

7. Ford Capri 378,260 Sales

Ford UK had attempted to create a coupe earlier in the 60’s, with the heavily stylised Classic Capri model, but it took a combined European effort and some help from its famous Mustang sister to successfully create what to became the UKs best selling coupe. Based on the Cortina, it was launched in 1969 and signified one of Fords new line of cars to take the brand into the new decade. Using the American Ford Mustang concept scaled down to suit European roads, it offered a huge number of trim and engine combinations which allowed buyers to create a personalised car. Effective marketing helped the public take to the car, and it soon became a regular in the top sellers each year. Engines ranged from 1.3 litres to a V6 3 litre model.


1969 Ford Capri 1600 GT

The 2 door coupe had been developed with a lengthy options and trim list, which essentially meant with the different permutations it perpetuated that no car was identical. Initially available with 3 engine options, 1.3 litre, 1.6 litre and 2.0 litre , with four option packs – L, XL, GT XL, GT XLR. All standard models were identifiable with rectangular headlamps but the XLR options packs included twin driving lamps, side mouldings, vinyl roof and black grill. It was joined later by the 3 litre GT XLR and luxury E model with four circular headlamps as standard, suspension and interior upgrades, power bulged bonnet, twin exhaust and sports wheels.


1969 Ford Capri 1600 XL

1972 brought in further stylistic changes including front and tail redesigns, standard power bulge bonnet and interior changes. Most significantly the 1.6 litre engine was increased in capacity but resulted in a slight loss of power. Despite this, the Capri sales increased further.


1973 Ford Capri 1600 XL


1973 Ford Capri 1600 GT

Following earlier rally sports models, Ford Motorsports starting preparing homologation models, which became well known in touring car championships, both the LHD Cologne V6 based RS 2600 and the RHD Essex V6 based RS 3100 enhanced an already strong image.


1974 Ford Capri RS3100

The Capri also spawned a host of imitators, including stylish offerings from Opel, Renault and several Japanese manufacturers, all based on humble saloon car equivalents finished off in a stylish coupe design. The rakish design of the Capri, offered practicality, performance and handling combined with the usual Ford attributes of proven technology and durability. The Capri soon affected sales of the traditional sports cars and eventually contributed to their fall from popularity. The range was enhanced by a basic facelift after 3 years and replaced by a more civilised but less aggressive MKII version in 1974. The engine availability remained the same and it was still carried over much of the previous generation underframe and suspension, but now sold as a 3 door hatchback coupe. Later models were assembled in West Germany, as opposed to the UK.


1976 Ford Capri II 1.3 L


1978 Ford Capri II 2.0 S


1978 Ford Capri 1.6 GL

The final Capri design was released in 1977 and remained in production for 10 years. It still owed much of its under pinnings on the original concept including many of the engines, yet sales remained strong and UK sales actually peaked in 1979. However, fashions were changing and as the FWD Hot hatch interest developed Capri sales started to decline and the range was pruned back in its later years. Like all car designed for the moment and fashion, the Capri dated badly yet top end 2.8i models still had an element of desirability. The final Capri left the production line in 1987 and not replaced in the UK until 1994 by the second generation Ford Probe.


1979 Ford Capri 3.0 Ghia


1981 Ford Capri 3.0 Ghia

8. Austin Allegro 356, 871 Sales

There was a general policy within BL to use the Austin brand as the more innovative arm of the company, offering more adventurous designs and sporting options, while the Morris brand would appeal to more conventional owners. With this in mind, the Allegro arrived in 1973 with great expectations. Its predecessor, the ADO16 BMC 1100/1300 was a huge seller throughout its production run and the new car was expected to maintain this best sellers reputation. Mechanically while engines had been carried over, it was virtually an all new car, the Hydragas replaced Hydrolastic suspension of the ADO16.


1973 Austin Allegro 1300 SDL

Like the Marina, the Allegro was developed to compete against the lower engined smaller car segment, such as the more traditional Ford Escort and later, the Volkswagen Golf. Despite its styling, it was never developed to be a hatchback which in hindsight would have contributed to its relatively lower sales. After the Marina and Mini, it was only a steady seller averaging around 60,000 sale a year – roughly half of that of Escort yearly sales.


1974 Austin Allegro 1750 SS

The Allegro inherited the 1100 and 1300 engines from its predecessor but also was offered with the 1500 and the new 1750 engine from the larger Maxi, with sport versions using twin carbs. The larger engine model were badged as the 1750 Super Sport (infamous for its quartic steering wheel and its lack of sports ability) but was dropped only after a year and replaced by HL trim models. The range was recognisable by subtle exterior trim differences, 1100 models used horizontal slats on the grill, early 1300 and 1500 engined cars were sold with upright grill slats while bigger engined models sported a hexagonal styled grill.


1974 Austin Allegro 1300 DL

It was initially available as a 2 door and 4 door saloon, with bigger engined models overlapping onto existing BL models. Equipment varied enormously with base 1100 engines being only marginally more expensive than the top end Mini’s. At the time bearing in mind the Mini’s age, the Allegro would have been considered a suitable substitute.


1974 Austin Allegro 1100 DL


The 4 door body was also used for the 1500 and later 1750 Vanden Plas models, which offered improved refinement and furnishings. BL had suggested that badge engineering would be kept to a minimum for the Allegro, but felt that there was still a market for top end models. The Vanden plas was the highest priced Allegro (although it was never badged as an Allegro) due to its special leather seats, deep-pile carpets, extra sound insulation, walnut instrument panel and rear passenger folding tables in walnut, nylon headlining and a fully trimmed boot.

1975 Vanden Plas 1500


1975 Austin Allegro 1500 SDL

Estate versions of the Allegro, sold only as a 3 door was powered by 1.3 litre and 5 speed 1.5 litre engines.


1977 Austin Allegro 1500 Special

Suffering from the typical BL traits of under development and early build quality issues, it eventually matured into a satisfactory car by the time the facelifted Series 2 models arrived in late 1975 and offered revised suspension, braking, engine mounts and drive shafts. The bodies remained the same, with the usual exterior bolts ons and interior improvements. However the Allegro simply struggled to match the yearly six figure numbers that its predecessor maintained, evident by the total sales of the Allegro in 1976 and 1977 were less than the ADO16 total sales in its last year.


1980 Austin Allegro 1.3 L

The series 3 models arrived in 1979 and were a considerable improvement and the interior was modernised, late models used the A+ 1.0 engines intended for the new Metro. Somewhat typically production was allowed to run longer than planned, as its Maestro replacement was delayed, the last example was sold as late as 1982.

The Allegro did offer considerably better rust resistance than its predessor. It also became known for its exceptional fuel consumption, a decent driving environment with good visibility, driving position and instruments. It also offered good ergonomics, with good access under the bonnet. BL also have the advantage of a good dealer network resulting in cheap spares. While it was never really considered a sporting car, it was a decent handling car and was pleasant to drive but by the time it ended production 9 years after the first one left Longbridge it had become so long in the tooth and highlighted BL’s problems all too clearly.

9. Austin Maxi 302,653

The Maxi was the first British Leyland labelled Product and part of the companies branding rationalization, due to the numerous take overs there were now too many cars within the BL brand competing against each other. The Austin Maxi was developed to provide the company with a FWD 5 door family hatchback car on a new platform and a range of powerful modern engines. It still owed much of its underpinnings to based on issigonis transverse engine layout and Hydro elastic suspension. It had the distinction of being the first large hatchback made by the company, with versatility in mind. One drawback was that the car had inherited the same roof and inner body shell (inheriting the same doors) from the previous 1800/2200 models. Secondly the styling traits didn’t follow the then current designs, which were influenced by American styling. Typically the car suffered from the typical BL under development and it took several years before the teething issues were ironed out. A saloon concept was also considered but due to in house competition was vetoed.


1970 Austin Maxi 1500

It was originally released with a new E series 1485cc engine with a 5 speed gearbox, which soon became infamous for its unpleasant cable gear change. It was updated to a rod-operated system, by the time the 1748cc model joined it in late 1970. Gradual refinements helped maintain reasonable sales for the next few years. The Maxi was an able performer, with the standard 1500 versions able to just reach 100mph. In 1972 a revised 1750 model was offered under the HL/HLS guise with twin HS6 SU carb mated to an improved manual only gearbox, which offered a glimpse of how good the Maxi design could have been. It was the practicality aspect which was the main selling point, with the much publicised ability for the seats to fold down to essentially double up as a bed. The practicality spread to the spacious engine bay, where everything was within easy access.


1972 Austin Maxi 1750

Sales peaked at around 50,000 a year in the early 70’s but still considerably lower than the Marina. This figure could be blamed on the reputation of poor reliability and build quality. The 5 door concept was sound enough and had been imitated and improved by European competitors by the late 70’s. The Maxi recieved equipment updates, a change to hydrogas suspension and further gearbox improvements but due to BL’s minimal funds to develop the Maxi, the car soon appeared to be very old fashioned when faced with the new competition.


1975 Austin Maxi 1750 HL

Lower than expected sales meant that the car didn’t ever appear in the top 10 monthly sellers but only appears in the top ten best selling car list simply due to its lengthy 13 year production run. In this crowded mid market sector, the similarly sized Morris Marina and Triumph Dolomite, also competed for sales and was then joined by the Princess, which added to the Maxi’s woes. The Austin Princess lent itself to a hatchback design but due to BL policy meant that the Maxi remained as the sole hatchback model for the company. BL soldiered on with the Maxi until 1982 (the Maestro replaced both the Maxi and Allegro) and priced the car with value for money in mind which meant it still had some level of showroom appeal. The final version was released in 1980, known as the Maxi 2. It was largely a minor facelift with upgraded equipment. These later cars were desperately old fashioned but had benefited from improved build quality with the long lasting 1748cc proving to be a durable unit.

10. Rootes Arrow 267,750 Sales

Along with its Avenger sister, Rootes had maintained respectable sales for the best part of the early 70’s. The Arrow range, known as the Hillman Minx/Hunter, Humber Sceptre, Singer Gazelle and Sunbeam Vogue appealed to the conservative mid and fleet sales market. A car of sturdy and uncomplicated design, it maintained reasonable sales due to its reliability and overall running costs, which also made it attractice to fleet sales. The design had been in production since 1966, and was sold as a 4 door saloon or 5 door estate. The styling was neat and up to date when released and carried on into the 70’s largely unchanged. The Minx/Hunter names were used according to the trim levels, with the short lived Vogue and Gazelle with top level interior trim fittings. The Sceptre was a longer lived version which would be considered as the top of the Arrow range, offered with a vinyl roof, uprated engine as well as interior upgrades.


The naming policy was soon rationalised to just Hillman Hunter and Humber Sceptre badges, with the GL models signifiying a higher state of tune over the DL and Super models. To help create some excitement in the range, Rootes also produced a GT (later badged as the GLS) 4 door saloon, which used a tuned Sunbeam Rapier engine. It was competitive on the racetrack with various touring car wins. The Arrow model had also been a durable rally car in the late sixties.


Production trickled along into the mid-seventies, when the car recieved a light update, including a minor facelift and some interior improvements, but since the European Chrysler arm had been absorbed by Peugeot in 1978, any further investment in the Arrow range would have been absolutely minimal. The last models were produced in 1979, and it’s thought that none where badged Talbot.

The design however became a template for the Peykan, a tie up in Iran meant that the design lived on well into the 80’s. For Europe the Hunter was replaced by Peugeot-Talbot, those loyal to the company branding may have been tempted by the French built Talbot Solara.