As the angry era of punk rock was hurtling towards its inevitable end to be replaced by the more melodic, pop-centred new wave bands, on Britain’s roads, a quiet evolution was taking place.
No longer was it necessary to have the arms of a dock worker to change gear or turn the steering wheel, while lighter brake pedals and clutches made the new generation of cars easier to drive.
With Margaret Thatcher telling the nation, ‘you turn if you want to… the lady’s not for turning’, car dealers were highlighting the manoeuvrability of these new cars.
Among them, was the Ford Fiesta, which next week, after 42 years and eight generations, will cease production. As the final car rolls off the line, it brings an end to one of the most popular cars in Britain’s history. It is the car in which millions of Britons learned how to drive, and is still a favourite of driving instructors today.
During its production run, some 4.8m Fiestas were sold in Britain.
The Ford Fiesta, pictured, was the Blue Oval company’s entry into the small car segment. The Fiesta has been a regular best seller in Britain since its launch and remains one of the nation’s most popular cars
After some 42 years and almost 5 million cars sold in Britain, the Ford Fiesta is about to cease production
Before the launch of the likes of the VW Golf, Ford Fiesta, Fiat Panda and Peugeot 205, cars had been seen as unreliable, heavy, and required technical skills to operate.
These new cars – described by the industry as b and c segment cars – offered motorists the ability to jump in, turn the key and drive off, unlike the older versions which often required some fettling. Especially after ignominiously failing to start on a cold, wet morning. A few asthmatic rattles instead of purring into life.
Average drivers needed a toolbox, replete with screw drivers, a feeler gauge, plug spanners and a socket set, before checking the ignition points. Advanced motorists, had a bit of sandpaper and WD-40. The wisest had a spare sets of points, wrapped in some butcher’s paper, stored in the box. In the days before YouTube, a well-thumbed Haynes Manual provided many with the confidence to attempt roadside open-heart surgery.
Max Douchin, left, and Estelle Skornik, right, played Nicole and Papa for a series of ads promoting the Renault Clio
Most of the cars in the new segment shared a number of common features, including small, fuel efficient petrol engines, a front wheel drive layout and spartan interiors with few luxury extras.
A radio cassette player was still an optional extra, while contemporary creature comforts such as power steering and electric windows were unavailable to many.
Also, the 1980s saw car companies improve the marketing of their latest vehicles. In 1987, VW enlisted David Bailey to shoot an advert for their Mk II VW Golf. The advert featured model Paula Hamilton who was filmed leaving a house, dumping her jewellery and fur coat.
She pauses briefly while considering the fate of her car keys – before striding forward and driving off in her VW Golf.
Shortly afterwards, Renault, who were seeking to promote their new Clio range, enlisted Max Douchin and Estelle Skornik who played Nicole and Papa.
In the first of the series, Nicole, sitting outside with Papa, notices her father snoozing and drives off in her Clio to meet her boyfriend. Papa, hearing the car on the stone chip driveway, uses his Clio to drive off for his own lunch time assignation.
Fiat’s Panda became a cult hit of the 1980s, especially the version fitted with a four-wheel drive system and chunky tyres
This 2013 Fiat Panda is going to be replaced later this year by a new version
In a survey conducted by Autotrader, 22 per cent of Britons said they passed their driving test first time driving a Ford Fiesta, showing the car’s enduring popularity. But the Fiesta, along with the Focus – which itself replaced the legendary Escort, are being discontinued.
Marc Palmer, Brand Insight Director at Auto Trader said: ‘Although the Focus and Fiesta were stalwarts of the brand, Ford has managed to consistently deliver a range of great quality cars for over a 100 years, so it’s safe to assume there’ll be some exciting models in the pipeline.
‘They may not be fossil fuelled, but I’m sure they’ll offer the familiar Ford driving experience, with the environmental benefits of electric.’
Citroen’s 2CV was launched in 1948 and ended production in 1990. It offered cheap motoring in a car reputedly designed to allow a farmer to carry eggs across a ploughed field without breaking any
Today, Citroen offers the Ami. While not technically a car, the eccentric electric vehicle clearly carries over some of the designs of the venerable 2CV, such as a folded side windows and fabric
Some cars such as the Citroen 2CV, often sporting a CND or Greenpeace, were from an earlier generation but continued through the 80s and 90s. The 2CV was launched in 1948 and remained in production until 1990 – the same 42-year time period as the Fiesta.
Another survivor was the Mini, designed by Alec Issignosis for BMC. It was developed following the aftermath of the 1956 oil crisis, when people demanded smaller, more economical cars.
The original Mini was fitted with a giant ashtray instead of a radio, as Issignosis enjoyed smoking. During the 1960s, it became an icon of pop culture and featured in Michael Caine’s 1969 crime caper, The Italian Job.
Such was the durability of the original car’s design, it remained in production between 1959 and 2000.
Outwardly, the Mini which was in production from 1959 to 2000, remained faithful to the original Alec Issignosis design
In its newer guise, the Mini Electric, now owned by BMW, still has a familial resemblance even after more than 64 years
The Metro, pictured, was designed as the replacement of the Mini, with production of the 1980s hatchback stopping 1988 – two years earlier than the iconic British
Despite its small size it was used in rallying, and is a firm favourite among the classic car community, with owner’s clubs around the world.
In the early 1980s, British Leyland believed they had developed a new modern car to replace the popular Mini, the Austin Metro. Yet despite being driven by Lady Diana and initially having good sales, the Austin Metro ceased production in 1998 – outlived by the Mini for a further two years.
The Mini brand was revived under BMW’s ownership following the collapse of Rover, who had survived the longest in the musical chairs farce which marked the demise of popular marques such as MG, Triumph, Austin and British Leyland, as the British car industry struggled through the industrial strife of the 1970s and 80s.
Visionary car designers of the period soon realised, the layout of these cars provided them with an opportunity. Due to their light weight and hatchback configuration, with a few tweaks to the engine and suspension and minor changes to the body, instead of selling a sensible car to the masses, a fast and furious machine could be produced without the costs associated with a Ferrari or Aston Martin. The hot hatch was born.
For petrolheads, the Cold War-style nuclear arms race between the likes of Ford, VW, Peugeot, Renault and Vauxhall.
VW began the trend with the development of the Golf GTi. The small letter i denoted the car had fuel injection. Having fuel injection rather than carburettors increased efficiency and reliability. Another side effect, was an increase in power.
Volkswagen developed the Golf as a replacement of the Beetle, bringing on board Giorgetto Giufiaro’s Italdesign studio to improve the car’s looks.
With the Mk1 GTi, the car was voted Car of the Year by What Car? in 1981, winning over both reviewers and the general public.
The MG3, pictured, is selling strongly in Britain after a Chinese firm bought the defunct brand before launching a range of new cars on the market
The Mark 1 Golf GTi, pictured, offered motorists the chance of a quick, sporty car without requiring an account at Coutts
The original Golf weighed-in at 840kg, compared with almost 1,400kg for the modern version
During the 1980s, car companies dramatically improved the quality of their TV advertising, by appealing to women
The Nissan Micra, pictured, gained a firm following among elder drivers seeking a reliable run around following its introduction in 1982
The latest Nissan Micra was introduced in 2017
Engineers at VW’s Wolfsberg headquarters had begun working on the hot hatch in secret. Soon they were able to release 110bhp from an engine they had taken from an Audi production line.
This pushed the 840kg hatchback from a standing start to 60mph in nine seconds – phenomenal in the 1980s. On Germany’s unrestricted autobahns, it could hit 112mph.
As well as the uprated engine, the engineers had improved the cars brakes and stiffened its suspension to improve the cars road handling and stopping power.
On the outside, a red stripe around the radiator grille and the GTi badge warned other road users about the car’s abilities. Inside, the sporty version featured tartan seats and a dimpled golf ball on the gear stick.
In 2020, an early right hand drive Mk 1 Golf sold for almost £28,000 at auction – not a bad return for a car which originally cost £4,705 new.
Though, despite the iconic name the Golf has developed, Volkswagen have also indicated that the legendary hatchback will be phased out towards the end of the decade.
The Peugeot 205 morphed from a basic three door hatchback, pictured here with steel wheels and hubcaps, into one of the finest hot hatches of the 1980s and 90s
Vauxhall fans loved the Nova, especially the sporty SRi version, and classic models of the car today are far cheaper than their Ford equivalents
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