As the UK celebrates Father’s Day this coming Sunday, 21st June, my thoughts have turned to the cars many of our mums and dads drove on the Queen’s highway over the past decades post-war. These included the machines my own father drove and lusted after when I was a child.
Family cars through the decades – Axon’s Automotive Anorak
As a car-obsessed kid of the 1970s, the ‘cool cars’ I wanted my non-car guy Dad to buy (from Citroën, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Saab, etc.) differed wildly to the daily wheels he actually choose to drive (and I used to wash as a special Father’s Day treat).
My first memory of one of my Father’s cars was a grotty pale blue (as they all seemed to be!) Ford Corsair. This proved unreliable, so he quickly changed it for a sporty Sunbeam Rapier coupe (not the most practical of family cars), this soon being swapped for a four-door luxury Humber Sceptre.
As my Dad tended not to keep his cars for very long, the Humber rapidly made way for a Triumph 2.5 PI, a prestige saloon that proved so temperamental that after a short (but troublesome) fling with a Rover 2000TC, he briefly turned his back on British wheels and boldly choose Japanese, in the form of a lavish (but gaudy) 1972 Toyota Crown Coupe, soon followed by a racy twin cam Celica GT. He then managed to fulfill a dream and buy his first of three Reliant Scimitar GTEs (two of which were destroyed by engine fires, a known problem of the model!). He then opted for a trio of Mazdas, an RX4 Coupe, RX7 and 626 Montrose TWR Coupe, before buying his first (and only) Continental European car (with some influence from me), an elegant Peugeot 604. He then returning to a series of instantly forgettable Japanese cars for the remainder of the 1980s, ‘90s and beyond.
For most other British dads, the cars they drove (through personal choice, or otherwise) differed considerably from the cars they probably dreamt about. Here’s a quick summary of the passenger cars favoured by dads over the past six decades, with a hint of the possible machines they may have drooled over too.
Morris Minor – 1950s
Developed by acclaimed Morris engineer (Sir) Alec Issigonis during the Second World War (and originally set to be called Mosquito in a narrower form), the Morris Minor was the joint ‘bright new future’ star of the first post-war British Motor Show of 1948 (the other starring Earls Court debutant being the exotic Jaguar XK120).
As British as fish and chips, Shakespeare and red telephone boxes, the Morris Minor was an instant success, both in the UK and crucial export markets, with available body styles ranging from saloons, a charming drophead, timber-clad Traveller estate and van and pick-up variants, the last being made up until 1972. The very first British car to exceed 1 million examples produced, the ‘Moggie’ was the UK’s family car of choice during the austere but optimistic 1950s, driven by thousands of pipe-smoking fathers.
The Minor didn’t have it all its own way in the 1950s though. It faced strong competition in the form of the smaller Austin A30 and A35, the broad Ford 100E (Anglia, Popular, Prefect, Squire) family, plus the sensible Hillman Minx and Standard 8-19.
Beyond the larger Ford Zodiacs, Vauxhall Crestas, Standard Vanguards and Humber Hawks, the dads (now grandfathers) of the day probably dreamt about driving a Jaguar XK (120, 140 or 150), the world’s fastest production car at launch, and powered by the same legendary straight-six engine as the multiple Le Mans-winning Jaguar C- and D-types.
Austin 1100 – 1960s
Britain’s best-selling car from its 1962 launch for most of its 12-year career, BMC’s ADO16 (better known as the Austin/Morris 1100-1300, with endless badge-engineered derivatives) was a modern, front-wheel-drive trade-up over the earlier Issigonis Mini (the motoring choice of many British mums as well as dads in the ‘60s).
Initially launched as the Morris 1100, the Austin badged model soon became the more popular choice, out maneuvering its bigger (but more antiquated) Ford Cortina rival throughout the decade, the ‘Dagenham dustbin’ being Britain’s second most popular ‘dad car’ of the swinging sixties.
BMC’s pioneering Mini was hot on the heels of both the 1100 and Cortina in third position during the ‘60s, with the fourth-placed Ford Anglia also being a winner with more traditional fathers.
Dads of the decade would have dreamed about the ‘it’ car of the day, the sensational Jaguar E-type, with the AC Cobra and Aston Martin DB5 (as driven by James Bond, 007), plus the ‘far out’ Italian Lamborghini Miura, Dino 206 and Ferrari ‘Daytona’ trio, setting many British fathers’ hearts racing.
Ford Cortina – 1970s
Having lost out to its more technically-advanced BMC/BL 1100 rival in the 1960s, for the stylistically-challenged brown and beige 1970s, Ford finally got its way with the mid-sized Cortina enticing more fathers to adopt the blue oval badge, backed-up by its smaller rally-winning Escort sibling, which was the UK’s second motorists’ choice for the decade.
The Cortina entered the 1970s in its square-cut MkII form, to be replaced that Autumn by the brash ‘Coke-bottle’ MkIII version, with the more conservative MkIV arriving in late 1976 to see out the decade (this being superseded ultimately by Ford’s controversial Sierra in 1982).
Behind Ford’s extensive Cortina and Escort ranges, British Leyland challenged dads with its Mini and new Morris Marina, with its ADO16 1100-1300 models remaining popular until the end, an act never repeated by their flawed Austin Allegro replacement of 1973. The Vauxhall Viva and Hillman/Chrysler Avenger proved popular family wheels too, as did the growing threat of imports such as the Fiat 128, Datsun Sunny, Renault 12 and new-fangled Citroën GS and Volkswagen Golf.
Whilst listening to David Bowie, Elton John, ABBA, The Carpenters or The Wombles on the crackly (and optional) in-car AM radio, 1970s dads might have day-dreamed about driving a Jensen Interceptor, Aston Martin V8, Lamborghini Countach or Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer.
Vauxhall Cavalier – 1980s
By the early 1980s, boxy rear-wheel-drive family cars such as the Ford Cortina 4, Escort 2, Morris Marina and Vauxhall Chevette were seen as out-moded and old-fashioned. More modern front-drive models like the new third-generation Ford Escort and second-edition Vauxhall Cavalier showed the way forward, with both selling like hot cakes, the former beating the latter in the 1980s UK sales charts, both ahead of the Ford Fiesta and Austin Metro
Vauxhall’s svelte Cavalier MkII proved to be especially popular with thousands of British company car drivers (and dads), helping to re-invent the historic Luton brand. Usefully launched ahead of its key new Ford Sierra rival of 1982, the new 1981 Cavalier enjoyed sharper styling, plus that all-important front-wheel-drive platform. It’s Cortina-succeeding Sierra rival retained rear-drive, blended with a daring (too daring for many fathers) globular design that failed to win friends initially (although it still looks quite fresh today!).
By the 1980s many dads motoring fantasies had turned to foreign exotica, such as the Ferrari Testarossa and 288 GTO, with once-desirable British performance machines, like the Aston Martin V8 and Jaguar XJ-S, now becoming far too long-in-the-tooth.
Ford Fiesta – 1990s
As popular with mums as with dads, Ford’s B-class Fiesta was firmly established as Britain’s best-selling car by the 1990s. Launched in its first true new incarnation in 1989 (including the first five-door derivative) the Fiesta was the darling of the decade, bought and driven in its thousands.
The popular Vauxhall Cavalier played second fiddle to the small Ford in the 1990s, with its Astra sibling taking third place, ahead of the Sierra-replacing Ford Mondeo of 1993 which finally got front-wheel-drive, leaving rear-drive family saloons the preserve of the increasingly commonplace BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
The ‘90s saw the introduction of every father’s motoring fantasy, the astonishing McLaren F1, with this cunning and adept three-seater supercar still setting the standard almost 30 years on, and making contemporary ‘pretenders’ such as the Jaguar XJ220 and Lamborghini Diablo now look rather irrelevant.
Ford Focus – 2000s
Possibly one of the most under-developed and disappointing cars of the past 30 years, Ford needed to pull off a coup to replace the fourth (and final) generation Escort when it replaced that mediocre model in 1998 with the inspiring new Focus.
The new Focus restored every father’s faith in Ford to prove that it could still actually develop and build a very capable car, the match (and arguably better) of its arch rivals, such as the contemporary VW Golf and Vauxhall Astra. The Focus beat them convincingly, achieving huge critical acclaim and a flood of buyers returning to Ford showrooms. By the turn of the millennium, the Focus was the UK’s sales king, even outselling Ford’s own Fiesta, and trouncing the competition in this pre-smaller Crossover and SUV age.
For more ambitious and affluent fathers, who used to be content driving a medium family Ford or Vauxhall saloon, aspirations had changed by the ‘noughties, with the misplaced belief for odd reasons that the badge stuck on the bonnet and boot lid of car said much about the driver behind the wheel (often for the wrong reasons!).
Whereas previous decades had shown that a shiny new Ford, Austin or Vauxhall were enough to make British dads perfectly content, these traditional father favourites had now given way to aspirational brands finding favour, via now-popular models such as the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A3, as well as new SUVs like the Land Rover Discovery and Nissan Qashqai, with vehicles such as the BMW X5, Range Rover, Porsche Cayenne and ‘school bus’ Audi Q7 becoming dad’s dream cars.
So, whatever you now drive (or dream about) today, a Happy Father’s Day to all motoring dads out there.
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