Top 20: Endangered British cars


Here’s the top 20 you’ve been waiting for. We’ve compiled a list of the most endangered British family cars – and have done so by comparing the number of cars originally made with those left on the roads today. And it’ll leave you asking, ‘where are they now?’

And this selection of cars is fascinating – pretty much all of them littered the UK roads as recently as 10 years ago, and now, you’ll be lucky to spot one at a classic car meeting. And that’s the scary thing – the low survival rate. A number of these cars had more than a million made, and yet there are hundreds – or dozens – left. And even the least endangered car on our list has a survival rate of less than 1%. One other factor to emerge from this list is that the 1980s cars are particularly vulnerable – because their passage into popular classic status is yet to happen, and their disappearance has been hastened by needless scrappage and artifically low market values in recent years.

Austin Allegro

1973-1982  
642,340 built and 291 remaning in the UK, for a total of 0.0453% left

The pudding-shaped Allegro is so embedded in British popular culture, that it’s shocking to learn that there are fewer than 300 taxed and SORN’d examples left on our roads. For many years, the Allegro was synonymous with the failure of the British car industry, and when it was new, it failed to sell in the numbers expected by its maker. That was probably down to its unappealing styling, high prices, poor build quality, and all-round lack of showroom sparkle.

Today, with the whiff of failure now 40 years in its wake, it’s now seen as a quirky and sensibly-cheap to run classic car witha growing following. But they Allegro is still disappearing off the roads, and now heads up the endangered list – buy and protect one today.

Austin Montego

1984-1994
571,457 built, 296 remaining in the UK, for a total of 0.0518% left

Along with the Ford Sierra and the Vauxhall Cavalier, the Austin Montego was the archetypal 1980s repmobile for the middle-manager in a hurry. Like its rivals, it was available with a wide range of engines and trim levels, and the fastest models proudly wore the MG badge. As in-period as the Filofax and brick-sized mobile phones, the Montego was Austin-Rover’s final – and ultimately unsuccessful – attempt at a mass-market saloon.

The car was obviously based on the Maestro, but stretched up a market sector, with a predictable adverse effect on the styling. As the years progressed, it was demoted from the outside lane to the back street bomb-site dealer, and thanks to its tendency to rust around the edges, they were soon worthless. And that’s why what was one of Britain’s most popular cars is now among its rarest.

Princess

1975-1982  
224,942 built, with 121 remaining in the UK, for a total of 0.0538% left

Another of those cars that looked so promising when it was launched, but by the time the Princess has been on the market a couple of years, all of those pre-launch dreams had been shattered by industrial unrest, shoddy build and slow sales. And yet, the Princess is a great classic car today – it was boldly styled by Harris Mann, roomy and a restful cruiser, and powered by the silkiest six-cylinder engine. 

But it had an image problem when new – it was mildly unsporting when these things mattered, which made it the perfect transport for the 1980s sitcom Terry and June. Today the Princess is rare, and it had a loyal bad of followers – like all good classic cars.

Hillman Avenger

1970-1981
638,631 built, with 369 remaining in the UK, for a total of 0.0578% left.

Of course the Avenger is rare today – it was a good car, new from the wheels-up, but it was also confused about its identity. For the first six years of its life, it was known as a Hillman, but then became a Chrysler in deference to its maker’s American owner. The it became a Talbot in 1979 until it went out of production in 1981, when the company was taken over by Peugeot. It was a political football, too – the factory it was made in was in Central Scotland, 400 miles from where its maker wanted it, thanks to government policy.

But Hillman’s Ford Escort rival was really rather good, thanks to its smooth engines and excellent suspension set-up. Today it’s a bit of a forgotten gem, but it did have its moment in the sun as the support car for the 1978 Scotland World Cup Football team.

Vauxhall Viva

1963-1979
1,516,792 built, with 1057 remaining in the UK, for a total of 0.0697% left.

The Vauxhall Viva was built in Ellesmere Port near Liverpool, and proved the factory’s mainstay until 1981 and the arrival of the first generation Astra. It was a solid top ten seller in the UK, and enjoyed sustained success thanks to being good to drive, cheap to run and simple to service and all-round capable transport.

With just over 1000 left taxed and SORN’d in the UK, they’re now on the endangered species list – who’d have thought that when their shiny new Viva symbolised Bob and Thelma’s move into middle-class suburbia and away from their working class roots in the 1970s sitcom, The Likely Lads.

Morris Marina

 

1971-1980
809,612 built, with 674 remaining in the UK, for a total of 0.0832% left.

Pity the poor Morris Marina. It’s a car that was conceived with the simple job of appealing to fleet managers, and its only crime was to remain in production too long by its maker that was starved of funds. And yet, thanks to the exploits of Top Gear most people associate the Marina with the poor old car piano-shaped hole in its roof.

Still, at least younger generations of car enthusiasts have now heard of the Morris Marina, even if it’s not in a good way. From its launch in 1971 until the mid-1970s, the Marina was a strong-seller in the UK, often only trailing the Cortina and Escort in the sales charts. And for Carry On fans, its appearance in Carry on at your convenience as Sid James’ middle-management motor showed that it even had a little bit of appeal to the upwardly mobile. Even those who weren’t aware they were climbing the social ladder. 

Austin Maxi

1969-1981  
472,098 built, with 401 remaining in the UK, for a total of 0.0849% left.

The Maxi was a rational, sensible, five seater family car, with front-wheel drive, five-speed gearbox, and all the lounging room you’d ever need. It was also blessed with Plain Jane looks that gave it an almost classless air – which makes it an odd choice for class-conscious Basil in Fawlty Towers. Still it was a rational motor that was commonplace across the UK, and not just Torquay – and now you’ll be lucky if you see one at a classic car meeting.

And that’s a shame, because unlike the Marina and Allegro, which for many years were considered a British industrial laughing stock, the Maxi has always viewed as the slightly eccentric sensible family hatchback that cast the mould for the hold-alls we’re all driving today.

Morris Ital

1980-1984  
175,276 built, with 174 remaining in the UK, for a total of 0.0993% left.

The Morris Ital was a facelift too far. The Marina was well past pensionable in 1980, and the new front and rear end styling really wasn’t enough to make the car competitive against the best that Vauxhall and Ford could offer. The new name really set expectations too high, though – and to be fair, the car was originally destined to be called the Morris Marina Ital until management decreed that it should be named after the design house that acted as a consultancy for the facelift.

However, it’s worth noting that the Italians didn’t style the Ital at all – it was penned by Harris Mann, the designer responsible for the Allegro and Princess. And the Ital is heading rapidly for extinction. 

Rover SD1 

1977-1986 
303,345 built, with 310 remaining in the UK, for a total of 0.1022% left.

The Rover SD1 is an interesting classic, a car of absolute extremes. When it was launched in 1976, it was a worldbeater – fast, comfortable, great to drive with  excellent dynamics, and possessing that fastback rear end made it oh-so practical. During the 1970s and ’80s, it was considered the ultimate jam sandwich police car, and there isn’t a film made in England during that time that doesn’t star an SD1 in some form or another.

But it was British Leyland at its worst. The SD1 was a long way from being reliable, and the build quality on the earliest cars was absolutely shocking. And that, inevitably sealed the car’s fate in the minds of  executive car buyers. Today it’s a great classic car, thanks to almost total parts availability and good specialist and club support. And that probably means survivor numbers won’t drop much more – we can hope.

Vauxhall Victor

1961-1978 
827,159 built, with 995 remaining in the UK, for a total of 0.1203% left.

Our figures are for all Victors, which makes the low survivor numbers all the more shocking for these former family favourites from Vauxhall. The FD (above) was probably the best of the bunch, and immortalised in Randall and Hopkirk… Deceased.  With less than 1000 Victors left, they’re a true endangered species, although it’s a good bet that this number isn’t going to drop much further thanks to an enthusiastic following.

Austin Metro

1980-1991  
1,518,932 built, with 1930 remaining in the UK, for a total of 0.1271% left.

Of all the endangered cars on our list, the Metro’s appearance is probably the most shocking. It was a best seller throughout the 1980s and not only was it a favourite with the BSM driving school, but Diana Princess of Wales owned one before she married the Prince of Wales in July 1981.

It its early days, the Metro was the darling of British motorists, enjoying a brief period of cool immediately after its launch, before the reality of its reliability issues came to the fore – and more capable rivals such as the Fiat Uno and Peugeot 205 turned up to spoil the party. It’s amazing to think that with more than 1.5 million Metros built, there are now fewer than 2000 either taxed or on SORN in the UK. Even as recently as 10 years ago, the Metro was a familiar piece of street furniture.

Ford Cortina

1962-1982  
4,154,902 built, with 5411 remaining in the UK, for a total of 0.1302% left.

Our figures are for all four generations of Ford Cortina, and it’s interesting to see that the car that topped the UK charts throughout the 1970s and well into the ’80s, is already on the endangered list. The Cortina – or Dagenham Dustbin as it was unkindly nicknamed – was the ultimate dad’s car. Everyone’s dad had one. But they were so much more, being at the heart of the country’s commerce.

The Mk3 became the symbol of the 1970s, thanks to the 2005 drama, Life on Mars, and we remember the struggle the producers had to find their ideal example for the programme. But of all the generations, it’s the Mk4 and 80 that’s the most numerous with 1,131,850 made. Sobering to think that there’s rather less than 1% of those still around.

MG 1100

1962-1971  
157,409 built, with 206 remaining in the UK, for a total of 0.1309% left.

The low survival rate of the MG1100 isn’t actually that surprising. In fact there are more left than we thought there would be. As fine a car as it was, being the plush version of the bigger-selling Morris 1100, it didn’t sell in huge numbers when new – and thanks to dreadful corrosion, many were lost even before they made it to their 10th birthday. Like the Metro, the MG1100’s engine slotted straight into the Mini – so you can imagine the fate of many of these cars. Shame.

Austin Maestro

1983-1994    
605,410 built, with 1012 remaining in the UK, for a total of 0.1672% left.

You can be sure that there are now fewer than 1000 taxed and SORN’d 1000 Maestros in the UK now, which is a sad reflection of the low worth these cars currently have. When it was launched in 1983, no less than the future of BL rested on it, and its success was intended to finance the next wave of family cars from the company. As it was, the Maestro failed to meet expectations, but the deal with Honda expanded to make up the all-British car’s relative failure.

Many people might remember it as the car Margaret Thatcher drove up Downing Street on its launch day, or the panda car that powered Juliette Bravo, or maybe even for being Britain’s first ‘talking car’. But if you want one, the message is grab one quick…

Vauxhall Chevette

1975-1984     
416,058 built, with 768 remaining in the UK, for a total of 0.1846% left.

In 1975, the Droop Snoot Chevette represented the rebirth of Vauxhall, based closely on Opel’s product line. The Chevette was a re-nosed version of the Opel Kadett, powered by the venerable – and surprisingly lively – overhead valve 1256cc Viva engine. Many will remember Chevettes for being the archetypical Radio Rentals/Visionhire delivery van, or one of Britain’s first superminis in three-door hatchback form. But for rally fans, memories of Russell Brookes drifting the Group 4 2300 HSR on the Lombard-RAC rally are simply unforgettable.

Austin Ambassador

1982-1984
43,427 built, with 84 remaining in the UK, for a total of 0.1934% left.

In 1982, Terry and June traded-in their Princess for an Ambassador. It was a extensive facelift of the older car, with a new interior, revised front-end styling, and a much-needed hatchback. In every way it was a better car than the Princess, and thanks to Harris Mann’s deft styling of it, the Ambassador looked as it it should have been a hatchback from the word go.

But the Ambassador wasn’t a success. It was never made in left-hand drive form, nor did it get to see its second birthday at Cowley. But John Shuttleworth did manage to spin it into a rather amusing song.

Hillman Imp

1963-1976
440,032 built, with 906 remaining in the UK, for a total of 0.2059% left.

The rear-engined Hillman Imp was a great car that in many ways out-mini’d the Mini. But misguided government policy forced Rootes to build its factory in Linwood, Scotland – and not near Coventry, where the car manufacturer would have liked it. That resulted in quality issues, and that really hampered the agreeable little car’s chances on the market. Despite all that, it remained in production until 1976, to be replaced by the Chrysler Sunbeam – launched by Petula Clark, who crooned, ‘Put a Chrysler Sunbeam In Your Life’. Dreadful.

Rover 200

1984-1990
418,367 built, with 1371 remaining in the UK, for a total of 0.3277% left.

The Rover 200 will be forever associated with Hyacinth and Richard Bucket in the BBC sitcom Keeping Up Appearances. The slightly snooty image of this car suited the awful ‘Bucket Woman’s’ delusions of grandeur, even if she was a parody of the million Middle Englanders we all know. The car itself, based closely on the Honda Ballade, was actually very successful for Rover – ending up outselling the Maestro, and bolstering Rover Group’s fading fortunes in the bloodbath that was the middle-market during the 1980s.

What’s done it for the Rover’s long-term survival prospects has been its amazing ability to rust. If you want to find one and cherish it for the future, now would be the time to get on to the task – it’s disappearing fast, and yet hasn’t attained widespread classic appeal, so will probably continue to do so for some time to come.

Triumph Acclaim

1981-1984
133,625 built, with 488 remaining in the UK, for a total of 0.3652% left.

The Triumph Acclaim is one of the most important cars ever made in Britain. Why? Because it proved that UK assembly line workers were just as good at screwing cars together as their Japanese counterparts – as long as they were given quality componentry to work with. Once the Acclaim proved the point, Nissan, Toyota and Honda followed suit, opening their own production plants across the UK.

As for the Acclaim – it’s now a member of the classic Triumph fraternity, so its future is probably assured now.

Ford Sierra

1982-1993 
3,470,524 built, with 15,282 remaining in the UK, for a total of 0.4403% left.

The Ford Sierra’s appearance on this list once again proves that 1980s and ’90s cars are vulnerable due to not attaining classic status in the conventional sense of the word – and the disposable nature of secondhand cars in the UK. The Sierra wasn’t an immediate success for Ford, buyers proving resistant to the overtly aerodynamic styling. But in time, and with the very effective 1987 facelift, sales increased, and the Sierra became a motorway mainstay.

The current car parc of around 15,000 Sierras might seem large, but you can be sure that numbers are going to be reducing rapidly for some time yet

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