The UK’s best-selling cars have changed in style over the decades, with today’s sales charts being dominated by superminis, family hatchbacks and crossovers. But it wasn’t always so. Remember the days when the Ford Cortina was consistently at number one, and foreign manufacturers struggled to get anywhere near the Top 10?
Amazingly though, despite many of the best-sellers of old having been out of production for many years, they’re still a force to be reckoned with when looking at overall figures for the last half a century. Check out our Top 10 sellers of the last 50 years.
Ford Fiesta – 4.2 million
Ford’s dominance at the top of the best-sellers list saw a slight change in 2014, when the Fiesta (still in production, of course) overtook the long-defunct Escort as number one in Britain. Today’s sixth-generation Fiesta is a far cry from the original model of 1976, yet it remains one of the most competent, top-handling superminis in its sector – which, funnily enough, is exactly what the MkI also achieved. Almost forty years on, British buyers still can’t get enough of the Fiesta.
Ford Escort – 4.1 million
Launched in 1968 to replace the Anglia 105E and finally dropped in 2000 once the Focus had established itself, the Escort proved to be one of Ford’s biggest success stories throughout its six different generations – with 4,105,192 sold in Britain. And in typical Ford fashion, a vast array of different variations ensured there was an Escort to suit everyone – from base-model economy specials to tarmac-burning (well, almost) high-performance beasts like the MkI Mexico, MkII RS2000, MkIII RS Turbo and later RS Cosworth.
Vauxhall Astra – 2.9 million
When GM Europe badge-engineered the new front-wheel drive Opel Kadett – to create the first-generation Vauxhall Astra – in 1979, who could have predicted that the name would still be with us more than 35 years (and almost three million cars) later? A seventh-generation Astra is due to be unveiled later this year, which should ensure that Vauxhall’s family favourite continues to perform strongly in the UK’s sales charts. Not bad for a car whose original task was simply to replace the Vauxhall Viva.
Ford Cortina – 2.6 million
British buyers were such fans of the best-selling Cortina throughout its twenty years, that out of a total production run of just over four million cars, a mighty 2,589,351 were sold in the UK. The original Consul Cortina of 1962 was followed by the square-cut MkII (shown here) in ’66, the sexily curvaceous MkIII in 1970 and the neat-but-boxy MkIV in ’76, with each model hitting the magic one-million mark during its production run. No wonder this perennial favourite features so highly in our Top 10.
Vauxhall Corsa – 1.9 million
If the original Vauxhall Nova of 1983 had instead been called Corsa (as its Opel equivalent was), the total UK sales figure would be a little higher than the 1.9 million shown here. No matter though, because the Nova’s successor (effectively an Opel Corsa MkII) was finally badged as the Vauxhall Corsa, which has since been followed by three more generations bearing the same moniker. The latest version is consistently in the Top 5 these days … and so the story continues.
Ford Focus – 1.85 million
With mainstream versions of the Ford Escort being rather unimpressive by the 1990s, criticised by the motoring press for being too dull and simply not competitive enough, the pressure was on to create a worthy replacement. What then arrived in ’98 was the brilliant new Focus, a dramatic looking hatch that performed and handled better than just about any rival of the time. Ford was back with a bang, and the Focus (through three different generations) has been a huge seller ever since.
Volkswagen Golf – 1.85 million
Virtually neck and neck with the Focus in this best-sellers list is the Golf – although Germany’s ever-popular hatch did have a 24-year head start, having been around since 1974. It’s always done well in Britain, with early adopters praising it in the ’70s for its sharp looks, good build quality, efficient driving style and – as the passing of time would reveal – excellent reliability. Oh, and let’s not forget that this is the car that brought about the GTi revolution in MkI and MkII guises.
Vauxhall Cavalier – 1.8 million
Through three different generations and a production run of twenty years, the Cavalier provided Vauxhall with a much-needed boost – with an impressive 1,816,529 examples finding customers in the UK. Each version was more than a match for its Cortina (or Sierra) rival, and increasing sales throughout the Cavalier’s lifespan meant an ever-larger market share for Vauxhall. The MkII Cavalier (shown here) was a particular gem, offering one of the best driving experiences of any sales rep’s car of the early ’80s.
BL/Rover Mini – 1.6 million
With more than five million built during its 41 years in production, some might have expected the original Mini to be higher placed than this. But let’s not forget that a large proportion of Minis ended up in export markets worldwide, leaving 1,581,887 examples to find homes in the UK. Up until the launch of the Metro in 1980, the Mini regularly appeared high-up in Britain’s Top 10, a consistent favourite among small-car fans – even when faced with new-style ‘supermini’ rivals throughout the ’70s.
BL / Rover Metro – 1.5 million
The Austin Metro couldn’t come soon enough for BL, with the company desperate to cash in on the ‘supermini’ market. The Metro finally went on sale in October 1980 and enjoyed a long life, becoming the Rover Metro in 1990 (when the K-series engines arrived) and re-badged as the Rover 100 for ’95. The final cars were sold in 1998, with a total of 1,498,169 having found buyers in Britain. It might have been rather ‘old hat’ by the late ’90s, but Rover’s smallest offering still had its fans.