The 1970s was a tumultuous time for British car manufacturing, but that didn’t stop the public buying British cars, and many of the ten best sellers were UK-made. The remainder of the bestsellers list is made up of European-American machines from the likes of Ford and Vauxhall. This top ten is based on registration figures from 1970-1979.
#1 Ford Cortina – 1,412,102 registered
The Cortina Mk3 (or TC for Taunus Cortina) was a massive gamble for Ford. Both the Mk1 and Mk2 were compact cars with their upper models anchored to the one-and-a-half litre class, but what Ford decided to do for their replacement was to retain the 1.3-litre entry point, but take the top models up to 2-litres, swallowing up the old Corsair range in the process – the result was the best selling car of the early – 70’s. The 1976 Cortina Mk4 retained that best-selling position until the end of the 70’s thanks to square-rigged styling and an even larger range.
#2 Ford Escort – 1,119,004 registered
Originally designed as the new Anglia, the Euro-friendly Escort name was adopted instead as the fresh small Ford after the formation of Ford of Europe in 1967. Although less distinctive than the Anglia, the Coke bottle-profiled Escort was good-looking and started finding favourite with younger buyers looking for a small saloon. Two generations of Escort were produced in the 1970’s, and both were popular thanks to their fine image and those all-important rally wins. Win on Sunday, sell on Monday!
#3 Morris Marina – 703,686 registered
Building a car to beat the Ford Cortina was never going to be easy, and British Leyland needed to introduce its new challenger in a hurry – so the Marina emerged as a bit of a parts-bin special. After years of building front-wheel drive Issigonis-designed cars, the rear-drive Marina seemed a step backwards, but was actually what the market wanted. Much-maligned now, very few Marinas survive, despite it being the third most popular car of the 70’s.
#4 Mini – 611,695 registered
Such was the rightness of the original Mini, that once it had reached Mk3 form in 1968, there really wasn’t much left to improve – and so, between the late 1960’s and early-90’s, very little materially changed, other than trim and equipment. It had a boost in sales following the 1973 energy crisis, and remained consistently popular until the arrival of the Austin Metro in 1980, when its sales gently slipped away. Was planned to go out of production in 1987, until granted a stay of execution by Rover’s new management – and from then on until its death in 2000, the Mini became a chic choice; and not one of necessity.
#5 Vauxhall Viva – 547,717 registered
When the Viva HC arrived in 1970, few would have believed that it was to be the last of its line. But the creeping integration between GM’s German and British operations would gather pace during the 1970’s, and one victim on that was going to be the Viva. Through the 1970’s there were various body styles to suit the varied needs of buyers, including sportier models rebadged as Magnum and Firenza.
#6 Austin Allegro – 385,584 registered
The butt of many jokes, the Allegro became a scapegoat for all the failings of 1970’s British Leyland. That reputation for failure stuck with the Allegro for many, many years after it ceased production in 1982. And for many older car fans, it still holds true to this day. Nowadays it has some cult appeal as the ideal starter classic for the impecunious, thanks to its simplicity and low cost.
#7 Ford Capri – 378,310 registered
Ford’s mid-sized four-seater coupe created a European market for ‘pony’ cars and left its rivals stumbling to come up with suitable alternatives. It was a simple recipe for success – combine great styling with straightforward mechanicals and brilliant marketing. That legend started with Ford’s own advertising strapline, which described the Capri as ‘The car you always promised yourself.’
8# Austin 1100/1300 – 303,064 registered
Lively by the standards of the day thanks to the A-Series engines, the Austin 1100 and 1300 came close to Mini levels of fun. Much cleverer than their Ford, Vauxhall and Rootes rivals, these cars were very popular and remained the UK’s best selling car when the 1970’s dawned. Production ended in 1974, when the Allegro took over – and it fell short of matching the 1100/1300’s success, which is testament to this car’s popularity with British buyers.
9# Ford Granada – 237,937 registered
The Consul and Granada arrived on the scene in 1972 to banish the memories of the ungainly Mk4 Zephyr and Zodiac, and show that a pan-European Ford could be just as desirable in London as it was in Berlin. The new executive car was certainly smart and well-proportioned, and proof that Ford in the UK had not lost its direction stylistically, despite what some critics of the Z-cars might have been saying.
10# Hillman and Chrysler Avenger – 219,600 registered
The Hillman Avenger was a car Rootes/Chrysler tried to sell to the world – it was exported briefly to the USA as a Plymouth, and ended up finding more success in South America as a Dodge. Its styling was more appealing and the fresh range of OHV engines – 1248cc and 1498cc from launch, 1295cc and 1598cc in 1973 – were lively. It never really managed to sell as well as rivals from Vauxhall or Ford, though. Started out as a Hillman; became a Chrylser in 1976; before being rebadged as a Talbot in 1979.