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Family saloons and hatchbacks.Regular cars of the 1980s and early 1990s rarely set the world alight with their dynamism and creativity, most treading the well worn path of delivering something safely dependable, anaemic and grey. Throughout the "yuppy era" of the 1980s though, there were a small number of regular family cars that came along and dared to be a little bit different. The Ford Sierra has already been mentioned, 'Men and Machine in perfect harmony' the advertising blurb went, Ford making a big deal of the Sierra's wind-cheating aerodynamics and robotic manufacturing process, something that Fiat had done a few years earlier with the tinfoil Strada.
Audi, like Ford, were soon to jump on the aerodynamics bandwagon in the early 1980s, their slippery 100 model being the most windcheating car to date, employing all manner of little tricks to keep the drag down. This concentration on drag co-efficiency (Cd) back then led to efficient but (to my eyes) pretty dull motor cars, Audi being one of the most guilty, with the exception of the quattro which proved they could still make interesting-looking cars if they tried. SAAB gradually started losing the plot once GM took them over, the idiosyncratic 900s of old being replaced with altogether duller offerings on Cavalier platforms, instantly propelling all versions of the 'classic' 900 (especially the 16S and Carlsson turbo versions) to 'modern classic' status overnight, the cars still being sought after nearly 20 years since the last proper SAAB car rolled off the line. With the company no longer in business, the "proper" 900s are likely to maintain their strong following going forward, although I hope examples of the base 900s, such as the GL and the GLi, survive alongside the turbo variants.
Volvo throughout the 1970s and 1980s stuck with their regular offerings of safe but in the main pedestrian-looking saloons and estates, the UK market sadly never receiving official imports of the 242 Turbo which had success in European touring car races during the 1980s. Although the square-rigged 240 is slowly developing a retro charm, most old Volvos will probably end up being re-cycled into Chinese cutlery. Early 343s are thin on the ground now, and seeing a good preserved one is now a reminder of how far Volvo has come in terms of design. Perhaps the only blip of glamour from an otherwise drab catalogue in the 1970s and 1980s was the 262 Coupe, a bizarre-looking machine haphazardly assembled by Bertone, which consisted of a two-door shell and a chopped, vinyl-clad, roof topping off an oh-so-sombre black leather interior. These were unusually rot prone, and most survivors have already been snapped up by enthusiastic Volvo collectors. Maybe one or two 244DL saloons and 245DL estates of the 1970s will also be preserved in the UK. Earlier 140-series cars already have a small but loyal band of devotees, and I can well see the appeal of a six-cylinder 164.
Other highlights from the last 25 years or so are pretty thin on the ground. An early VW Golf in entry-level specification might be worth keeping hold of and looking after, as might the early shape Scirocco although that doesn't qualify here as a saloon. I can't think of too many interesting VWs of the 1990s - take the Passat for instance, a largely-forgettable car that is so dull that it makes knitting seem an exciting pastime. Peugeot has little to shout about when it comes enticing preservation prospects from their normal saloon range (although I do have a sneaking fondness of the 504), and Renault fare little better, though I cannot remember the last time I saw one of their Renault 30 V6s from the 1970s. The same applies to the later 25, there can't be too many of them in regular circulation either now.
As with the French, the Italians have the ability to produce pretty naff saloon and family cars. Fortunately most of them have rotted to oblivion and we can be spared their existence - surely the lowest of the low for an Italian car company was the co-operation between Nissan and Alfa Romeo, combining elements from both parties, the end result being one of the most shameful motorcars ever to land at Southampton docks .. I'm talking about the Nissan Cherry Europe aka Alfa Romeo Arna. Quite what drove Alfa to this deal is not altogether obvious, but the ingredients were as follows: take a dull dull Nissan Cherry hatchback bodyshell, which had all the desirability of a bout of acne, and shoehorn in a boxer Alfa Romeo engine and electrics and see what happens. The end result was a car that looked dire, that had a nifty Italian engine, plugged in to questionable Italian electrics, and seemed to be a pointless exercise. Unsurprisingly, few sold, and the last one I saw was on the BBC when Top Gear blew one up on behalf of the nation.
What other 1980s/1990s saloon are worth looking out for and preserving, if only for interest's sake? Old Renaults are a dying breed, and R16, R17, R20, and R30s are all very thin on the ground, although reincarnations of the 12 and 16 were sold in this country in the 1990s but made by Dacia. Quite a shocking vehicle, but try and find a Dacia Duster now (I have the brochures somewhere).
Rear-engined Skodas have a devout following, and a well looked after Rapide could make a characterful runabout even now, certainly causing more of a stir than the Favorit which replaced it. Ladas too were once a common sight here in the UK, but with Lada pulling out of the UK market, and many being shipped back to expectant Russians in the cars' birthplace, they are disappearing rapidly. Another reason for this is the dire quality of the materials used, but as with many confirmed classics already, sometimes a car's mediocrity combined with relative scarcity can grant it so-called classic status, just look at the De Lorean ...
If the Lada isn't bad enough, who remembers its Polish cousin the truly awful Polski Fiat, another incarnation of the Fiat 124 saloon of the late 1960s? Not to be outdone, FSO also weighed in with an equally bad version, the 125P, making their lousy Polonez model appear almost revolutionary. But, as already stated, it's just as important to preserve the less glamorous vehicles as it is to cherish some of their more capable contemporaries, at least in my opinion, so hopefully a few well-tended examples remain under dust sheets in UK garages.
MPVs / SUVs and 4x4 off roaders.Multi Purpose Vehicles are by and large a recent-ish phenomenon in the UK. There have been MPV-type vehicles around for a while, but they've always been a bit of an offbeat option. Fiat have been peddling the Multipla for over 40 years, and does anyone still remember the Talbot Rancho?? a car with an MPV/Range Rover look, powered by an asthmatic lump lifted out of the gloriously rot-prone Sunbeam Alpine hatch from the 1970s. Renowned for their ability to disintegrate, almost up there with Lancia in this regard, surviving Ranchos are now very thin on the ground and definitely worth preserving if you can find a solid one. Despite its looks, it was not a 4wd drive vehicle, and as such was maybe not quite as useful as it could have been.
It was only really when Renault launched their Espace in the 1980s that things really started to kick off in the MPV market, providing a viable alternative for larger families to the large estate cars which had been their only option until that point. Soon all mass-market manufacturers started copying the Espace's example, producing all manner of similarly van-like machines. Although of little interest to me, there must be certain examples which are landmarks in the history of MPVs in this country. The Espace is the most obvious candidate I suppose, and even the early Toyota SpaceCruiser deserves a comfy retirement, introducing as it did the Japanese manufacturers to the UK MPV market.
Closely related to MPVs are of course the many 4x4s which now clutter up the roads around school gates up and down the UK on a daily basis. Big daddy to most of them is the Range Rover, with early two-door "classic" examples now being preserved in reasonable numbers, whenever a sound example can be found. Land Rovers have always been popular, not least due to their usefulness and unique image, whereas I suspect most competing 4wd offroaders may well slip into obscurity, such is the variety of vehicles out there. Rival big name producers of 4x4s include Mitsubishi (Shogun), Daihatsu (Fourtrak), Mercedes (G-Wagen), Ssangyong (Musso) and Suzuki with the Vitara and SJ, the latter being the vehicle slated for its alledged keen-ness to roll over during twisty manouevres. One of the more diminutive offerings in the 4x4 market was the all-wheel-drive version of the Fiat Panda on the market a few years ago, and available as the limited edition Sisley for the true Fiat collector.
|This is Part 3 of a 5 part article on what cars now may be worth preserving for the future     |
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