A Brief History of British Cars in the 1970s
Having a car gives you the freedom to travel outside of your city and really explore the sights, attractions, and areas around you. It also allows you to get to work quickly and avoid the heavy traffic that plagues many large cities around the world, as well as the road rage that can often accompany it. However, a car can also be a bit of a pain to deal with when it comes to the traffic and the congestion that can cause you to have to wait around for what seems like forever for a short journey. This is something that just about every country in the world has to contend with, but it can be especially problematic in a UK city.
The 1970s saw a number of major changes in British cars. Front-wheel drive was increasingly popular after BMC pioneered it on several new models in the early years of the decade, and hatchback body styles (first introduced by Datsun in Europe on the Renault 16) became more common on family cars as manufacturers rationalised their ranges. But internal rivalries, the retention of legacy marques and models, supplier problems, high unit costs, quality issues, and inefficient use of new equipment thwarted efforts to modernise, and sales slumped as foreign competitors gained ground on the domestic market.
One of the more famous marques to have a brief period of success in this period was the Caterham, which produced small two-seater sports cars with wooden runners and open wheel arches. Other companies such as the MEV and Elva were based in the Midlands and also produced two-seaters with retractable roofs. Foreign brands such as the French Renault, Peugeot and Citroen and the German Volkswagen gained popularity due to low prices and running costs, strong levels of standard equipment and a reputation for reliability that was better than that enjoyed by the majority of British cars at this time.
Today, Jaguar Land Rover is the most successful British car manufacturer with a production level of more than 350,000 cars per year. They produce a wide range of vehicles, from the budget XE and XJ to the flagship F-Type sports car. They make their cars at their factory in Castle Bromwich and use manufacturing techniques derived from the aerospace industry.
Other notable British makers of cars during this era included the Lancia Delta, which proved very popular in Europe, and the Vauxhall Astra, which was built in Sunderland, but is now made at Nissan’s plant in Washington.
The Ford Galaxy is the last British-built MPV still in production, and the Nissan Qashqui and Leaf are the best-selling models that are entirely British built. Aside from these, most other cars on sale in Britain are imported. But the good news is that there are still some manufacturers who continue to produce cars with a real sense of craftsmanship that have a love of design and engineering built into them, which we hope will endure for many more generations to come.