With the number of BMC>MGR cars on our roads diminishing rapidly, we take stock of the successive companies’ 10 most popular cars during the post-war years. Some of these numbers are going to shock you, simply because the cars are so rare on the road now. In fact, even the latest car on this list is now proving to be a rather unusual spot.
We’re going on overall production figures and our numbers include all worldwide and CKD production but, given BL’s dependence on the UK market, it’s also an accurate reflection of the situation on home shores.
Enjoy the countdown and don’t forget to have your say!
Of course, it’s no surprise that the Mini was – and is – the best-selling car of our era. With a 41-year production run and a huge volume sales during the 1960s and ’70s, the Mini remains an icon. Some would argue that five-and-a-half million in 41 years isn’t exactly a stellar performance but the Mini stands head and shoulders above its supposed higher-volume counterparts. It’s an all-time icon today!
The 1100/1300 put in a great performance to be the UK’s best-selling car pretty much consistently throughout its decade-long production run. The car proved that, contrary to popular opinion, British car buyers weren’t the conservative bunch many credit them to be – the ADO16 sported sharp Italian styling and front wheel drive in an era when tedious traditionalism was rife among its peers. The 1100/1300 fought long and hard against the Cortina but was eventually left behind as the 1970s progressed. Cheap and largely forgotten today… and so many were killed by rust.
Launched during the height of BL’s darkest days, the Metro was a welcome poke in the eye for Johnny Foreigner. It was modern in an age of tired old products and chic enough for Lady Di to buy one. For a couple of years, the Metro was the coolest car money could buy in the UK – but time, and the opposition, soon caught and overtook it. The Metro was impressively overhauled to become a Rover in 1990 but was eventually superannunated in the wake of a disastrous NCAP test. Still fun today.
The once berated ‘Poached Egg’ has emerged as one of the classic car scene’s most celebrated popular choices – even before it went out of production in 1971, the cute little Moggy had entered the British public’s wider consciousness. That fondness made the Minor hard to kill – because, in reality, it should have been replaced in the mid-1950s by the car that became the Riley One-Point-Five. When that boat sailed, the Morris 1100 came along in 1962 to replace the Minor – and yet it still lived on. We simply couldn’t get enough, and we still can’t.
Another strong showing from a car that time has been rather unkind to, but which actually did a pretty good job of fighting Ford in its own back garden when it arrived on the scene in 1971. Many people have failed to forgive the Marina for replacing the Minor and did their best to take its best bits, donating them to the older car – and that has made the Haynes-styled saloon rather rare today. Like most BMC>MG cars, the Marina lived too long for its own good – but that’s hardly reason to consign it to the dustbin of history.
1,176,871 (Maestro: 605,411/Montego: 571,460)
The new mid-liners for the 1980s came along to replace the mix-and-match BL range and should have cleaned up. The Maestro especially was exactly the right product – perfectly sized to fight the Escort and Golf and capable of outdriving both – but hit the market five years too late. It was the same case with the Montego. However, for cars that were considered relative failures, they actually acquited themselves quite well. Rare now thanks to rampant rust and apathy, but those that remain are loved by their enthusiastic owners.
Here’s a surprise for the more casual fans of AROnline. The Rover 200/400 was crisply styled, packed with tech and incredibly desirable when it hit the market in 1989. A range that was powered by 16V engines, packing Rover 800-style interior ergonomics was just the business at VW Golf money. Sadly, Rover’s lead in the marketplace built up by these cars was instantly eroded by the HH-R and R3 replacements – uninspired, unmemorable and overpriced. It was a mistake the company had made before with the Austin Allegro.
Rover 200/25/MG ZR
You have to admire Rover for its ability to produce cars on the cheap. Don’t believe us, consider 1995’s Rover 200, which had been developed for the paltry sun of £250m. It combined a shortened R8 floorpan with a Maestro beam axle and contemporary styling to produce an up-to date supermini that should have replaced the Metro handsomely. Unfortunately, what should have been the new Rover 100 became the replacement 200 and was priced to compete with larger, more capable cars. A defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, only later fixed with the arrival of the re-engineered 25 and ZR, priced to sell…
BL’s chubby underachiever was one of those cars that singularly failed to improve on the car it replace and, as a result, was punished in the marketplace. The contrast with the Morris Marina is stark, though: whereas that car sold well and is despised by classic car enthusiasts today, the Allegro sold poorly, and today has a cult following. Go figure… However, as a classic car, the Allegro makes a great deal of sense – cheap to run and fuel, it’s a head-turning conversation starter par excellence!
Rover 400/45/MG ZS
The second-generation Rover 400 singularly failed to impress just about everyone who drove it at launch. Unexciting dynamics, drab styling and a dour interior did their best to disguise a remarkably sophisticated Honda chassis. That’s a shame because the 400 grew into a surprisingly capable all-rounder once it gained the boot and a larger range of engines was fitted. The Rover 45 facelift saw it gain some nice 75-Series seats, but robbed it of interior space – the MG ZS transformation was shockingly good, though. This was – and is – one of the great unloved hot hatchbacks, especially in V6 form.
What’s not to say here. The MGB was BL’s best selling sports car and loved in export markets throughout its 18-year life. Desirable at launch in 1962, humiliatingly hobbled at its death in 1980, but now the iconic British classic car capable of selling magazines better than any other. Half a million sales is impressive nevertheless – still, though, brings a tear to the glass eye to think that it was never replaced and will always remain Abingdon’s final product.
Surprised to see this one here? Don’t be. The Maxi is here on the strength of solid sales and a long production run. Here’s one of those frustratingly incomplete cars that marks out BMC as a company capable of making cars that should have succeeded, but fell at the final fence. In the case of the Maxi – if you can ignore its quirky styling – poor execution was its undoing. Massive inside, utterly practical, a dreadful gearchange and stodgy steering put many people off on their test drives – only to turn instead to the familiarity of the Cortina. A hardcore of fans today will ensure that those which are left will be loved.
Some further reading:-
- Announcement : Still working on securing AROnline’s future - 8 December 2023
- The cars : Rover P6 development story - 8 December 2023
- Concepts and prototypes : Hyundai/Rover Oden (1992) - 9 November 2023