Well, well, well, thank goodness that one’s over. It’s fair to say that 2022 was a roller coaster of a year – somewhat of a surprise as I think many of us hoped that, after the end of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic, we might have all deserved a quieter one.
That wasn’t the case – first there was war in Ukraine, then our Prime Minister was brought down by his own actions, the Queen passed away, and we endured 45 days of governmental meltdown in the hands of Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng after they drank too much of the Tufton Street Kool-Aid. Remember them? Then we began to get used to not turning lights and heating on at home, while wincing every time we filled up the car with fuel.
Anyway, less of that…
What about car stuff in 2023?
You don’t come here for world events and political sniping. You come here for cars and a little bit of nostalgia along the way. New metal from the UK manufacturers might be a little light on the ground in 2023 – we can expect a new MINI Hatch as well as its larger sisters, while the all-electric MG Cyberster sports car is also set to make an appearance (and, although it won’t be made here, obviously, it’s clear the Chinese carmaker is getting serious about cosplaying its past).
So, here are some of the car anniversaries we have to look forward to in 2023. And, yes, there are going to be some big ones!
10 years ago
We saw the arrival of the MG3 (above) in the UK – and it’s still on sale today (just about), and I’ll never forget the launch – which was a debacle from beginning to end. In addition, the Jaguar F-Type, which is effectively a shortened XK (X150), swooned everyone who clapped eyes on it. It might be a bit of a forgotten hero these days, but that doesn’t stop it being pant-wettingly gorgeous. Like the MG3, it’s also still on sale… officially.
20 years ago
Oh, what a busy year of model consolidation it was for MG Rover! After the boys at Longbridge got their heads down and worked on getting some fresh metal out there, we ended up with some interesting cars. At one end of the range, we were treated to the awful CityRover and prescient Rover Streetwise, while at the other, we had the two V8-powered monsters to contend with – the MG XPower SV and ZT V8.
Over in Cowley, we were treated to the brilliant supercharged MINI Cooper S, and Crewe suddenly became busy delivering Continental GTs to an appreciative new audience.
25 years ago
The Rover 75 did all the running for the home team, although its on-sale date was delayed for several months (after an early debut) until mid-1999, which did little for confidence in the brand. However, that was nothing compared with what Bernd Pischetsrieder did for it at the launch at the Birmingham Motor Show.
The other star of that show was the Jaguar S-Type, which went toe-to-toe with its Gaydon-designed rival and lost… in styling terms. Other debuts a quarter of a century ago were the massively improved Land Rover Discovery II (which is one of those rare cars that’s pretty much all new, but looks almost identical to its predecessor), the Jaguar XJ (X308) and Bentley Arnage and Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph.
Another good news story for UK car manufacturing was the launch of the Peugeot 206. Yes, it was a strange-looking thing at launch, but it went on to sell even better than the 205, and it proved so popular that the Ryton factory introduced three-shift working to meet demand. And although it wasn’t made here, we should also mention the Ford Focus Mk1, which did so much to advance the cause of car design while becoming an established part of the UK landscape.
30 years ago
Rover’s ultimately short-lived Honda-fuelled renaissance was in full swing in 1993. The arrival of the Rover 600 Series looked like a big moment for the company as it finally banished memories of the creaky Montego (although production overlapped) and saw the firm’s products comfortably sit on the same aspirational shopping lists as products from the premium players.
Also making an appearance was the first Jaguar developed entirely under the direction of Ford. Need a moment to think what it is? That would be the XJ12 (XJ81) which was introduced to replace the long-lived XJ12 Series 3. Huge quality improvements are made to the basic XJ40 design at the same time. Also linked to Jaguar was Aston Martin’s new DB7, which was a surprising off-shoot of the ill-fated XJ41 F-Type programme, and probably saved the company from oblivion.
Finally, honourable mention should go to the UK introduction of the Nissan Micra (K11), which saw a massive uptick of production in Washington, as well as a well deserved Car of The Year award – the first time a Japanese-badged car bagged the to honour.
40 years ago
This is it – this not a drill. The much-vaunted Michael Edwardes-penned product-led recovery of British Leyland would hinge on the success of this car. The Austin and MG Maestro were launched in March of this year, sweeping aside the Allegro in the process, thankfully. We all know how it went but, at the time, it looked like BL might just make it with this car…
This year also saw the UK’s best-selling supermini – the Ford Fiesta – replaced by the Mk2. In reality it was a facelift, and ended up being nowhere near enough to fight with the year’s supermini onslaught in the shape of the Fiat Uno and Peugeot 205. Still, it was enough to keep it ahead of the Austin Metro and the other two on the UK market.
At the other end of the scale, Peter Wheeler’s TVR was about to go nuclear. The nice-looking Tamsin received a heart transplant, and became the Rover V8-powered 350i. It’s fair to say the company never looked back from that point.
50 years ago
For the British motor industry, this year will be seen as something of a turning point. The arrival of the Austin Allegro – the new driving force from Austin – marked the point where the firm’s hold on the top spot of the UK’s best-seller chart would be pretty much lost forever (yes, the Rover 200/400 briefly recaptured it, but under very different circumstances). It would prove to be a commercial disappointment, if not the failure that some historians paint it as.
Some great classics made their debuts in 1973 including the MGB GT V8, Rover 2200 and Triumph Dolomite Sprint. For any other carmaker, these would all be considered the final flowering of some fine middle-aged cars, but the MG and Triumph would go on for another seven years, while the Rover P6 would hang around for another four.
Down under, the year’s arrival of the Leyland P76 was cause for celebration. Well, that’s what we thought. It would last a matter of months before the plug was pulled – a victim of circumstance and a lack of judgment.
60 years ago
Rover and Triumph went head to head with their new 2.0-litre executive saloons – and few at the time of their launch would have thought that these rivals would end up within the same manufacturing group within months. The Rover 2000 and Triumph 2000 were both very different products, but equally brilliant in the way they completely reset the executive car market.
No longer were the lumbering 3.0-litre behemoths offered by BMC and Rootes the middle management cars to be seen in. Both enjoyed great success and would go on to enjoy production runs lasting until 1977.
The Hillman Imp, Rootes’ answer to the Mini also made it’s debut, as did the Ellesmere Port-built Vauxhall Viva (HA), which did much to reinvigorate the Griffin’s fortunes.
Let’s also not forget that 1963 saw the arrival of the first Mini Cooper S, the 1071cc model, which really put the franchise on the map once and for all…
65 years ago
Just six years on from its formation, BMC is fighting fit, and running up to the launch of the Mini, which it was hoped would reinvent the small car. While over at Ford, there’s a sense of optimism that the 105E Anglia is going to revolutionise the company’s reputation. In both cases, this would prove to be the case, with the former pretty much changing the world, and the latter had its maker head for the top of the sales charts.
There was no new shortage of metal launched in 1958 – the Austin A105 Vanden Plas and Wolseley 15/60 (Farina) were both a cut above, while the Austin-Healey Sprite was a brilliant little sports car that’s still widely admired. The Austin A40 Farina looked too modern for its own good, while the Alvis TD21, Daimler Majestic and Jaguar MkIX were dignified and hugely capable.
However, the year would provide us with three genuine icons – the Rover P5, Land Rover Series 2, and Austin FX4/FL2 London taxi, which is possibly one of the UK’s most identifiable cars of them all. Remarkable…
75 years ago
Now this will make you feel old. It was the year that changed everything, and was perfectly encapsulated by the sheer number of new models launched at the 1948 London Motor Show at Earls Court. Top debutantes included the Land Rover (whatever happened to that?), the Morris Minor and Jaguar XK120 – a trio that truly defined the white heat of the era to come.
Other models first shown included the Austin A90, Sunbeam-Talbot 90 and Vauxhall Velox. In a more rarified space, we also saw the Bristol 401 and Aston Martin DB1, the importance of which far outlived their lifespans. While overseas, Ferrari and Porsche rolled out their first road cars.
It really was quite a year, and the beginning of a period of huge expansion as the western world finally began to emerge from grinding post-war austerity.
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