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Gone & Nearly Forgotten

The 1980s cars that once graced suburban driveways but have now virtually disappeared.




The 1980s. Before car makers started merging and platform sharing they opted instead to flood the market for with different cars. Including ones we didn't really want.

And 1980s motorists lapped them up. This was the decade when we moved from one-car to two-car families. But now, 40 years on, many of those cars that graced all those driveways have virtually disappeared. Here are the top 10 endangered 80s classics.

All figures are based on the How Many Left website. Yes, we know it's not 100% accurate, but it is indicative and the best we have. Shoot me in the comments. 1. Talbot Tagora

Talbot Tagora: not a curve in sight

Numbers sold: 20,000 Numbers left in UK: 0 (0%)

Oh dear. When Chrysler began developing the Tagora in 1976, to replace the unloved 180 executive saloon, it made some sense. But not much. Nobody bought the 180 and Europe wasn't exactly waiting with bated breath for its successor. By the time it was launched in 1980 Chrysler had sold out to PSA, which operated Peugeot and Citroen, two established purveyors of big, soggy executives saloons. They didn't need another one. But, because it was launch ready, they had one.

To avoid compromising its existing 505, 605 and CX models, PSA pitched the Tagora at a niche that simply didn't exist, between high end 505s and low end CXs. This meant that the car lacked a market and, thanks to compromises required by shared PSA mechanicals, wasn't much cop.

The Talbot name was resurrected to sell this big, boxy Granada rival, but it was doomed from the start. There was almost no reason for anyone to buy a Tagora. It looked odd, its main 2.2 engine was woeful and the interiors spacious but spartan. Where Britain's managers wanted a car that shouted success, here was a dull, awkwardly styled box on wheels that made an Austin Montego seem aspirational.

So it's hardly surprising that none remain. And perhaps nobody's shedding a tear. But it's sad end to a car that not even the company that built it actually wanted.

2. Austin Ambassador

Fit for a Princess. Apparently

Numbers sold: 43,427 Numbers left in UK: 22 (0.05%)

Seven years after British Leyland launched the Austin Princess, the penny dropped. The car that looked like it was a hatchback that competed in a market that wanted a hatchback, probably ought to be a hatchback.

And so, in 1982 Britain got the Ambassador. BL blew £20m turning the Princess into a hatchback and repositioned the car as a fleet favourite. And it was surprisingly successful, even if the word 'favourite' might be a bit misleading.

The Ambassador was big, spacious and good value, but Britain's army of sales reps weren't really fooled. They wanted a Ford Cortina or a Vauxhall Cavalier, not the reheated, odd-looking wedge from Britain's motoring running joke. The Ambassador died after two years.

3. FSO Polonez

FSO Polonez: Oh dear.

Numbers sold: 1 million (all markets) Numbers left in UK: 10

The FSO Polonez is proof that even geniuses have off days. Because it was designed by Walter Da Silva, the man who penned the gorgeous Alfa 156. And that's where the similarities end.

Because the boxy, narrow and over-tall Polonez wasn't so much touched by the ugly stick as vigorously beaten with it. Essentially a Fiat 125 with a new hatchback body, the Polonez was sold in the UK as a cheap, practical alternative to the equally Fiat-based Lada Riva.

FSO tried desperately to argue that it was a new car, but anyone who drove one knew otherwise. Those antiquated Fiat underpinnings were all to apparent and even the practical aspect - that new hatchback - wasn't much cop because you needed a step ladder to get over the load lip. At least the Lada was honest about what it was.

On the plus side, the FSO was quite safe. Not least because the asthmatic 1300 and 1500cc engines were never likely to bother the boys in blue.

4. Nissan Stanza

The sober-suited Nissan Stanza

Numbers sold: Approximately 200,000 Numbers left in UK: 7

In the 1970s Japanese imports began scaring established British car makers like British Leyland and Ford. But it was in the 1980s that they really gained ground.

The boxy Bluebird is almost a paean to ordinariness. It was deliberately and carefully built by Nissan to compete with the Cavalier and Cortina. So it eschewed the styling flourishes of earlier models and ditched the chrome and chintz typical of previous Japanese imports. It looked like the cars it was aiming at but it was better specced and better built. There's a reason why in the late 80s Britain's minicab ranks were populated with Bluebirds: they were big, comfy and went on and on and on.

The Bluebird was very successful, but it was automotive vanilla - a car for people who wanted wheels, not who loved wheels. Which may explain why so few are left.

5. Lancia Trevi

Lancia Trevi Swiss Cheese-inspired dashboard

Numbers built: 40,628 Numbers left in UK: 3

Back in the early 80s Lancia, newly under Fiat ownership, decided to play it straight. After years seemingly trying out quirk itself with cars like the Boxer-engined Gamma and the hatchback-esque, but not a hatchback Beta, Lancia's new paymasters wanted actual sales. The result was the Trevi.

Named for its three-box design, the Trevi was essentially a Lancia Beta saloon with a chopped off rear end to resemble a slightly more stylish Ford Cortina. From the outside it was very straight and conservative.

Inside, less so. For the interior Lancia turned to Mario Bellini, an industrial designer. Possibly influenced by the Swiss cheese he'd just had for lunch, he created a slab of spongey plastic with a series of holes in it, seemingly located at random and of many different sizes. Although the Trevi possessed all the attributes of the Beta - good handling, willing engines and sharp steering - that dashboard proved just too outtre for those Cortina buyers.

I have to declare an interest - I own a Trevi. I love it.

6. Alfa 90

Alfa 90: Big & Boxy. With built in briefcase

Numbers built: 56,438 Numbers left in UK: 1

Alfa, like its Lancia stablemate, was Fiat owned in the 1980s. Funds were short so it was forced to recycle existing models to create new ones. The Alfasud became the mechanically identical 33 and the Alfetta was stretched to become the upmarket 90.

The 90 was boxy and, thanks to that redesign, overlong with a short wheelbase. Alfa pitched it as a BMW rival - a trick it's been trying to pull off ever since - and even supplied a built in briefcase to ram home the 'executive' theme. It didn't work. Nobody in Britain bought one, although quite a lot of Italians were less picky.

7 Citroen Visa

Citroen Visa: as simple as a 2CV, but much better

Numbers built: 1.25 million Numbers left in the UK: 23

In the late 1970s Citroen was under the warm embrace of the PSA Group - alongside Peugeot - and flush with cash. But, as ever in its history, it faced a dilemma: trying to balance its reputation for wierdness with the need to keep its factories busy.

The problem was particularly acute at the budget end of its range where the ancient old 2CV was decades overdue for replacement. French people love cheap, spacious cars and despite its best efforts with the Dyane and Ami, Citroen had failed to replace the much-loved transporter of eggs over fields.

Finally, in 1978 it was job done. The Visa was simple, cheap and spacious like the 2CV. But it was also conventional, with its slab sides and hatchback. Unlike the 2CV there was a Visa for anyone who wanted one - poverty spec models with steel wheels and even a quick version, equipped with the 205 GTI's 1.6 litre engine. Some argue, quite convincingly, that the Visa GT is more fun to drive than the 205.

Where the 2CV went from daily driver to cherished classic with ne'er a stumble, the Visa's trajectory has been less successful. Perhaps because it was more conventional, the Visa hasn't been valued in the same way. Which is a shame because it is an infinitely better car.

7 Isuzu Piazza

Isuzu Piazza: designed by Italians, engineered by Lotus

Numbers built: 13,000 Numbers left in UK: 16


In the 1980s Lotus Cars had a revolving door policy towards potential owners. As each new paymaster came and went they pimped out the firm's expertise in handling and performance - they wisely avoided their 'expertise' in car building - to the highest bidder. This enabled the makers of said stardusted cars to crow endlessly about the Lotus connection and even nail 'Lotus' badges to whatever tat they happened to be churning out at the time.

Isuzu's Piazza was a little different. It was the firm's first car sold in the UK. Apart from the questionable name, the Piazza was a reasonably competent tilt at the European sports coupe market and was even penned by 80s designer of choice Giorgetto Giugiaro. Unfortunately nobody at Isuzu seems to have stopped to ask if anyone actually wanted another sports coupe, particularly when anyone who presumably once did was actually busy buying a hot hatch instead.

Anyway, the Piazza's handling was tweaked by Lotus and in fact some of the last cars were actually sold as Lotus Piazzas. How closely Lotus was involved with the heavy, rather soggy Piazza is anyone's guess, but it's probably somewhere in the 'not much' ballpark. Today the Isuzu is a much-forgotten, under-loved footnote in Britain's sports coupe history. A shame, because it looks quite good.

8 Yugo 45

Yugo 45: rubbish

Numbers built: 794, 428 Numbers left in UK: 6

On paper the Zastava Yugo was brilliant. It was designed by Italians so it looked quite good. It was reasonably modern - although under that bodywork, once again, were old Fiat bits - and it was sold with enthusiasm and verve, not something that could be said of Ladas and FSOs.

And quite a lot were sold. It even spawned a book - 'The Rise & Fall of The Worst Car in History.' And there's the problem.

The Yugo was cheap. But also absolutely rubbish. It wasn't so much built as a meeting of car parts in approximately the same place in roughly the right order. Even those enthusiastic marketing efforts were laughable - Yugo tried to jump on the 'hot hatch' bandwagon by sending its 'styling' team out to Halfords with a blank chequebook.

There are now very few Yugos left because it's still, 35 years on, about as desirable as a cup of cold sick.

9 Hyundai Stellar

Hyundai Stellas: the new Cortina

Numbers built: Not Known Numbers left in UK: 4

The UK launch of the Hyundai Stellar was a very clever piece of marketing. Mere months before its arrival Ford had shocked - yes, shocked - its legion of Cortina owners with the jellymould Sierra. The Sierra's cast such a shadow over subsequent car design that it's hard now to appreciate just how unloved it was when it arrived.

Into this void jumped plucky British market newcome Hyundai. It Stellar, the firm asserted, was the real replacement for the Cortina.

For a new name to these shores it was a bold claim. But one with some merit. And it must have irritated Ford quite a bit. Because beneath the Stellar's boxy Cortina-esque styling - by Giorgetto Giugiaro (yes, him again) - lay the actual running gear of a Ford Cortina Mk5. Which Hyundai had been building under licence for several years.

The Stellar was cheap, well built and well specified. And it was reliable, as an army of minicab drivers in the late 1980s would once again attest.

But nobody ever really fell in love with the Stellar. It was automotive white goods. Which probably explains why nobody noticed when almost all of them vanished.

10. Fiat Strada



Numbers Built: 1.8 million Number left in the UK: 46

No car company has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory quite so often as Fiat. The firm's history is littered with models that just failed to cut the mustard.

Not so with the Strada. Good looking, great to drive and with just enough character to suit most European markets, the new car was gunning for the Golf's top spot.

And it nearly succeeded. With its iconic 'built by robots' advert, Fiat aimed to persuade buyers that the bad old days of bodged and rusting cars were long gone. Here was a car built not by Italians who'd rather by shovelling back the Bolognese and Barollo, but by actual machines.

Sadly, the machines seem to have been built by those Italians and imbued with a similarly relaxed approach to quality consistency. Because contrary to the promise in those adverts, the Strada rusted. An awful lot. Even the late arrival of the superlative 130 Abarth couldn't stem the tide. Buyers were once bitten, twice shy.

Most of those 46 survivors are the high performance Abarth and 105 TC models. But any Strada is a joy to drive: light, nimble and with great style. _________________________________

These are our top 10 80s 'at risk' classics. If I've missed any, let me know in the comments. Graham Eason runs Great Driving Days, the classic car experience company. 01527 893733

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