On average here in Britain, cars tend to live for around 14 years before they meet their demise in the crusher. Often waterlogged, regularly salted through the winter and full of potholes, Britain’s roads aren’t too kind to the vehicles that use them – so it’s perhaps no surprise that most don’t live past their teens. Modern cars are better built and more thoroughly rust-proofed, but rewind a couple of decades and the average family runaround had a much shorter shelf life.
The five used cars we’ve picked for this article were strong-sellers when new, and at one time littered our nation’s streets from Cornwall to Caithness. Long perceived as common and uninteresting, few cared for these cars well enough for them to survive into the 2020s. Ironically, this now makes them rarer than many Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsches – how the tables have turned!
Ford Escort (Mk.5 and Mk.6)
The Escort regularly reigned supreme as the best selling new car in Britain. In 1992, it outsold the runner up, Vauxhall’s Cavalier saloon, by over 12,000 units. Unlike its predecessors though, the fifth and sixth generation Escorts weren’t as widely admired by the motoring press. They lacked the ‘cool factor’ that older Escorts had, despite the existence of the famed RS Cosworth variant, so many went uncared for and corroded away beyond repair. Escorts of any description are now a rare sight on our roads, and even the Mk.1 Ford Focus – the car that replaced it – is becoming much less common.
Another sales chart-topper through much of the 1990s, the Cavalier was the car of choice for thousands of travelling salesmen, fleet buyers and families. It didn’t look too remarkable, and it wasn’t – but the Cavalier fulfilled its design brief to a tee. When it was replaced by the much more modern Vectra in 1996, the Cavalier soon got forgotten about, with thousands upon thousands seeing out their final days in a scrap yard.
Engineered in collaboration with Japanese giant Honda, the Rover 200 was a massive hit, selling by the boatload in the late 1980s and through the 1990s. Manufactured over three generations, the 200 brought a taste of Rover luxury to the masses. Glossy wood trim, luxurious leather seats and electric windows graced the top models, setting them apart from the rest. Rover’s ‘old man’ image made the 200 an unfashionable second-hand pick though, and values plummeted – not helped by head gasket issues on the K series-powered models. Just 16 214 GSI models now remain on our roads.
Fiat Punto Mk.1
Crowned European Car of the Year in 1995, the Punto had plenty going for it. Distinctive, appealing looks, a decent range of engine options (including the hot 1.4 GT model) and three or five-door body styles made it a rational choice for new drivers and city-dwellers. The Punto’s younger clientele meant that many were involved in accidents, though. Smaller cars often tend to wear more rapidly too, so it’s no wonder that very few are left. Less than 100 GT models are now believed to be roadworthy here in Britain.
The original people-mover (and one of the most popular as a result), the Espace used to be commonplace. They served thousands of families well over the years, but most of the Espaces lived hard lives – and few were cherished. As a result, first, second and third-generation models are now very rare indeed. While no precise figures exist, of the hundreds of thousands built, it’s clear that very few are still in regular use.
Finding these cars is another matter but there are many used car dealerships throughout the country. Finding your perfect car could be a lot easier than you might think, so search around online to see what you can get your hands on.