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The Evolution of the Family Car from the 1950s to Now

Written by : Will Bryan | Published on:: 27/10/2014


From boxy saloons to stylish crossovers, let’s take a look back at how the family car has developed over the last 60 years...

The 1950s: Post-war prosperity

As the world slowly emerged from the shadow of World War II, the first motorway was introduced and petrol became available for leisure use again, cars got bolder and classier- looking. Gone were the boxy designs of the previous decades, replaced by curving bodywork that hinted at a sense of speed. The British car manufacturers took their cues from the US, and chrome, tailfins and plush leather interiors were all the rage when it came to the spacious family saloons on the fifties. Vauxhall Cresta Cars like the Rover 75-110 P4, Vauxhall Cresta and Ford Anglia were designed to accommodate the entire brood, and by 1959 the characterful and durable Morris Minor had become the first British car to sell a million units.


The 1960s: Tripping out for change

The sixties was a decade of cultural transformation, and the car industry rolled with the changes... The auto market diversified, new niches began to appear, and the Mini was borne. Not quite a family car but an icon that was designed to seat four & be cheap to run. Ford Cortina Luckily, there were also plenty of options for those who wanted something a little bigger (which wasn’t hard!). The Ford Cortina became massively popular due to its affordable price point and stylish design, while the British Motor Corporation catered to conservative buyers by giving their popular Morris Oxford and Austin Cambridge saloons a facelift. Austin Cambridge


The 1970s: Looking for foreign-made cars with flair

In the 70s, British car production as a whole took a nosedive and in 1979 it hit a 20-year low. People started looking more and more at foreign cars as an aspirational purchase. Car sales themselves never massively slowed, though. 1974 saw the launch of the immensely popular VW Golf and the familiar Ford Cortina continued to shift units by the bucketload, retaining the UK bestseller position right up until the end of the decade, with the Ford Escort not far behind in term of sales. Ford cortina And though the British-made Morris Marina might now have a reputation as one of the worst cars ever made, it was actually the third best-selling car of the Seventies. Morris Marina


The 1980s: Things get flashier

Car buyers in the Eighties wanted their cars souped up and stylish. But also as cars grew a car for the family could be bought from the next class down. Ford continued to dominate, with the Escort stepping up to become the UK bestseller. However one of the most controversial family car shapes was the jelly mould design of the Sierra, which was especially appealing to those who wanted their car to look as radical as their hairstyle... Ford Sierra The 80’s saw Vauxhall up their game and here was where their family car rivalry with Ford really took off, with Vauxhall’s Cavalier introduced to do battle head on initially with the Cortina & then the Sierra. Vauxhall later developed the Astra to battle the Escort.


The 1990s: The car market opens up

In the nineties, cars (as well as shoulder pads) got bigger, with a wealth of models offering lots for room the kids. There was also more choice than ever, with familiar car brands like Ford, Austin Rover and Vauxhall still selling well, but relative newcomers like Toyota, Honda and Volvo increasing in popularity too. This decade also saw massive gains made in automobile safety features. European cars were largely airbag free at the beginning of the decade, however laws were established for manufacturers to implemented airbag systems as standard during the decade. Ford Focus Ford launched its ubiquitous Focus in 1998; the hugely successful Escort successor that’s now sold worldwide, and has gone on to become an omnipresent member of the family car market to this day. At the same time Rover tried to fight back, and the family-friendly Rover 200 made it to number 4 in the bestsellers chart. In the nineties the MPV started to get smaller. Not every family needed a ‘big bus’ but they did want the increased flexibility & space they offer. Today cars like Zafira, C-Max, Scenic & Picasso are hugely popular.


The Noughties to Now: Steps towards a greener industry & the rise of urban crossovers

The general Noughties trend was towards downsizing. More family car buyers began prioritising safety, value and low running costs, wanting a car that not only makes it easy for the whole family to get around, but also doesn’t cost a fortune in fuel or road tax. The environment became a massive focus, with an EU-led initiative to decrease CO2 emissions. This led to manufacturers producing downsized engines that emitted fewer harmful gasses and were also more fuel efficient. Nissan Qashqai Then Nissan took the brave step to establish a new segment. The Qashqai was the face that launched a thousand crossovers. This type of vehicle, with miniature 4x4 looks without the running costs, has become massively popular with families thanks to its combination of family car practicality with rugged good looks. Other manufacturers couldn’t react quick enough to develop cars for this new sub-category. However, even with all these options available, the good old family hatchback is still the preferred choice for many, even after 40 years in the market. But as a body style will it continue to do so? And what’s next for the family car? Look out for our future car predictions later this week!


Image Credits

Ford Cortina 1 Ford Cortina 2 Morris Marina Vauxhall Cresta Austin Cambridge Ford Sierra Ford Focus Nissan Qashqai  

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