The cars your dad fantasised about – and the ones he actually drove

Ford Cortina

It’s Father’s Day – you did remember to buy a card, right? – so we thought it was time to trawl the archives in search of cars your dad drove… and those he dreamed about. In each case, we’ve selected the sensible and the sexy or the humdrum and the hero.

Honda Accord

Honda Accord

Spare a thought for your poor, beleaguered father. At the end of the 1990s, he was preparing to wave goodbye to more than just the last millennium. A receding hairline was a sign that his best days were behind him, with his misery compounded by the list of potential company cars faxed to him by his fleet manager.

If he was lucky, the company would offer him a Mondeo, but the spectre of the original Vectra was a looming menace. Sensibly he avoided the Avensis and opted for the reliable Honda Accord, which ensured he would make it home for tea and your weekend trips to the seaside would pass without a call to the AA.

Honda Accord Type R

Honda Accord Type R

“The Accord has the lowest running costs, the best residual values and one of the most comprehensive warranties in its class. It’s also well built and has a better image than most of its rivals. Extremely well equipped and tremendous value, in SE trim it costs around £1000 less than the equivalent Passat and comes with cruise control and ABS as standard,” said Fleet Car Business in 1999.

Which is all well and good, but as your father browsed the Honda website, he couldn’t help but have his head turned by the Accord Type R. He pleaded with Colin the fleet guy, but even the prospect of a delete option on that rear spoiler wasn’t enough for him to put a four-door saloon with the performance of a touring car in the office parking lot.

Ford Sierra

Ford Sierra

When the Ford Sierra arrived in the UK in 1982, its space-age styling wasn’t exactly met with universal applause. Even some dyed-in-the-wool Ford fans preferred the outgoing Captain Sensible Cortina to the Kool & The Gang Sierra. Others simply switched allegiances to the Vauxhall Cavalier.

But soon, the Sierra cemented itself as part of the furniture in 80s Britain, alongside Daisy Duke’s shorts, Sonny Crockett’s espadrilles and Terry Wogan’s microphone. Some 3.4 million Sierras were sold before it made way for the Mondeo.

Ford Sierra RS Cosworth

Ford Sierra RS Cosworth

As if to motivate your father to try even harder at work – “these paperclips won’t sell themselves, you know” – Ford unleashed a number of ‘sportier’ models. The fuel-injected 2.0iS was within reach, as was the XR4x4 if your dad spent less time eating Early Starters in the Little Chef.

But no hostile boardroom takeover would be complete without an in-yer-face Sierra RS Cosworth. In excess of 200hp, a top speed of 149mph and a 0-60mph time of 6.5 seconds. In his head, your father’s 1.8-litre LX was a pair of Recaro seats and a whale-tail away from a Cossie. The reality was quite different.

Vauxhall Cavalier

Vauxhall Cavalier

Back in the day, your father would do anything to get ahead in the office, even if it meant jumping the queue once in a while. Insert something here about a high-flying career or a jump in sales.

The little badge on the back of the Cavalier acted like a barometer of success. An ‘L’ delivered a Philips stereo radio cassette player, remote-controlled door mirrors and flush wheel trims. But a man in a CD was a man in control. His Cavalier offered electric windows, mirrors and aerial, plus power steering, sunroof, central locking and a tiltable steering wheel.

Vauxhall Cavalier Calibre

Vauxhall Cavalier Calibre

Your dad was happy cruising in his Cavalier CD, sunroof open, Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald cassette on repeat to sooth away the miles spent on the M1. Happy, until he saw a blaze of Carmine Red exiting the Roadchef at Watford Gap. Your father’s ‘Lady in Red’ wasn’t a lady at all, it was a Vauxhall Cavalier Calibre.

These run-out models were styled and converted by Tickford and Irmscher, and only 500 were built, each one commanding a price tag of £13,000. Even today, your father probably daydreams about turning up at a meeting in a Calibre, so best not tell him there are believed to be two left on the road.

Ford Cortina

Ford Cortina

Ford knew how to tickle the fancy of the average company car driver. In the days before motivational memes, a Ford Cortina brochure could make the difference between jumping out of bed and pressing ‘snooze’ on the bedside Teasmade.

Over the course of two decades, the Cortina was the archetypal fleet and family car, being cheap to run, cheap to service and good to drive. It also was named after an Italian ski resort, which added a touch of glamour to the otherwise worthy saloon.

Ford Cortina Lotus

Ford Cortina Lotus

But your dad didn’t want to be ‘Jim from sales’, he wanted to be Jim Clark. Which is why he had his eyes on the Lotus version. The recipe was delightfully simple: add a Lotus twin-cam engine to a Cortina bodyshell to create an instant legend.

To your father, the Lotus Cortina was as tantalising as a free bar at a sales conference with drinks served by Diana Rigg in a catsuit.

Peugeot 405

Peugeot 405

We hate to break it to you like this, but once upon a time, your dad fancied himself as Surbiton’s answer to Tom Cruise, and your mum was his Kelly McGillis. All that was needed to complete the effect – aside from a pilot’s licence – was the Porsche 356 Speedster replica as seen in Top Gun.

Only your father couldn’t stretch to a 356, which is why the sight of a Peugeot 405 blazing a trail through a field of burning maize took your dad’s breath away. The British-built 405 became a sales sensation (just like your dad).

Peugeot 405 Mi16

Peugeot 405 Mi16

Your dad would have been happy in his 405 GRD until Peugeot decided to up the ante with the 405 Mi16. This was less a case of having your cake and eating it and more having your cake and slapping it in the face of your unsuspecting work colleagues. The Mi16 was a race-bred hero.

Drivers would gleefully inform anyone who’d listen that the engine was derived from the 205 T16 Group B rally car, which is why your father fancied one parked outside his three-bed Poco Home.

Ford Capri

Ford Capri

The Ford Capri should have been enough for your father. Although it was based on the humble Cortina, the transformation from everyday to exciting was quite remarkable.

Even the lowly 1.3- and 1.6-litre versions looked the part and while he wouldn’t like to admit it, the Capri offered the much-needed comfort and practicality a traditional sports car couldn’t offer.

Ford Capri RS3100

Ford Capri RS3100

Throughout its long and illustrious career, the Capri range featured a range-topping model, kicking off with the Advanced Vehicle Operations RS3100. The pert ducktail spoiler sat on the back, encouraging your father to spend the best part of £2,500 on the flagship Capri.

The V6 Capris were the cars you always promised yourself, the others were merely pretenders.

Vauxhall Viva

Vauxhall Viva

Vauxhall did its best to extol the “sporty qualities” of the Viva, positioning the HB version as “Britain’s sportiest 1.1-litre gadabout”. There aren’t enough gadabouts in today’s new car market.

It handled well enough, but the Viva wasn’t exactly what you’d call exciting. Even the Brabham failed to live up the promise made by the illustrious connection.

Vauxhall Viva GT

Vauxhall Viva GT

The Vauxhall Viva GT, on the other hand, was a different kettle of carp. That it was more a rival to the Escort Twin Cam and Cortina GT than the Lotus Cortina hardly seemed to matter because the hot Viva looked the part.

The contrasting bonnet was an option, but the bonnet scoops were standard fit, guaranteed to turn heads on the King’s Road. The GT took Viva drivers somewhere they’d never been before: 100mph.

Austin/Rover Montego

Austin/Rover Montego

Naming a car after an exotic location is a clever marketing trick – witness what the Cortina name did for Ford’s family saloon. Montego, then, should conjure up images of long days relaxing by the ocean on Jamaica’s north coast.

In truth, the Montego felt about as exotic as a Rustie Lee leftover curry in the TV-AM studio, but it sold well enough and was more than attractive to fleet buyers. But your father didn’t fancy Rustie Lee, he was after the automotive equivalent of Grace Jones.

MG Montego

MG Montego

“The quickest MG production car of all-time,” proclaimed the headlines, as Austin Rover waved the MG Montego Turbo under your father’s nose. “Quicker than a BMW 325i, a Porsche 924 or a Ferrari Mondial,” claimed the ailing British company, knowing full well that your dad would be impressed.

It was faster than a Grace Jones right hook on an unsuspecting Russell Harty, and Austin Rover even managed to tame the torque steer. If only somebody was on hand to tame Grace Jones, thought Harty. Probably.

Volvo 240

Volvo 240

During the late 70s and throughout the 80s, nothing said ‘middle class family man’ quite like a Volvo estate. Only wrapping yourself in After Eight mints and sticking a Sade compact disc on repeat would be more middle class.

Your dad pretended he was happy with his 2.4 children and golden retriever. But in truth, his head had been turned by a hot Swede. No, not Britt Ekland…

Volvo 240 Turbo

Volvo 240 Turbo

Secretly, in 1985, your dad was watching Swedish porn, as the Volvo 240 Turbo romped to victory in the European Touring Car Championship. This was as far away from day trips to the in-laws as your father was from marrying Felicity Kendal.

Your dad’s heart rate had just returned to normal when Volvo decided to go racing again, this time in an 850 estate. Well, strike me down and call me Björn Borg.

Peugeot 406

Peugeot 406

A Peugeot 406 towing a caravan could be a metaphor for your father’s life. No, really, it could. Sure, the 406 estate is handsome enough and certainly capable of living a long and fruitful life, but it’s not exactly svelte, suave and sophisticated.

And that caravan weighing things down at the back represents a mortgage, bills and responsibilities. Ouch.

Peugeot 406 Coupe

Peugeot 406 Coupe

Looking at the Peugeot 406 Coupe, it’s hard to believe it’s related to the more humdrum versions. Fact is, Pininfarina penned one of the most beautiful cars of the turn of the millennium, which seems to look better with every passing year.

Something your father was reminded of, as a 406 Coupe whooshed past in a display of French glamour, as he trundled along the A303 to screams of “are we nearly there yet?”

Volkswagen Golf

Volkswagen Golf

We’re fully aware that not every man in the land drove a family saloon or executive hatchback. Some heads were turned by the new wave of smaller hatchbacks arriving from the near continent, each one promising a tantalising blend of practicality and economy.

The Volkswagen Golf seemed to have it all: Italian styling, German quality and an image that told the world your father wasn’t afraid to push the envelope. Well, it made a change from pushing paper in the office.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Of course, he really fancied a Golf GTI. He had given up all hope of owning a sports car when he settled for domestic bliss in a three-bed semi, but the GTI had the potential to make him feel young again.

Dads across Britain turned away from sports cars and coupes in favour of this practical, fun and relatively expensive hot hatch. More exciting than a Wall’s Viennetta, and more exotic than a taramasalata starter at the Berni Inn.

Renault 5

Renault 5

Launched in 1972 and bowing out in 1996, the Renault 5 was France’s most popular car. It was so successful, the Marcello Gandini reboot of 1984 left the essence of the original R5 largely intact.

There’s a very good chance you had one in your household, maybe as a second car, for use on the school run or for leaving at the station car park for the daily commute into the city.

Renault 5 GT Turbo

Renault 5 GT Turbo

Your dad would have visions of owning a Renault 5 Turbo, fancying himself as Surbiton’s answer to Jean Ragnotti and some kind of Monte Carlo maestro. Not that he would have seen many 5 Turbos on the streets of Surbiton.

Instead, he may have stared longingly at the 5 GT Turbo parked in the Renault showroom – the sports leisure suit version of the M&S beige cardigan and brown slacks vehicle he was forced to live with.

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