Life begins at 40: cars celebrating their 40th birthday in 2016

They say that life begins at 40. So for these cars, the future’s bright. We’ve selected 25 cars born in 1976, each one celebrating their 40th anniversary in 2016. Say hello to the big Four-O.

Audi 100

The second generation 100 was a big deal for Audi. Not only did it represent the genesis of Audi’s assault on the territory occupied by Mercedes-Benz and BMW, it also featured the world’s first five-cylinder petrol engine. Close to a million were built between 1976 and 1982, making the C2 Audi 100 a huge success.

BMW 6 Series

Can it really be 40 years since the elegant and exquisitely engineered BMW 6 Series first appeared? A 7 Series coupe in all but name, the 6 Series shared its chassis with the chairman’s executive express and even beat it to market by a year. As it evolved, the 6 Series spawned some high performance gems, before it bowed out in 1989.

Bristol 603

Bristol 603

The Bristol 603 may have featured a chassis dating back to the 1940s, but the body was all new. At launch, the 603 was powered by a choice of either a 5.9-litre V8 or a Chrysler-sourced 5.2-litre V8, but the latter was dropped in 1977. A distinctly old-school British gem, designed and built in Bristol’s unique manner.

Chrysler Avenger

The Avenger was born a Hillman and died a Talbot, but that was not before a brief stint as a Chrysler, starting in 1976. Back in 1970, when the Avenger was launched, it was billed as a car Britain could be proud of, designed to be an export star. Badge engineering and company squabbles meant the Avenger never quite fulfilled its potential. Rust didn’t help either.

Chrysler Hunter

Chrysler Hunter

The Chrysler Hunter was another product of the Rootes-Arrow shake-up, with all marques falling under the Chrysler-Europe banner. Today, the Hunter lives on in the form of the Paykan Bardo pick-up.

DeLorean DMC-12 prototype

Most people associate the DeLorean DMC-12 with the 1980s and a certain Hollywood movie. But the story begins back in the 1970s, with John DeLorean establishing the DeLorean Motor Company in 1975, before unveiling the DMC-12 prototype in October 1976. The rest, as they say, is history. Or maybe it’s the future.

Fiat X1/9 (right-hand drive)

Fiat X1/9 (right-hand drive)

The Fiat X1/9 looked every inch the fun-size Lamborghini or Ferrari, helped in no small part by the pen of Marcello Gandini. It was launched in 1972, with the first right-hand-drive models appearing in 1976.

Ford Fiesta

The nation’s love affair with the Ford Fiesta began in 1976, with the launch of Ford’s first ever supermini. By the end of the decade it had already sold a million and – as history will recall – it would eventually become the UK’s best-selling car.

Ford Escort RS Mexico and RS2000

Ford Escort RS Mexico and RS2000

Two classic fast Fords were born in 1976, in the shape of the Escort RS Mexico and RS2000. The Mexico was a German-built performance gem to replace the British-built Mk1 Escort Mexico, but the real star was the RS2000. It featured a 110hp 2.0-litre engine and that famous ‘droop snoot’ nose.

Ferrari 400 GT

The Ferrari 400 GT was essentially a more powerful version of the 365 GT4 (pictured) and featured a 4.8-litre V12 engine developing 340hp. Launched at the 1976 Paris Motor Show, the 400 was the first Ferrari to be offered with a three-speed automatic transmission. This helped win sales in the United States, but wasn’t a move welcomed by Ferrari purists.

Honda Accord Mk1

Honda Accord Mk1

Today, the Honda Accord is more commonly associated with a saloon body, but it actually started life as a pretty three-door hatchback. The follow-up Mk2 Honda Accord will go down in history as the first Japanese car to be built in the United States. It wore the number plate ‘USA 001’.

Lamborghini Silhouette

The Silhouette is the oft-forgotten and short-lived Lamborghini designed to win the hearts of American buyers. Its 3.0-litre V8 engine was good for 250hp, enough to propel this evolution of the Urraco to a 161mph top speed. A total of 55 Silhouettes were built, including two prototypes. The final car was used as the Jalpa prototype.

Lancia Gamma

Lancia Gamma

Like so many Lancia models of the era, the Gamma is a classic case of what might have been. In saloon form, this was a large and technologically-advanced Italian oddity, while in coupe guise it was an elegant surprise. Sales figures fell well below what was expected and the Gamma has to go down as a glorious failure. We’re still missing you, Lancia.

Lotus Esprit

Surely one of Giorgetto Giugiaro’s finest pieces of work, the Lotus Esprit was born in 1976. With a familiar steel backbone frame and glassfibre body, the Esprit was a Lotus that could just about hold its own alongside the Italian thoroughbreds of the era. A year later, the Esprit would star in the James Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me.

Mercedes-Benz W123

Mercedes-Benz W123

The first Mercedes-Benz W123 models went on sale in January 1976 and to some this is the German company’s finest hour. In developing what we now refer to as the E-Class, Mercedes-Benz left nothing to chance. In the case of the W123, ‘life begins at 40’ is perfectly apt. These things will run and run.

Panther Lima

The Panther Lima is a uniquely 1970s take on a 1930s formula. It looks (a bit) like a Morgan, but features Vauxhall Magnum running gear. The car turned out to be a great success for Robert Jankel’s company, with the Lima becoming the Kallista, following a Korean takeover.

Renault 14

Renault 14

Renault did itself no favours by comparing the 14 to a fruit. Nicknamed ‘la poire’ – or, ‘the pear’ – the 14 wasn’t Renault’s finest hour and, like the fruit of the same name, many have long since rotted away. It’s the only car you can wander up to and say “nice pear”, without fear of a slap.

Renault 5 Gordini

Stand down, Mk1 Volkswagen Golf GTI, for your claim to be the world’s first hot hatch is unfounded. Indeed, the Golf GTI was beaten to market by the Renault 5 Gordini, known in the rest of Europe as the Renault 5 Alpine. It launched in France in 1976 and was later followed by a blistering turbocharged version in 1982.

Rover SD1

Rover SD1

With styling inspired by the Ferrari Daytona, the Rover SD1 (Specialist Division number 1) was a worthy European Car of the Year. Production started in Solihull, later moving to Cowley, but the SD1 was blighted by quality control issues and the usual British Leyland problems.

Skoda Estelle

In 1976, Skoda introduced its first new model since the 1960s. It was called the Estelle, although it was known as the 105 and 120 in other markets. It arrived in the UK in 1977 and, at the time, was the cheapest car you could buy new. Thanks to its rear engine and rear-wheel-drive mechanicals, oversteer was a constant problem.

Triumph TR7

Triumph TR7

The TR7 had launched a year earlier in the United States, but in May 1976 it finally took a bow in the UK. The styling was a radical departure for Triumph and for many people it was too much to take. The V8-engined TR8 arrived in 1980, but it was too little, too late for the much-maligned wedge.

TVR Taimar

In 1976, TVR launched a stylish hatchback version of its 300M, known as the Taimar. The added practicality helped the Taimar to become one of TVR’s most successful models. All were powered by a Ford V6 engine.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen Golf GTI

It needs no introduction, does it? Although there had been other hot hatches before the Golf GTI, this was the car that took the concept of a performance hatchback to the masses. Early cars were all left-hand drive, with the first right-hookers arriving in the UK in 1979. An instant classic, prices are continuing to rise.

Volkswagen Scirocco GTI

Another product of Giugiaro’s golden era, the Scirocco was born in 1974. In 1976, the Scirocco GTI was launched alongside the Golf GTI, using the same 1.6-litre engine sourced from the Audi 80 GTE.

Volvo 343

Volvo 343

And finally, it’s the Volvo 343, a fourth generation DAF and the first model built by the Dutch company following the takeover by Volvo. It was a hugely popular model for Volvo, with the third digit in the name representing the number of doors (hence 343 for three doors and 345 for five). Later, the model would be known as the 340 and 360.