On 21 April 1900, enthusiasts of the motor car, an almost brand-new invention, began to gather in London. Two days later, they would embark on a journey known as the “One Thousand Mile Trial”.

An event organised by the Automobile Club of Great Britain & Ireland, the trial was run to prove the viability of the motor vehicle.

A hearty group of motorists travelled from London through various cities across the UK, including Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Carlisle, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Leeds, and Nottingham, before returning to the capital a couple of weeks later.

Thanks to this celebration of technological innovation more than a century ago, 21 April now marks National Drive It Day, a charity event hosted by the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs (FBHVC) to commemorate the One Thousand Mile Trial.

More than 120 years on from that initial trial, it seems incredible how this technology has become not just commonplace, but an integral part of our lives and identities. No doubt you have your own fond (or perhaps not so fond) memories of a particular car, or a period in which you still think the best vehicles were released.

In particular, the 1980s presented a reckoning for the UK car market. Looking back now, some of the most popular and bestselling cars were produced throughout the decade.

So, rewind and take a look back at five of the most popular cars from the 1980s, and what they might be worth today.

1. Ford Escort (1980)

Having initially launched in 1968, the Ford Escort was hugely popular throughout the 80s.

The 1980 release of the front-wheel drive “Erika” was a huge shake-up for the British car market, as the Escort would go on to be the best-selling car of the decade. Around 1.6 million Escorts were sold, famously including an RS Turbo to the Princess of Wales.

Such was the popularity of this particular model that it would go on to be produced until 1992, with the Escort remaining in the UK market until 2002.

You will now find Escorts from the first few years of the 80s going for between £30,000 and £50,000, with those at the end of the decade ranging from £10,000 to £25,000.

2. Vauxhall Cavalier (1981)

Despite its relatively shorter run of 20 years compared with its competitors, the Cavalier has left behind a remarkable legacy, being the third-most-popular car for the 80s and placing sixth in the all-time list of best-selling cars in the UK.

The Cavalier Mark-II launched in 1981 and made a splash in the UK market, thanks in large part to the fact that drivers were not initially keen on the competing Ford Sierra.

Despite not being that materially different to the Mark-I predecessor, the family-sized car offered immense fuel economy and performance, contributing to its immense popularity. The subsequent Mark-III was released in 1988 and enjoyed a further seven years before production ceased in 1995.

An 80s Cavalier today can go from £4,400 to £6,995, an impressively modest price for a UK classic.

3. Ford Fiesta (1983)

If you have not owned or driven a Ford Fiesta, it is highly likely that someone close to you has. That is because the plucky hatchback has been a mainstay of the UK car market for nearly half a century.

Initially debuting in 1976, the second generation of the Ford Fiesta launched in 1983 and was a staple of the roads in the 80s.

Its best sales year of the decade came in 1987, with more than 150,000 Fiestas sold in the UK. Amazingly, it still finished second in the total sales chart that year to its older sibling, the Escort.

Ford only stopped producing a version of the Fiesta in 2022, after an immensely successful 47-year run that saw the model become the best-selling car in the UK ever. With more than 4 million all-time sales, its tally narrowly beats the Escort, which is currently second in the standings.

Today, classic 80s Fiestas can range anywhere from between £2,000 to £20,000, with some of the Supersport models asking for as much as £37,000.

4. Austin Metro (1980)

Although the name of its original manufacturer, British Leyland, would cease to exist long before the end of the decade, the Austin Metro is still one of the most fondly remembered cars from the 80s.

Initially launched as the Austin miniMETRO in 1980 as a direct replacement to the Mini itself, the Metro was slightly larger than its predecessor. This likely owes to its last-minute redesign in 1977 after a lacklustre performance during customer clinics.

Fortunately, this move worked, as the Metro became one of the most popular cars of the decade. This was another of the cars that Lady Diana Spencer famously owned during the 80s, with a bright red edition bought for her by King Charles, then the Prince of Wales.

By the time it was replaced in 1994 by the Rover 100, the Metro had sold more than 1.5 million units in its 14-year run. It even outsold the Fiesta in some of the earlier years of the 80s which, as you have seen, was no mean feat.

Today, you can find the Austin Metro from between £3,500 and £12,000, depending on how well they have been maintained.

5. Audi Quattro (1980)

The fifth and final car here might not fall among the lists of bestsellers, thanks to its status as a luxury sports and rally car. But, while sales figures are just one marker of popularity, legacy is another.

The Audi Quattro is the perfect example of where legacy transcends units sold, because it would change the car market forever.

Debuting at the 1980 Geneva Motor Show, the Quattro boasted a four-wheel-drive system (hence “Quattro”, derived from the Italian word for “four”). Although this technology existed previously, the Quattro was the first rally car of its kind to provide power to all four wheels in this way. So, this 80s car truly was well ahead of its time in pioneering technology.

Just under 11,500 Quattros were produced from 1980 to 1991, making it a relatively rare find these days. You can find 80s Audi Quattros ranging from £30,000 to £55,000, a sum that might seem reasonable if you think about the piece of motor vehicle history that you are buying.

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Please note

This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.

All prices are taken from autotrader.co.uk and carandclassic.com and are accurate as of March 2024.