The destination for history

Cars We Loved... with Giles Chapman

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It’s taken seven years, but now part of my life is complete.

With Cars We Loved In The 1990s I’ve finished recording half a century’s worth of the most fondly remembered cars this country has ever known. Exactly 250 of them covered in detail, along with masses of extra contemporary context, in more than 150,000 words.

This odyssey began with the largely forgotten 1946 Riley RM and ended with the 1998 Rover 75, which is also now vanishing from our streets and collective memories.

I’ve run out of ‘do-able’ decades. Having hung on until 2020 to revisit the motoring scene of the 1990s I’ve covered the final decade that could be considered ripe for nostalgia, and the 1930s is, well, simply so long ago that almost everybody who was behind the wheel during those ten years isn’t around to enjoy reminiscing.

Mind you, it felt very odd viewing the 1990s with a rose tint. It was as vivid to me as yesterday. These were my salad days working in the car media, editing and writing for car magazines, churning out endless features for newspapers, and getting through cars – my own and those loaned out for road test – like it was going out of fashion.

It was the pinnacle of printed paper in that pre-internet era, and as a freelance car writer the opportunities were endless. Manufacturers threw multi-million-pound extravaganzas to launch their new models; one day I’d be whisked off to Italy to sample the Fiat Bravo and Brava, the next down to sunny Spain to drive the Mercedes-Benz SLK. And even going to Hull to play around in the latest Lada Niva was fun!

I was in the enviable position of being able to afford my first (and so far last) brand new car, and rather then get something sensible I plumped for a Fiat Barchetta roadster in 1997. With no London Congestion Charge, and speed cameras still thin on the ground, I had a ball.

Now, for this new book, I’d be treating all this as ancient history.

The original idea behind this series came to me initially as simply a title. For the first one in 2013, covering the 1970s, they all had to be cars everyone loved, which meant many of the best sellers leavened with a few that had a desirable reputation, even if you didn’t find them on every suburban drive. But for my final, 50-car-strong content list, they had to be real-world models – cars that most of us had driven or ridden in, and restricting the supercars of the period to a short section commensurate with their lack of relevance to everyday car life. In a way, it was surprising someone hadn’t done this before, as there was simply no existing book like it.

I decided to cover some ‘topics’, too, such as life on the road, and ‘70s car culture. Covering things like garages, the streetscape, accessories, speed limits and all manner of other things that would have touched the driving life of , Austin Allegro, Ford Cortina and Vauxhall Chevette owners was fascinating.

I had no idea if my slice of decade-focused motoring nostalgia would appeal, but fortunately the 1970s edition seemed to go down very well, especially as the compact size, attractive design and good-value price made it a great present solution for that difficult-to-buy-for man (or woman, of course).

A year later and I reversed in time to the 1960s and sprinted forward to the 1980s to complete similar volumes, and these too went down well with readers. In 2015, I wrote the 1950s edition, which also took in the austere late-1940s period when the British motor industry had to rebuild itself after the shock of the Second World War. This one has sold even better than the other three, perhaps because the nature of all the wonderful archive photos I squeezed into it really brings out the style and vibrancy of the period.

Cars We Loved In the 1990s rounds out the quintet. From the Audi A3 and Vauxhall Corsa to the Ford Mondeo and Renault Clio, it’s choc-full of excellent cars that epitomised the times, punctuated by such forgotten relics (yes, they really are…) as the Daewoo Nexia, Rover Metro and Citroen ZX. Recalling the sports cars and dream cars of those days adds a splash of elan, and the opening of the Channel Tunnel and Dartford Crossing remind us just how recently – or long ago – these aids to motoring freedom arrived…

By Giles Chapman

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