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The forthcoming 50th anniversary of the Austin Maxi is a reminder of its pioneering role as a British five-door saloon. Debates will still rage as to what was the first, UK-built hatchback but if our criteria is a top-hinged rear door or window, “two box” styling and a reasonably short roofline, here are ten pioneers:

1959 Austin A40 “Farina” Countryman

The Countryman was launched in October 1959, one year after the saloon, and for £695 you gained a family car that was as much a part of late 1950s popular culture as Marty Wilde records. It looked entirely different to its British contemporaries – the Austin A35 Countryman - which remained in production until 1962 – the Hillman Husky and the Ford 100E Escort were modified vans, while the Morris Minor 1000 Traveller and the Standard Ten Companion had rather different image. In short, this was a small car for those fashionable types who wore their sunglasses to visit the local coffee bar.

1960 Bond Minicar Mark F Ranger

A FWD vehicle with a hatchback rear door some 40 years before the debut of the Mini Metro. Yes, the Ranger was actually a van, but it would still be unfair to exclude it. The optional extras included a passenger seat and paint finish (!), and who could resist the chance to order a new Ranger in British Racing Green? Even if the top speed was 55 mph…

1969 Austin Maxi

A first for both the British Leyland Motor Corporation and the motor industry in the UK. Coachbuilders could fit your Mini or ADO16 with a tailgate, but the Maxi was a factory-built saloon with five doors, five-speed transmission, a transverse DOHC engine, and seats that could be arranged to form a double bed. At that time, the Maxi had no domestic rival (the Ford Cortina and the Hillman Hunter appealed to another sector of the market. There was not another British car like the Maxi, and had the launch been delayed until 1970, the early teething problems might have been avoided.  Meanwhile – buy a Mars Bar - Win a Maxi!

1974 Ford Capri Mk. II

As a Ford-badged hatchback, the Capri II pre-dated the Fiesta by over two years. As compared with its predecessor, the sales copy boasted 151 modifications, although the tailgate was obviously the most distinctive feature. Whether you drove the 1300L or a 3-litre Ghia you were behind the wheel of the ‘Once in a Lifetime Car’ – one favoured by John Wayne, CI5 and Jackie Stewart alike -

1975 Vauxhall Chevette

44 years ago Vauxhall’s interpretation of the GM T-Car. Luton’s master designer Wayne Cherry created the distinctive “shovel nose” that helped to differentiate the Chevette from the Opel Kadett C, and for three years it was the best-selling hatchback in the UK. N.B.  It also starred in an incredibly ultra-1975 advert -

1976 Chrysler/Talbot Alpine

Yes, it was originally launched in 1975 as the Simca 1307/1308 and it was an expansion of the 1100 concept but the five-door styling was by Roy Axe and it was also built in Coventry.  UK production, as the Chrysler Alpine, commenced in August 1976, when it was declared Car Of The Year, and in many respects it remains an underrated car, suffering from being launched at a time when Chrysler Europe’s problems were dominating the motoring press.

1976 Rover 3500 SD1

Not only BL’s first hatchback since the Maxi – the lack of a tailgate on the Princess “Wedge” was a missed opportunity – but a key model in the history of Rover. David Bache was inspired by the Ferrari Daytona and sought to create a five-door supercar. Tony Bastable thought it ‘a very good car indeed


To quote the Autocar report ‘ ‘It is hard to be over-enthusiastic about the new 3500; on every score, its qualities justify any kind of enthusiasm’.

1976 Ford Fiesta

A world car, which became available to British motorists in 1977 -

It was not the first oval-badged FWD car –  it is pre-dated by the 1962 Taunus P4 and the 1968 Corcel – but it was the model that established the Ford supermini. Sales reached the million mark in just three years and the Fiesta is now in its seventh generation.

1977 Chrysler/Talbot Sunbeam

A combination of a shortened Hillman Avenger with a rather attractive three-door body. The Sunbeam was one of the last generations of RWD hatchbacks, and while the Ti and especially the Lotus became automotive legends, you were more likely to encounter the vinyl roofed S. There was also a memorable advertising campaign. Chrysler dealers were issued with a flexi disc, should their customers wish to groove to the sounds of Petula Clark

1980 Austin Mini Metro

Can it really be almost 40 years old? Watch this space for a blog coming soon…




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