Popular FORD CARS in Britain During the 1980s

by Mark Nobes, chief editor

Back in the 80s, Ford were at their peak in terms of popularity and design, and it was the decade in which they built some of their most iconic cars. In this post, you will discover the popular Ford cars from the 1980s that graced Britain's roads.
Of course, cars have changed quite dramatically since the 1980s in terms of the tech, styling and reliability, but no matter what year you choose, there are always a couple of Ford models in the UK top 10 bestsellers list.
So let's go back to a time when the Escort and Fiesta were the two most popular cars in Britain, with the Sierra, Cortina and Orion not far behind them and also inside the top 10.
Did you know? The Ford Motor Company was founded on June 16th 1903 by Henry Ford when he was 39 years old.
1986 Ford Fiesta 1.1 MKII in blue with no background

Enhanced public domain image of a Ford Fiesta 1.1 MkII in blue (free for reuse)


Since its introduction in 1976, the Fiesta has consistently been one of the UK's most popular small cars. There have been, so far, seven generations, and in 2022, it was given an impressive sporty makeover.
The Fiesta has always been a very practical and economical car at an affordable price, so it's not hard to see why it has been so popular.
The first generation was built from 1976 to 1983, with the second generation being built until 1989, with models including the Popular, Popular Plus, L, Ghia, 1.4S and XR2.
For those on a tight budget looking for performance, the lively Fiesta XR2 was a decent choice, and fun to drive. My Dad had a white one with the iconic pepperpot wheels and the essential go-faster stripes down the sides, although he really wasn't into fluffy dice! This remains my favourite car of the 80s.
Red Fiesta XR2 on the front cover of Motor Magazine Dec 19 1981


The trusty Ford Escort was the most popular British car of the 80s, and it's still much-loved by classic car collectors today. Believe it or not, the sixth generation was still being sold in 2002, although, I have to say, I never really liked to look of the final model with its oval grille. The MkIII remains my favourite in terms of styling.
In the 80s, it was the MkIII and MkIV that were being built, and these were a very common sight on Britain's roads. In fact, the Escort became the UK's best-selling model for 7 years.
The Escort XR3i (preferably in Diamond White) was a big hot hatch favourite, and it's combination of sporty looks, very decent performance and what was considered a bargain price back then, made it a favourite with young petrol heads. In fact, it's an 80s icon, and it also came as a cabriolet which was very cool indeed!
Black Ford Escort XR3i in the 1980s

Black XR3i - public domain image (free for reuse)

1985 Ford Escort RS Turbo 1.6 in white
Vauxford, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Beautiful isn't she? This has to be my favourite of all the Escort models, the 1985 RS Turbo 1.6.


The Ford Cortina was named after the Italian ski resort of Cortina  d'Ampezzo, and was the best-selling car of the 1970s in Great Britain. However, the Mark V was still being produced for the first three years of the 1980s until 1982, and was still the seventh most popular car of the decade, just ahead of the Orion. The final models were more economical and spacious and also better rustproofed.
The first Cortinas were produced in 1962, and it became an instant hit. There's no doubt that the Cortina is a real classic, so much so, that at it's peak in the 70s, one in every six cars being built in Britain was, indeed, a Cortina!
The fact that it was a reliable, easy-to-maintain car, no doubt, helped boost sales, and it was very fashionable to own one. The entry level model in 1982 was £4515, making it very affordable.
Mk5 Ford Cortina 2.0 Ghia Automatic - public domain image

Restored Mk5 Ford Cortina 2.0 Ghia Automatic (public domain image - free for reuse)


Nicknamed the "Onion" by some, the Ford Orion was the eighth best-selling car of the 1980s in the UK. It was built mainly to attract Cortina owners, being more familiar in styling than the quirky Sierra, although it looked very much like the Escort, but with a boot.
The Orion was built for exactly 10 years, from September 1983 through to September 1993. The Mark I was built from 1983 to 1986, the Mark II was built between 1986 and 1990, and the final Mark III was built from 1990 until 1993. 
The Ghia i models came with a sunroof (remember them?), central locking and electric windows as standard.
The 1.6i featured the same engine as the Escort XR3i but without the hefty insurance costs and much less chance of it being stolen, so it was a very wise choice for those looking for sporty performance.
1986 Ford Orion Ghia in cream

1986 Ford Orion Ghia (Public domain image from Flickr by crash71100)


Next we have the very desirable 80s fastback coupe, the Ford Capri, which was marketed as "The car you always promised yourself". It was Britain's answer to the Mustang, and looked rather like a sporty version of the Cortina in its early years, but if you were after good fuel economy, the Capri was not for you.
Forget your boring family cars, this was a car that was made to be driven (it was basically for car nuts!), and its cool looks made it a winner - it was designed by Philip T. Clark, who also had a hand in the Mustang's design.
I had the pleasure of driving a Capri while working at my local Ford garage, and I remember you felt pretty low to the ground and the bonnet seemed to go on forever! But it felt and looked so unique compared to all of the other models, and so much fun to drive.
The ultimate model is the final Mk3, which ironed out all the flaws of pervious models, and the 3 litre version provided a sizzling performance for the money. However, by the second half of the 80s, the Capri was showing its age in terms of looks, and in 1986, the 1.6 Laser, 2.0 Laser and the 2.8 Injection became the final models on sale before Ford finally pulled the plug in December.
1985 Ford Capri III 1993cc at Hatfield Heath Festival 2017

1985 Ford Capri III 1993cc 

Acabashi, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Ford Capri S Coupe
Orange 80s Ford Capri MKIII


The Sierra was very much an 80s car, being introduced in 1982 and built until 1993. I remember the excitement I felt after seeing it on our roads for the first time - well, I was only 12-years-old! It was the replacement for the Cortina, and it's aerodynamic curves looked pretty unique at the time. It was not liked by everyone, however, and it gained the nickname "the jellymould".
However, the streamlined design made it more fuel efficient, and I think the nickname was pretty harsh and more suited to the Citroen 2CV. Eventually, after the initial shock of the radical design, the public grew to like it, and after a slow start, the Sierra became one of the UK's most popular cars, although it was never quite as popular as the Escort and Fiesta.
Ford Sierra GLS 4x4 brochure

Sierra GLS 4x4 brochure

In a 1982 road test by Auto, Motor and Sport magazine, the Sierra beat the Volkswagen Passat and Opel Ascona (Vauxhall Cavalier), which remains the only time a Ford had beaten a VW in the magazine.
The then leader of the Labour Party, Neil Kinnock, famously wrote-off his Sierra (not long after he had purchased it) during a trip on the M44.
A sliver Ford Sierra (not sure of the exact model) photo by Synx508


For those wanting a big family car on a relatively small budget, the Granada wouldn't disappoint - you got a lot of car for your hard-earned cash. The Mk1 was built from 1972 to 1976 at Dagenham in the UK and Cologne in Germany, with production moving entirely to Germany in 1977 with the start of the second generation models, which were built until 1985. 
The MkIII (1985 to 1994) was basically a rebadged Scorpio and looked very different to the 70s styling of the MKII. In fact, it looked pretty much like a larger version of the Sierra, although the insurance was a lot higher. It was spacious and featured a well-equipped interior, and it was aesthetically pleasing, although the fuel economy was a tad disappointing.
The most popular destination for the MKIII was the motorway, often with middle class salesmen at the wheel. It was not only ideal for the long drive (giving a relatively smooth and quiet ride) but also for those who wanted a decent-sized. luxury family car that looked good sitting on their driveway.
Ford Granada MkII Strathclyde Police Car
Ford Scorpio
Mark III Granada which was badged as Scorpio in Europe and on top-of-the-range Granadas in the UK.

More Photos of 80s Ford Cars

Ford Fiesta Mk1 advert from the 1980s

Ford Fiesta Mk1 advert

1983 Ford Escort RS1600i
By Kieran White from Manchester, England (Ford Escort MK3) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Ford Escort MK3 (14132114259)
1983 Ford Escort RS 1600i by Martin Pettitt from Bury St Edmunds, UK;cropped and plates blanked by uploader Mr.choppers (Plough To Propeller) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


CVH XR3 01
1.6 CVH engine in a 1984 Escort MK3 by Luitold (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons


1982 Ford Fiesta 1.1 GL (14786067268)
By Kieran White from Manchester, England (1982 Ford Fiesta 1.1 GL) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

1980 Ford Escort Van Mk II (W. Smith)
By Mick Huett from Whittlesey , England (Escort) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This very tidy 1980 Ford Escort Mk2 Van, 1098cc, belongs to W. Smith scrap metal in Cambridgeshire, UK.

Don't break yer neck, kid.
Retro Ford Cortina Creative Commons Photo Credit: John Lloyd

Ford Granada Ghia Coupe
A lovely orange, British Ford Granada Ghia Coupe Mk1 at a car show. Photo credit: Synx508
1980 Ford Fiesta XR2 (3983284959)
By Spanish Coches (1980 Ford Fiesta XR2) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

80s advert for the Sierra Cosworth RS 500