1970′s inventions that changed our way of life
Image by brizzle born and bred
Technology, Fashion and Toys played an increasingly important part in people’s lives in the 70s.
Launched in 1974, Ceefax went live with 30 pages and was the first teletext service in the world. Started as an experiment for the deaf, Ceefax developed into an instant news, sports and information service for millions of armchair surfers.
Colour Television Sets
Introduced on BBC 2 for Wimbledon coverage on July 1, 1967. The launch of the BBC 2 "full" color service took place on December 2, 1967. Some British TV programs, however, had been produced in color even before the introduction of color television in 1967, for the purpose of sales to American, Canadian, and Filipino networks. BBC 1 and ITV started color transmissions November 15, 1969.
The first colour sets became available in Britain in 1967, when BBC2 started broadcasting in colour. (Note BBC1 and ITV didn’t go colour until 1969.)
A typical 22" colour set would have cost £300 in 1967, or around £3000 in today’s money – equivalent to a top of the line 50+ inch LCD or LED HDTV set.
Britain’s oldest colour telly ‘still going strong’ 42 years on, says 69-year-old owner
Home Music Centre
The ultimate piece of kit that most people wanted in the mid 70s was a "Music Centre". This was a record player, cassette tape recorder and radio combined. Dynatron made one of the first, the HFC38 Stereo/Audio Cassette System, launched in 1972. This was a high priced luxury item at the time.
The 746 telephone was the British GPO’s main telephone for the 1970s. It was the phone most people had in the 70s and it is phone you will remember from that decade.
In the 70s, the home telephone was still a luxury in the UK. The General Post Office (GPO) had a monopoly on telephone services and anyone who wanted a phone needed to rent one from the GPO.
Although still a state run monopoly, the telephone service was more modern in the 70s. The old fashioned lettered exchanges disappeared in the late 60s and the new phones were equipped for the strangely termed ‘all figure numbering’. Customers had a choice of three phones: the 746, the smaller 776 Compact Telephone and the modern looking Trimphone.
The 746 telephone was an upgraded version of the 706 phone or ‘Modern Telephone’ that the GPO introduced to customers in the early 60s.
It introduced a few practical improvements. Firstly there was a clear plastic dial showing only numbers. The case had an integral carry handle and the phone came in a more modern plastic. It was also lighter and had improved circuitry.
The first pocket calculators came onto the market towards the end of 1970. In the early 70s they were an expensive status symbol. By the middle of the decade, people used them to add up the weekly shopping at the supermarket. As pocket calculators moved from executive’s briefcases to school children’s satchels, there was controversy over whether children could still do sums.
Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments developed the integrated circuit technology that made the pocket calculator possible in the sixties. TI’s first prototype hand held calculator, the Cal Tech, demonstrated the potential of the new device. However, as with the transistor radio, Japanese firms quickly exploited the technology. The first portable, as opposed to pocket sized, calculator was the Sharp QT-8B. A year later pocket sized models were available from Bowmar (USA), Sharp, Busicom (Japan) and Sanyo.
Very quickly a host of manufacturers entered into the growing pocket calculator market. Texas Instruments launched their own model, the TI-2500 Datamath, in 1972.
Electronic games, such as MB Simon and Adman Grandstand, went on sale in the UK in the second half of the 70s. This was the time when people got their first taste of the digital lifestyle we enjoy today. A few years earlier, the first calculators and LED digital watches were marketed. Now manufacturers too adopted the same circuitry for play, and the age of electronic games began.
This revolution was reflected in the small screen when ITV’s George and Mildred’s neighbours bought a Grandstand game for Christmas. There were also concerns that TV audiences would drop, with more people using their TVs to play video games instead. Granada TV’s report "Who’ll be watching Coronation Street in 1984?" expressed concerns their advertising revenue might be at risk.
The grand daddy of all the computer games was the Magnavox Odyssey, which was launched in 1972. It introduced the public to a familiar, but primitive, electronic bat and ball game. Magnavox Odyssey was quite sophisticated; it offered range of different games, some of which required props. However, it was more of US than an UK phenomenon.
Electronic chess games also appeared in the mid seventies, but the game that first captured the public’s imagination in the UK was the Adman Grandstand.
In the 70s, freezer ownership increased dramatically. Freezers and frozen food were available in the 60s, but sales of freezers took off in the 70s. In 1970 around 100,000 were sold, which was three times as many as in 1967. By 1974, one in ten households had a freezer.
A food processor added a choice of blades and attachments to a standard blender. The Magimix from the 70s was the first UK example.
The microwave oven was invented by Percy Spencer in the late 40s. Initially, microwave ovens were only used by catering establishments. Oxford University physicist, Professor Nicholas Kurti gave a dramatic demonstration of microwave cooking with his reverse baked Alaska, or frozen Florida, which had ice cream on the outside and hot filling on the inside. He first demonstrated this dessert in 1969, showing how microwaves easily passed through ice, causing little heat, but the filling made from brandy and marmalade absorbed them and heated up more quickly.
Microwave ovens were not available in Britain until the end of the 70s, even then they did not catch on that quickly. The first ‘Which’ report on microwave ovens was written in 1979. There were concerns about what would happen if the microwaves escaped and confusion over whether the ovens were radioactive. For most people though, they were simply too expensive.
By 1979, there were a variety of microwaves on the market, priced between 150 and 400. [500 to 1400 in today’s money]. Models with a separate convection heating element were even more expensive. Both traditional oven makers, Creda and Belling and electronics giants Philips, Hitachi, Sanyo, Sharp and Toshiba, made microwave ovens in the 70s.
For most people in the UK the microwave revolution did not begin until well into the 80s. Jimmy Tarbuck’s advertisements for Sharp microwaves helped promote microwave cooking in the UK in the early 80s.
As part of our renewed appreciation of all things 70s, the teasmade is back in fashion. After years in the naff cupboard, John and Norma Major owned one, it is now hip to own a teasmade.
The teasmade was a luxury item in the 70s household. Although primitive devices for automatically making tea were available since Victorian times and leading manufacturer Goblin made teasmades since the thirties, they were never considered essentials.
Most teasmades (sometimes incorrectly spelled ‘teasmaid’) comprised a teapot, kettle and clock. To prepare the teasmade ready for use tea, or teabags, fashionable in the 70s, were added to the pot and water into the kettle and then the alarm was set for the time you wanted to wake up to enjoy your freshly made pot of tea. About ten minutes before the alarm went off, the kettle boiled the water, which bubbled through a spout into the teapot. If you forgot to put the spout into the teapot some 70s models poured boiling water on to whatever the teasmade was stood on. Once the tea was brewed, the alarm sounded to wake you up, if the mechanism had not already woken you.
In 1971 there were only three manufacturers of teamade: Goblin, Ecko and Russell Hobbs. The Goblin model shown here cost £27.18 (£265 in today’s money). It is no wonder that the teasmade was a luxury.
Tea bags were new in the 70s. Well not exactly new, they had been used in the USA since the 20s. Tetley had tried introducing them to the UK twice, once in the 30s and again in the 50s, but they were seen as a bit of a joke. In the 70s though, sales of tea bags took off. It’s hard to explain why, they were more expensive and rarely used in the way originally intended – to remove the tea from the pot once it was brewed. It may have been something to do with convenience. We could throw our tea strainers away. Now tea bags are almost universal – so they must have been a good idea after all!
Until the 70s, most people in the UK made up beds with sheets and blankets. In the early 70s the bedroom revolution was the continental quilt or duvet. Names such as "Slumberland Fjord" and "Banlite Continental" left no doubt as to the origin. Mostly they were filled with down or duck feathers. Synthetic fillings were more common in Europe, but became available in the UK. People quickly took to them as they were more convenient.
Flares and platform soles
Two trends defined the 70s in a fashion sense: flared trousers and platform soles. Flares were derived from the hippy fashion for loon pants of the late 60s. They were worn by men and women. The flare was from the knee and reached exaggerated proportions in the middle years of the 70s. The trousers were often hipsters, sitting on the hips rather than the waist, and tight fitting.
The combination of flares and denim made flared jeans the fashion phenomenon of the decade.
Platform soles were mainly worn by women and more fashionable men. There were health warnings about damage that could be caused to the back in later life, but the fashion did not last long enough for that to have an effect. There was an element of thirties retro in the style of some of the shoes, which echoed the thirties’ love of two-tone or co-respondent black and cream or brown and cream colours. Bright colours also gave the shoes more of a space age look.
The Raleigh Chopper brought the style of Easy Rider to the backstreets of Britain in the 70s. It took the UK youth bike market by storm and probably saved Raleigh from financial disaster. The Chopper was a distinctly different bike for young people and was a first choice Christmas present. However, the Chopper attracted criticism for some aspects of its safety. The Chopper became distinctly unfashionable in the 80s, when BMX became the latest craze.
Klackers comprised two acrylic balls, often brightly coloured, on a string with a small handle in the middle. It was a playground craze that swept Britain and America in the early 70s. The idea was to move the handle up and down to make the balls click together. The really skilled could make the Klackers meet at the top and bottom of a circle; it required practice. They made a noise when they clacked together, hence the name.
Klackers were also marketed as Ker-knockers, Clackers and Klickies.
Whilst children loved the Klackers, or Ker-knock-ers, parents and teachers were concerned about the safety aspects. They could cause bruised hands and arms and the balls could shatter into dangerously sharp shards of plastic. Some schools banned them from the playground. Like most crazes, Klackers disappeared as quickly as they appeared.
Invicta Mastermind game
The Invicta Mastermind game was a huge seller in the 70s. In spite of the name, it had no connection with the Mastermind television programme originally hosted by Magnus Magnussen, although many people bought the game thinking it did.
The game was invented by Israeli postmaster and telecommunications expert, Mordecai Meirowitz. He initially found it difficult to get a manufacturer to take on his idea, but eventually managed to persuade small UK games maker, Invicta to make it.
The game went on sale in the early 70s and was a huge success. The box depicting a bearded man and woman in Asian dress carried an air of mysteriousness about it, suggesting supreme intelligence was needed to play the game.
Indeed Mastermind was taken seriously by the academic world. In 1977, Donald Knuth, the American computer scientist responsible for some learned texts in the world of computing, published a formula that guaranteed a correct guess in five goes.
Mastermind was also recognised by the toy industry. In 1973 Invtica was awarded ‘Game of the Year’ for Mastermind. Look out for pre-1973 versions that do not have the ‘Game of the Year’ award on the box.
Fondue originated in Switzerland and the classic fondue is always made with Swiss cheeses: Emmenthal and Gruyère. The word ‘fondue’ is derived from the French word, ‘fondre’, which means to blend.
By 1960, Marguerite Patten claimed the fondue was becoming popular. Her ‘Cookery in Colour’ featured fondue recipes with a decidedly English twist: ‘Cheddar Fondue’ and ‘Tomato Fondue’, as well as the classic ‘Gruyère’.
It was in the seventies that fondue parties really took off in the UK. Originally a reminder of a Swiss dish tried on a skiing holiday, fondue parties soon became the up-to-the minute thing to do; but by the 80s, it was decidedly naff.
Fondue sets are available again as everything 70s is fun once more. For real authenticity, source the genuine article from the 70s on eBay. Look for bright orange fondue pots and forks with teak handles.
The retro style soda syphon (or soda siphon), once a symbol of kitsch and bad taste, is now the height of retro cool. The Sparklets Soda Syphon was a hit at 70s parties. However, its roots go back to the era of the Boer War.
The Sparklets Soda Syphon was originally used as a way of bringing sparkling or aerated water to hot climates at the far reaches of the British Empire. Invented in the 1890s, Sparklets bulbs were used during the Boer War.
Before the introduction of Sparklets bulbs, carbonated, or aerated water, as the Victorians preferred to call it, was a luxury product. It was expensive to make, and there was no way to do it yourself. The invention of the Sparklets bulb popularised it as soda water. The original device was called a ‘Prana’ Sparklet Syphon, and the Company stressed that it was as easy for a housemaid in Bayswater as for an orderly in South Africa to use the device.
Sparklets Streamline, with hammered finish 1940s
In 1920 Sparklets Ltd was acquired by BOC, the British Oxygen Company. By the 1960s Sparklets specialised in diecast products for the domestic industry. Naturally the Sparklets Soda Syphons were a big part of the business, but Sparklets also made diecast parts for washing machines, hairdryers and vacuum cleaners, as well as for cars.
The Sparklets bulb method may not have changed much since the days of the Boer War, but the style of the syphon moved with the times. Three basic types were around in the 60s and 70s.
Player’s No6 and Embassy. However, they were joined by mild versions: Embassy Extra Mild and Player’s No6 Extra Mild. The rise of the mild cigarette was a 70s’ phenomenon. Benson and Hedges Silk Cut, pictured bottom middle, started this trend.
Which? Magazine named Silk Cut as the mildest UK cigarette in 1972. Although, the Which report was intended to convince people to stop smoking, it gave an enormous boost to Silk Cut sales. (In fact there is no evidence to suggest mild cigarettes are any better for you.).
The other big trend ran in the opposite direction. King size cigarettes were increasingly popular. John Player Special, with its distinctive black packaging, was a rival for Benson and Hedges.
King size cigarettes also went down market and were available in the cheaper brands. Both Player’s No6 and Embassy had king size versions. You could buy cigarettes in a bewildering number of different sizes: international, king size, regular, intermediate, mini and sub-mini. Collectors of cigarette packets from the 70s should look out for different sizes in all the popular brands, for example, Silk Cut, Silk Cut King Size, Silk Cut No1, Silk Cut No5, Silk Cut No3, as well as Silk Cut Extra Mild.
At the same time competition from US cigarette manufacturers started in earnest in the 70s. The famous Marlboro brand with is cowboy print advertising campaign started to take sales away from the home grown brands.
Smoking in the 1970s
Cigarettes were a big part of life in the 70s. People smoked them in large numbers. They also started to kick the habit in large numbers too. To give up or not, and to inhale or not, were big topics of conversation.
In 1969, Embassy Filter (right) was the most popular brand. It had been introduced in 1962 and took a staggering 24% of the cigarette market in 1968. By 1971 though, it was knocked off the top spot by Players No 6. In 1972 these brands (below) made up 94% of all cigarettes sold (in order of tar content, lowest first):
Silk Cut (filter)
Consulate Menthol (filter)
Piccadilly De Luxe (filter)
Embassy Gold (filter)
Embassy Regal (filter)
Player’s No 6 Virginia (filter)
Park Drive (filter)
Gold Leaf Virginia (filter)
Player No 6 (plain)
Player’s Weights (plain)
Player’s No 10 Virginia (filter)
Guards Tipped (filter)
Benson & Hedges King Size (filter)
Senior Service (plain)
Player’s Navy Cut (plain)
Park Drive (plain)
Rothman’s King Size (filter)
The majority of the most popular brands are filter tipped. At the time people wanted to believe that the filter would protect them. Medical research showed otherwise, even as early as the 60s. Also worth noting is that Rothman’s advertised their cigarettes as for "…when you know what doing are doing" – a bit ironic considering the tar content!
In 1970, 55% of men and 44% of women smoked cigarettes. The percentage smoking cigarettes had fallen from the peak of 65% in 1948 and the risks of smoking on health were beginning to slowly sink in. In spite of research by the late Professor Sir Richard Doll published in 1951, which linked smoking with lung cancer, cigarette smoking was so much a part of life that the habit died hard. Even as late as 1973 the Guinness Book of Records described nicotine as an "anodyne to civilisation".
In 1971, cigarette manufacturers agreed to put a mild health warning on the packets (left) – "WARNING by HM Government SMOKING CAN DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH". I say "mild" because Professor Sir Richard Doll’s research showed that of 1,357 men with lung cancer, 99.5% were smokers. Or as "Which" chillingly put it – you had as much chance of dying before you were 44 if you smoked, as a serviceman had of being killed in the Second World War. Most people were still playing Russian Roulette and hoping that the chamber was empty.
"Which" never published a report comparing one cigarette brand with another. They acted in the best interest of consumers and recommended only that people should give up. There were conflicting stories circulating concerning the safety of other forms of smoking, such as pipe or cigar smoking: "Was it safer than cigarettes?", "Was it safe if you didn’t inhale?" and "Was it worth waiting for a safe cigarette?". "Which" did not sit on the fence and told members as directly as possible that the only safe course of action was to give up.
The 70s was the decade when people did finally accept the risks of smoking and the proportion of the population who smoked fell quite significantly. Those leading the way were the professional middle classes. The anti-smoking group, ASH, was founded in 1970 and took a lead in alerting the public to the dangers of smoking. The proportion of men and women smoking cigarettes dropped gradually during the 70s. By 1980, 42% of men and 37% of women smoked. (Today’s figures are 27% and 25% respectively).
LED digital watch
Retro style LED watches are now selling on the internet, reviving the original digital watches from the early 70s. The first LED watch was marketed in the US by watchmaker, Hamilton, under the brand name ‘Pulsar’ in the Fall of 1971. It was originally a high priced gadget; by the end of the decade LED watches were almost throw away items and the more familiar LCD display was gaining ground.
The Space Hopper, the Raleigh Chopper and Mattel’s model cars with Hot Wheels made their debut in the 60s, but in the 70s achieved their highest popularity.
The Chopper was revised with safety improvements to become the Mark 2 in 1972. Mattel did not have their own way for long with Hot Wheels. British rival Matchbox had already introduced Superfast Wheels in 1969 and converted their whole range to them in the early 70s.
Sindy continued to be a popular toy for girls and won Toy of the Year in 1970. That accolade also went to another doll in 1971, Katie KopyKat; Katie copied everything you wrote.
Another 70s’ craze that had its origins in the 60s was Klackers, or Clackers: two acrylic balls that were made to click together. Experts could make them clack at the bottom and top in a circular movement, but safety concerns saw their early demise.
The Mastermind TV programme hosted by Magnús Magnússon had huge audiences in the 70s. However, the Mastermind Board Game made by Invicta in 1973 had no connection with the Mastermind TV show. It was all about breaking a secret code.
Lego was as popular as ever. It scooped Toy of the Year in 1974 and 1975. Other toys with their origins in the 50s and earlier were discovered by new generations of children.
The football game Subbuteo gained plastic figures in 1967 and in the 70s was available in up to fifty different team strips. There were spin-off cricket and snooker games too.
Scalextric was improved with new cars in the 70s and was as popular as ever. More traditional toys such as Hornby trains and Meccano continued to find a market.
The big change in play in the 70s though was the advent of electronic games. The 70s gave us digital watches and pocket calculators and by the middle of the decade electronic toys and games as well. One of the first to capture the imagination of the UK public was Adman Grandstand, which could play a variety of sports, including a version of the Pong arcade game. The brightly coloured MB Simon game was also a big seller in 1978.
Star Wars was in the cinema in 1977 and a host of Star Wars inspired merchandise followed. Never before had the movie makers cashed in so much on the toy market, it was a portent for the new decade.
Furniture from the seventies was bigger and chunkier than furniture from the 60s. Teak was still the favourite wood throughout the decade, although pine was getting an increasingly strong middle class following. Autumn colours were in vogue: browns, beiges and oatmeal. Striped upholstery fabric was popular.
The seventies had its share of fads. Chrome plated tubular steel furniture had a brief period of being the latest thing. Towards the end of the decade, cane and rattan furniture started to gain a small following. Both this and pine were much bigger in the following two decades.
The seventies was still a decade when modern was the favourite look. There was little attempt to recreate the past, although in a decade of contradictions, reproduction furniture had a growing niche following.
Green Shield Stamps
Green Shield Stamps were almost everywhere in the Britain of the 60s and 70s. If you bought your groceries at certain shops the retailer gave you stamps to stick in a book. Once you had collected enough you exchanged the books for gifts. Most people can remember Green Shield Stamps, but there were other schemes. Does anyone remember Blue Star, Gift Coupon, Happy Clubs, Thrift Stamp, Uneedus Bonus, Universal Sales Promotions or Yellow Stamps?
In the later 70s, lager began to take hold. You can still get seventies favourites such as Skol, Carling Black Label (they paid a consultant millions of pounds to recommend that the ‘Black Label’ was dropped some time in the 90s), Carlsberg and Tennant’s Pilsner, though whether it is the same, who could say? Light ale was a popular alternative to lager at the time.
Keg bitter was definitely the drink of the early seventies. "Classics" such as Watneys Red Barrel (or Watney’s Red as they tended to call it then), Double Diamond, Courage Tavern and Worthington ‘E’ are well out of production.
Britain’s best selling cars from the 70s
British automotive fashions changed. As women replaced mini skirts with midis and maxis, and men chucked out the Don Draper look in favour of flares and wide ties, cars changed just as significantly, on the outside at least.
Car makers ditched the chrome grills, the wood and leather interiors of the 60s and embraced American coke bottle styling, plastic fascias and matt black grills.
The UK’s top four manufacturers all introduced new models leading up to and around 1970. The first of the new wave was the Ford Escort, launched in late 1967. It was a small car with neat American influenced body styling. Ford also launched the ground breaking Capri in 1969, which brought sports car styling to the average motorist. In 1970 there was a rash of new models: the Morris Marina; a completely restyled Vauxhall Viva; and the all new Hillman Avenger, remember those L shaped tail lights? In 1971 Ford launched the car that was to represent the 1970s, the Cortina Mk III.
Ford won the sales war and the Cortina was the best selling car of the decade, with the Escort in second place. BL made a series of mistakes, the worst of which was to replace their best selling Austin/Morris 1100/1300 range with the blob shaped Allegro. It eventually needed the State to intervene and save the company from bankruptcy.
The 70s also saw a greater proportion of foreign cars on the road. However, none of them made it into the top ten. The best selling foreign import was the Datsun Sunny, which was only the 19th best selling car of the decade.
These are the top ten best selling UK cars of the 70s.
Ford Cortina Mk3, 1972
Ford’s stylists had their fingers firmly on the pulse of the 70s’ car market. They replaced the neatly minimalist Cortina Mk II, driven by Michael Caine in Get Carter, with the glamorous Mk III in 1970.
If there was a car that summed up the mood of the early 70s perfectly it was the Cortina Mk III. The classic American inspired coke bottle styling was combined with plenty of chrome trim. The new Cortina was bigger and better than the outgoing Mk II.
Ford’s graduated model range offered a huge choice of trim, style and engine size. You could choose from from L (basic), XL (more luxury), GT (sporty), GXL (luxurious) to the ultimate Cortina, the 2000E. Even the L looked stylish, but the upmarket GXL offered acres of simulated wood trim, glorious velour seats and a chrome trimmed black vinyl roof.
Ford Cortina Mk V, 1979
In 1976 Ford replaced the Cortina Mk III with the Mk IV. The glam rock era had faded by 1976 and Ford stylists gave the market something more sober, although the parent company’s policy of sharing as much as possible between the UK Cortina and the German Ford Taunus may have also influenced the more prosaic styling.
The final facelift for the Cortina came in 1979. Ford sharpened up the style of the Mk IV with the similar looking Mk V, which nevertheless changed almost every body panel. The Cortina disappeared entirely in 1982 to make way for the Sierra, dubbed the ‘jelly mould’ car at the time.
Ford Escord Mk2, 1979
Ford also sold over one million Escorts in the 1970s. The Escort was introduced late in 1967 as a replacement for the popular Ford Anglia. Remember that backward sloping rear roofline?
The Escort continued the Anglia theme of a stylish body combined with basic, but reliable, mechanicals. However, Ford went one stage further with the Escort, as with the Cortina, they offered a range of basic saloons and some sporty and luxury models as well.
Style was all important to Ford’s selling strategy and in 1975 they gave the Escort a new squared off body and models near the top of the range had square headlamps too. By 1979 you could choose from 1100, 1300, 1600, 1800 and 2000cc models. In 1980 the Escort was upgraded to a the Mk III for the new decade.
Although Alex Issigonis’ masterpiece the Mini was eleven years old by 1970, it was still one of Britain’s best selling cars. BL chose to drop the Austin and Morris labels and the car was now just called the ‘Mini’.
In the1970s there was a basic range comprising a Mini 850 and a Mini 1000, with 850cc and 1000cc engines. BL offered a more upmarket version, the Clubman, with a squared off nose. There was an estate version with fake wood panels on the outside and a sports 1275 GT version.
Laurence Moss, the estate agent husband of man-eating Beverly in "Abigail’s Party" drove a Mini, getting a new one every year. He claimed the design did alter, in reality BL made very few changes to the design throughout the 70s. By the end of the decade part of the charm of the car was that it had not changed.
The Mini continued in production for another two decades before being replaced by the new Mini in 2000.
Morris Marina TC, 1972
BL’s executives originally planned the Marina as a replacement for the aging Morris Minor and a serious competitor for the Escort. Learning the lessons of the past they wanted to give it plenty of style and hired ex-Ford stylist, Roy Haynes.
Haynes wanted the two door version to appeal to the under thirty age group. He wanted the interior styling to be exotic and wild.
Somehow BL ended up producing a much bigger car than intended, even though it shared some of its mechanical heritage with the venerable Morris Minor. In reality the Marina sold considerably less well than expected. It achieved a creditable fourth position in sales in the 70s, but was not capable of rescuing BL from its financial troubles. Read more about the Morris Marina.
Vauxhall Firenza, 1971
Vauxhall was like Ford, a British car maker with an American parent – General Motors. Like Ford they followed the same approach: a basic rugged car with an up to the minute body. The Viva had been around since 1963 and had already had one facelift. In 1970 Vauxhall revised it again.
The new Viva, called the HC, was still a small car and in the Escort class, nevertheless it looked wide, low and stylish. Like Ford, Vauxhall offered a range of engines and options. At the top of the range was the sporty Firenza SL.
The Viva really was a car for the 70s. It starred in 1999 in the 1970s’ revival comedy, ‘The Grimleys’ as Shane Titley’s car. Vauxhall dropped it in 1979.
Austin 1300GT, 1971
The Austin/Morris 1100/1300 range was a top selling car in the 1960s. BL found it hard to find a replacement for it. So hard in fact that they failed to do so until 1973. So because of its continued strong sales in the first years of the 70s, the 1100/1300 finds itself at number six.
For the 70s there were some detail improvements and some great 70s’ colours including purple and bright orange. Just like its cousins from the 60s, the 1100s and 1300s were spacious, reliable and mechanically simple.
If you fancied something a little sportier, there was the Austin 1300GT which was a tuned up version of the basic car with a black vinyl roof. BL replaced this best seller with the Allegro in 1973.
Where Ford got 70s’ style right with the Cortina, BL got it wrong with the Allegro.
Launched in 1973, the Allegro was styled by internal stylist, Harris Mann. It certainly looked 70s. However, where the Cortina emphasised size and width, the Allegro was rounded and dumpy. There was a bizarre selection of different style front grilles complemented with rounded rectangular headlamps matched inside the car with a rounded square steering wheel, called a Quartic.
Vanden Plas 1500 (Allegro)
A range of engines sizes from 1100 to 1750cc, a rather stylish small estate and a posh Vanden Plas version with real wood facia, leather seats and picnic tables failed to impress buyers. Surprisingly BL failed to provide a hatchback version even though the Allegro shape suited it, and they had been making the hatchback Maxi since 1969.
The Allegro was not a great hit with the public. Whilst the 1100/1300 range was chalking up annual sales of 100,000+ units every year, the Allegro failed to achieve more than 65,000. This styling misjudgment certainly contributed to BL’s collapse in 1975.
There was an unfortunate side effect to the 70s’ style lettering on the boot: to some ‘Austin Allegro’ looked like ‘Rustin Allegro’. The Austin All-aggro was another name for it.
When Austin-Rover dropped the Allegro range in 1982 to make room for the Maestro there were few sad faces.
Ford Capri 2000GT, 1972
Ford advertised the Capri as the car you have always promised yourself. The Capri offered the motoring public something entirely new. It was almost a sports car, with a comfortable four-seater saloon cabin, gorgeous fastback styling and a price tag that the man in the street could afford.
Launched in 1969, the Capri sold well throughout the 70s. Like the Cortina, Ford offered a huge range of engines and trim levels. Like the Cortina, there were several styling revisions, but the basic look and personality remained the same.
At the top of the Capri range was the 3000E, which offered outstanding performance with a top speed of 122mph and 0-60mph in eight seconds. The brochure cooed about such refinements as reclining seats, an electric clock and push button radio. The prestige motoring experience was completed by a a steering wheel and gear knob covered in simulated leather.
Hillman Avenger 1300DL, 1975
Rootes Group (Hillman, Singer, Sunbeam, Humber) launched the Hillman Avenger in 1970. It was a completely new car. The Avenger was mechanically unexciting, but offered a stylish new body with black grill with coke bottle styling and a sloping rear end.
The black grill was made from plastic. The Avenger also had some very distinctive L shaped rear a lamp clusters.
The Avenger was smaller than Rootes Group’s Hillman Hunter and competed with the Escort and Viva. It sold steadily throughout the 1970s. There was a facelift in 1976 and it later became the Chrysler Avenger as the American parent began to assert itself more strongly.
Austin Maxi, 1972
The Austin Maxi could have been a world beater. It was one of the first hatch back cars, and it was one of the first mass-market cars to have a five-speed gear box. Partly designed by Alec Issigonis, it was spacious and handled well. However, the Maxi never lived up to expectations.
The original design, launched in 1969, was very plain looking and not liked by the public. The gearbox was awful and the 1500cc engine was not powerful enough for the car.
The Maxi had a major facelift in 1971. There was a new grill, a more attractive wood finish fascia and a new 1750cc engine. In this form it enjoyed modest sales throughout most of the 70s. People loved the practicality of the hatchback and with the seats folded down it was big enough to transport a double mattress and perfectly capable of carrying garden waste to the tip or a tent or two on holiday.
1970s major household expenses
The average household weekly spend on transport in 2007 was £62. That includes everything from bus tickets to buying cars and petrol. In 1971, that £62 would have been just £6. That would barely cover a tube ticket today.
2. Recreation and culture
In 2007, we spent an average of £57 per week on things like holidays, cinema trips, sports activities and gambling. At 1971 prices, that would cost around £6 again – probably about the price of a large bucket of popcorn today.
3. Housing, fuel and power
£52 per week in 2007, £5 per week in 1971. Obviously that includes expenses like mortgage payments, rent and energy bills. Oh how times have changed.
4. Food and drink
In 2007, we spent £54 per week (I must admit I find that hard to believe, looking at my own till receipts, but still). Thirty-eight years ago that would have cost a mere fiver. Oh and over two thirds of the money we spend on food goes to the big supermarkets – so much for the nation of shopkeepers.
5. Restaurants and hotels
Weekly cost in 2007? £37. In 1971 that would have cost about £4, but then I doubt we would have used them as much in those days anyway.
6. Clothing and footwear
Despite our collective obsession with labels and fashion, we only spent £22 per week on clothes in 2007. Imagine how svelte we would all look if that still only set us back £2. Then again, we’d probably have to be clad head to toe in denim, so maybe £22 is a price worth paying.
Presumably this means telephones, mobiles, broadband and the like. Well, we spent an average of £12 a week on this kind of thing in 2007, which is equivalent to £1 in 1971 (OK, OK so we didn’t have mobiles and broadband back then, but that’s not really the point)
8. Everything else
This includes things like education and health, insurance and whatever else we spend our money on. Anyway, in 2007, these miscellaneous items cost a whopping £128 per week. In 1971, you’d have got the lot for £13. So in 2007, the total average household spend per week was a little under £460. Ouch. If we were to enter some kind of weird price time-warp that would come down to a total of about £46 per week.
Meanwhile, the latest research shows that the average household income in 2006 was about £650. Given the perilous state of our savings, you have to wonder where the extra £210 per week went (We only spent £460 of it remember).
Whichever way you look at it though, that time warp is looking rather appealing. We’ve already got the strikes and the recession, so to earn £650 a week and spend only £46 of it would make it all worthwhile.
It’s never going to happen of course, but it’s a nice dream.
1970s: Fewer cars but more smokers
*In 1971, UK residents made 6.7 million holiday trips abroad.
*In 1970/71, there were 621,000 students in the UK in higher education.
*In 1974, 26 per cent of men and 13 per cent of women in Great Britain who smoked regularly were classed as heavy smokers.
*In 1970, life expectancy at birth for males in the UK was 68.7 years and for females was 75.0 years.
*In 1970, there were 340,000 first marriages in England and Wales.
*In 1970, nearly half (48 per cent) of all households in Great Britain did not have regular use of a car.
*In 1971, the average household size in Great Britain was 2.9 people per household, with one-person households accounting for 18 per cent of all households.
*In 1971, the proportion of babies born to women aged under 25 in England and Wales was 47 per cent (369,600 live births).
*In 1970, food and non-alcoholic drinks was the largest category of expenditure, accounting for 21 per cent of UK total domestic household expenditure.
Life expectancy is perhaps the most notable single change. In 1970, when Edward Heath had just become Prime Minister and The Beatles were breaking up, for men it was 68.7 years and for women it was 75 years; 40 years on, these figures have shifted substantially. Male life expectancy is now 77.8 years, and for women it is 81.9 years. Doubtless the fall in heavy smoking has played a part in that. In 1974, 24 per cent of men and 13 per cent of women in Britain who smoked regularly were classed as heavy smokers, whereas in 2008 the figures were 7 per cent of men and only one in 20 women.
1971 vs 2011: what you get for your money
Mars bar: 1971: 2p 2011: 60p
First class stamp: 1971: 3p 2011: 44p
Pint of milk: 1971: 6p 2011: 49p
Loaf of bread: 1971: 9½p 2011: £1.10
Pint of bitter: 1971: 11p 2011: £3.05
Bunch of bananas: 1971: 18p 2011: 65p
Packet of cigarettes: 1971: 27p 2011: £7
Gallon of petrol: 1971: 33p 2011: £6
Ticket to Wembley Cup Final: 1971: £2 2011: £115