How have car prices changed?

If you are in the market for a new car, chances are you will not be able to get much for under £20,000. That is a lot. In the 1980s, the average cost of a house was just under £24,000- which is about the same price as the most basic Volkswagen Golf. A car of the people. Of course, you cannot compare these prices directly because of inflation. Your average weekly shop was about 9p in the 80s and you could buy a new suit with a £1 note and have change for some chips cooked in animal fat on the way home. There may be some exaggeration there, but you get the point. However, inflation included, have car prices changed over the last 40 years?


A staple on our roads for decades has been the small hatchback. Due to practicality, economy and being fun to drive- the Ford Fiesta has always been a popular car in this class. Ford have sold over 4.5 million in the UK alone which makes it one of the bestselling cars of recent times full stop.

The base model is on sale in the UK at the moment for £16,645 which may come as a surprise to some. 40 years ago, though, you could get your hands on Ford’s baby of the range for £3,255. With inflation included, this would be £11,230.08. That is a price difference of £5,414.92. You can nearly buy a new Dacia Sandero for that price difference.

Luxury Car

There are a few options for luxury vehicles to choose from but there are few names that hold as much prestige as Rolls Royce. Although they are of course owned by BMW now, that is hardly a derogatory name attachment. In 1981 you could buy a Rolls Royce Camargue for £83,122- a brand new Mercedes-Benz S Class is just over £1,000 cheaper than that even today.

When inflation is included, the 1981 price is £286,779.41- which is £10,000 more than the average house price of today. However, a brand-new Rolls Royce Phantom will set you back a bankruptcy-inducing £369,020. That is an equivalent price difference of £82,240.59.

Sports Car

The Porsche 911 has been with us for over half a century. Known for its driving precision and mid-life crisis signification, the Porsche has always been a slightly more affordable option compared to its Italian rivals. Sticking with the 1981 theme, a 911 would have cost you £16,731.55 or £57,727.11 in todays money.

For the sheer thrill and experience of driving, there are a couple of options today for that price-bracket, such as the Alpine A110 but you will not be able to get a modern 911 for that amount. The price difference equivalent comes in at £27,142.89 as a new one will cost you £84,870. It still follows the theme of being cheaper than red, white and green Ferraris and Lamborghinis- even if Porsche and Lamborghini are part of the same vehicle group now.

Sales-rep’s Dream

Everyone’s Dad either had a Ford Cortina or tells you stories about one. The Cortina dominated the middle-management world. They were incredibly popular in the 1970s and 80s. You got a lot of car for your money too. In 1981, the base model was £4,350- which is equivalent to £15,007.95. Which, as proved earlier, is less than a new Ford Fiesta. Although the Cortina name was retired, the Mondeo is the modern equivalent but even the most basic one of those will cost you £12,147.05 than that though at £27,155.

Go Anywhere… On the high street

The Toyota Land Cruiser is another name that has been with us for decades. Due to its durability and off-road prowess, it is used in all corners of the supermarket car park and high street. It has never been a cheap option though, in 1981 it came with a 4.0 diesel engine and cost £15,998. That is nearly as much as the Porsche- but at least you know it would outlive you and your children. The surprise comes with the fact that you can get a brand-new Land Cruiser today for £44,675. That is £10,516.74 LESS than what the Land Cruiser of 1981 would have cost with inflation included.


The MPV was invented by Renault in 1984, so we cannot quite go back to 1981 for this one but the inflation calculations have been adjusted accordingly. The Espace was launched in the UK in 1985 and it did not sell very well in the first year of sale. This is surprising, as large family MPVs proved to be incredibly popular in the early noughties with the likes of the Vauxhall Zafira.

The other issue with this comparison is that the Renault Espace was taken off sale in the UK in 2014. However, Renault’s budget arm, Dacia, sold just over 18,000 vehicles last year in the UK and their sales may grow further with their announcement of their new 7-seat vehicle. The Dacia Jogger is now available to buy for as little as £14,995. When the Renault Espace was launched in the UK in 1985, it cost £9,990. In today’s money, that is £26,496.44- £11,501.44 more than the Dacia.


For most car types then, prices have increased. You may say, ‘yes, but you get bluetooth connectivity and power steering in a modern car’ and that is true. You have to compare the fact that in 1981, car manufacturers were offering the latest of technology in their cars for the money.

The old adage is always that whatever appears on a Mercedes-Benz S Class will appear on Ford Fiesta’s in 10 years’ time because of the price points and the way technology filters down and gets cheaper over time. The other thing that will have increased some car prices is minimum wages- which did not really exist in 1981. That added to the increase in the cost of parts has contributed to the overall increase.

That is the issue with the Dacia Jogger, yes it seems like good value but it does not really offer anything more than the original Espace did. New cars should be: safer, more economical, less polluting and more technologically advanced than the cars that came before them. If this was not the case, then there would be no point in car companies making new cars.

Why We Need New Cars

The level of safety and protection for the driver as well as passengers and pedestrians is a huge area of development- as cars nowadays give a much higher chance of survival when something goes wrong. If you think about it, that is what development looks like. In the medical world, procedures progress when they are made safer and have a much lower mortality rate. In the world of work, safety measures have decreased deaths in the workplace. So why should things be any different with cars?

If you are thinking of changing your vehicle, then you can speak to us at VM Vehicle Solutions and we can give you options on your next car. If you are thinking of swapping the petrol pump for the charging plug- we can help there too!

As always, thanks for reading and we hope to speak to you soon!

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