Once upon a time, new cars were simple, fixable, easy to live with and fun – with just enough kit to be safe and comfy. That was the 1990s. Today, they make smart buys
For some of us, the 1990s were only yesterday. They were simpler, Britpoppy times with dial-up internet. The cars were brilliant, too. Not just characterful and entertaining, they were also safer than cars had ever been.
The widespread adoption of ABS and crumple zones, along with power steering, made them easier to live with – and today they remain eminently fixable, rather than being chip-based life forms. But when you wander around a car park, how many ’90s survivors do you find? They seem to be disappearing fast and are now owned by only the eccentric or impoverished.
It is possible to drill down into the official registration stats and discover that an awful lot of models are rather rarer than any ’90s Ferrari you care to mention. Modena officially produced just 349 F50s in 1995, but compared with a bottom-of-the-spec-sheet Citroën ZX 1.4 Avantage, well, just two of those are knocking around on the Queen’s Highway. Meanwhile, a Ford Mondeo Aspen (another base model), which peaked at 11,615 on the road in 1998, is now down to just 12 registered with the DVLA.
So whatever happened to ’90s cars? Well, 20 years plus is a long time in a car’s life cycle. On average, cars last a little over a decade: according to the most recent SMMT figures, the median age of a scrapped car in 2015 was 13.9 years. There’s always some natural wastage as cars fail MOTs and get written off, but plenty of perfectly roadworthy motors were also crushed.
That brings us to the tragic 2009 scrappage scheme, which claimed the life of at least one Honda Integra Type R, and was underwritten by £300 million in taxpayer funds, a sum matched by manufacturers, for vehicles first registered in the UK before 31 August 1999. As well as drumming up business for the car trade suffering after the 2008 world economic downturn, it was justified on the grounds of cleaning up the atmosphere with more environmentally friendly (their words) and safer cars. In all, 390,000 cars were taken out of circulation. Forever.
And finally, the recent arrival of E10 petrol has condemned cars that can’t drink it to obsolescence, pricing frugal motorists out of cars mostly made before 2002. But if you’re happy to pay the extra for super-unleaded fuel, which ’90s models should you save for posterity?