Happy birthday! 83 cars celebrating anniversaries in 2023

by Antony Ingram
6 January 2023 6 min read
Happy birthday! 83 cars celebrating anniversaries in 2023
Photo: BMW

The age of a car is a largely arbitrary construct. Customer preference or local legislation might dictate changes that affect a model from one year to the next, but even your dog has more concept of its age than your car does.

Nevertheless, we humans love to ascribe personality to vehicles, and set milestones just as we might for our own (or our dogs’) lives – and in 2023, a whole new group of vehicles is hitting age milestones that are in some way significant to our mortal plane of reference.

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We’ve divided these into categories, from emerging modern classics of 20 years ago, to the cars that arrived 75 years ago into a world still smarting from six years of war. Those celebrating anniversaries this year include everything from the Citroën 2CV, to the Aston DB5, Caterham Seven, and Audi TT.

And for some housekeeping, we’ve tried to restrict the list to cars you could actually go out and buy in these respective years, rather than those which might have been promised at motor shows a year or two before they arrived in dealerships.

20 years (2003): The new modern classics

The twenty-year bracket is as close as the automotive world gets to a “coming of age” class, bridging that gap between modern and classic. And this year there’s a real variety to behold.

2003 was, in retrospect, a golden year for supercars: From Italy both the Lamborghini Gallardo and raucous Ferrari 360 Challenge Stradale emerged that year, Germany (and the UK) fielded the McLaren Mercedes SLR, and even MG got in on the act with the XPower SV.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, 2003 also saw the V8-engined, convertible-topped Chevrolet SSR pickup emerge from the US to cash in on “Boomer nostalgia”, while luxury buyers could enjoy two new British models that redefined their segments: the Rolls-Royce Phantom VII, and the Bentley Continental GT.

Coupé buyers had the option of the pretty Bertone-designed Alfa Romeo GT and the more divisive Chrysler Crossfire, while at the more accessible end of the market, VW launched the transformative Mk5 Golf, and Rover put out two models of varying ability: the 25-based Streetwise, and the Indian-built, Tata-based Cityrover.

25 years (1998): True classics start here

In many countries 25 years is the official entry point to classic status, and some iconic models are hitting that milestone in 2023.

That includes some true icons of design: The Audi TT, the ingenious if odd Fiat Multipla, the original Ford Focus, and the Smart Fortwo (née City-Coupé) all made their debuts in 1998 and made the roads a much more interesting place.

The retro-inspired Rover 75 and Volkswagen New Beetle were also 1998 debutants, as was Volkswagen’s entry-level Lupo which brought new levels of quality to its sector. Competing with the Rover in the fight against established German brands was the E36 3-series inspired Lexus IS200, while Daewoo’s Matiz took the fight, with mixed success, to the Lupo.

Rolls-Royce launched the BMW-powered Silver Seraph as its last luxury model before the brand’s full takeover by the German marque, while hot hatchback fans were given the first taste of a newly energised Renault Sport brand with the Clio 172.

30 years (1993): Family cars and fine Fiats

If you like your classics unexceptional, then you’ll be pleased to learn that the Ford Mondeo first went on sale in 1993 (though production had started towards the end of 1992). It improved on its Sierra predecessor in every area, and while it may have looked utterly ordinary it was quite brilliant when judged against the competition and marked the start of Ford’s 1990s renaissance.

Premium brands BMW and Mercedes-Benz launched the E36 Compact and the W202 C-class respectively, and Peugeot’s 306 went on sale too in 1993, moving the family car handling game on as much as the Ford Focus did five years later; even a basic 306 was a joy to drive.

Fiat was on a roll in the 1990s, and 30 years ago we saw the debut of the stunning Chris Bangle-penned Fiat Coupé and Giorgetto Giugiaro’s smart first-generation Punto, delighting style-conscious buyers in two popular market segments.

In the US, buyers finally got a new Ford Mustang: the fourth-generation “SN95”, launched towards the end of ’93, despite the 1994 model year billing and the 95 in its model code. Here in the UK it was the year of the brutish Jaguar-engined Lister Storm, and in Japan, the Jaguar-themed – but very much Nissan Micra-based – Mitsuoka Viewt.

40 years (1983): A drifting icon and off-road heroes

1983 was apparently a great year to be a mainstream car buyer. The Fiat Uno, Peugeot 205, and Mk2 Volkswagen Golf all made their debuts this year, taking practicality, design, driving characteristics and build quality to new levels. Each is still regarded highly by fans of each brand today.

Alfa Romeo offered a pair of new family cars in 1983 too: the wedgy 33, replacing the ageing Alfasud, and the much-maligned Arna in a joint venture with Nissan. Less maligned but still eyed with suspicion by some, the MG Maestro also debuted, giving the Maestro, if not MG, an image boost.

Enthusiast buyers had plenty of choice elsewhere too: Toyota’s rear-drive AE86-generation Corolla was to become a car culture icon in the decades that followed, the original Honda CRX offered a front-wheel drive alternative, and with the Z31 300ZX, Nissan made the final step from sports car to grand tourer with its Z line, to mixed results.

The TVR 350i was undoubtedly a proper sports car, but if you prefer driving of a muddier sort, then two significant off-roaders arrived in 1983: the Land Rover Series models became the Defender, and Jeep launched its wildly popular XJ-generation Cherokee.

Oh – and remember, cars turning 40 this year now qualify for zero-rate VED, and ULEZ and MOT exemption, so 1983 examples of all the above can now benefit from slightly lower running costs.

50 years (1973): Half a century of driving pleasure

We think it’s safe to say cars crossing the 50-year mark are undisputed classics. This year, that milestone has been reached by two cars at which some may still draw the line: the Austin Allegro, and the Reliant Robin. Early examples of both are now, somehow, half a century old – but have been finding fans both new and old for some time already.

The Caterham Seven and the MGB GT V8 have always had their fans, and loyal ones at that. The list of Brits also includes fifty years of the Triumph Dolomite Sprint, and like the Seven and MGB GT V8 especially, its classic status is not in any doubt.

Nor are two GT4-badged Ferraris, the pretty 365 GT4 Berlinetta Boxer or BB, and the once-unloved but now desirable Gandini-shaped Dino 308 GT4. Similar in style, if not performance, the three-seat Matra Bagheera is also fifty.

And if you prefer your cars German, then two significant models are reaching 50 years in 2023: The original Volkswagen Passat, and the excitingly-boosted BMW 2002 Turbo.

60 years (1963): The world’s most beautiful cars

There may not be an age bracket as beautiful as those reaching sixty years old in 2023: the list really is spectacular.

The 105-series Alfa Romeo Giulia Coupés hit this milestone, as does the Alfa TZ (“Tubolare Zagato”), the Alpine A110, Aston Martin DB5, and the Mercedes-Benz W113 “Pagoda” SL. What a lineup!

Not that some of the others are exactly hard on the eyes: the tiny Honda S500 sports car, Honda’s first ever passenger car, Isuzu Bellett, and Lancia Fulvia (in saloon form). And who can forget the Hillman Imp?

Similarly attractive, but significant on the race track as well, the Lotus Cortina Mk1 also made its debut sixty years ago, and this particular milestone will be celebrated at this year’s Goodwood 80th Members’ Meeting in the spring, with a grid of 30 competing in the Jim Clark Trophy.

70 years (1953): Family, and sports car buyers had it good

The early 1950s saw an explosion in the number of new cars following years of postwar austerity, and some significant British debuts illustrate the kind of variety that was becoming available to buyers all over the world.

That includes sports cars like the Austin-Healey 100 and Triumph TR2, each of which debuted in 1953, as well as sporting saloons like the MG Magnette and Riley Pathfinder.

The Ford 100E arrived that year too, while the Nash Metropolitan attempted to make a splash in the US. Italy offered the Fiat 1100 and Lancia Appia to family buyers, and the Iso Isetta to those on a budget.

And the top of the market wasn’t empty either: Aston Martin debuted the DB2/4, Porsche the 550 Spyder, and in the US, 1953 was the first year of production for “America’s sports car”, the Chevrolet Corvette.

75 years (1948): Post-war icons

It’s a sign of how profoundly the car industry changed after the Second World War that although cars from the late 1940s are now rare, several have legacies that lived on for decades after their debut.

That number includes two absolute icons of attainable transportation and automotive freedom: from Britain the Alec Issigonis-designed Morris Minor, and from France, the André Lefèbvre and Flaminio Bertoni-designed Citroën 2CV. The first examples of both arrived in 1948.

But then, so did the Land Rover Series I and Porsche 356, each of which have defined decades of off-roaders and sports cars respectively, and the Jaguar XK120’s impact shouldn’t be overlooked either, not least for debuting the long-running Jaguar XK straight-six.

Ferrari’s 166 was not its first car, but it did birth the 166 Inter, the brand’s first grand tourer, in 1948. And while only fifty examples were ever made, the Tucker 48 “Torpedo” has had an outsize influence on US car culture – and business case studies.

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  • John Kempshall says:

    Please do not forget the Bond Equipe is 60 this year.
    Regards John.

  • Graham Holdsworth says:

    MG marque is 100years old this year !
    MG100 selebration at Silverstone in June

  • Keith Griffin says:

    MG sold its first car 100 years ago this year

  • BigCol says:

    Caterham Cars started as a manufacturer of the 7 in 1973…

  • John Mullen says:

    The longest surviving original British brand is 120 this year! Who? Vauxhall of course.

  • David Shaler says:

    Vauxhall Viva also born in 1963

  • David Beadle says:

    You missed the Rover P6 (Rover 2000) from 1963. Not only created the 2 litre Executive class in the UK along with the Triumph 2000 which you also missed, but was also the first European Car of the Year in 1964.
    Hardly a bit player, either as the P6 went on to sell 363,000 copies in 2000, 2200 and 3500 V8 forms. The Triumph also sold well with around 260,000 sales.

  • Must Try Harder says:

    1963 Mini Cooper S also the 1983 Audi URq;

    • Antony Ingram says:

      Good spot on the Cooper S, though the ur-Quattro arrived in 1980 (there were several anniversary celebrations a few years back), making it 43 this year and therefore not suitable for any of our categories.

  • Bob west says:

    Don’t forget the gen 1 Honda Insight, a game changer

    • Antony Ingram says:

      Hello Bob – I’m a big fan of the Insight, and owned one several years ago, but that arrived in 1999, making it 24 years old in 2023 so not quite fitting into any of our anniversary groups.

  • Richard Want says:

    Although the S3 Land Rover did come out in 1983, Land Rover adopted the “Defender” name when the Landy became popular after the Gulf war in the US. So 1991/2, NOT 1983.

  • Martyn Sharp says:

    Land Rover Defender did not appear until early nineties. The coil spring model which appeared in 1983 was called the Ninety or One Ten.

  • Darren Richards says:

    You missed the Ford Orion’s 40th this year. Consistently in the top 10 selling cars in the UK for most of its production run.

    • Antony Ingram says:

      Hello Darren – great spot, thanks for pointing it out. We’ll no doubt cover it at some point this year.

  • Mitchell Clayton says:

    You forgot the Alfa 155.

    • Antony Ingram says:

      Hello Mitchell, the Alfa 155 was launched in 1992, so its 30th anniversary was last year.

  • Richard Monk says:

    Clearly 100 years of MG has slipped through your net! All the major MG Clubs have a huge celebratory event at the British Motor Museum Gaydon on May 27th 2023

  • Eric Beardsworth says:

    “Jaguar XK120’s impact can’t be underestimated” is a grammatical error, suggesting the car had little impact. You mean “can’t be overestimated” or “mustn’t be underestimated.”

  • Mick findley says:

    Hi Antony my mitsubishi colt Cordia turbo 1983 is 40yrs old this year thanks.

  • Adrian Crawley says:

    I’m late to the party but was surprised to not see the Porsche 901 / 911 in the 60 year old group.
    Maybe because it was announced in 1963 but didn’t go into production until the following year.

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