Car History

Ireland's Most Iconic Cars of the Last Decades

Published: 01/17/2024

Ireland has consistently loved one car above all others, and it may not be the flashy model that would immediately come to mind. The Toyota Corolla is the world’s best-selling car of all time. This rather humble and fairly modest car is not just the most popular car in Ireland but is the world’s most beloved car too. It’s a car that sold in its millions, sparked a number of copycats and has remained a global sensation over many many decades. 

Vintage Toyota Corolla
Vintage Toyota Corolla


But why do we love the Corolla so much?

The discerning Irish driver has always had a soft spot for the VW Golf and the Ford Focus, but there has always been a special place in their motorist heart for the Toyota Corolla. Over the past 51 years, over 500,000 of the models have been sold here. The main reason the Corolla has been the most popular car of all time is reliability. Its not the car for showing off with speed and extra trimmings or fancy add ons. But rather, she is a workhorse car, a family car and a steady reliable model. Some say that the Toyota is virtually indestructible, and always a sound investment. Proof that that the most important thing to the average driver is that a car will start, keep going and not cost a fortune while it is doing it. Of course, the newer models have great safety features and there is brilliant fuel efficiency and over the years the Corolla has seen many an upgrade and improvements. Resale value is also a factor in keeping the Corolla in its top spot. Second hand Corolla’s are always in demand. But in general, it’s the total reliability that keeps this economical, compact car high on the wish list for motorists. 

In this way it is similar to the VW Golf. The Golf is another of Irelands favourite cars and in a poll conducted in 2021, we learned that a VW golf was sold somewhere in the world every 41 seconds. A fair few of those were on the island of Ireland and a fair few were driven off the lot here in Ballymahon by happy buyers. The VW golf is around since 1974 and has a reputation for holding its resale value.  Originally it was to be called the ‘Rabbit’ but luckily the manufacturers saw sense and named it after a game renowned for its walking and not after a cuddly animal. The big ‘R’ for reliability is one of the main reasons for the VW popularity too. Volkswagen is the world's second-largest motor vehicle manufacturer having lost the number one spot to Toyota in 2020. They may well take that place back with the new Electric ID VW which is currently the best-selling EV in Ireland.

Once upon a time, long long ago, the Ford Model T held the record for the bestselling car in the automotive industry (as it was known back then when tyres were thin and cars had air conditioning from the outside breezes running through the car). The Ford Focus can easily take its place among the great cars of the Irish roads. Ireland has always loved the Focus.  Since 1998 Ford Focus has been a popular Irish family car. Unfortunately, the fourth generation of Focus will be the last as the car manufacturer moves its focus (literally) to SUV’s. The model still sells well on the second-hand car market and retains a great reputation for comfort, economy, low maintenance costs and of course ‘reliability’. The Ford Focus did have some difficult years and as reputable motor dealers we know where those pitfalls are but know that overall it is a great marque. The Ford Focus remains one of the bestselling used cars in the business.

But in a global market where Tesla, VW’s Zeno and a plethora of cars that have hardly any vowels in their names and lots of fancy features on board, it will take lot more to become an iconic car. In the meantime, there will always be nostalgia, fond memories and a lot of respect for these favoured cars of the Irish highways and byways.

In the mid-1980s, affordable rear-wheel drive performance cars were swiftly going the way of the dodo. Front-driven hot hatches like Peugeot’s 205 GTI and the Volkswagen Golf GTI ruled the roost, and even Ford’s Escort XR3 was saddled with ‘’wrong-wheel drive’’. Only one manufacturer fought the rising tide: Toyota. As incredulous as that may sound considering the company’s reputation for dependable, unbreakable workhorses (try killing a 1990’s Corolla XLi), there was method to their madness. Ireland loves Toyotas, and loves Twin Cams even more. Every petrolhead has either owned one or has some story involving one, and the stares, smiles and thumbs-up from most people we meet on the road are the proof of the pudding. Personally, I’m still not going to rush out and buy one, but I can now understand why so many people are infatuated with a thirty-year old Toyota Corolla.

It is true that the Toyota brand has always had a reputation for affordability, comfort and reliability, but who knew that in a world of amazing car creations from Tesla to Zenos, the car buying public choose Toyota. There is a touch of conservativism, a guarantee of economy, and family friendly driving and a rather humble car, and maybe that is enough.

Peter Hanley Motors is a registered
member of The Society of the Irish
Motor Industry

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