In the early 1980s and beyond car manufacturers sold a reasonably tight line-up of cars and bedecked them with trim levels according to price and status.
Take Ford for example. The small hatchback was the Fiesta, the larger hatchback (and estate) was the Escort, the slightly larger again was the Cortina (also available as an estate), the sports car was the Capri and the granddaddy of them all was the Granada. Each car was available in 3 trim levels - L, GL and Ghia - and different engine sizes. In the Cortina this was 1.3, 1.6, 2.0 and 2.3 litre.
Special editions were occasionally available in order to sell a batch of cars, whereby a few options were thrown in at a special price. Go-faster stripes and a spoiler might also be included.
But soon variants began to sprout forth. The Escort bore a saloon, the Orion, which lasted from 1983 until 1993 and an MPV, the Galaxy, was introduced in 1995. However, life for the car buying public was still relatively straightforward. You purchased according to how much money you had, how many kids you had or, if it was a company car, your job status.
In my late teens I worked in a construction company. I was a mere trainee with no company car but my immediate boss had an Orion 1.3 LX, his boss had a Sierra 1.6 GL and the company director had a 2.8 Ghia. Cars were allocated strictly according to status. If I worked hard I might one day achieve an Escort 1.3L.
"Sod that for a game of soldiers," thought the younger I. So I buggered off to university.
In the 25 years since I passed my test I've owned over 30 cars. Rarely do I keep one for longer than 12 months, and some I've kept for only a month or two. 3 years ago I bought a 2001 Mini Cooper, hated it so I sold it. 6 years ago I bought a 1985 Land Rover 90; it kept breaking down so I sold it.
The reason I've owned so many cars is because I love them. I don't want to be saddled with whatever someone else reckons my status deserves. I want to try out different cars, to sample them, to savour them, to realise their failings and to marvel at the things they can do to my soul.
Due to my short termist thinking, allergy to finance, and often impulsive buying habits I've never bought a very expensive car. On paper, the best I've had is my current Audi S4.
So to the point of this article. The massive expansion of choice and niche cars available in today's market.
Like you, I spent many hours of my youth poring over the back pages of Car Magazine (still do but Top Gear has a better stats section now) looking at models, prices, 0-60 times and wondering which I'd buy to suit a particular mood - budget allowing. But unlike the younger me, reading Car in the late 70s, I now find myself ignoring the vast majority of models.
The Vauxhall Mokka, Renault Captur, VW Golf Plus, Toyota Verso, Kia Venga, Audi A7, BMW X6, every Mini except the hatch and Clubvan - all useless in my eyes. These, and the other niche busters that are introduced on a seemingly daily basis, are designed to fill a sector within a sector. To satisfy a small segment of the population who need this that and the other or, rather, are told they want the car by the manufacturer who is selling it and by compliant magazines.
I couldn't care less about image. I buy what I feel like buying and what suits my requirements. I refuse to be categorised by a corporation. I bought the S4 Avant because it looks better than the saloon and I can fit my dogs in the boot. When I had 3 kids at home (the elder 2 are now transportationaly independent (I think I just made that word up)) I owned a succession of reasonably dynamic estate cars. The thought of a Citroen Xsara Picasso made me shudder - despite the superior headroom and abundance of storage binnacles.
A BMW X6 is nothing more than a cod piece, a chest wig, a chunky gold chain, a penis enlargement tool with a boot that you can fit several sets of golf sticks inside. BMW built a car designed a car as automotive cock swinger for sad men with lots of money and no friends in order to make a profit from them. The 7 series was too staid, the X5 not flashy enough.
And so it goes. More niches than you can shake a stick at. The ultimate of which is just around the corner - the Fiat 500L+, a car for people who want a small, funky, practical city car with 7 seats, headroom enough to wear a stove-pipe hat and lots of luggage space. The children of people who buy a 500L+ will hate their parents.
Occasionally I frequent my local banger racing track. Amidst the carnage I shudder as a Cortina or original Mini is brutalised in the name of entertainment, but, in 15 years time, I look forward to seeing Mini Pacemans, Fiat 500L+s, Citroen Xsara Picassos, BMW X6s and Mercedes B Classes destroyed for our enjoyment. I'll cheer as a Peugeot 207 SW is upturned and pulverised.
In amongst all this niche madness stand companies such as Jaguar, Maserati and Land Rover who sell refreshingly easy to define cars - sports car, saloon, SUV. Also, Toyota and Subaru should be congratulated for releasing the pleasingly straightforward GT86/BRZ sports car.
Soon I shall sell the S4. I might buy a Subaru Impreza, just because I've never owned one before and fancy giving it a go.