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Some automakers, including Ford, Chevy, and Toyota, boast today’s top-selling SUVs and trucks. But in the late 20th century, cars were the vehicle of choice among Americans. Read on to find out the most popular car the year you started driving. 

The best-selling car the year you started driving

The most popular car the year you started driving
1992 Ford Taurus | National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

According to AAA, here are the most popular cars by year:

  • 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1983: Oldsmobile Cutlass
  • 1982, 1987, 1988: Ford Escort
  • 1984, 1985: Chevrolet Cavalier
  • 1986: Chevrolet Celebrity
  • 1989, 1990, 1991, 2001: Honda Accord
  • 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996: Ford Taurus
  • 1997–2020: Toyota Camry

Oldsmobile hit the road running in 1978 with its fifth-generation Cutlass Supreme, a rear-wheel-drive two-door coupe, AAA reports. The brand produced over 16 million units, many from 1978 to 1981 and again in 1983. 

As popular as the car was, the coupe body style slowly became a thing of the past. Plus, General Motors made a few mistakes concerning its production, causing the Cutlass Supreme to disappear. Nowadays, you might find a few still going strong in private used car markets. However, others are collectors’ favorites.

Ford had two tremendously popular vehicles in the ’80s and ’90s. The compact Escort emerged in 1981 and rose quickly to popularity, becoming a best-seller in 1982. It surpassed the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme that year because the Escort had its first front-wheel drive model and packed a fuel-efficient engine. 

Sales slowed after that but picked up again in 1987 and 1988 when Ford changed the model’s styling and gave it a more powerful engine. The Ford Escort continued production for about 21 years until the automaker finally retired the model.

Ford also produced the Taurus, but its best-selling years were from 1992 to 1996. During those five years, the Blue Oval’s midsize sedan offered comfort, safety, and value, drawing American consumers. From 1985 to 2006, the brand sold over 7 million Taurus units. 

Ford’s rival Chevrolet had two best-sellers as well. In 1984 and 1985, the Cavalier outsold all other vehicles, taking the sales win from the Cutlass Supreme. But in 1986, another Chevy rose to the top: the Celebrity. This midsize sedan offered ample cabin space and various trims. 

Honda’s and Toyota’s best-sellers


See Gas Prices the Year You Started Driving

The automotive industry saw quite a few American-made cars become best-sellers. Still, two Japanese brands outsold U.S competitors with two of the most popular vehicles of the late ’80s, ’90s, and even into the 2000s.

We’re pretty sure you’ve heard of the Honda Accord, a hot seller today, but it saw some of its best-selling years from 1989 to 1991. This model drew a large following thanks to some sweet features. You could get air conditioning, power doors and locks, a sunroof, and alloy wheels. 

Although those features are commonplace in today’s cars, they were unheard of decades ago. After 1991, the Honda Accord continued to see decent sales, but models from other automakers, such as Ford, took the top-selling spot. The Accord made a comeback in 2001 as the most popular car, but its reign was brief.

Toyota is the other Japanese company to enjoy stateside popularity. The Camry was the auto giant’s best-selling model for longer than any other car on the market since the ’70s. From 1997 to 2020, this midsize sedan drew higher sales than rivals for its performance, reliability, and safety. 

Though the Camry has been a top seller since 1997, SUVs’ explosion in popularity has put a dent in car sales. Still, when it comes it midsize sedans, the Camry is number one, selling over 10 million vehicles since 1983. 

No matter which year you started driving, there’s one car that sold the best, even if you didn’t get behind the wheel of that model. But maybe someone you know was lucky enough to pilot of one of these iconic cars.