As the UK’s road network continued to expand throughout the ‘Sixties, the many miles of freshly laid asphalt concrete were being pounded by a new breed of motorist – the sales representative. These were the company earners, prepared to travel the length and breadth of the country to meet buyers, demonstrate products and get contracts signed to ensure monthly targets were met and their pay packets were filled with crisp banknotes earnt through commission. 

Their weapon of choice and faithful motorway companion – the company car or ‘repmobile’. Not only did their vehicle provide suitable transport, it also represented status. Being handed the keys to the company motor told fellow employees that the management recognised their worth – and the bigger and posher looking the car, the more targets they were successfully achieving.

Yet fleet buyers had to be cautious with their selection. Salesmen couldn’t afford to be off the road for long, so their cars had to be reliable. They also had to be cheap to buy, run and fix. And woe betide if they upset middle management by supplying anything too opulent like a Rover P5; the salesmen could never be seen driving a vehicle deemed above their rank.

What’s interesting is that the basic repmobile principles have barely changed in the last five decades with a clear thread running from cars like the MkI, MkII and MkIII Cortina, through to the Sierra and today’s Mondeo – although whether we’ll be looking at Mondeos in 50 years time remains to be seen.

So if you were an eager suited and booted sales rep in the ‘Sixties, here’s what you may well have spent your weekends washing in preparation for the week’s journeys ahead.

You can imagine the average rep from the ‘Sixties would have been rather proud being behind the wheel of a MkI Cortina because it was blessed with a spacious interior, a huge boot for samples, a tried and tested Kent engine, modern MacPherson strut front suspension and an all-synchromesh gearbox to help eat up the miles.

It undoubtedly impressed the fleet buyer as well because it was simple and pleasingly conventional mechanically, so spares availability was good and running costs were low. It was excellent value too, and in two-door guise sold for just £639. With an all important saving on its rivals it was guaranteed to earn buyers a pat on the back from their company accountants.

Launched in 1962, trim levels were ‘basic’, De Luxe and Super – the latter gaining carpets, a heater/demister, screen washers and chrome wheel trims.

The first two-doors were powered by a 1198cc overhead valve engine borrowed from the Anglia, but from January 1963 a 1498cc became available as standard in the Super and as an option on the De Luxe. A four-door arrived in October 1962, an estate in March 1963, and the rapid 78bhp GT, featuring a strengthened bodyshell and Cosworth tweaked 1500 engine, came along in spring. Not that our hapless salesman would be granted such an extravagance!

In September 1964 it received a facelift with a new full-width grille and new, efficient ‘Aeroflow’ ventilation system to keep reps cool when the heat was on to make more sales, along with discs at the front and a little more power gained through a slight increase in engine compression to make getting to their next appointment a little quicker.

Of course it was all change in 1966 with the introduction of the MkII, which was equally loved by fleet buyers who reveled in the 1297cc version of Ford’s five bearing powerplant, as well as the post-1968 1600E, which was reserved as an incentive for the best achievers.

Today the MkI Cortina is liked for the very same reasons that it gained favour all those years ago. Okay, the 1200 is a little flaccid, but the 1500 is easily able to keep up with modern traffic. Rust can be an issue, especially around the tops of the front struts, in the sills, bulkhead, A-pillars, boot floor and rear suspension mounts. As for the engine, look out for worn/broken piston rings, cam follower issues and crankshaft problems on the 1200. The bonus is all the parts are cheap and readily available.

Price-wise, a fair MkI 1200 today will start at £1500, while a good GT may be £4000.

Inspired no doubt by the success of the Cortina, Rootes announced its own repmobile contender in the form of the equally modern-looking Hillman Hunter in 1966. It too featured MacPherson struts at the front and a similarly light bodyshell made fashionably low at the front by banking over the powerplant by 15 degrees.

Practical, roomy and cheap to maintain with rear-wheel drive, which is what the fleet buyers preferred over the perceived expense and poor reliability of a front-wheel drive arrangement, it was every sales rep’s dream to have a Hillman. And that was all down to image; Rootes cars had always been seen as slightly better and more desirable than comparable Fords – and remember, by this time it was competing against the MkII Cortina no less.

Equally crucial to works canteen bragging rights was power, with even the entry 1496cc Hunter outgunning the MkII Cortina’s bigger engine at launch. And obviously for the higher echelons among the sales team, there was always the brisk 68bhp 1725cc Hunter. With four doors as standard and even more room inside than the Cortina, you would have expected visitor car parks around the country to be filled with them. But sadly this wasn’t the case. Perhaps it was down to the confusing Rootes badge engineering or the somewhat dull looks, but despite soldiering on until 1979 it never realised the success it deserved.

These days the Hunter has a dedicated following and while its front struts don’t rust as eagerly as the Cortina’s, it’s bodywork can still do a pretty good job at imitating a sieve with rot getting into all the usual places. Worryingly, panel availability isn’t good so buying a rotten car is unwise.

Mechanically, the alloy head on most 1725cc engines should be treated with care as it doesn’t respond well to incorrect anti-freeze and can frequently overheat. If it does and blows a head gasket, the head can only be skimmed so far and excessive internal corrosion is impossible to put right. A lack of serviceable replacement heads adds to the anxiety.

Realistically, you won’t have to pay all that much for a Hunter, although when we looked we found very few for sale. If you do track one down, we expect you will need in the region of £1500 for a reasonable GLS.

First appearing in 1958, BMC’s new four-pot range of Farina-styled saloons were a fleet buyer’s dream as there was a car in the range to satisfy every tier of the sales team. It was all done via badge engineering, which allowed the firm to create a wide range of trim and engine options, starting with the mundane Austin Cambridge (MkII A55) and Morris Oxford (Series V) versions, moving up to the upmarket Wolseley 15/60, the sporty twin-carb Riley 4/68 and the range-topping MG Magnette. 

As a result, the Farina models sold in their droves with solid monocoque construction, typically conservative running gear and generally bulletproof B Series engines proving a hit with fleet buyers.

They were dull though, woefully dated-looking and steering was vague and porridge like. In a nutshell, unlike the Hunter and Cortina, the BMC range was a throwback to a bygone era that preferred to rely on tried and tested mechanicals rather than push forward any boundaries.

There were two major versions of the Farina bodyshell, as well as an estate variant. The original one ran from 1958 to the autumn of 1961, with the second generation cars featuring a longer wheelbase, wider track and, in most cases, a reduction of rear fin height. Power originally came from a 1489cc four, with a 1622cc unit appearing after the facelift. Austins, Morrises and Wolseleys had a single-carb version, while Rileys and MGs gained twin carbs and a few extra horses. As well as the extra power offered by the second generation cars, reps would also benefit from better handling thanks to the addition of a front anti-roll bar and numerous other chassis modifications, although little could make up for these cars’ lack of glamour.

Time has been less harsh on the Farinas and today they’re actually quite liked. Either that, or people simply feel sorry for them. Bodies rot horribly but the B Series engine is good if you find one that doesn’t smoke excessively (worn bores) or rattle too much from cold.

Price-wise, most hover around £2000 although the strictly out of reach for reps Riley and MG variants will be more. Despite their inferior handling, it’s the prettier pre-facelift models that are most sought after.

While the original F-type Victor was a bit brash, the rounded-looking FB from 1961 was a lot more restrained, and this is probably why it appeared on the radar of the fleet buyer. After all, he didn’t want his sales executives getting any ideas.

In reality, with the exception of its revised engine, it carried over much of its predecessor’s major components.

While the simplicity of the Victor no doubt appealed to the man in charge of the fleet, the confusing model order probably didn’t – it from ran Standard, then Super, with De Luxe as the range-topper. High fliers would no doubt be tempted by the VX4/90, which had 90bhp on tap and was a very capable sports saloon.

Power was increased from 49.5bhp initially to 59bhp once the 1595cc engine was fitted from late 1963, with optional disc front brakes a sensible addition to rein in those extra horses.

The FC-series 101 replaced the FB from 1964 and ran until 1967 with, as its nomenclature suggests, 101 improvements over its predecessor. Despite this claim, it was the all-new lower and wider body that was the most obvious change, with many of the FB’s components, including its engine – albeit now with 66bhp or 70bhp – being continued.

What let the Victor down most was its three-speed column shift gearbox, which seems hopelessly antiquated compared to its rivals – no wonder most were subsequently converted to a conventional four-speed floor change.

While a reasonably successful seller new, both the FB and FC Victors are rare today and while they aren’t as glitzy as a Cortina, they certainly make an interesting alternative. The surprisingly pokey VX4/90 is a particularly good bet and has some interesting trim variations from the standard models. Because panel availability is poor, the key will be finding one in the best condition as possible and that isn’t plagued by bore/piston wear issues, which will be evident by smoke emissions from various engine apertures, including the dipstick hole. Moreover, some parts, such as the oil filter, are Vauxhall specific.

A FC saloon in reasonable condition will be £2000, while a FB will be slightly more. The very best early FC VX4/90 could make £4500 with a tailwind.

Ahead of its time, comfortable, solid and ultra-safe – the Volvo 120 series is our wildcard fleet car contender and in all honesty only the most forward thinking of fleet buyers would have considered it. But if they did, we expect the salesman from the ‘Sixties would have been mightily chuffed because it’s so much nicer to drive than any of its repmobile rivals.

Bodywise, there was a four-door saloon from 1956, a two-door from 1961 and an estate (221) from 1962, with the first cars appearing with a flaccid single-carb 1583cc engine. The altogether much better B18 (1778cc) arrived in 1961 and front discs became standard from 1964. The two-door got a 1986cc in 1968, a year after the four-door was discontinued, and the last ones rolled off the production line in 1970. Overdrive was standard on some models, making them even more refined.

The most desirable model was the 115bhp 123GT, which was an absolute firecracker and borrowed its running gear from the P1800S, but it’s ultra-rare and realistically we doubt any sales reps got their hands on them.

What those traveling the UK’s ever growing networks would have appreciated though was the forward thinking Volvo’s ‘medically idealised’ seats fitted from 1965, which would no doubt have made all those weeks at the wheel far less back-breaking.

And it was brilliant on the open road; assured, stable and in many respects very much like a modern car in terms of being able to eat up the miles at the legal limits. Cars after 1968 even had dual circuit brakes, which must have given extra peace of mind to someone who spent most of their time behind the wheel.

The Volvo’s longevity may have appealed to the more shrewd fleet buyer, even if the cost of spares probably didn’t. After all, it was the first Volvo to be officially imported into the UK, so we imagine parts were scarce and pricey at the time. Of course, the situation couldn’t be more different today because everything is available relatively cheaply from a wide range of specialist sources.

When buying, bulkhead rot can render an Amazon a write-off but otherwise there shouldn’t be too many worries and various repair panels make restoration feasible.

As for prices, don’t expect too many bargains but a nice, sound car with an MoT will still only be £4,000.

Ford set the benchmark that other manufacturers such as Rootes tried to follow when it came to making smart, medium-sized cars that would suit families and fleet buyers alike, but none of them came close to the Cortina. And to be honest, BMC’s Farinas fell way short of the mark.

The Hunter was a credible rival, but somehow never had the glamour or desirability of the Blue Oval – and interestingly, this has become evident in terms of survival rates today. The fact that Ford offered a wide range of trim levels and engines suited the fleet buyer perfectly because he would have been able to pick cars according to status.

The Victor was good, and had quite a bit going for it, and the VX4/90 was excellent, but its blandness and lack of character meant it never really achieved the success it deserved.

As for the Volvo, it was way ahead of its time and was so much more modern than its rivals. A true driver’s car, we reckon every rep from the ‘Sixties would have given over his month’s commission to drive one. Sadly, its higher purchase price and scarcity of parts at the time meant few got the opportunity – although today there’s no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy its many talents.