Sky-high temperatures in 1976 led to a drought which meant that hundreds of thousands of people were dependent on standpipes for their water supply.
Meanwhile, the biggest selling singles of the year were ABBA with Dancing Queen and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, the Brotherhood of Man won the Eurovision Song Contest with Save Your Kisses For Me, and the number 1 film was Rocky.
In the automotive world, two of Ford's finest were battling it out for the top spot with the Escort overtaking the Cortina for the first time to become Britain’s most popular car.
The rest of the Top 10 was mainly made up of other British stalwarts from Austin, Morris, Hillman and Vauxhall.
Join us on a trip down memory lane to see some of the new cars Brits were driving 40 years ago – from home-grown bestsellers to exotic European imports...
Originally launched in 1967, the Ford Escort was a replacement for the ancient Anglia. More compact than a Cortina, it was built at Halewood on Merseyside. The Escort got a new lease of life in 1975 when the Mk1 was replaced by the Mk2, and 1976 marked the first time it outsold the Cortina. The Escort continued in production until 2004 when it was replaced by the Focus. By the end of its life a massive 4,105,961 had been sold, making it the most popular car in Britain ever. It held the record until 2014 when it was overtaken by its little brother, the Fiesta.
Produced between 1973-83, the Austin Allegro was best known for its dumpy looks and ‘quartic’ (rectangular) steering wheel. Despite all that, it was number 5 in the 1976 Top 10 best-selling cars and by the end of its life an impressive 642,350 Allegros has been manufactured. A plush Vanden Plas 1500 version and an estate were also available, but they had the distinction of being even more ugly than the basic Allegro. Marketed as British Leyland's “car for Europe”, a poll in 2008 branded it the worst car ever made.
By the 1970s, Volkswagen already had an iconic people's car in the shape of the ageing Beetle. However, in 1974 it did the impossible and created a second one when it launched the Golf. Its modern hatchback design made many British family cars look they were from a bygone age, and by the end of 1976 a rapid GTI version (the first hot hatch), plus a diesel, had been introduced. The Golf is now in its seventh generation and more than 33 million have been produced globally.
Launched in 1959, the iconic Alec Issigonis designed Mini was a true people's car. It was revolutionary with front-wheel drive and a transverse mounted engine creating a remarkable amount of interior space. The Mini set the template for small cars and it was still going strong in 1976 (number 3 in the Top 10). A total of 5,387,862 were built before production finally ended in 2000.
Produced between 1972-85, the Renault 5 was one of the first modern superminis and was just pipped to the 1973 European Car of the Year Award by the Audi 80. Hugely popular, it was becoming a common sight on our roads by the mid-1970s. In all, nearly 5.5 million examples of the practical hatchback were made. A hot hatch version, the Renault 5 Gordini, arrived in 1976, while the later high performance Renault 5 Turbo (1980-6) became a motoring icon.
Volvo 200 Series
Swedish car maker Volvo was onto a winner when it launched its 200 Series of cars in 1974. By 1976 this range of executive saloons and big estates was a relatively common sight on British roads, building on the success of the 140 Series. More than 2.8 million had been sold by the time production ended in 1993. Unlike many cars of the 1970s, Volvos were solidly built and many 200s have survived.
Originally launched in 1962, the Ford Cortina became a British institution. There were four generations and each one was a million-seller. 1976 marked the last year of production for the "Coke bottle" Mk3 Ford Cortina (pictured) before it was replaced by the more boxy Mk4. It was also the first year that its little brother, the Escort, outsold it to take the number 1 spot in the Top 10 best-selling cars. Sadly, like many popular cars of the 1970s, most Cortinas fell victim to rust and are now a rare sight on our roads.
Unveiled in October 1972 at the Turin Motor Show as a replacement for the iconic Fiat 500, it's fair to say that the boxy little 126 wasn't quite so cute. However, a remarkable 4.5 million examples were produced (nearly as many as the Mini) until production finally stopped in 2000. It was slow and the rear seats were really only for children, but it was popular and became a cultural icon in Poland.
Audi was still finding its way as a brand back in the 1970s – a far cry from today's premium "vorsprung durch technik" range. The light and efficient Audi 80 (B1) went into production in 1972 and won the European Car of the Year Award the following year. Popular in Europe especially, it was marketed as a compact executive car, but was always something of a left-field choice in the UK where its rivals included everything from the Triumph Dolomite to the Ford Cortina. It continued in production until 1978.
Introduced in 1970, the Range Rover has evolved over four generations into the ultimate SUV and it now also has three younger siblings – the Evoque, Sport and Velar. The original Rangie set the template for today's SUVs, currently the world's fastest-growing automotive sector, with its blend of all-terrain ability and luxury interior (though these days it's much more opulent). When it was launched in 1970, a new Range Rover cost £1,998 – today's car starts at £81,900.