Whether it was BMW, Mercedes, Audi or Vauxhall, saloon cars were the preserve of sales reps and businessmen, a comfortable place to spend time while traversing mile upon mile of British motorway.
Now however it can seem that car makers are obsessed with producing 'motorway missiles', super-fast saloons or coupes that boast supercar-bating performance. But such performance figures are hardly new. There were signs twenty years ago that businessmen could be tempted into something that assaulted the tarmac rather than simply made its way along it.
In particular the 1990 Vauxhall Lotus Carlton, a 3.6-litre twin-turbo saloon, caused controversy in the tabloids because of its still-astonishing performance (0-60 took just 5.1 seconds). The propriety of its 180mph was even debated in parliament.
The intervening years saw sports saloons from Ford, Mercedes and BMW and also the invasion of Japanese rally-lite sedans such as the Subaru Impreza and Mitsubishi Evo.
Pundits now believe that the premium car segment has turned into a horsepower-packing arms race. BMW offers high-powered M-versions of its many of its models including the highly acclaimed M3 and the soon-to-be-unveiled M5. Audi may not be developing an RS version its latest A4 saloon but the lower-specced S4 offers a 0-60 time of 5.2 seconds, which is hardly pedestrian. And coupe fans can of courser buy Audi's latest RS5...
Even green-focused Lexus has let its hair down in recent years, offering the hardcore version of its IS saloon, the IS-F. And the usually family and business-focused Vauxhall continues to exploit its VXR brand by pushing out performance cars. Saloon drivers can settle on either the executive express, the 2.8 V6 Insignia VXR, or go for the.Chevy V8-powered muscle car, the VXR8.
But for all the talk of car companies becoming too obsessed with motorway missiles, it's hard to take the allegation too seriously. Such cars need to be put into the context of each car maker's entire range.
It only takes a cursory look down the model lists of major car makers to see that sports cars like the M3 or VXR8 are the exceptions to the rule rather than the rule itself.
Away from headline-grabbing torque figures, BMW is talking up its 'i project' and confounding pundits with the superb fuel economy of its latest diesel engines.
Meanwhile Audi is pushing it eco-credentials with its E-tron series and Mercedes is focused on its class-leading plutobarges such as the E-Class. Lexus continues to tout its green credentials with its super quiet CT 200h, the world's first hybrid hatchback in its sector.
As for Vauxhall, a quick look at their model range shows the company remains rooted in pragmatic real-world motoring.
At best then, fast saloons and their sporting ilk can be seen as hotbeds for technological development and driver enjoyment. At worst they are publicity stunts, an exercise in bragging rights between the main players.
Ultimately the job of any sports version of an existing model is to create a halo for the rest of the marquee's cars and the company itself, but not to dominate it.
The ultimate evidence for this is perhaps that the once-legendary Impreza moniker has been dropped from Subaru's flagship sports saloon these days. Nowadays the 300bhp all-wheel-drive sedan is now simply known as the Subaru WRX STi.