The song is predominantly a rap comprising a mix of banal, absurd and generally unconnected sentences (including the song's title), each sentence being delivered twice in succession. Occasionally, a succeeding line provides the punch line to the preceding one. These rap passages are occasionally interrupted by short comic monologues or the consecutive repetition of the song's title for an extended period.
The UK single features four versions of the song spread across the 7- and 12-inch formats, and designated "Part I" through "Part IV". All versions feature the same pop/funk musical backdrop, but lyrically the versions are distinct from each other.
All versions of the song feature Cockney phrasing and slang, often heavily stylised for comic effect. Hence, in the song's title, "'ullo" is "hullo" with a dropped-H, "John" is a colloquial placeholder name (comparable to "mate"), and "motor" is shortened slang for "motor car".
Several London placenames are mentioned in the song, including Peckham, Bermondsey and Stanmore. Originally released in 1982, the song references several then topical themes, such as the ongoing construction of the Thames Barrier.
Recurrent among these themes is the Ford Motor Company's announced decision to replace the long-running Ford Cortina brand with the new Ford Sierra by September 1982. The song asserts the "poetry" of the Cortina, and the superior sound of the name "Cortina" to "Sierra", with varying degrees of vigour, during "Part II" to "Part IV" of the song.
This lyrical theme was reflected in the marketing of the single: the single's front cover features Sayle leaning against a Ford Cortina Mark V, the rear cover features a reproduction of a Ford press release for the 1973 Cortina 2000E model, and the 1983 reissue included a picture disc format featuring Sayle reclining on the bonnet of a Cortina Mark III.
"Part IV" of the song, included on the UK 12-inch, differs significantly from the other three versions lyrically, featuring a sustained onslaught of high-speed profanity and faux-coprolalia, which was adapted from the "Mr. Sweary" routine then current in Sayle's live stand-up act. "Part IV" also contains profane variations and parodies of some of the lyrics and monologues featured in the other versions of the song.
Largely as a consequence of "Part IV", the reissued 12-inch sleeve was labelled with a warning sticker that read: "This record contains explicit language – Abusive, lewd and funny – Expletives not deleted".
The single was not a hit upon original release, but it received a reissue from Island Records in late 1983, by which time Sayle had appeared in Gorky Park and several TV shows, including the first series of the BBC sitcom The Young Ones, and the ITV sitcom Whoops Apocalypse.
The re-issued single eventually reached number 15 in the UK Singles Chart on 24 March 1984.
The song and its title have been adapted and reused numerous times in a variety of contexts.
Around the time of the single's initial release (1982) BBC2 Arena had made a programme detailing the cultural influence of the Ford Cortina and its recently announced demise; "The Private Life of the Ford Cortina" in which Sayle (the presenter) talks through the influence of the car on the post war working classes and also features villain John McVicar (who appears on the cover artwork alongside Sayle) discussing Britain's most stolen car of the period.
In 1985, Toshiba ran a TV advertising campaign that featured the song with altered lyrics – "'Ello Tosh! Gotta Toshiba?" – performed by Ian Dury.
Upon an obscenity trial over their song "Bata Motel", the anarchist punk band Crass presented the b-side to this song as an example that there were much more obscene records out there than "Bata Motel". While it was being played, much of the court responded with uproarious laughter. This outraged the magistrates, who threatened anyone who laughed with a charge for contempt of court. This resulted in members of the band reportedly biting their lips so hard that they bled, so as to prevent themselves from laughing.
In 2005, the song was revived for a new Toshiba campaign featuring vocalist Suggs, Toshiba's advertising agency claiming that "the 'ello Tosh tagline has gone down in advertising history, demonstrated by the fact people still remember it today".
The song's title was adapted by the British tabloid newspaper The Sun to provide headlines at least twice during 2009: "'Ello Rosie, gotta new motor?" (article relating to a soap opera storyline); and "'Ello Ron, gotta new motor?" (news of Cristiano Ronaldo's car accident).
Sayle himself has commented on the longevity of the song's title, in his column for The Independent: "There is seldom a magazine or newspaper article even loosely connected with cars or the transport industry in general that doesn't use some variation of that title. Only last week there was a piece in the London Evening Standard about powerful in-car stereos entitled, 'Ullo Jon, Gotta New Woofer?' In fact sometimes the articles don't even have anything to do with cars."
Looking back on the single itself almost twenty years after its release, Sayle has also stated: "It is a really good song! Original, tuneful and the only Top 20 record to mention tropical fish and Peckham."
Upon release of the single, Sayle performed the song live on the TV series O.T.T., broadcast 27 February 1982, using a musical backing track that differed from the released single.
Sayle also performed the song on the live comedy album, Cak!, released later in 1982. This album also contained "Say Hello Mr. Sweary", an example of the routine that provided the lyrical concept for "Part IV" of "'Ullo John! Gotta New Motor?".
Sayle performed the song, with different lyrics ("out here it's really breezy coz I'm riding free and easy/I got a brand new Morrison, a brand new 10-speed Morrison") on a TV commercial in New Zealand for Morrison bicycles.
All tracks written by Alexei Sayle except "Pop Up Toasters" by Sayle/Harry Bogdanovs.
All tracks produced by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley except "Pop Up Toasters" produced by Martin Lewis.
Original release by Springtime Records, distributed by Island (1982, WIP 6768)
Reissued by Springtime/Island (1983, IS 162), also issued as a shaped picture disc (ISP 162)
- "'Ullo John! Gotta New Motor?" (Part I) – 3:25
- "'Ullo John! Gotta New Motor?" (Part II) – 4:02
Original release by Springtime Records, distributed by Island (1982, 12 WIP 6768)
Reissued by Springtime/Island (1983, 12 IS 162)
- "'Ullo John! Gotta New Motor?" (Part III) – 8:43
- "'Ullo John! Gotta New Motor?" (Part IV) – 4:45
Limited edition release by Island Records (1984, X-13159)
- "'Ullo John! Gotta New Motor?" (Part III) – 8:43
- "Pop Up Toasters" – 2:26