THE WAY WE WERE

Very lit­tle has changed in this fine stone town since this pic­ture was taken – ex­cept the traf­fiffic, of course

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - News - RICHARD GUNN

Richard Gunn shows how lit­tle things have changed in Stam­ford, Lin­colnshire.

Imag­ine an en­thu­si­ast of ar­chi­tec­tural his­tory hap­pen­ing upon this scene in 1978. He’d be ab­so­lutely mor­ti­fied. Hav­ing just con­tent­edly strolled past the 13th-cen­tury All Saint’s Church – out­side of which this pic­ture was taken – he’d be rudely con­fronted by the mod­ern world of trans­port in all its in­tru­sive glory in­vad­ing Stam­ford’s largely Ge­or­gian Red Lion Square.

The dog­leg formed by the square in Stam­ford had cre­ated a ma­jor bot­tle­neck along the Great North Road be­tween Lon­don, York and Ed­in­burgh since An­glo-Saxon times. In 1960, the town was by­passed by the mod­ern A1. While this may have less­ened the cars sta­tion­ary in traf­fific jams, it just made it eas­ier for cars to be sta­tion­ary in park­ing bays in­stead.

For­tu­nately for those of us with an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of clas­sic ve­hi­cles, what would have ap­palled our build­ings buff back in the day is fas­ci­nat­ing for us al­most 40 years later. In this lovely shot of the town, it’s not a car that steals the show, but a van.

Out­side Free­man Hardy Wil­lis – pro­vid­ing ‘shoes for all the fam­ily’ from 1875 to 1996 – is an un­fa­mil­iar de­liv­ery ve­hi­cle be­long­ing to sta­tionery whole­saler Mur­fax of Lu­ton. But what is it? The cor­ru­gated sides sug­gest a French con­nec­tion and that’s in­deed where it orig­i­nates – it’s a Peu­geot J7, a front-wheel drive com­mer­cial that was in pro­duc­tion be­tween 1965 and 1980. The mys­tery is why a fi­firm from the heart­land of Vaux­hall/Bed­ford would be us­ing a van that wasn’t ac­tu­ally sold in the UK? An­swers on a post­card – just so long as it’s one orig­i­nally sup­plied by Mur­fax in a load-lug­ging Pug.

The Peu­geot has some Gal­lic com­pany in the shape of a Re­nault 4 with a crooked front bumper. Next to that is a car with a ‘wow’ fac­tor: a Hill­man Avenger Tiger. Crikey! Um, ac­tu­ally, no.

The stan­dard steel wheels, four doors and too-high body de­cals be­tray this to be a boy racer spe­cial, ‘taste­fully’ mod­i­fied with a rear spoiler, side-stripes and black-painted B-pil­lars. Classy stuff!

Next door to the faux Tiger is a Mini Club­man es­tate, along­side an Austin or Mor­ris MkII or III Land­crab. Then there’s some­thing to re­ally get ex­cited about: a BMW ’02 Tour­ing

hatch­back. Ex­otic even back in 1970s Bri­tain, they’re still very rare and highly prized nowa­days. Our go-faster Avenger owner must have been very jeal­ous.

Af­ter a brief pe­rusal of the Yamaha Twin 125cc and tri­als mo­tor­cy­cles, it’s over to Stam­ford Hi-Fi Cen­tre where a Ford Es­cort MkII van of 1976 (the same year the shop opened) is pre­sum­ably wait­ing to whisk away some Bang & Olufsen mu­sic cen­tres. Then it’s Austin Maxi par­adise out­side Nel­sons (a butcher’s shop since 1826 and still go­ing strong to­day), with two ex­am­ples keep­ing com­pany with a Mor­ris Mi­nor Trav­eller. The lo­cal BMC/Bri­tish Ley­land dealer must have been pretty suc­cess­ful.

We can’t see enough of the next two cars – a sporty fast­back and a square-cut es­tate – to iden­tify them, but the Bed­ford CF pick-up is un­mis­tak­able. Pre­sum­ably it be­longed to the lo­cal builder on the nearby roof, work­ing in a man­ner that would cause a mod­ern Health & Safety Ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­fi­cial to suf­fer apoplexy. An­noy­ingly, the Bed­ford is ob­scur­ing a size­able es­tate, so we can’t make out what it is.

On the other side of the square, a 1971 Tri­umph 2000 MkII has slipped in be­hind an un­load­ing Lyons de­liv­ery van, while the Re­nault 6 hatch­back be­yond them would rouse the wrath of any pass­ing traf­fific war­den – plus our imag­i­nary ar­chi­tec­ture afi­fi­cionado – by block­ing the pave­ment out­side the en­trance to the per­pen­dic­u­lar Gothic St John’s Church of 1451.

The only two ve­hi­cles ac­tu­ally us­ing the road that once car­ried me­dieval cart traf­fic, Royal Mail stage­coaches and count­less au­to­mo­biles from the 19th Cen­tury on­wards are a Ford Tran­sit MkI and an M-reg­is­tered small mo­tor­cy­cle. The learner rider’s great love of foot­ball has prompted him to broad­cast to any­one fol­low­ing that he sup­ports Ever­ton. Well, it was the 1970s, times were strange. The sport­ing al­le­giances of the van driver who’s turn­ing right into the park­ing area, are less ap­par­ent. Nev­er­the­less, he prob­a­bly has his fin­gers crossed that he’ll be able to nab the park­ing spot be­ing va­cated by the Maxi be­fore any­body else nicks it.

To­day, Red Lion Square is much as it was be­fore the in­ven­tion of the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine; the sur­face has been cob­bled and the for­mer car park is now purely for pedes­tri­ans and mar­ket stalls. The clas­sics may be gone, but the build­ings are still there and oc­cu­pied by three of the four busi­nesses that were around in 1978. In the very tran­si­tory 21st Cen­tury, that’s some­thing to cel­e­brate.

RICHARD GUNN joined Clas­sic Car Weekly in 2000. Al­though now a free­lancer, he’s al­ways main­tained his con­nec­tion with the news­pa­per that started his ca­reer and also writes for our sis­ter pub­li­ca­tions Mod­ern Clas­sics, Prac­ti­cal

Clas­sics, Clas­sic Cars and Car Me­chan­ics.

Tran­sit about to fun­nel into one of the Great North Road’s worst pinch points. Peu­geot J7 van is as out of place in this im­age as a Tor­nado jet. Why was it here? Tri­umph 2500 sports

a pe­riod stick-on heated rear win­dow – re­mem­ber those?

BMW Tour­ing per­fect for the man in a hurry. That’s why it wasn’t re­versed in.

A pair of Austin Maxis is a wel­come sight – and per­fectly at home in Stam­ford. Un­marked Ford Es­cort van was the fastest way of get­ting from A-to-B in 1978.

Skip for­ward 37 years and some of the same shops are still trad­ing.

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