It’s changed little since Tudor times... although transport has moved on a bit
It’s the summer of 1996 and most of my school-aged chums are on their holidays. Many are writing postcards home from EuroDisney, while the ones with particularly generous parents got to jet off to Florida.
The Simister brand of package holiday was a bit simpler: walking boots, sun cream and a long, stuffy journey in the back of a Land Rover One Ten. Not that I minded, because after listening to What’s The Story (Morning Glory) on my Sony Discman, we’d inevitably end up somewhere like Burford – quiet market towns with a Middle Earth quality to them, enveloped by a gentle green swathe of rolling countryside.
If you could somehow step into this wonderful shot of Burford’s High Street you’d be right alongside me on one of those childhood holidays in Britain’s more picturesque parts – right down to hearing the clank of cutlery in the tea shops and the buzz of wasps hunting a child with a 99 Flake.
It might be 1996, but the 17th-century architecture makes this feel like a rural Britain from a very different era, as do the already ageing motors occupied by the tourists searching for somewhere to stop and lap up the sunshine.
Leading the charge is a Mercedes-Benz 230TE estate which, judging by the grubby wheels and missing tri-star mascot atop the radiator grille, has led a very tough decade lugging things around. No records exist for the car, so for all the indestructibility Stuttgart stuffed into the W123, this one has long since gone to the great car park in the sky.
The BMW 318iS behind it looks in better nick (although it’s also vanished from the DVLA’s records). It’s weird to think now that E30s at this point were actually falling out of favour as buyers clamoured for the E36 model. Had this car’s owner held onto it and looked after it, he’d now be fending off queues of Modern Classics readers fighting to get their hands on the ‘baby M3’. It was fitted with BMW’s M42 engine, a 16-valve gem that that gave the straightsix offerings a run for their money.
Trundling along behind it is a 1991 Ford Fiesta – a Popular Plus that looks like it’s been cherished by its owner. Bear in mind that 1996 was the year the Fiesta sneaked past the Escort to the top spot in the car sales charts, thanks largely to a restyle and revised suspension to create the MkIV model.
Behind that there’s a Citroën XM – most likely the base version, on account of its narrow tyres – then what look like a couple of Toyota HiAce vans, and a Peugeot 205.
Heading down the hill into town is a trio of 1980s hatchbacks: another 205, followed by an Austin Metro and a Ford Fiesta MkII. Bringing up the rear is a Mitsubishi Sigma, noted for its armada of electronic trickery (including one of the first active traction control systems) but largely forgotten now.
Those lucky enough to have bagged a Burford parking space have an equally memorable cast of 1990s motors, including a pair of Golf MkIIs parked up at the bottom of the hill. Behind that there’s a Cortina MkIV estate (firmly in classic territory now, but even as recently as the 1990s I remember seeing them tucked up in supermarket car parks) and a couple of Ford Scorpios. There’s also another Austin Metro – possibly the Mayfair model, due to its Henley Blue paintwork extending to the radiator grille – and behind that a Mercedes-Benz W124 estate. Neither will have outlasted that bit of engineering right at the back: the magnificent clock at the front of the town’s Tolsey Museum, which normally has an English flag flapping above it.
Trying to sneak past the beer garden sign in front of the The Cotswolds Arms and out into the holiday traffic is a 1989 Rover Montego, but of far more interest is the trio of cars parked outside the town’s Cook Shop – still going strong to this day. There’s an addled-looking Volkswagen T3, sadly cropped off at the exact point where we’d be able to establish if it was a converted camper or one of the shop’s delivery vehicles, and a saloon version of the Vauxhall Cavalier MkII, whose owners have managed to resist the charms of the sleeker MkIII and the Clarksonsilencing Vectra as family transport.
Yet in the midst of all these 1990s superminis, 1980s fleet favourites and tired looking load-luggers, there is a 1974 MGB, distinguishable as a 1973 model by its mesh/honeycomb radiator grille. Its chrome adornments, Rostyle wheels and Teal Blue paintwork make it stick out like a sore thumb in this mid-1990s Gloucestershire village.
Lke The Cotswold Arms it’s probably still with us, keeping a real ale-supping classic fan happy. If it’s your MG, do let us know!