SUM­MER 1973

Hello sailor! On the buses naval-style in sunny mid-1970s Ply­mouth

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - The Way We Were -

Think of the Royal Navy in all its 20th Cen­tury glory and air­craft car­ri­ers, frigates, Sea King he­li­copters and Har­rier jump jets spring im­me­di­ately to mind.

Rather less likely as trans­port for the mar­itime sec­tion of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces is a rather el­derly Bris­tol Lodekka dou­bledecker bus. Yet, as this sum­mer 1973 pic­ture shows, when it came to get­ting its sailors around on land rather than sea or in the air, the navy re­sorted to more mun­dane forms of trans­port (al­though CCW’s bus guru Nick Larkin will ar­gue that an an­cient Bris­tol is more ex­cit­ing than HMS Ark Royal or a de Hav­i­land Sea Vixen).

The lo­ca­tion is Ply­mouth, home to Devon­port, the largest naval base in western Europe. Quite where in Ply­mouth isn’t recorded (so feel free to write in and let us know), but we sus­pect it might be quite close to the fa­mous Ply­mouth Hoe, judg­ing by the bill­board for the Hoe Theatre in the back­ground.

Ply­mouth Hoe was where Sir Fran­cis Drake played bowls in 1588 be­fore en­gag­ing the Span­ish Ar­mada, but vis­i­tors in 1973 could in­stead en­joy per­for­mances of The Happy Ap­ple, Night Must Fall, Odd Man In and Some­thing to Hide. Al­ter­na­tively, there was the lure of an au­di­ence with David Kos­soff – an ac­tor best-known as Alf Larkin in The Larkins (which, con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief, wasn’t a bi­o­graph­i­cal drama about our Nick). There was also Mi­randa, a vin­tage rom­com about a lovelorn mer­maid and noth­ing to do with the cur­rent come­di­enne, Ms Hart, who would have been about six months old at the time. Al­though she might well have been in the neigh­bour­hood, as her father was a lieu­tenan­tcom­man­der in the Royal Navy and later com­man­der of the Royal Yacht Bri­tan­nia. Yes, re­ally. Such fun!

The trans­port await­ing our two chat­ter­ing naval rat­ings here is some­what less lux­u­ri­ous. Bris­tol Com­mer­cial Ve­hi­cles built the low-floor Lowdekka from 1949 to 1968. More than 5200 ap­peared, and all were bod­ied by East­ern Coach Works in Low­est­oft. Both com­pa­nies ended up as part of the sprawl­ing Bri­tish Ley­land em­pire and dis­ap­peared in the 1980s. It’s not pos­si­ble to ac­cu­rately date this Bris­tol be­cause naval num­ber­plates don’t iden­tify a year, but we as­sume it was get­ting on a bit, prob­a­bly hav­ing been cas­caded out of the lo­cal Western Na­tional coach and bus fleet.

Parked im­me­di­ately ad­ja­cent is some­thing else be­yond its ‘best be­fore’ date: a Ford Anglia 105E Deluxe. The bright paint shade – Ming, Panama or Sun­burst Yel­low – dates it be­tween 1959 and 1964, as well as do­ing a good job of dis­guis­ing any cor­ro­sion caused by liv­ing close to the sea, al­though the front valance in a dif­fer­ent shade sug­gests it had al­ready fallen vic­tim to all the salt in the air and been re­placed. The reg­is­tra­tion no longer ex­ists on DVLA data­bases.

Likely to be a lit­tle more re­silient, thanks to its glass­fi­bre body, is a 1969/70 Re­liant Re­gal Su­per­van rest­ing next to the Anglia and fin­ished in the same flam­boy­ant hue. Along­side this is a Bed­ford HA van, with an­other Lu­ton load-lug­ger, a Vaux­hall Vic­tor FE es­tate, oc­cu­py­ing the neigh­bour­ing spot. With the FE model only in­tro­duced dur­ing 1972, this last Vaux­hall to be de­signed in­de­pen­dently of Opel would have been al­most new.

Be­hind the bus, the on-road park­ing is oc­cu­pied by a two-tone green and yel­low Tri­umph. The side-stripe sug­gests a Vitesse 1600, but the un­usual colour com­bi­na­tion, non-stan­dard wheels and driver’s door sport­ing a sticker and cir­cu­lar mir­ror (in­stead of the more usual wing item) hints at a DIY-mod­i­fied boy racer Her­ald. There’s no mis­tak­ing the next two cars: a 1964 Hill­man Minx Se­ries V with its orig­i­nal wrap­around rear screen and a Rover P6. The plas­tic ‘eggcrate’ grille marks this out as a post-1970 Se­ries II, but with only the C-pil­lars clad in black vinyl and not the en­tire roof, we reckon it’s a four-cylin­der 2000 rather than the full-fat V8.

Amid the ve­hi­cles be­yond are a pale blue Vaux­hall Viva HC and a gold Hill­man Hunter (or its Rootes Ar­row badge-en­gi­neered Minx, Gazelle or Vogue equiv­a­lents). Loom­ing over ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing the green and yel­low Ford Tran­sit in the far back­ground, is a Desert Sa­hara two-door Range Rover V8.

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