YouÕd be going nowhere fast in the southbound lane of the motorway
Peer closely enough at the photo on the opposite page and chances are you’ll be able to pick out the faces of frustrated drivers who have been crawling past Preston for a quite some time. There will be added consternation with those who have just been overtaken by two people on as many wheels zipping through the congestion.
Traffic jams in this neck of the woods were part of my childhood, because I’d inevitably end up in them en route to family holidays in slate-clad cottages in the Lake District. Even now there’s a part of me that calls the stretch of M6 slithering north through Lancashire the highway of dreams because it connects the wider British population with all sorts of wonderful places to go away for the weekend. In the early 1990s, Simister outings invariably ended not only in the Lakes, but the Yorkshire Dales, Morecambe and the Trough of Bowland. Judging by the coach, caravan and odd motorhome joining the family cars in this motorway melee, I can’t have been the only one putting up with the traffic during a few days off.
Sneaking into the outside lane behind the Mini – either a late 1980s Mayfair or a City, judging by the cosmetics – is a 1982 Ford Escort MkIII 1.6L. Looking at the amount of clobber and youngsters in the back, it’s exactly the sort of hard-working family chariot buyers would have expected of the nation’s best-selling car. We suspect years of hard use took their toll on this one, as it hasn’t been registered since 1996.
The couple in the Rover 800 seem utterly unflustered about being cut up by the Escort – relaxing its occupants on a long motorway journey was the 800’s forté, after all. By the time this shot was taken, work was underway on the new model, and it’s worth remembering that Rover was on a roll at the time, with the smaller 200/400 series pulling in plenty of praise when it was launched the previous year. Meanwhile, colleagues over at Land Rover would have been ploughing through a backlog of orders for the Discovery.
Rover’s technical partner is keeping a fellow motorist alongside entertained – a 1986 Honda Integra LX, which despite being sold over here under the Japanese manufacturer’s moniker made it onto the Australian market as the Rover 416i.
Then there’s a trio of Vauxhalls plying their trade: a mid-1980s Carlton MkI, a Cavalier MkIII and Luton’s boy racer favourite, the Astra GTE MkII.
Another Escort MkIII in the middle lane is being closely followed by the pop-up headlamped Volvo 480ES – like the Rover 800, it’ll be marking its 30th anniversary in 2016 – and a Cashmere Gold Austin Montego, plus what appears to be a base-spec Citroën AX. Even further back past the VW Golf MkII is something firmly in classic territory now – a Vauxhall Viva HC, which even in the era of The Stone Roses was being used by plenty of commuters.
Crawling through the traffic queue on the inside lane are a Talbot Sunbeam, a very late Vauxhall Cavalier MkI and a Toyota Corolla, followed by a quartet of more modern hatchbacks, being led by another Astra MkII.
Keeping its distance is an MG Midget 1500. The occupants of this Damask Red model have opted to leave the al-fresco fun for when they get off the motorway, but we can’t help wondering whether they’ve left the big gap to prevent its engine getting all hot and bothered in the stop-start conditions. Either that or its driver is feeling a bit frightened by the White Van Man looming large in their rear-view mirror, driving a Bedford CF2.
Although the CF2 had gone out of production three years earlier, plenty of them were still being used by the nation’s small businesses as their delivery wheels of choice. It’s was in the process of being overtaken – literally, in this photo – by the Ford Transit MkIII. By 1990, the one-box shape was a familiar sight on the nation’s motorways, so the standard-size version at the rear and the raised roof model wouldn’t have batted many eyelids in this traffic jam. Save for a 1994 facelift, it would continue for another decade as the nation’s best-selling van, before being pensioned off.
There’s also a MkII right at the front of our traffic jam, which we suspect from the enormous roof rack might have been a window cleaner’s set of wheels.
The car towing the caravan is too obscured to accurately determine its make, although it looks like it might be a Ford Scorpio. Behind that, there’s a Triumph Toledo trying to glimpse ahead, presumably hoping the road ahead’s going to clear up.
If only they could be on the other carriageway, where there are just two vehicles whizzing home somewhat faster than our Lancastrian assortment of repmobiles, hot hatches and the odd sports car and van. The owners of the Bedford CF motorhome and the Hyundai Pony that’s in the process of overtaking it really are revelling in the idea of the M6 being the highway of dreams – the dream, that is, of going places and not getting caught up in rush hour traffic just outside Preston.