We’ve had plenty of cars in this series. We’ve had a few trains too. Well, now’s the time for cars a train…
The scene is Brockenhurst station in the New Forest, on British Rail’s South Western Main Line between London Waterloo and Weymouth. As well as having been used for a ropey 1970s’ TV remake of Brief Encounter with Richard Burton and Sophia Loren, this was also one of BR’s Motorail terminals.
The service had been introduced in 1955 between London and Perth, back when trying to drive such a distance in a vehicle of the era would probably end with steam issuing from under the bonnet somewhere near Scotch Corner. So why not let the train take the strain – and provide the steam – instead?
Routes proliferated throughout the 1960s and 1970s, reaching Cornwall and the far north of Scotland, but as the UK motorway network improved and cars became less likely to expire on long trips, usage declined. They were stopped in 1995, although there was a brief revival from 1999 to 2005 from London Paddington to Penzance.
Responsible for the train of FVX Carflat wagons here is a Class 33, one of the Southern Region’s main diesel-electric locomotives. It will shunt the rake to couple up with the first class and sleeper coaches on an adjacent platform, then head to Kensington Olympia to connect with another portion from Dover. From there, the train will run overnight through to Stirling in central Scotland. And hopefully only a few of the cars will get damaged en route; always a possibility with these open wagons despite protective windscreen coverings in place for the near 500 mile journey.
So, what’s heading north on this summer’s day? First in the frame is a bright yellow Hillman Avenger estate. Closer inspection reveals it’s a 1974/1975 example of the five-door variant, which was introduced in March 1972. Its neighbour is a 1969 two-door Vauxhall Viva HB, in the shade of light blue that was prevalent on these family Lutonmobiles. Like XPB 654N, the Hillman, TLJ 707H (a fairly local Bournemouth registration) is no longer on the DVLA’s books.
Moving along to the next wagon, the first of the white goods is a five-door Peugeot 104. That it’s a hatchback dates it to at least July 1976; when the model was introduced, it was only available with a boot because Peugeot was concerned it might steal sales from the 204 otherwise. When that was discontinued, those concerns vanished and the 104 received the lifting rear door its shape suggests it should always have had.
In front of it, and also sporting a hatchback, is a very rare beast nowadays – a Datsun 120Y coupé, which dealers were recommended to describe as ‘having the image of a mini Z-car’. The 120Y, known as the Sunny in Japan, helped Datsun become the second most popular foreign importer into the UK, offering high equipment levels, good value and a level of reliability that British cars (often in short supply due to strikes) couldn’t match. And next to it is one of the targets it badly affected, an Austin Allegro estate.
This very bright yellow Series 3 must be just out of the showroom, as the third generation was only introduced at the end of 1979. Yet still its new owners didn’t fancy driving it all the way up north.
The owners of the adjacent Series 2 Jaguar XJ6 probably chose the rail option because it would still have represented a financial saving over the cost of the fuel they would have had to have shelled out. Then there’s another metallic Allegro, this time a higher spec Series 1 or Series 2 with a black vinyl roof. After that, it all goes a bit vague due to perspective and the quality of 1980s film; perhaps a Fiat 128 3p or Alfa Romeo Alfasud Sprint, then a BMW ’02, something hidden by the footbridge and another Allegro that looks identical to the earlier metallic blue example. Finally, nose-tonose with the Class 33 is a Ford Escort MkI.
The shot below shows a Motorail train in action on the West Coast Main Line, with the human accommodation up front and the automotive occupants consisting of a Herald, two BMC 1100s/1300s, a Fiat 124, a trio of Triumph Dolomites and a Volkswagen Beetle. Then comes a Vauxhall Victor FE, Ford Cortina MkII, Landcrab, Rover P6, Vauxhall Viva HB, another Cortina MkII, BMC 1100/1300, Cortina MkI and… well, after that, we’ve just run out of eyesight.