SUM­MER 1993

A class 373 on a truck, a hard shoul­der con­fer­ence, and Bri­tain’s fastest ve­hi­cle at full blast – it’s all hap­pen­ing on the A3

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

Whoa! You’d ex­pect to see el­derly Fi­es­tas chug­ging up the in­side lane of the A3 as you zoomed past in your com­pany Mon­deo with a copy of M Peo­ple’s El­e­gant Slum­ming rammed into the cas­sette deck. But surely not the busi­ness end of a high speed Eurostar train, de­signed to con­vey for­ward-look­ing busi­ness­men and bud­ding Euro­crats be­neath the Chan­nel and into Paris in a lit­tle over two hours?

But this was the era when driv­ing to France with­out us­ing a ferry was be­com­ing a re­al­ity. Barely three years be­fore this shot was taken Gra­ham Fagg and his French coun­ter­part Phillipe Cozette broke through the rub­ble be­neath the English Chan­nel, and since then both sides had been work­ing fran­ti­cally to get the An­glo-French link up and run­ning.

By the sum­mer of 1993 the project was al­ready run­ning a year be­hind sched­ule, and part of the marathon ef­fort in­volved get­ting the new Eurostar rolling stock from GEC-Al­sthom’s Wash­wood Heath plant in Birm­ing­ham to the cap­i­tal. All of which helps ex­plain why you might have been one of the mo­torists en­coun­ter­ing the Class 373’s yel­low snout as it snaked to­wards the M25 on the back of a truck.

It’s got some equally im­pos­ing com­pany too, in the guise of a po­lice-liv­er­ied Range Rover, com­plete with a set of traf­fic cones in the boot and its enor­mous stem light on the roof. The 2.5-litre TDI model – barely a year old when it was as­signed the task of es­cort­ing Eurostar – is now reg­is­tered as be­ing on SORN. If it’s in your garage let us know.

Sneak­ing up be­hind – per­haps about to slip up the fil­ter lane onto the M25 to­wards Heathrow – are a 1986 Ford Fi­esta and a 1990 Vaux­hall Cava­lier, both in fairly lowly ‘L’ spec. At the time the Cava­lier was the pre­ferred weapon of the sales reps pound­ing up and down the na­tion’s mo­tor­ways but there was a new ar­rival on the scene – judg­ing by the lack of them in this scene, fleet man­agers were only just tak­ing no­tice of Ford’s Mon­deo.

There’s another Cava­lier – this time a sportier GLS vari­ant, on ac­count of its body-coloured bumpers and the natty black plas­tic strip across its bootlid – mak­ing such a hasty get­away from Eurostar’s finest it’s a mir­a­cle the Citroën BX Me­teor just a few feet in front hasn’t been in­volved in a rear-end end shunt. The chap in the Mercedes-Benz W124 es­tate is play­ing it rather more care­fully, no doubt aware there’s a marked po­lice Rangie not far be­hind.

You can al­most sense the frus­tra­tion fur­ther back of who­ever’s driv­ing the Saab 9000 stuck be­hind Travis Perkins’ lorry-load of build­ing supplies. This par­tic­u­lar XS-spec model might have only had the nor­mally as­pi­rated 2.0-litre en­gine but was still more than quick enough to be whizzing down the out­side lane. It hasn’t been reg­is­tered since 2011, so we sus­pect its days of trou­bling BMWs are long gone.

Fur­ther up the mid­dle lane there’s a Rover 214Si in Di­a­mond White, another L-spec Cava­lier – this time a MkII model from 1984 – and a Peu­geot 309, while in the dis­tance a Ford Sierra slopes off to­wards the M25. There’s another 309 head­ing in the other di­rec­tion to­wards Portsmouth but it’s what’s hap­pen­ing on the slip road com­ing off the M25 round­about that grabs our at­ten­tion.

Look closely at the hard shoul­der (top right) and there’s Mor­ris’ fi­nal model – not the Ital, but the Austin Metro’s van si­b­ling – lin­ing up be­hind a rather bat­tered look­ing fourth­gen­er­a­tion Toy­ota Hilux pick-up truck and a Ford Fi­esta XR2. We’ve no idea why they’re all tucked up so closely to­gether on the hard shoul­der, but all three look too in­tact to be smart­ing from a low speed rush-hour shunt, and the driver of the Honda Pre­lude zip­ping down the out­side lane seems obliv­i­ous to their plight.

There’s a ver­i­ta­ble selec­tion of early 1990s per­for­mance metal blast­ing down the out­side lane on the op­po­site side to­wards Lon­don. Head­ing up this go-faster line-up is what was widely con­sid­ered at the time to be Bri­tain’s fastest ve­hi­cle, eclips­ing even the Jaguar XJ220. You guessed it, it’s the Ford Tran­sit MkIII. Wok­ing-based J&G Drainage Ser­vices (still go­ing strong today) might have only had a 2.5-litre tur­bod­iesel en­gine to call upon but the spec­tre of a hur­ried Tran­sit loom­ing large in a rear view mir­ror is enough to make any driver move over.

Fur­ther back there’s an SD3-gen­er­a­tion Rover 216 Vitesse, the thrum of its fuel-in­jected 1.6-litre four no doubt be­ing drowned out by the sound of another 1980s hit still very much in vogue in 1993 – The Blue­bells’ cover of Young at Heart, which Volk­swa­gen had pro­pelled to the top of the charts by us­ing it in its lat­est Golf ad. It’s be­ing pur­sued by another bit of Cow­ley metal per­fectly suited to mo­tor­way work – an 800 fast­back, and while it’s too far off to dis­tin­guish the ex­act spec the lack of a rear spoiler means its owner hasn’t forked out for the range-top­ping Vitesse model. Par­tially ob­scured by Travis Perkins’ lorry is a Porsche 944 pow­er­ing to­wards the cap­i­tal, fol­lowed by a Volvo 340 and a brace of Volk­swa­gen Golf MkIIs.

But there’s one car that al­most puts Eurostar into the shade when it comes to nos­tal­gic in­trigue – the oddly pro­por­tioned two-seater head­ing up the out­side lane, its owner don­ning as fetch­ing yel­low jacket to stay warm in its ex­posed cock­pit.

It’s an NG TC, an MGB–based homage to the MG Le Mans Ul­ster, now with a thriv­ing own­ers’ club. If you re­mem­ber driv­ing past Eurostar in your one back in the days of Pulp and Noel’s House Party, we’d love you to get in touch.

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