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
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.