25 MAY 1979
A host of classics shelter in the shadow of the north Wales town’s castle walls
Looking at this splendid view of Caernarfon, I would suggest that the slide was taken just before mid-day on 25 May 1979. No, I have not been calculating the angle of the sun and shadows cast, as the date and time that the photograph was taken is dutifully recorded on the unknown photographer’s slide mount. As an avid collector of old slides, this is a real bonus as it cuts out the guesswork.
While the nation reeled from the news that the price of milk was about to rise by 10 per cent to 15p a pint from the start of April, motorists were still recovering from other rises introduced since Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government won power three weeks earlier. The price of bread, gas and electricity had all risen, while petrol was up by 6p per gallon (it averaged 79p per gallon that year).
However, the cost of motoring had obviously not deterred people from visiting Caernarfon, though there were still spaces available on the Slate Quay car park. As the name suggests, the still-thriving car park occupies the old quayside where slate was transferred from railway wagons to boats. By 1979, the harbour was mainly used by pleasure craft though a couple of Caernarfon (CO) registered fishing boats can be found in this view.
The current castle was built from 1283 by order of the English King Edward I and occupies a strategic position overlooking the southern end of the Menai Strait opposite the Isle of Anglesey. The castle and medieval town walls are part of a World Heritage Site and the investiture ceremony for Charles, Prince of Wales was held at the location on 1 July 1969. Though Caernarfon lost its last BR station in 1970 (there’s now a Morrison’s supermarket on the site) the town has been the northern terminus of the Welsh Highland Railway narrow gauge line since October 1997, with its station in St Helen’s Road (to the right of our photograph). So, there was – and is – plenty of heritage on offer to attract tourists to the town and the demand for car parking for locals and visitors alike remains a priority.
Stepping back into our picture of May 1979 the Slate Quay car park certainly offered a good variety of cars. Needless to say that while the Volkswagen Beetle only just gets a look-in on the bottom right corner of the image, it was one of the things that drew me to it among a pile of 35mm slides. This one is wearing a bonnet bra – a cover designed to keep some stone chips off the front of the car but which also tends to retain moisture and aid the rot process! Being a complete Volkswagen ‘divi’ I can also detect an orange and white T2 in the left distance and a Scirocco lurking among the back row of motors.
Much more in-yer-face is a ‘Brenda’ two-door 1.3 Ford Escort MkII on standard steels (cue Saxon’s Wheels of Steel heavy metal anthem from the following year). With its modern square-cut lines, the MkII, a joint development between Ford UK and Germany, offered a simplistic purity when it came to driving, but they just rotted away. There were updates in the mid- to late 1970s, such as square headlights for L models, with the third generation appearing in 1980, when there were more than 600,000 MkIIs on the roads.
You might expect to find a Princess in such close proximity to a castle so a four-cylinder, twin headlight example does not look out of place. It is keeping a safe distance from a Hillman Imp, a two-door saloon that I did have some experience of earlier in the 1970s. A friend had one and each time we went on holiday it broke down and I had to contribute to running repairs. Perhaps surprisingly, he is still a friend. We later toured parts of central and north Wales in his Maxi.
The Renault 12 is a reminder of another goodlooking, fastback style mid-sized saloon – and another absolute rotter. Among the vehicles beyond the Mini is seen a Bedford CF and its earlier competitor the MkI Ford Transit.
Moving to the middle rows (with some subliminal advertising for the AA and a lifebelt in case the owner of the Morris Traveller gets in difficulty), there’s a Vauxhall Viva HC estate, a Bedford HA van, and a yellow Capri. The HA van could possibly be a Post Office Telecommunications vehicle as that company used a lot of yellow paint – many readers will doubtless recall their Buzby cartoon bird character used in their advertising campaigns from 1976 onwards.
You’d expect to find Japanese cars in the picture by this time and there are at least three Datsuns in the mix, with the blue car at the front of the next row being a 1200 four-door saloon. The bright red Datsun Sunny 120Y stands out in the back row and there’s a 180B Bluebird nearby.
Further along the back row you’ll find a Rover SD1, a typical beige Maxi, a Citroën GS in Pallas trim, a CX Safari, Rover P6, Morris Minor 1000, and a Harvest Gold 1100/1300. Plenty to keep the peak-capped car park attendant – and classic car spotter – occupied.