The Way We Were: Eclipse hunt­ing in Corn­wall circa 1999

It’s 17 years since the sun’s brief day­time dis­ap­pear­ance tempted mil­lions to go west. Were you one of them here?

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - This Week - DAVID SIMISTER David be­gan his ca­reer writ­ing for lo­cal news­pa­pers in North Wales be­fore re­turn­ing to his home­town of South­port to re­port for The Cham­pion news­pa­per. He’s been scrib­bling for CCW since 2013, and ploughs what­ever he earns into not restorin

You can al­most feel the heat rip­pling off this page and warm­ing up your liv­ing room. Not only is it a glo­ri­ous sum­mer’s af­ter­noon on Bodmin Moor, but you can bet a few tem­per­a­ture gauges on these cars will have been qui­etly creep­ing up, keep­ing their oc­cu­pants on edge.

This is a fa­mil­iar scene to hol­i­day­mak­ers from across Bri­tain – the A30 might be the dual car­riage­way pass­port to a world of se­cluded bays, big waves and quaint pubs, but tip­toe onto its as­phalt on a busy af­ter­noon and you’ll be star­ing at car­a­vans and campers loaded up with clob­ber for hours.

Es­pe­cially if every­one’s at­tempt­ing to get in on the sun’s dis­ap­pear­ing act. The na­tion’s first to­tal so­lar eclipse since the 1920s was big news, and its path across the globe meant the best chance of catch­ing it in the UK in­volved pil­ing into the near­est Cava­lier or Es­cort and cruis­ing into Corn­wall. In­evitably, the skies were cloudy, which meant that spec­ta­tors couldn’t ex­pe­ri­ence the full ef­fect, but the tem­per­a­ture still dropped sud­denly and dark­ness fell not long af­ter 11am. The much-missed TV as­tronomer Pa­trick Moore de­scribed it as a ‘strange, weird ex­pe­ri­ence’.

Edg­ing to­wards the front of our traf­fic jam is a trio of Volk­swa­gen Type 2s, in­clud­ing one with the oblig­a­tory surf­board strapped to its roofrack. We’re not sure about the two crawl­ing along in the in­side lane, but the yel­low 1976 model is still go­ing strong – if ULO 619R’s your VW, we’d love to know about it.

Be­hind it are two rather more con­ven­tional 1990s fam­ily char­i­ots – a Cava­lier MkIII, which judg­ing by the Flame Red paint­work ex­tend­ing through to its door mir­rors, is ei­ther a GLS or SRI, and a pre-facelift R8­gen­er­a­tion Rover 400.

Feel­ing the heat two cars back is the oc­cu­pant of a first-gen­er­a­tion Fiat Punto. Six years af­ter its launch it was still one of the roomi­est su­per­mi­nis on sale, but barely a month af­ter this shot was taken the Gi­u­giaro-penned orig­i­nal was pen­sioned off in favour of an in­house de­sign, launched to mark Fiat’s cen­te­nary. Per­haps its bored­look­ing driver could have hopped out, wan­dered down to the MkIII Fi­esta – which looks like 1996’s Fras­cati special edi­tion on ac­count of its shade of metal­lic green paint­work – and ar­gued about whose 1990s com­pact run­about was best.

Tak­ing this hol­i­day­ing lark rather more se­ri­ously is the fam­ily in the Mon­tego Coun­try­man be­hind, with all man­ner of touristy de­tri­tus strapped to its roof. The body­coloured bumper, black plas­tic door mir­rors and facelifted grille mean this’ll al­most cer­tainly be one of the Rover-ised later 2.0i mod­els. Not that this would’ve mat­tered to the frus­trated dad driver, try­ing to work out whether tun­ing into that week’s num­ber one – Ro­nan Keat­ing’s When

You Say Noth­ing At All – is worth it for the break from the con­tin­ual cries of ‘Are we there yet?’

A few cars back in the jam is that 1990s hair­dresser favourite – what do you mean you can’t seen any Mazda MX-5s? The Suzuki Vi­tara made the idea of small, fash­ion­con­scious off-road­ers trendy nearly two decades be­fore the ubiq­ui­tous Nissan Qashqais of today. By the time the oc­cu­pants of this three-door soft­back model de­cided to join in the eclipse fun the Vi­tara was look­ing very dated next to Toyota’s fresher RAV4 and Land Rover’s Free­lander.

Cut across a lane – as many of these frus­trated driv­ers might have been tempted to – and we see Car­a­van Club mem­bers out in force. Be­hind the Land Rover Dis­cov­ery 300TDi there’s a Mon­deo MkI strug­gling with a car­a­van con­sid­er­ably big­ger than it is, and be­hind that a rather elderly Vaux­hall Cava­lier MkII, fol­lowed a few cars back by a Rover 400 and a Ford Mav­er­ick tow­ing their ex­ot­i­cally-named home-fromhomes down to Eclipse Cen­tral.

But we sus­pect the row of car­a­vans sidling sadly in the lay-by be­long to mo­torists who’ve had enough of the jam. They’ll have to get a move on. If they miss that to­tal eclipse, the next one isn’t un­til 2090...

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