SUMMER 1976 BATH, AVON
It’s the long, hot summer of 1976, and doesn’t Bath’s Royal Crescent look idyllic and colourful in the sun?
‘examples of allegro and escort add to this vision of 1970s British brilliance’ Nice BriTs iN THe sUMMer OF ‘76
With that magnificent broad sweep of Georgian terraced houses, we can only be in one location – the city of Bath. At the time of the photograph – taken during the summer of 1976 – the city was in the non-metropolitan borough of Avon (1973-1996), but is now safely reunited with Somerset.
Residents and visitors alike will feel nostalgic when they study this scene, not just for the splendid Georgian architecture but also the fact that you could park your car here with spaces to spare. Bath is so popular today that parking is a major headache – you’re better off leaving your vehicle at a not-too-far-away railway station and commuting in.
Parking wasn’t a consideration when John Wood the Younger initiated the design of the Crescent with its Ionic columns – built between 1767 and 1774 – though you can imagine the horse-drawn coaches outside the magnificent townhouses. In more recent years residents complained successfully against tour buses swishing past their Grade I listed windows.
But back in the summer of 1976 what a splendid scene we find ourselves in – there’s a couple relaxing on their sunbeds on the lawn and sufficient short sleeves around to suggest pleasant weather. And just look at those shadows, for Britain was enjoying (or moaning about) a true heatwave. The lady on the right is carrying her coat in an attempt to maintain her pink tan, while we believe she may have bought her shoes at Timpson.
The 1967 Hillman Imp on the left is apt since production of the compact classic ended in March 1976 after 13 years. Rootes’ attempt to take on the front-wheel drive might of the Mini with its rear-engined, rear-wheel drive Imp did not live up to expectations, though half a million cars rolled out of the gates at Linwood, about half of them during the first three years of manufacture.
While the innovative aluminium engine block and cylinder head caused headaches for mechanics, the overhead camshaft design meant that the head was easily tuned for high speed use, making Imps surprisingly competitive in motorsport. Works Imps driven by Rosemary Smith and ‘Tiny’ Lewis finished first and second in the 1965 Tulip Rally, while George Bevan’s Sunbeam Imp, driven by Bill McGovern, won the British Saloon Car Championship from 1970 to 1972. Not bad for a power unit whose origins lay in a Coventry Climax fire pump engine. And, of course, Formula One driver Michael Parkes had been involved in its design. All of which has led to the Imp being reevaluated in more recent years.
Next to the Imp is a smart Italian take on a supermini, a July 1975-registered Fiat 127 Special with its stylish front grille sporting a square AA badge. The 127 was a best seller in 1970s’ Europe, having won the European Car of the Year award in 1972, and was praised for its ride quality and use of interior space.
The first thing you notice about the first of the splendid pair of Vauxhall Chevettes parked around the Crescent is that the unusual ‘OOO 888’ registration plate is in the wrong place – see the second example for the correct position. The car may no longer be with us but the registration number lives on, currently adorning a 2011 MercedesBenz R350.
A Bedford HA van parked on the opposite side of the road represents Luton’s light commercials. You can almost feel the curtains twitching: ‘Tradesmen in the Crescent – get on to the council to complain, Marjorie!’
The sunny Chevettes may be well represented in our view but Fords outnumber them, with the white July 1974 Cortina 2000E MkIII auto on the left sporting the desirable vinyl roof. Its MkIV replacement was released on 29 September 1976.
There are also several Minis to be enjoyed including a Clubman estate (with roof rack fitted for extra load carrying capacity), saloon and van versions. The red van carrying an ‘L’ plate for learning duties is parked next to an Austin A30/A35 representing an earlier age of British compacts, while opposite is another baby Fiat and – ‘English as tuppence’ – a Morris Minor 1000. Examples of Allegro and Escort add to this vision of 1970s British brilliance.
Of the European cars to be seen, the Citroën Dyane looks rather upright compared to a Cortina, while on the opposite side of the road a Volvo 140 waves the Swedish flag. For a touch of German class, there’s a BMW 1502 Touring, while a firstgeneration Honda Civic and Peugeot 504 represents Japanese and French influences respectively.
Sales of the VW Beetle took a dip in the 1970s thanks to safety concerns and increased choice, including VW’s own Golf. There’s a rather special looking green metallic Beetle with aftermarket wheels that’s going to be at least a 1300, and you can’t miss the more basic Brilliant Orange 1200 towards the end of the queue. It might even be my current Beetle, HAY 583L!
CITRUS VW David Brown is convinced that this is his much-loved Hay 583l. it could be, but there were plenty of other orange Beetles around at this time.
A contributor to the environmental magazine Vole (1977-80) on Irish architecture as well as many county magazines such as Cambridgeshire
Life and TheDalesman.