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?

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Trade Directory - DAVID BROWN

‘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.

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