The Way We Were
Burford, summer 1972
‘Given that Britain was still quite insular at this point, the number of foreign cars is surprising’ OLD-STYLE ROAD WORKING
We may be in the heart of England, but cars from abroad are already beginning to take over this picturesque view
If colours can characterise a decade, then the 1970s was most definitely beige. After the psychedelic multicolour kaleidoscope of the preceding 1960s, it’s almost like what came next was coping with the hangover. Beige became much bigger than beige really has any right to be. And nowhere was this more apparent than in motoring.
This chocolate box view of Sheep Street in Burford in the Cotswolds demonstrates this well. Many of the cars are beige. The buildings are beige (although the honey gold Cotswold stone of the Bay Tree Hotel is admittedly 16th century rather than 1970s). Even the horse that seems to have recently passed this way has left a manure deposit of the appropriate tone. Welcome to Beigeworld, 1972 style.
Given that Britain was still quite insular at this point – it wouldn’t join the European Economic Community until the following year – the number of foreign cars is quite surprising. Imports from abroad were rising year-by-year, threatening the indigenous car builders that were rapidly descending into industrial chaos. There are French, German and Japanese invaders here. Closest to the camera, and the first in our feast of beige, is a rear-engined Renault 8. And before you all write in to say it’s actually a 10 because of the longer front and rear, and rectangular taillights, yes; we know. But this is a 1965 model, which was known as the 8-1100 or 8 Major in countries other than France back then. It only became the 10 in the UK when the 1.3-litre version arrived in 1969. This seven year-old example is looking a little decrepit already, so it’s no surprise that BJO 982C is no longer on the DVLA’s books.
Next in line is a Rover P6. Although the R8’s wing mirror is obscuring the numberplate year letter, before 1973, the Northampton ‘PNV’ combination was only issued on F-registered 1968 cars. It’s a four-cylinder 2000 SC rather than a V8 because there’s no chrome side-trim, vinyl on the C-posts or TC badge on the righthand side of the boot. White and yellow reflective numberplates were an option from 1968 and became mandatory from 1 January, 1973. Nowadays, as a classic, it would probably adopt black and silver items to make it look suitably old again.
There’s a hint of MG Midget parked ahead, kept company by a two-tone Karmann Ghia coupé. The design of the rear lights suggests a 1970/1971 version. The light clusters on the red Mini also help date it as a 1959-1967 MkI, in De Luxe form with bumper overriders and bars. The Ford Anglia 105E Deluxe beyond is of a similar vintage and spec, finished in the 1959-1962 duo-tone livery that was dropped when the Anglia Super came along with an alternative pattern of blending two colours. A cousin Cortina MkII, in Silver Fox, is its neighbour. This paint’s tendency to flake off after a few years probably meant the older Anglia would have outlasted it. Finally, there’s the inevitable Morris Minor.
The real beigefest begins on the other side of the road. France heads things up again, with a brand-new J-reg Citroën D Super (the ID20’s new name for 1970), its stainless steel roof-mounted cornets distinguishing it from the lower spec D Special. Sadly, SBM 360J isn’t a survivor. After the Goddess comes the Hunter, probably a Super, judging by the Hillman’s chrome exterior trim. The Rootes and Super theme continues with the Hillman Imp it’s nudging up to. Then comes what would have been quite a rarity in Britain – an Opel Ascona A Voyage, which was the German General Motors’ term for an estate. The model only debuted in 1970. British Leyland preferred to think of its estates as Countrymans (if Austins) or Travellers (if Morrises), and we have one of those next, in the form of a Harvest Gold 1100 or 1300. The beige ceases with a blue Ford Escort MkI, the first-ever front-wheel drive Datsun in the form of a red 100A (E10) saloon and a Sunbeam Rapier Series IV or V. This row ends with a BMC 1800/2200 Landcrab and an Austin Maxi that, because it was forced to share the Landcrab’s doors, looked closely related to it.
Bizarrely, there seems to be a large lamb in the tree above the Landcrab and Maxi. Well, a sheep does strike us as the sort of creature that would be fond of beige…
Joined Classic Car Weekly in 2000. Now freelance, but has always maintained a connection with the newspaper that started his career.