The Way We Were
Plenty of motorists have been enticed by a small revolution in furniture shopping – and they’ve brought their early 1990s motors with them
1991, Brent Park, Wembley
It’s a weekend routine with which many CCW readers will be familiar when they’re not at car shows – the endless circuiting of car parks and jostling with hatchbacks, hoping to find that elusive parking space ahead of an afternoon’s shopping.
You’d have struggled a little bit harder to squeeze into a space after IKEA opened its first UK store in Warrington back in 1987, encouraging a generation of estate car owners to head into out-of-town retail parks in search of temptinglypriced flat-pack furniture. The Brent Park store, just off the North Circular, opened two years later, giving Londoners their first taste of missing Allen keys and arguments over assembly diagrams.
If you’d squeezed into the one empty space in our 1991 shot both you and your passenger stood a very real chance of clipping a Vauxhall Nova with an errantly opened door. The lightly dinged blue three-door is a lowly Merit (one trim level down from the L), but the one on the left is the tasty SR, which played second fiddle only to the GTE. It vanished from the roads in 1995, but if it was still around today it’d likely be fitted with a ‘red top’ engine from the Astra GTE, such is the Nova’s cult following with go-faster Vauxhall devotees.
Surely awaiting a freshly bought Billy bookcase next to our Novas is an Astra estate MkII, in 1.3L form. We’re not sure why it’s parked so close to the Novas – perhaps its owner needed to negotiate an awkward-sized box to the tailgate, without clipping the E30 BMW 325i parked up next to it.
Heading up the row behind is a car practically designed for trips to IKEA – a Volvo 240GL estate, although it’s tricky to tell from this angle whether its owner has folded the rear seats down in expectation of some freshly purchased shelves. Certainly, it trumps the Vauxhall Cavalier Estate parked behind in terms of boot space. There’s also a 740 estate hiding within the assembled ranks of mass-market cars, but the other car we reckon that’s perfectly suited to the furniture-wielding shoppers is parked up immediately in front of IKEA’s imposing blue frontage – nope, not the Honda Accord Coupé or the Supercinq Renault 5, but the Ford Granada estate MkII. It’s tricky to see from this angle which variant it is, but the black radiator grille marks it out as a pre-facelift model.
All are considerably roomier than the five-door Ford Escort MkIII in the second row, and we reckon the owner of the City-spec Mini would have been seriously hampered by the lack of a hatchback or fold-down rear seats. There’s also another Astra
‘ikea Brent Park gave londoners their first taste of arguments over missing allen keys’ FlaT-Pack heaveN – Or hell
MkII hiding in the second row – a five-door hatch which could be 1987’s Jubilee special edition, on account of its shoulder stripe, body-coloured door mirrors and sunroof.
We also wonder how practical the surprising number of threedoor coupés would’ve been at accommodating awkwardly-sized boxes. There’s a W-registered Capri MkIII awaiting its owner and two Scirocco MkIIs – most of Volkswagen’s buyers had moved onto its larger Corrado sibling by this stage, with the older model in its final year of production when this shot was taken.
You don’t have to look far to find performance motoring that’s a tad more practical – just across from the Capri is one of two Citroën BXs, but the tail spoiler and blacked-out rear panel mark the red one out as being the range-topping GTi. We bet the owners wished they’d held onto it now, because there are only 26 survivors. If you look carefully you can see also see a Ford Escort XR3i circling the car park – presumably having missed the empty space by the Novas – and a turbocharged Saab 9000 a few spaces further up.
But two things really stand out in this car park, starting with the delightfully beige Toyota Tercel over to the right. This Corolla-based precursor to today’s crossovers – available in both front- and fourwheel drive – would have been a fairly common sight back in the early 1990s, but now there are just 22 left.
The other striking thing is the lack of Austin-Rover models – aside from the aforementioned Mini there’s a lone Metro City X to the very left of the shot, but Maestros, Montegos and Rovers are curiously absent. IKEA’s shoppers have predominantly gone for Fords and Vauxhalls, with a smattering of German and Japanese cars filling in the gaps. A sign of things to come, perhaps?