SUMMER 1998 PLYMOUTH HARBOUR, DEVON
We do like to be beside the seaside – especially with these wonderful cars
The seaside in summer – a time full of hope, salty sea air, ice cream and, predictably, a big black cloud in the sky. One gets the sense that the people in this particular shot of Plymouth Harbour are more hardened to the changeable climate than the average seaside daytripper.
Not for them sandcastles and donkey derbies – their fun is on the open sea. However, given the cars on display, at least a few are fond of interesting land transport, too.
For me, the most interesting one is the white Peugeot 405 estate in the centre. My father had one of these, which he used to carry a bright red Dart 18 catamaran called ‘Mustang On’. Sadly, that’s as far as my father’s need for speed went – he also towed the family caravan behind the eight-valve unturbocharged 1.8 diesel. I’m pretty sure my family was responsible for all the UK’s traffic jams in the mid-to-late-1990s.
If I was in Plymouth on this day I’d have been far more enamoured with the white Ford Sierra estate, even if it looks like it’s seen better days. I loved the Sierra for its spaceshipstyle looks, though my young eyes would have been oblivious to this particular example’s rust making its way around the rear wheelarch. While the Sierra was never quite the sales success Ford had envisioned, it traded punches with Vauxhall and Rover in the top end of the sales charts. Now fewer than 1000 are left, probably not including this one.
Even rarer these days is the Citroën BX on the jetty. The roads around Plymouth weren’t exactly the greatest in the 1990s and the hydropneumatic suspension fitted to this Gallic machine would have been very welcome. Its styling wasn’t for everyone, but you could always tell pub bores that you’d got a car crafted by a supercar designer – after all, Marcello Gandini also designed the Lamborghini Countach. If you squint you can just about see the resemblance. Well, maybe you’ll need to close one eye and turn around, too. Still, it was a good year to be a Francophile – Les Bleus were victorious in that year’s FIFA World Cup, beating Brazil in the final.
But before our French fans get too excited, we Rosbifs had something to be proud of: small British sports cars. The latest of the breed can be seen in this picture – a burgundy MGF that would only be, at most, three years old. It proved to be one of the most popular cars in its class and it’s a bona fide classic now, with values on the up. Deservedly so – after all these years, it’s an entertaining steer. Here it’s easy to imagine this being the first sports car of a boat owner’s daughter, spending a relaxing day cruising up the coast.
There’s style of a different sort just along the row: a BMW 3 Series in E30 guise, here wearing a seductively suggestive boot spoiler, possibly the desirable M-Tech kit. Nowadays these are the hipster’s favourite, a style icon and an appreciating asset. But 20 years ago it was just a secondhand Beemer, and we can only imagine the porous nature of this example’s sills given the car’s proximity to salty sea air.
Elsewhere we can see a VW Golf MkIII – hardly an enthusiasts’ favourite these days, but a hardy veteran. Golf MkIIIs will probably be here until the Earth plummets into the sun thanks to VW galvanising them. We can’t imagine many of the Vauxhall Astra MkIIs next to it will enjoy a similar longevity!
Still, it probably had a nobler end than the Nissan Primera MkII and Toyota Carina E Estate nearby. These were good, reliable cars and so hard-wearing that many saw use as private hire taxis. The Astra may have rusted to death, but the Toyota and Nissan’s later life will have been spent scooping up the ‘tired and emotional’ (as Private Eye euphemistically puts it) before heading into a scrappage scheme.
Another common sight was the Land Rover Discovery – at this time an admirable workhorse and family holdall, now with so few left that the really nice ones are growing in value.
Today, Plymouth’s harbour is a hip place to be, with a university and several new luxury flats encircling the marina, plus the National Marine Aquarium (in the background of this shot – it opened in May 1998). It’s all for the good – there are so many more boats moored there today than in 1998, but I wonder if our trusty family Peugeot 405, and all the traffic stuck behind it, would fit in?
‘Today, I wonder if our trusty family Peugeot 405, and all the traffic behind it, would fit in?’ THE HARBOUR GOES UPMARKET