Memories : Westgate, Bradford, West Yorkshire, 1985

Once again, we jump into AROnline’s time machine and head north to West Yorkshire for this mid-1980s journey.

Mike Humble is your driver…

Image: Bradford Telegraph & Argus

Bradford, never a city to kindle romantic images of nightlife, prosperity and well being. Perhaps living in the shadow of West Yorkshire’s main city – Leeds – hasn’t done it any favours. This is a little unfair as – back in the Victorian era – Bradford had ample wealth and worldwide business connections.

You only have to wander into the city centre and take in the stunning beauty and sheer gargantuan size of the City Hall with its Italian styling and baroque clock tower searing high into the sky – a major pointer that shows the once mighty wealth Bradford enjoyed as being one of global nerve centres of the cotton and textile industry.

Clothing, fabrics, weaving, cotton mills, garments and carpets were just some of the exports from the city and other major parts of West Yorkshire and the surrounding area. The city centre is now a sad image of its former self which is evident in the run-down shops and the closure of numerous well-known family department stores. Huge Victorian three-storey town houses in abundance are no longer occupied by the captains of industry, but are cheap inner-city office spaces and employment agencies.

Westgate is a long road, now part-pedestrianised I believe, that runs east-west of the city centre. Back in the golden days, it contained countless tailors shops – almost like a Yorkshire Saville Row if you like.

Tell us about the cars…

Spotted in the picture is a rather clean looking example of an Audi 80, a Fiat 127 sporting a very avant-garde side stripe treatment, what seems to be a five-cylinder Volkswagen Passat (B2) and, of course, a big seller of the time, a Ford Escort Mk3. I particularly like the ‘CVH’ on the number plate which also refers to its overhead cam engine – know what those three letters stand for? You’ll find the answer at the bottom of the article.

However, top marks have to go to the Austin Montego parked on the cock. Can anyone identify the vehicle behind the Fiat? I’m thinking a Ford Fiesta Mk1 perhaps. Staying with the Escort, I could never ever understand how they became so popular despite well used examples having driving dynamics as frightening as witnessing a bolt flying out of a waltzer car.

They had all the acoustic refinement of a raucous hen party, its drive-line shunt felt akin to a locomotive buffering up to it carriages and some say its NVH (noise vibration and harshness) was benchmarked  against an old Kirby cleaner picking up Lego bricks. That said, the Escort managed to look fresh, it was incredible value and Ford certainly knew how to market them.

What else then? Well, the cars’ wirelesses would probably be playing The Power of Love by Jennifer Rush (below) – the biggest selling single by far in 1985. Live Aid was the most watched UK TV programme (24.5 million viewers) and perhaps the biggest news story was the RMS Titanic being discovered on the sea bed and photographed more than 73 years after she sank. And finally, the Escort was the top-selling car for 1985 with the Vauxhall Cavalier Mk2 coming in a close second.

By the way, CVH stood for Compound Valve angle Hemispherical Combustion chamber.

40 Comments

    • Thats how it is remembered, but I think thats because it lived too long. At launch in 1980 it was considered competitive and as refined as anything else in that market segment. Problem was the same engine with very little development was still doing service in the early 90s and up against the likes of the K series and PSA TU engines that left it behind.

  1. The great British public were easily fooled by smart brand marketing into accepting the Mk3 Escort as a great car despite all the problems. It contrasted very strongly against the MK1 Escort which despite quite basic underpinnings had elements of quality about it. The Mk3 suffered badly from having been dragged down to a nasty low price with matching quality – besides which Ford had little idea of FWD engineering sophistication at that time. Those owners who did realise the car was not cutting it at all, were straight back to the dealer demanding full refunds. The XR3 was not very fast but lethal, my road test was not a happy one. I bumped into a Ford service rep at the time and he was extolling the virtues of all Ford products being of the best quality in every way, but then he was ex Uni and only 23. Knowing how Ford cannibalised their staff, I expect they made him MD for a day or two. Bless.

  2. I think you are being harsh judge on the Mk3, I had a Mk 2 then a W reg Mk3 1.3L soon after launch , I found the car to be a significant improvement, I do not recall any major shortcomings, I did enjoy driving the car, several of my work colleagues admired the Mk 3, it was not a great car I’ll admit, the Mk 3 aged quickly as Vauxhall grew in popularity, but a step in the right direction for Ford, a company which had just survived a financial crash and the Mk 3 was a turnaround product

    • Your right the MK3 was a huge leap forward and despite the silly comments here was very well received and sold in massive numbers. Ford though tried to squeeze every last drop out of its early 80s cars and instead of replacing it in 1986, just gave it a facelift. By the late 90s the Escort was very tired and as you say was made to look very old by the MK2 Astra

  3. A big leap forward. Modern engines though cast-iron block, fwd …
    CVH stands for “Compound-Valve-angle Hemispherical combustion-chamber”
    1st time Ford was making an hemi (aluminium) head long after the competition … not speaking Lotus or Cosworth or even Ardun for the flathead V8 !
    Much more refined than the noisy harsh Pinto or Kent old trooper.

  4. Erika was an OK motor, much nicer to drive than a Nissan Cherry, but shown up by the Astra. Mike was right about department stores, in its history it had a good number. Brown Muff, bought by House of Fraser; Ludlows and Lingards, both bought by Hurst and Sandler before becoming part of the giant United Drapery Stores; Busbys, bought by Debenhams and famous for a huge fire; Trippers and finally the COOP, famous for Sunwin House.

  5. It’s an interesting street scene showing the faded grandeur of Bradford,we often used to holiday in West Yorkshire during the eighties and I was struck by how wealthy the former cotton towns were with their grand public buildings that showed the strength of civic pride that the city fathers had. As for the cars weren’t they dull there’s nothing there to stir the soul .Looking at the FIAT 127 fun to drive when it lasted but with a horrible tendency to rust,the Audi 80 an example a bland souless car closely related to the VW Passat which at least had the Audi five cylinder engine. The mark three Escort comes in for some well deserved criticism but think how sophisticated it was compared to it’s predecessor.by 1985 the Erika had been on the market for five years but it’s clean angular lines were still eye catching. Really the only car that grabbed my interest isn’t in the photo but in the video,the second generation Cadillac Seville was Bill Mitchell’s last design for The General and apart from it’s bustleback styling had a couple of features that were new for Cadillac,it was the first Caddy to have a diesel engine as standard and a V8 with a variable displacement system that allowed cylinder deactivation. Unfortunately both of these innovations didn’t work,the diesel engine was unpopular and unreliable and the electronics used to deactivate cylinders wasn’t up to the task either,so both of these were quickly dropped

  6. IMHO the disconnectable Cadillac V8 was not the diesel but a Gasoline, but the GM diesels, being the V8 or the V6 were totally unreliable then.

  7. The car behind the Fiat looks like a mk1 Fiesta, but it just could be an Opel Kadett – the one which the Chevette was derived from, I think

    • It is a Kadett (T-Car) – blowing up the image you can see it doesn’t have the Fiesta’s indicators….

  8. For what its worth I had half a dozen Escort Mk2 estates as company cars – loved ’em to bits! Utterly reliable, chuckable and fun to handle – the Mk3? You’re kidding! Dull, dull, dull!

  9. I had a 1991 Escort 1.4 LX company car with said CVH engine. This replaced two Escort MKIV 1.3L’s with the Kent/Valencia 60bhp engine. In all honesty, I found the performance of the 1.3 engine to be as good as the 1.4LX. A Ford mechanic told me that too.

    Having said that, my 1.4 LX lasted till 106,000 miles without any engine problems.

  10. The Kent engine was a durable old lump and with good maintenance could go beyond 200k mileage without problems.

  11. First time I read the article, I was intrigued by the line saying the Montego was parked “on the cock”. I’ve worked it out now, but I’d never heard that expression before.

  12. Car behind the Fiat looks like an Opel Kadett to me – The last RWD model that spawned the Vauxhall Chevette

  13. I could’ve Bern there! I was visiting my girlfriend who was working in the Arndale centre regularly in 1985. It was a bit wild in some parts then – I remember one pub tha advertised topless bar staff. … They were all male….

  14. By 1985, you can see how popular imported cars had become, with only the Escort and the Montego flying the flag. My assumptions would be most of the people on the street would be private buyers rather the company car drivers, hence the Fiat, Voljkswagen and Opel, whereas a motorway service station car park would have been dominated by Cavaliers and Sierras in 1985.

    • Until the late 70s early 80s Vauxhall and Opel had different dealers in the UK and to my little boys eyes at the time thought Opels looked smarter. Southend had separate dealers until I was about 5, so around 1982, though Opels was tiny in comparison and after closing became a motorbike dealers.

      • In the mid to late 70s there were a network of separate Vauxhall & Opel dealers. (eg. Vauxhall had the Cavalier MK1 and Opel the Ascona & Manta sister models). By 1979 the Opel Rekord, Senator & Monza were launched and the badged Carlton, Royale & Royale coupe joined the Vauxhall range.

        Then during the 1980’s the Opel only network disappeared as from then all Vauxhall & Opel’s were almost identical. I gather there are still Vauxhall dealers in Northern Ireland but the Republic of Ireland has Opel dealers only.

        • This I did not notice in Dublin !
          I saw many Vivaros and Movanos (those were cross-badged Renaults) but did not notice whereas RHD that they were “Opel” and not “Vauxhall” !

      • @daveh, Opel was perceived to be a more upmarket brand than Vauxhall due to being German. The Rekord was seen as quite an aspirational car for a time in the late seventies and early eighties and on a par with Audi. Later on, when the Opel range was rationalised, the Monza was classed as an upmarket product and aimed at buyers of the BMW 6 series.

        • As a Frenchman I would not discuss market-positionning of Vauxhall vs Opel, we had very few Vauxhalls in the mid-sixties, some Vivas called EPIC and some VX4/90s. During the seventies Vauxhall had disappeared from the market but we could see the Victor and Rekord/Commodore sharing bodies, Viva/Magnum more upmarket than Kadett/Olympia and Ascona. The Commodore could be compared to Ventora but was a real winner in saloon races. The 160bhp GS/E- (much more for racing) was good at rallying and looked very “social status” like a 3 or 5 BMW series while the Ventora was none of that and 123bhp from 3.3 without EFI was not doing the job. They were all finely designed. The Kapitan/Admiral/Diplomat smarter than the Cresta.
          From 1978-on we got the Monza/Senator – and you got the nearly identical Royale, and those were really Audi/BMW challengers in continental Europe.
          Then Omega and a Senator derivate but not that fine design, less “social status”, no vinyl roof, less races or rallies, even-though appeared a 205bhp 24V 3.0 plus the super-powerful Lotus engine but it did not sell. And this was the beginning of the end for Opel who made a lot of discount and replaced Lada in the list of cars you buy only because cheaper. Same now, Opel developped the Peugeot 3008 and twin GranLand X, produced in the same Peugeot plant, but the Opel sells for much less money than the Peugeot, why so ?

          • I think Stellanis are trying to position Opel/Vauxhall differently now with the new Astra really looking a premium product.

      • Why selling Opels in the UK ? No German would have bought any Vauxhall, if you wanted a British car in Germany you would have purchased a Rover or a Triumph !

  15. Bradford – or Bra’ford if you hail from theer (sic) – did bring prosperity and well-being as late as about 1980, although even then it felt past its heyday. In the late 1960s and early 1970s you’d queue a good ten minutes aboard Bradford City Transport’s AEC Regents to get onto the inner ring road. I recall Mk1 Silver Shadows and many types of Jag being a common sight back then. What a contrast to the wasteland it’s since become. Since about 1990 I’ve returned about once a year to visit my roots, but the appeal has waned. The photo does show Bradford weather accurately. It doesn’t rain more often than elsewhere, but Bra’ford rain is real rain.

  16. Just a quick note of thanks to Mike for giving me an excuse to replay Jennifer Rush’s The Power of Love video (several times!) – thirty-seven years on and she still has a place in my heart…

    Actually, on reflection, I reckon that some of the most memorable ballads ever written were released in the mid-Eighties – here’s a link to another one which has a particular resonance for me:

    Murray Head – Pity The Child “From CHESS”

    • God, I hated that song. But then I have no love for the likes of Whitney or Mariah or any of their likes. Melodramatic power ballads, no thanks. And Jennifer Rush looked like she’d been around, if you know what I mean?

      • Well, looking back, I guess that the Eighties was probably the best decade of my life and the memories associated with The Power of Love are good ones… There are good memories associated with the musical Chess as well – even if, after all these years, I still find the lyrics of Pity the Child quite challenging to listen to…

        • OK. Totally get the resonant power of music in transporting you to a good place, time, and person. Just glad it ain’t Jennifer Rush that does it for me

    • He’s Anthony Head’s brother, if you didn’t know.

      The Power Of Love, was a popular song title in the mid 1980s, with Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Huey Lewis & The News also releasing songs with the same name.

  17. Note as well by the mid eighties, the punk era, except for a handful of ageing punks hanging around shopping centres, had long passed and the charts were dominated by power ballads, adult rawk and solo performers like Madonna. Music seemed pretty safe and suited the consumerist, yuppie era that had replaced the tough years at the start of the decade.

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