Memories : Bristol, 1983

Bristol street scene - 1983

Here’s a lovely image which proves, once and for all, that for the majority of the UK, the 1970s hung around well into the 1980s. Bristol 1983 might have been a prosperous, bustling city with plenty of manufacturing industry within commutable distance, but the city centre had the look and feel of a bygone era. That’s not to say, it’s an unappealing image – far from it – as Tim Burgess’s photograph captures a lack of congestion that 21st century Bristol could only dream of.

We’re stood roadside on Park Street looking up at the Wills Building from the Council House, and there’s plenty to look at. Before we get into the important matter of the cars in the image, it’s worth saying that this is one of the most iconic images Bristol has to offer, with the Street being started in the mid-18th century, working its way up the hill and being completed by 1793. It’s seen some action, being bombed in the Blitz during WW2, again in 1974 by the IRA, and again in 1976 via substantial gas explosion.

It’s 1983, and the road is packed with shops and banks, including the Midland on the right-hand side of the picture. Head up the hill, and you’ll enjoy a selection of music and book shops, bars, clubs and cafes set in some of the city’s finest Georgian buildings. This is truly Bristol at its best.

And what about the cars?

Ah, this is the good stuff. You eyes can’t help but be drawn to the red Talbot Sunbeam GL on the left of the image, but it’s the Ford Capri on the right that intrigues the most. It’s a 1970/H example, making it a very early model, and it looks pretty careworn. It’s actually a really good illustration of the sort of banger many of us used to drive around in those days, having paid less than £500 for. Nose up, driving purposefully, it looks like a relic of a bygone era – and not the pristine example that retro TV and film dramas assume we were all driving back then.

Behind the Capri, there’s a Ford Cortina 80 in what looks like GL trim, a Vauxhall Viva, Fiat 127 and Mercedes-Benz SLC (R107) – an interesting bunch if ever there was one. From left to right ahead of the Sunbeam, we have a Triumph Herald estate, a Vauxhall Nova (that must have been almost brand new), an Alfa Romeo GTV and a Mercedes-Benz S-Class (W116) in white (not its best colour). Up the hill, beyond the Mercedes-Benz ‘Bremen’ van, is an Austin Metro, which looks as good now as it did then.

Of the Ford Escort MkIII, which had just become the UK’s best-selling car, there’s no evidence, which is unusual. As is the lack of Cortinas – just one in a busy street was very unusual back in 1983. Today, it’s not much different, just a little busier, as the image (from Wikipedia) shows us (below), although if you look closely, there are rather more SUVs today than there were back in 1983.

Main photograph: Tim Burgess

Keith Adams


  1. And the decker in the distance is also… a Bristol. Built on the other side of the river in Brislington. Factory long gone but the pub that sits near the old factory gates is called “The LoDekka” and has loads of periodic photos screwed to the wall.

    • Yep an old VL were the chassis was built in Bristol and the delivered to Eastern Coachwork in Lowestoft for the body to be fitted. I remember seeing the body less chassis being driven into the works when on holiday as a nipper and thinking it was weird. It was the staple double decker of the national bus company, although I remember Southend Transport running one though that may have been after the degreg. Further up the hill is a Mercedes van – in the 90s my old employers had one and although it was ancient it was great to drive compared to the newer Ford Transit Luton.

      I have to admit that Bristol and Bath are two places I have never visited even though I have been to the West country.

    • I lived in Bristol from 1982-1988 and that Park St picture spins me straight into a time warp. I hate to bring down the tone of the article and the conversation but about halfway up the street on the right hand side (in 1983) was a strip club (that of course I never frequented), and a fantastic pizza restaurant. Ah, memories.

  2. Loving these old pics. Sorry to nit-pick but that’s a Sunbeam GL, not a GLS. Less brightwork and different wheeltrims.

  3. Yep, growing up in the Bristol / Bath area, 60s / 70s, it wasn’t unusual to see Bristol bus chassis, in their naked glory, no mudguards or coverage of the mechanical bits, (I think) some kind of temporary box around the driver, on trade plates, to-ing and fro-ing along the A4 main road, where it heads west out of the city.

  4. I too recall the bare chassis being driven along A roads, either for bus or lorry bodies to be fitted by bespoke coachbuilders. A real man’s job! Eastern Coachworks must have had something of a monopoly, for I recall their silver-coloured cast plates inside many of the buses I caught in the 1950s and 1960s. I also recall having to step up from the longitudinal walkway of the Lo-Dekka’s upper deck to get onto the seats. With that low roof, no standing up straight once you were trying to sit down.

    The Capri was the crumpet catcher of its day. Not that I had one. And I never did take to the restyled version.

  5. Eric : yes indeed – I remember the plaque of the back of each seat stating ” Please lower your head before leaving your seat ” . I also remember on much earlier Bristols, early 1950s , an enormous recirculating heater on the bulkhead behind the driver

  6. The green bus on the stop at the bottom of Park Street is a Bristol VRT operating for what was then the state owned National Bus Company subsidiary, the Bristol Omnibus Company. This company was privatised as City Line in 1986 and has now become First Group. The photograph illustrates two of the organisations I worked for during my career, I was working for Bristol Omnibus in 1983 and before I retired a few years ago, I worked for Bristol City Council, based at the Council House (now City Hall) to the left of the photograph.

  7. A shamely patriottic remark: I guess the Fiat 127 could be a 0.9l “Top” trim as being the sole sold in Metallic sand/bronze colour with a partly chrome/partly black wheeltrim and plastic bumpers… Of course this was true in Italy, maybe not in UK. Regards from Taranto (Italy).

  8. Funny you mention the Mk3 Escort… I was searching the picture for one too, albeit a specific example: TCP13X which was my Dad’s car at this time when he worked in Bristol and we lived nearby. Alas no luck, although I’d wager it wouldn’t have been parked far from here!

  9. Is that a white Alfa Romeo GTV6 I spy in front of the Sunbeam? If so it is quite apt for the time when you think of its brief starring role in Octopussy released in the same year and driven by the legend himself (Sir Roger Moore).

    The only time I’ve ever been to Bristol was in June 2018. There I was minding my own business on a late Sunday afternoon when a load of naked cyclists came pedalling towards me. I didn’t know where to look. I’ve not been back since!

  10. An extremely familiar sight there Park Street, I remember it well. A lot of the city has changed beyond recognition since then (especially Broadmead), the Post and Press building always reminded me of home, as did the end of the M32…
    Nearly all the buses I ever saw as a kid were the Bristol buses, only outside of Bristol did you see the Leyland National buses. I remember seeing the ‘naked bus chassis ‘heading up the M4 too, it was really interesting to see how they looked without the body dropped on top.
    Park Street looking fairly quiet in the picture, usually there was more traffic…
    Still anybody wanting to see more of Bris only needs to order Shoestring, unfortunately the BBC/2Entertain has only put series 1 out on DVD, but the old city is there in all its glory & grime …

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