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