Memories : Sherwoods of Darlington Limited, Chesnut Street, Darlington, 1983

This time, our Memories picture comes from the ‘coalface’ of the motor industry – the dealerships. A nice one, this is from a time long ago when business was buoyant and local businessmen were often seen as local captains of industry.

Let’s take a quick drive up the A1(M) to soak in the vibes from a local dealer during a launch weekend in 1983.

IMAGE: The Sherwood Family Archive

Purely on a personal level, the former Vauxhall dealership of Sherwoods in Darlington, Co. Durham is a business I hold close to my heart with many fond memories I’ll cherish for years to come. The picture above, which was taken in 1983, shows then Managing Director, Alasdair MacConachie, entertaining 1977 Wimbledon Ladies’ Singles Champion Virginia Wade during an event to mark the launch of the Vauxhall Cavalier Mk2 Estate. Monkeying around in the shot are his sons Simon and James – the former is now the successor company’s Managing Director.

When I was just a pup, I would often visit the dealerships in the town – there were plenty of them in those days – quenching my thirst for brochure collecting. Alasdair was one of those rare kind of men who saw ambition and passion in a person and had an uncanny knack of bringing it out. Rather than shove you out of the showroom onto the footpath slightly ahead of a well-polished Oxford brogue, he was usually warm, friendly and, if not too busy, happy to spend a little while with a car-crazy schoolboy.

My work experience was done through this company some years later – I was even offered a workshop apprenticeship when I left school, but I declined and opted to move south when my late father’s work at Leyland DAF was relocated. Sherwoods became a well-respected company winning numerous awards for customer service. The premises were huge and the company’s portfolio also included being agents for Bedford trucks and main AC Delco parts distributors.

Alasdair, who was later awarded an OBE, took a well-deserved retirement a few years ago and the successor company, Sherwoods Motor Group Limited, disposed of its three long-standing Vauxhall franchises to Drive Motor Retail Limited in September 2018. The latter company still trades from the Chesnut Street site in Darlington, while Sherwoods Motor Group Limited currently operates Citroën, Isuzu, Peugeot and Suzuki franchises from locations in Durham, Gateshead and Washington.

So, tell us about the cars…

Well, car really… The Mk2 was the only Cavalier offered with the estate bodystyle. The subsequent Mk3 of 1988 was only offered in saloon or hatchback guise. The estate, albeit assembled at the Kimpton Road plant in Luton, featured a bodyshell welded and painted in Luton with body panels pressed by Holden in Australia and shipped to the UK.

If you lived in Darlington at this time and you called the local cab firm 1AB Taxis, the odds-on bet was that a Carmine Red Cavalier 1.6LD would be tooting its horn outside your front door soon after you had replaced the receiver.

Vauxhall Cavalier Estate

22 Comments

  1. Alistair Mason chief is still around, undertaking charitable and public activities in Darlington. He chaired the Darlington Partnership, a multi-agency body giving leadership to services in the town, until recently

      • My original unrestored (cavities waxed etc from new) 1989 Nova SR 1.3 is from Sherwoods and has the brochure with the big yellow Sherwoods sticker on the front.

  2. Being from the Northeast I remember the name of Sherwood’s in Darlington. Like Mike I also used to collect car brochures starting from when I was about 10/12, particularly Vauxhall & Ford. Back in those days I think car launches at dealerships were more exciting than these days – I am a lot older of course!

    Moving on to 1985, my company had a Carmine red Cav 1.6 Estate which did provide great performance even when loaded with kit. Doesn’t seem like 36 years ago.

  3. Thanks Mike – a very nostalgic article for me. My parents bought a 1984 Cavalier 1.6L estate when it was two years old. It had Sherwood’s of Darlington plates and 1 previous owner, so was most likely supplied new by them. We collected it on a Friday morning, trading in our 1976 Opel Kadett estate, got it home, filled it with luggage and drove all the way to North West Scotland, stopping only for fuel. The 8 hour journey was a good hour or so quicker than it had been in the Kadett! It served faithfully as our family car for the next 3.5 years and 95,000 miles, when it was traded in for a nearly new Carlton CD estate (what a wonderful car that was). The Cavalier was in the same Carmine Red as mentioned in the article. And it had the optional (for an L) 5 speed gearbox, which made for quieter motorway cruising. Regular servicing at our local Vauxhall dealer Brotton Hall Garage, with extra oil changes every 4,500 miles, kept it utterly reliable. PS I also loved collecting Vauxhall brochures back then – mine came mostly from Cowies of Redcar and the aforementioned Brotton Hall Garage 🙂

    • Cowies of bloody Redcar, now there’s a name from yesteryear along with Buist,Mill Garages, Minories, Reg Vardy and Stokesley Motors- I went for an interview at Redcar (pron locally as Redker LOL) for sales when I was having some doubts whilst at Evan Halshaw in Cargo Fleet but they were already DRIVE VAUXHALL then. I can honestly say the manager who I met was the biggest twunt I have ever come across. It was reassuring to find out barely a month after my visit he’d been given Spanish Archer – El Bow!

      • Stokesley Motors are still on the go. They lost their Vauxhall and BMW franchise a few years ago and are an independent Vauxhall and Subaru specialist now but they are still one of the friendliest dealerships around.

  4. Harold Thompson was North Shields Vauxhall dealer from the sixties to the nineties, and their showroom could sell you anything from a Chevette ES to a Royale Coupe, which always looked stunning in metallic gold and light years ahead of a three door Chevette. I do recall asking the salesman politely for a brochure for a Royale and for all there wasn’t one in stock, I managed to get one for the then new Mark 2 Cavalier and for the Astra that I kept for a few years. Interestingly some years later my first car was a Mark 2 Cavalier, though this one originated from Reg Vardy, a name well known in the North East in the eighties and nineties.
    As for Harold Thompson, apart from owning a Vauxhall showroom. he was the owner of Tyne Brand until 1967, whose tinned pies and tinned fish were very popular in the post war era.

    • Tyne Stewed Meat! That brings me back to my childhood, with my mum buying it when we went camping. Started out OK but by late 80s it had a weird taste…..

  5. @Glenn… I remember Thompsons of North Shields. In the mid 60s I went with my Mother to get brochures from them on my Birthday, but the Salesman would only let me have a copy of the Vauxhall Motorist Mag. Still got it.

    I thought that was mean! Adams and Gibbon and Northbourne Garage of Jarrow were more accomodating.

  6. Harold Thompson closed in the early nineties. The workshop is still in use as a second hand car dealership, but the showroom and filling station have been been converted into a garden centre. I

  7. That’s right. I drove past there a few months ago. Incidentally the Vauxhall Motorist magazine I got had a cover photo of a white Viscount standing alongside the tail of a BOAC VC10 aircraft (1966) Very nostalgic!

    • The Viscount was the range topping Vauxhall of the time and seen as a competitor to the Ford Zodiac and Rover P6. it was hobbled by a two speed automatic that limited performance and guzzled petrol. but a more conventional three speed automatic remedied this in 1970.

  8. Glenn… I also recall the launch of the PC Cresta, when the Velox name was dropped. That left a Cresta (single headlamps) and a Cresta Deluxe (twin lamps). Nice looking car.

    • I always preferred the FD Ventora, which was sleeker and was a real Q car, everyone assumed it was a Victor, but it had a powerful and effortless 3.3 under the bonnet and was far better equipped. Then came the revival of the VX 4/90, another nice car that could easily keep with a Rover 2000.

      • Glenn, when I read the start of your second sentence beginning ‘Then came’ I expected it to carry on with ‘trying to get the thing to go around a corner’. Although smooth & quick in a straight line, the Ventora did not want to turn into corners with that 6 cylinder lump of cast iron stuck in the front!

        • @ Alastair, I think the Ventora was intended as a cheaper alternative to a Cresta, offering similar performance and luxury in the smaller FD body. Also it looked better when fitted with metallic paint and a vinyl roof.

        • Wasn’t the Vauxhall six derived from a Bedford truck engine? And I think that I read( sometime in the dim and distant past) that the Bedford owed it’s own existence to an even older Chevrolet design. Not a surprise then that the Ventora didn’t have sharp cornering abilities.

          • @ standhill, the Vauxhall six was a petrol Bedford truck engine that was adapted for use in a car. A strong engine that was referred to as the lazy fireball, it was ideal for cruising on motorways and in the FD, endowed the car with rapid acceleration if it was manual or had the later three speed automatic. However, the heavy engine did mean heavy fuel consumption and poor cornering.

  9. Indeed, the FD VX4/90 was a nice car. After owning his FC VX4/90 I assumed my Dad would have bought an FD or FE Vauxhall to follow on, but he changed to Mazda in 1973. However I became a Vauxhall owner in 1976 (Viva HC).

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