It’s October 1980, and we’re looking at the used car forecourt of Henlys in Ashford, Kent – one of the most recognisable dealer groups to sell British Leyland’s finest. It’s days after the launch of the Austin Metro, and there’s a real sense of optimism inside the showroom, which is probably the first time the sales and servicing staff have felt this way since the Rover SD1 appeared on the scene in June 1976.
Quietly, in the background amid much sadness, MG at Abingdon produces its last car, and closes its doors for the last time. Commentators assume that this is going to be the end of MG, but BL Chairman Sir Michael Edwardes may have overseen the end of the factory, but he understands the value of MG. He’s already refused to sell the marque to a consortium led by Aston Martin’s Chairman, Alan Curtis, the previous autumn – an action we’re yet to appreciate at the time. In less than two years’ time, we’d see the Octagon return…
Britain is undergoing a seismic shift in its transformation from a manufacturing nation to a service-based economy. Recently-installed Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is coming under increasing pressure from her backbenchers for the rising unemployment and economic hardship in the UK, but remains unrepentant. She gives her famous ‘the lady’s not for turning’ speech at the Conservative Party conference, and signals that the plan is tough, but the Government must stay the course. It proves to be a pivotal moment in the course of Thatcher’s Government – and how the 1980s would end up unfolding…
So, tell us about the cars
But less of that – politics are less interesting than cars. And in this image, you have a lovely selection of the cars that filled every forecourt in the land at the time. In October 1980, all retail sales were on the floor – both used and new – and one can imagine that this slightly forlorn-looking line-up might be a little hard to shift.
From right to left, we have a bargain-priced 1976 Austin Allegro series 2, a 1978 Chrysler Avenger Estate, a 1979 Triumph Dolomite HL, a 1976 Austin Maxi 1750 and a Mini Clubman Car of the Week wearing a natty nudge bar on its radiator grille. Without being unkind, this was one unfashionable line-up for the time – and probably encapsulated all of BL’s issues at the time: worthy products, but in no way desirable or aspirational. Most of the cars are more desirable – the Rover SD1 and Ford Granada Mk2 in the forecourt were management specials, while in the background, blurry, we can see a Ford Escort Mk2, a Datsun Sunny 120Y and a Ford Cortina.
We have a lot of people commenting on a long-running story about ex-employees of the dealer group, and it’s always good to hear from people who worked here. You can find more images of the site at Vitesse Steve’s blog – he was the first person to positively identify this image.
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