Memories : Kettering, 1970

Kettering 1970

It’s June 1970, and we’re walking up the High Street in Kettering, heading for the town centre, and the delights within. It’s a glorious day and, as can be seen from the sheer number of parked cars, there are plenty of people out shopping. This is a very typical East Midlands market town, with a long-established boot-making industry, and one that’s rapidly modernising thanks to its good travel links. For those who need to go to London, it’s around an hour away by rail on the Midland mainline, whereas drivers have a bit of a convoluted run to either the A1 or the M1.

Although there’s little sign of it here, we’re in a General Election month, and there’s considerable excitement over who’s to form the next Government. On the one hand, the incumbent Labour Party, led by Harold Wilson, is looking set fair for a third straight win but, in the lead up to the big day, the polls have been shifting towards Edward Heath’s Conservatives. As the results became clear on the 19th, the swing to the Tories was enough to see Heath enter government in what promised to be an extremely challenging few years in power.

For fans of the British motor industry, it would be a significant year, with the launch of the Triumph Stag and Range Rover. The Stag has been met with a rapturous response from the press, who love its combination of soundtrack and style (if not its lack of performance), and hope that this new engine is the prelude to Triumph making an entry into Formula 1. The Range Rover also receives an appreciative nod from those who know – this is a useful upward extension of the Rover Company’s model line-up. Who would have guessed that the former would be dead after just 26,000 sales in seven years and with its maker’s reputation in ruins, while the latter would still be made up to 1996?

So, tell us about the cars

This is a nice line-up that shows how much the world has changed in the past 50 years. Nearest the camera is a Gerald Palmer-designed Vauxhall Victor estate ahead of a Mini Van, an Austin 1100 and an Austin A40. Passing them is a lovely Renault 4, which at the time was one of the UK’s biggest-selling imports. Further ahead of that is a Mini Countryman, a Triumph Herald and a Vanden Plas 3 Litre. There’s an Austin A40 Countryman ahead of that and a Ford Prefect to the right, driving away from the camera – but the rest of the cars aren’t clear enough for a reliable identification.

Today, this area is pedestrianised, and the two shops on the left of the image, Fine Fare and Freeman Hardy Willis, have long gone. More’s the pity…. If you enjoyed this, let us know in the comments and, if you have any pictures you’d like featuring, drop me a line via any of the links below. Below is how it looks today, according to Google Steetview.

Thanks to Mike Humble for the period photograph

What’s it like today?

Keith Adams
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20 Comments

  1. Four months later I’d be driving these streets in the family Triumph 1300 before taking my test in the following January. Happy days!

  2. The “Charnley & Son” advertisement high on the end wall of one building has an oval ‘eye’ above the “A”. Presumably the same, current, firm of opticians – Charnley & Sons [plural!] – now at 37 High street, Kettering NN16 8SU. Was the 1970 shop also at No 37 in the High Street?

  3. Interesting that of all the vehicles in the photo the humble Mini van is probably now the most coveted and valuable. Its hard to imagine a time when vehicles like those in the pic were considered to be diposable.

  4. Keith mentions the introduction of the Triumph Stag. Unfortunately it was plagued with reliability problems, parts availability–at least in the colonies–and despite having a V-8, its performance did not measure up to expectations. Its looks were passable, but blander than those of a TR-5 or 6…and not even an appearance in Diamonds are Forever, with 007 at the wheel, was enough to propel it to automotive stardom. It only goes to show that before releasing a new model, those responsible for it always need to do their homework very carefully–fifty years ago as well as today.

  5. Don’t forget the launch of the Mark 3 Cortina in September 1970, the car which was to cause so much damage to British Leyland and make Ford number one in Britain by 1976. Early versions were plagued by quality issues and a long strike at Dagenham halted deliveries, but by 1973 the Cortina had matured into a decent all rounder, offering everything from a 1.3 poverty model to a 2 litre luxury model, and was to become Britain’s best selling car for the next nine years. However, in 1970, British Leyland was still very much in the ascendant and taking 40% of new cars and Ford was a distant second.

  6. The Victor Estate is an FB model which had long been superseded by the FC & FD by 1970. They were also available in Estate form.

    Glenn’s right, after the success of the MKII Cortina, the initial MKIII suffered quality problems but these were overcome by 1973 / 74. Particularly when the new dashboard and 2000E top model came along. It was in 1972 onwards that I became a driver of Cortina’s

    • I still prefer the concave dashboard and four headlamp front end on GXLs, but the 1974 model year Cortinas were a big step forward with the 2000 E, which came with a velour and wood interior and a vinyl roof, and Pinto engine becoming standard on all 1600 models. Also the quality issues had been beaten by then and the Cortina became the rep and taxi driver’s car of choice as it could take high mileages well and the Pinto OHC was a smooth engine at speed. Yes the old tinworm got them after a while, but the Mark 3 was the car that made Ford top dog in Britain.
      Also going back to seventies shops, Fine Fare was everywhere, and I can remember them having a supermarket in Egremont, Cumbria, in the seventies that was always busy.

  7. The picture shows two of Britain’s biggest grocers of the times., International Stores and FineFare next door to each other. International Stores went onto be bought by The Dee Corporation, before the same company bought what was then Britain’s 3rd biggest chain a few years later and merged them into its growing Gateway business – remember them? FineFare were the first supermarket to introduce own brand budget labels in Britain – I can remember the disgusting tin of bland soup they called spaghetti still now!
    I have to say I don’t agree with Laurence, I think the Stag is a far prettier motor than the TR, just a shame that BL stopped the Triumph V8 being developed and stuffed in the Buick Rover lump and then it might have been a raveing success.

    • Fine Fare’s own brand product was called “Yellow Pack” – it even did a range of yellow pack ciggies and lager too. Kids at school used to bin their Yellow Pack crisps from their lunch box for the fear of being bullied by other kids owing to the poverty spec image the brand had.

      • The irony of the yellow pack brand was that Fine Fare were the first supermarket in Britain to see organic products way back in 83!

  8. Well this ticks a lot of boxes for me; towards the end of June, 1970 I was born in Kettering and have previously owned an original Range Rover and still have a Triumph Stag! I sold the Range Rover after 4 years of ownership because the only two things that ever went wrong were a leaking differential oil seal and a rather odd occurrence where the rear wheel bearing became loose, I checked the bearing and it was O.K. so a carefully reassembled it and never had a recurrence; with the Range Rover’s reputation and having so few problems I thought it was a good time to sell before a lot of bills came at once! I really have no use for a Range Rover type of vehicle now, but my family remember it fondly & we all miss it. I think Stags look and sound great, it is such a pity that for whatever reason Triumph made so many compromises in the design & production; When I purchased mine it had about 25,000 miles on the clock, which I just didn’t believe because the timing chains were rattling profusely. I stripped the engine and found the original Reynold chain adjusters were stuck in the lowest position. I purchased some new genuine replacements and found they did exactly the same thing, I eventually got them working by selectively building from the two sets I had. On the plus side my Stag has never overheated in the 20 years of my ownership.
    My uncle worked in the International store and as my Grandmother worked at the British Shoe Corporation factory in Bath Road, Kettering, we used to get a discount for shoes in Freeman, Hardy, Willis.

  9. Ah, the 2000E. My dad had the 2000E estate, great car, smooth and reliable. I used to remove the oil spray bar inside the cam cover every other service, blow it through, then slightly open the outlets with the tang of a file. Never suffered a clattery cam sound on 3 Pinto Cortinas dad and I owned.
    When his 2000E estate had done 75K miles, we drove all way from Leeds to South of France, then home via Switzerland. Never missed a beat. Mind you, the puncture near Dover was fun, having to unload boot jammed to roof with luggage for 4 adults and a toddler, as spare was under boot area under a hinged lid.
    Good memories of happy days.

  10. My old man had one two, white with black velour interior. He got it when it had already gone round the clock but it was a brilliant motor before the tin worm took it. The engine just kept on going though and was for transplants into banger races with well over 200k done and never a noise tappet or miss a beat.

  11. Also another very seventies car launched in the summer of 1970, the Vauxhall Viva HC, which was a consistent seller until it was finally dropped in 1979 and kept Vauxhall alive in the first half of the decade. Rather grey porridge in its basic form, but its 1256 cc engine was known for being durable and easy to work on, and outlived the Viva, powering the Chevette, Chevanne and HA van until these were dropped in 1983/84. Also the Viva was to spawn the very nice Firenza and Magnum versions, the latter being a real Q car when fitted with the 2.3 litre slant four from the Victor.

    • Don’t know if you seen but vauxpedia site has just updated the HA Viva story and the Cavalier story, good reading as always

      • I’ll check that out as the Viva was a consistent success for Vauxhall as sales of their bigger cars fell away. The Cavalier was even more vital to Vauxhall, even if it was a Belgian built Opel in its first two years, as they had no real competitor to the Cortina and the 1.6 litre saloon took the fight to Ford big time, and was joined by a 1.3 economy model in 1977 to take on the 1.3 Cortina.

  12. When this photo was taken, my mother owned a Vauxhall Victor FB. Hers had the same colour scheme as the one in the picture, but was the saloon version. A stylish car, performance was, shall we say, lacking. Cruising speed was about 45 mph – any more and there was a real chance it would self-destruct in a cloud of steam. This made long trips up the motorway rather tedious, to say the least.

    • Schrodinger – I don’t understand the point of your post. You can’t seriously be suggesting that a Victor HB would not cruise at 70 + MPH. Either your mother’s example had something wrong with it or you are just trolling. Just another example of the worst aspect of the internet. A casual reader may just leave here believing that all Vauxhall Victors were slow as ***t” and so a myth gets spread around. You say “a real chance it would self-destruct”. Did this actually happen or are you just making ***t up? Fess up bro, what exactly is your beef with Vauxhall exactly?

  13. There was nothing wrong with the FB Victor in its day. Its performance was on a par with other 1.5 litre saloons such as the Farina BMC cars and the Ford Consul, and later the original Corinas , and while I can’t agree that 70 + mph was a feasible long distance cruising speed, 60 to 65 was typical and should have been possible even in a 6 to 8 year old car

  14. Vauxhalls in the sixties were known for their lively engines and decent performance. The VX 4/90 version of the FC Victor was particularly good for the time, being able to reach 90 mph, possibly more going downhill, and sporting versions of the Viva that were launched in 1967 were even faster.

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