Memories : London, September 2000

History repeats itself in the UK in 2021 as fuel queues and panic buying return with a vengeance. We’ve been here before back in 2000 when truck drivers blockaded fuel depots and, as a result, petrol stations began to run dry…

Here’s a rewind to how it was before.

UK fuel blockades, 2000

It’s 13 September 2000, and right now something very strange and quite frightening is happening in the UK. Queues are building up at petrol stations, as drivers panic buy from dwindling stocks of fuel. The cause of the shortages and subsequent panic buying is down to fuel protests across the country.

The situation has been building for some time. Ever since the Government’s fuel price escalator had been introduced in 1993, in the interests of discouraging frivolous car use, the above-inflation price rises had been hitting motorists hard. Following the election of Tony Blair’s New Labour Government in 1997, this had been raised to a crippling annual rise in petrol duty of 6% above the inflation rate.

This really began to bite in early September when the price of crude oil jumped to more than $35 a barrel, resulting in the price of a litre of fuel passing 80p for the first time. On 7 September, and inspired by the successful protests in France a week earlier, around 100 farmers and lorry drivers blockaded the Stanlow Shell Oil Refinery in Cheshire, led by Farmers for Action Chairman David Handley.

Protests and panic start to spread

The following day, and the effects of the blockade begin to spread. More than 100 lorries stage a go-slow protest on the A1 on their way to blockading the Texaco refinery in Pembroke. By the weekend, similar blockades are happening across the country and, although they are peaceful, many tanker drivers refuse to leave refineries, unwilling to cross picket lines – just as the oil companies tell them not to cross the lines.

However, it isn’t until Monday morning that people start panic buying fuel, as the story makes the front pages as well as lead stories across TV news programmes, causing petrol stations to rapidly run out of supplies. That, in turn, sparks more panic buying, and a real sense that the country’s infrastructure is breaking down. By and large, the public supports the fuel protests, even as petrol stations begin to ration fuel, often to as little as £5 per car, with the return of 1973-style petrol station queues. Key workers are prioritised, and police are called in to manage fuel queues across the country.

Today, though, and the crisis is at its peak. As well as petrol station queues, shops begin to report dwindling stocks, and panic buying of food begins in earnest. The NHS is put on red alert, meaning that, at a moment’s notice, all hospitals must be ready to cancel all but emergency cases, and public transport organisations begin to rein in services for fear of not having enough fuel. Towards the end of the week, the roads are emptying as people find themselves unable to travel for lack of fuel.

The Privy Council and the Queen sanction the use of emergency powers to control the distribution of fuel. And following a series of Government crisis meetings on getting fuel supplies moving again, oil companies are ordered to designate petrol stations to supply emergency and essential services only. That sparks further rapid action – within two days, the protests would be called off, and after a week or so life slowly returns to normal. If nothing else, the protests have proven how tissue thin the strength of the national infrastructure can be.

So, tell us about the cars

In 2000, the spectre of fuel queues was long forgotten, and that might explain why so many people were caught out by the situation and felt the need to panic buy. Whether that was the case of all of these London drivers in this image, we’ll never know. I know I’d stockpiled fuel in the weekend before the story made it to the front pages, so I was clearly part of the problem and not the solution…

The cars in the queue pictured above re a fairly typical selection of what was on the UK’s roads around the millennium. They seem to be mainly made up of small hatchbacks and superminis, with just one SUV and a single BMW 3 Series (E36) on view. If nothing else, here’s evidence that 2000 really was a very long time ago now, and the fabric of our roads has changed significantly. The Ford Sierra and Vauxhall Cavalier Mk3 are nice to see, as is the Astra Mk3 in the foreground. Not because the Astra Mk3 was any good – it wasn’t – but because they’re so damned rare today.

A couple of other rarities among the Micras and Fiestas that are worth commenting on – the Hyundai Lantra. Again, another one of those ‘where are they now?’ cars that are slowly gaining a cult following among Korean car fans. And the pair of 1989-1994 Subaru Legacys (below) nearest the camera. They were rare when new, and pretty much extinct now – but these brilliant four-wheel-drive family cars were still a cut above in 2000… as they are now.

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.

Main picture credit: Asadour Guzelian

Subaru Legacy estate

Keith Adams
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40 Comments

  1. Remember it well. Late afternoon, cueing for an hour or so to get into the one and only fuel station in Falmouth that was operating. Needed that fuel. Had a four and a half hour drive to get home in my 26mpg Alfa 916 and the needle was on red. The anticipation that some guy was going to suddenly put the notice up – No Fuel – whilst sitting in that cue!!! Much as I loved the Falmouth Hotel I didn’t fancy the weekend there.

  2. A very different world that, back when Fords and Vauxhall dominated the market, and premium German marques were rare…

    The previous Manchester 1979 photo included a W123 Merc, and so does this 2000 one!

  3. For some reason I don’t remember the fuel crisis being that bad in Essex. I was driving a G plate Mk3 Dark Green 1.3 Fiesta LX back then with loads of extras. Unfortunately it went 2 years later as the sills started to go.

    I spot a Sierra at the front of the pumps, is that an XR4x4 or the run out special the Chasseur?

    I agree with Keith about the Legacy. Never driven one, but been a passenger and they were a loverly car at the time. So underrated.

    • I also don’t recall there being a “crisis” as such in my locale. And it’s not as though I can’t remember the year 2000, I certainly do, not least because that was the year when I got married! My transport at that time was a Fiat Bravo TD100, the worst car I ever owned.I loved the style of the Bravo and mine looked great in Reflex (I think) green. It was a good drive too. Pretty good combination of performance and economy if a little gruff when going about its business. About 4 years in to our time together it all started to go wrong. Fault after infuriating fault until the “piece de resistance”. As I pulled away from the kerb to begin my trip to work the drivers side front spring broke and punctured the tyre as it did so. I was haunted by the possibility that had this happened on the open road, say in a bend at 40/50 mph, it could well have been curtains for me and my wife and our baby son. Shortly thereafter the Bravo was traded in and I promised myself that Fiat would never see another penny of my money. On the morning that I drove it the dealership where I would collect its replacement the indicators stopped working. It’s final f**k you to me. Still can’t remember having to queue for fuel though!

  4. i remember the protests well. A work colleague had to abandon her car at Southwaite Services when it ran out of petrol and there was none available, and another couldn’t get to work as there wasn’t enough petrol in his Volvo to get to work and back( he lived out in the sticks). Also the office was 200 yards from a Morrisons service station and the queues were like something from America in 1979. Luckily the protests ended after a week and the hated fuel escalator was cancelled, ending any future protests, but a few years later the government returned to its old tricks of raising fuel duty in every budget.

  5. Here in Australia the Legacy has always been called the Liberty and the long-term survival rate is pretty good. In the local vernacular, “You couldn’t kill ’em with a meat axe.”

    I’ve never owned a Liberty, but back in the mid-70’s I used to fly around in another Subaru model; the Fuji FA-200. It too had a flat-four engine, but a Lycoming rather than a Subaru. Being semi-aerobatic, it handled quite nicely…

    • We had a Fuji at Liverpool in the 1970s when I was based there. It came to a sad end when someone committed suicide with it by flying it into the Irish Sea

      • Christopher, the only ditched Fuji that I’m aware of (G-BEUB) went in off Fowey, Cornwall on 30/7/79.

        A/c was on a photography flight for a Tall Ships race. Pilot in Command was highly experienced ATP, with 5,500 hrs, mainly on Trident & Viscount; he had 38 hrs on type as PIC, plus 10 as 2nd pilot. Four people were on board, photograper in the R/H seat, the backseat PAX being 2 boys, aged 12 and 15. Canopy was partially open to enable clear photography.

        The a/c was at very low altitude (90-125 feet), cloudbase was 5-800 feet; a/c was at a target IAS of 90 kts which reduced to 70 kts on the 2nd photo run. Two witnesses reported that on the 2nd run the engine was faltering; a correct ditching was attempted and a/c sank nose down. PIC and front PAX exited after ditching, but were only able to rescue one of the boys from the sunken aircraft, the other being trapped by the now closed canopy and some 30 minutes later was recovered at a depth of 55 feet by an RN diver. The boy was still alive and was immediately helicoptered to hospital but died shortly after admission. The first rescued boy died 21 days later from effects of his immersion.

        Cause of the crash was carburettor icing.

  6. I was out in southern Africa at the time of the 1973 shortage, driving Series IIA Land Rovers in the Drakensberg Mountains. In 2000 I was in London, driving a Mercedes three and a half tonne Luton van for a firm that installed coffee machines and chiller display cabinets, etc for filling stations, cafes, etc. I went all round Great Britain. From my diary for 12 Sep 2000, I was due to go to Scotland but: “Due to go to North and Scotlland, but cancelled because of fuel blockade by hauliers and go-slow drives by farmers on roads. All because high rate of tax on fuel and current high price of fuel”. The next day I went nowhere ” because of continuing lack of fuel”. The same the day after: “At [depot] all day because of continuing problems about getting fuel, although fuel blockades now being called off”. On 15 Sep 2000: “Syphoned diesel from my vehicle’s tank for use in other vehicles” and drove locally around London.

    On Sunday 17 Sep 2000, I got up at 0345 hrs and drove my van from Acton Lane W4 to the BP garage at Gunnersbury Lane/Avenue junction and filled it up. I found half a dozen cars waiting to full up.

    No further diary references to fuel problems, and I was driving all round the country.

    The mention of the Micra reminds me that I saw one in the London area with the reg M1CRA.

  7. I had almost forgotten the 2000 fuel protests and the shortage didn’t seem to affect me in the North East. The 1974 energy crisis did though!

    Yes the style of cars on our roads has changed markedly in the last 20 years. My Dad owned three BMW 3 series / E36. A 316i & two 318i . In my opinion they were the best looking of the 3 series, past and present. Nice to see traditional bodied Hatch’s and saloons here rather than the endless SUV’s of the current era…

  8. I remember the protests but I never had a problem getting fuel where I lived in Basingstoke at the time.where I now live in Minehead I see s fair few elderly Subaru’s plodding around with a few dents and scratches,,interiors that have seen better days,but these cars still keep going which is a tribute to the quality of the manufacturer’s products

  9. I can remember the 1979 energy crisis quite well. Over here there were some shortages over the Whit Bank Holiday weekend, the shortages being quickly rectified by the government agreeing to a price rise with OPEC( we still needed some imported oil until 1980, when we became self sufficient), but in America, fuel shortages dragged on from March to July. It was quite interesting seeing the news and huge American cars standing in endless queues for petrol, and the crisis, with a surge in popularity for four cylinder cars, saw the end of the really huge American V8s.

  10. I remember it happened between two family events and had been closer to either they would have had to be called off.

    The last time there were any protests like this was in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina when prices jumped up by a few pence. I filled up as I thought there might be supply problems & was proved correct, but there didn’t seem to cause a major problem.

    I remember one of the protest leaders was on Radio 4 & had his reasons for protesting picked apart by an oil industry expert.

  11. Noticed how many cars here are red and how few are dark blue or grey compared to any car park today,

  12. Don’t forget, there was the threat of a tanker drivers strike nine years ago, which saw queues bulld up at filling stations for a couple of days until the dispute was resolved. Luckily, things have been quiet in recent years as there hasn’t been a fuel duty rise for 11 years and fuel prices are cheaper in real terms than they were during the 2000 protests.

  13. I remember the 2000 situation but wasn’t affected by it because it didn’t last long enough to have an impact. I wasn’t a high-mileage driver and by chance had filled up jut before the protest started, and by the time I needed more petrol the whole thing was over.

    But I remember the 1973 situation. I was in London at Uni. I used to travel from where I lived in South London to College on a bus, and remember seeing the queues at petrol stations.

  14. Funny when you look at photos from the past like this the cars always seem to lag the date. If anyone had asked me what you would have been likely to see on a garage forecourt in 2000, Ford Focus Mk1’s,Vectras and second generation Mondeos would spring to mind – If I had been asked to put a date to that photograph, the cars on show would have led me to think early 90s – Only the KA creeping in at the back would move that to the mid 90s

    • Absolutely true! How many times have we seen TV dramas set in, say, 1978 when it looked like everyone a shiny new Cortina Mk4? When in truth in 1978, most people drove eight-year old snotters…

      • A nice MK IV Cortina GL or Ghia would have suited me back in the late 70s, or a Cav MK1 Coupe even more so. Simpler cars for simpler times!

      • I remember the Grimleys had a car park full of period correct cars, but all in a shiny show fresh condition.

        A few years ago someone posted a lot of pictures street scenes in Preston taken in the early 1980s, which show a spread of cars over about 15 years.

        Similarly I have a book from about 1992 for young drivers with pictures that has a similar range of vehicle ages.

        • I saw a photo of a 1985 street scene from my home town recently and almost every other car there seemed to be a Cortina Mk4..

      • Yep, not everyone in 1973 drove an Allegro – more likely an over 5 year old Morris Minor or Ford Prefect..

        • Just looking at some holiday snaps from Lake District in summer 73, lots of bmc 1100, mk 1 and 2 Cortinas bmc farina’s
          Rootes Arrow range, couple of Morris minors a lone Marina a lone Maxi. 2 vivahc a Rover p6, and just two foreign cars. A VW combi bus and a Renault 4.
          A few others I can’t identify. Guess it’s quite representive of motoring scene at time.

      • What TV companies need is a storage warehouse full of clapped out, unrestored old cars of all ages, to create a more realistic cityscape!

        Dirt, dents, dull paintwork, wings that don’t match…

        • There used to be this semi derelict council estate in North Shields, long since demolished, where 40 years ago two of the cars were a Mark 3 Cortina GXL with rusty bodywork and an FD Victor estate that was originally a gold colour judging by the roof and two of the doors, but had its wings and rear doors in completely different colours. Not often you’d see that after the early eighties, but probably Victor owner needed his car for work and was unable to afford a better car, same as the rust ridden brown Cortina.
          Interestingly Dockwray Square and its vandalised and damp maisonettes were swept away in the mid eighties and has now become a very desirable area with the usual German cars and SUVs.

          • It sounds like this square may have appeared on the opening credits of ‘Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads’.

  15. Sept 13th – bound to be a problem since it’s my birthday. Could be worse – devotees of Space 1999 might remember that exactly a year earlier the Moon flew out of its Earth orbit….

    I remember queues at petrol stations during the early 70’s 3 day week/power cuts – one enterprising garage owner in Lincoln jacked up a Mini van and rigged up a propshaft from its front wheel to the innards of an Esso pump so he could continue to sell petrol during power cuts. Not in the least bit dangerous…

  16. It was easy getting diesel, but I limited myself to 56mph in my 218SLDT, and got 56mpg. The M42 and M5 were pretty quiet. I was very popular in the office, because I could tell people how to get the train to work and back – though as one commented, “Oh no! Not changing at (Birmingham) Snow Hill! If I get to Broad Street (about 40 pubs and clubs in those days), I’ll never get home!” (imagine that in a Brummy accent)

  17. I would disagree about the comment re the Mk3 Astra, that’s a 95-98 Merit judging by the wheeltrims. If you were unlucky you’d have the 1.4 HiTorq engine which was barely adequate but the 1.4 82PS was a gem. I owned 2 Mk 3s (as well as a G-reg Mk2 1,4L) – a prefacelift 1.4 82PS LS and a near end of line special edition Arctic 1.6 16V. Not brilliant cars but magazines said at the time, they did not excel at anything but were not bad at anything either, and when you compare them with contemporaneous cars in the category they were still an attractive option in the class – the R8 was already known to be ‘fragile’, less said about the Escort the better, Golf 3 has ‘interesting’ handling (they still persist in putting cheap suspension on their cars) and I think some Peugeots were still using Simca engines. IIRC only the Citroen ZX at the time had the same level of panache as the R8 (esp the Aura and Volcane trims). Survivor wise – I see more Astras than anything else.

  18. The Mk3 Astra certainly wasn’t brilliant but I had a couple of them with the Isuzu 1.7 diesel over a period of 11 years or so. They were reasonably quick, pretty economical and the ones I had were reliable.
    The Mk4 was a lot better though.

  19. I had a 2002 Honda Insight hybrid, during a fuel crisis (possibly 2005) I drovef rom Central London to
    Dereham in Norfolk , the roads devoid of traffic , the car trip meter read 113 mpg for the trip

  20. I was out at 6 this morning and they were queuing! I will need fuel before the end of the week, as I am off to Norfolk. People are just idiots. My mum was at a macmillan coffee morning yesterday and one of the people there had not only gone and filled their car up before going, he filled up a Jerry can too and he is retired and doesn’t use his car much! Let’s see all the home deliveries go to pot………

  21. About 5% of filling stations had shortages yesterday, so the sheeple will probably make the other 95% run out by Monday as they panic buy and sit in queues for hours, ironically causing more fuel to be lost. Also this will have a knock on effect for emergency services, delivery drivers and taxis, causing some serious problems. It would be better if everyone, except those who really need petrol to travel, sat back for a few days.

    • That’s what I’m going to do, at the moment I rarely use my car in the week, & have half a tank full so I’ll be OK until I have a long weekend in Lincoln in a couple of weeks.

      It has been suggested that the best time to fill up is mid week in the evening.

  22. It’s the domino effect, those that chuck in a tenners worth as and when they need it are now filling to the brim. Fortunately they now have enough fuel in their tanks to last them six months. For those of us who need vehicles to carry out “essential” duties this will all blow over in about a week..

  23. That’s not London – it’s Saltaire in West Yorkshire.
    The stone building on the other side of the road is an old tram depot.

  24. I visited my local service station today in Whiitehaven and it was more or less business as usual and all the pumps were working. The woman on the till said people were mostly being sensible and there was a queue for a short time yesterday morning, but things soon returned to normal.

    • It was still like it today in Essex. Local paper has pictures of the idiots blocking roads up. I walked into my town centre this morning and Tesco was still nuts, and it still had fuel. Don’t people realise by now not to worry!

      • Shocking to look at the overhead picture and seeing all those cars and only one of them being a truly British one (the metro). Such a shame Britains didn’t buy British…

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