Memories : Swansea, 1983

Swansea, Oystermouth Road Car Park

It’s September 1983, and we’re at the Oystermouth Road car park in Swansea joining the shoppers as the Park and Ride for the city centre. The view is very typical of car parks across the land – with new and used cars rubbing shoulders with abandoned trolleys and stray litter, competing for space in one of many open pieces of land that masquerade as parking areas.

Wales’ second-largest city is beginning to see some green shoots of recovery, following the recession of the early-1980s and, although it’s not out of the woods yet, excellent links into the city are attracting new investment and manufacturing into the area. A good example of this is Dragon Computers in nearby Port Talbot, which has been set-up in 1982, assisted by government investment to build the ugly-looking Dragon 32 computer (below).

This Welsh take on the computer revolution in the UK joined with Sinclair, Acorn, Commodore, Oric, Amstrad and many, many more, to help us become the world’s leader in the production and take-up of computers in the home. Sadly, it would end up proving to be a short-lived boom – Port Talbot’s Dragon Data would subsequently go bust the following year, having already outlived such computers as the Grundy Newbrain, Tatung Einstein, Colour Genie, Mattel Aquarius and Jupiter Ace.

As for the car park, this scene in this photo, sent by Jason Williams, remains reasonably unchanged to this day. The curvaceous pedestrian bridge was removed in March 2020, though, and the high rise to the left of it has gone. The parking bays are somewhat neater and it’s all going to change soon, anyway, as development of Swansea’s Digital Arena continues.

Dragon 32 computer

So, tell us about the cars

Well… this is a nice selection of what kept Britain moving in the early 1980s. Starting from the bottom left, we have a Toyota Corolla, a two-door Austin Allegro Sport, Citroën CX Safari with after-market Hella spotlights, then a Morris 1300, a pair of Ford Escort Mk2 Populars and an almost brand-new Volvo 340 three-door. It’s easy to forget that in 1983, the small Volvo was about to enjoy a sales boom that would see this innocuous rear-wheel-drive hatch become a mainstay of the UK’s Top 10 bestselling car list well into the late-1980s.

Moving on, we have an Allegro Estate in Series 2 estate guise, a Ford Sierra in L trim (and probably the reps’ favourite 1.6), a Morris 1800 Mk3 and early Austin 1100. Behind the Sierra, we have a Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1 in GL trim, Hillman Avenger, Ford Escort Mk1 (in red), a Snapdragon Allegro Series 3 estate and Volkswagen 1500 behind that. There’s a Triumph Dolomite driver looking for a space behind that, and other nice-to-finds are the Vauxhall Astra Mk1, Austin Maxi and Mk2 Escort estate on the road behind…

As I say, very much a cross section of what we were all driving in the early 1980s.

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.

Keith Adams

13 Comments

  1. The abundance of concrete and ugly office blocks in Swansea could be explained by the city being heavily bombed in the Second World War. Plymouth and Coventry had city centres that went down the same route, with uninspiring post war buildings.

    • The Drake Cinema was perhaps one of the better designed new buildings. A short film “PLYMOUTH DEVON UK 1958 (The Drake Cinema opens)” on line shows it, with South Pacific showing. I remember seeing it with my parents; in Todd AO, it was preceded by an all-action short puffing the wonders of the 70mm widescreen film format, with scenes that had me rolling with the camera – shot from planes doing aerobatics, bobsleighing, etc. The 1958 film includes shots of red (Plymouth Corporation Transport? With slatted wooden seats, my bum recalls. Or Devon General) and green (Western National?) double deckers. While new shops were being built, Nissen hut shaped buildings – with glass and timber frontages – were still in business in the early 1950s. At school in Plymouth then, I remember one, Moon’s, that replaced the large music store destroyed by German bombs in WWII. “I see the moon” – by The Stargazers, amongst others – was in the hit parade at the time.

  2. …..and Southampton – I know ‘cos my mum was directing the fire crews and my dad was dealing with the unexploded bombs!

    • I think the problem was these cities had been badly damaged and the idea was to start again from scratch, sometimes removing old buildings that had survived the Blitz. Coventry’s Broadgate centre was a big leap forward for the city when a new pedestrianised shopping centre was built over a devastated part of the city, but later became rundown and notorious for violent crime after dark, and some medieval buildings that survived the Blitz were replaced by ugly concrete office blocks.

  3. ” the ugly-looking Dragon 32 computer (below).” Certainly not as ugly as the randomly designed concrete high rises in the background. The Victorian (?) brick-built water tower (?) looks as if it had been dropped in from another world – certainly another century. What looks like a church is half-hidden by the multi-storey car park.
    And what about the double-decker? Is it a Bristol VR, with the Eastern Coach Works rounded rear to the upper deck? It looks as if DE CYMRU (SOUTH WALES) followed by the National Bus logo is the operator’s name; the white lettering just behind the off side front wheel. Now – what was I doing?

  4. In those days I used to change my cars pretty often, and there’s nothing in that car park I ever owned. Back then I was in things like an Opel Manta, Saab 99, Opel Kadett Mk1, Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1……..although I did take all my driving lessons in an Avenger.

  5. Dragon computers were loosely based on the radioshak or tandy trs80, though without the Motorola graphics chip, so although it had good initial take up it had naff graphic capabilities compared to the opposition and so therefore died a death.

    • IIRC the Dragon’s character set didn’t support lower case letters so they couldn’t easily be used for word processing.

    • Another eighties brand, whose shops were everywhere, Tandy, and their Radioshack and Realistic branded products. No doubt they had a branch in Swansea, where some people in the car park may have ventured to.
      Also the Volvo 340, it probably sold because it had a Volvo badge on it, which had the same kudos as a German badge has now, and was fairly cheap. For all it was a bit of brick on wheels and the 1.4 Renault engine was sluggish, the 340 had some decent performance versions and in saloon form looked more acceptable. Not my choice, but a reasonable enough car that sold in big numbers.

  6. I remember all these cars but almost forgot the Volvo 340. Not one of my favourites – one of our office Managers had a 340 saloon version. My Dad owned one of those Corolla’s but only for about 14 months.

    I think my brother bought a Dragon 32 computer at Christmas time back then and I certainly remember TANDY stores and the Radio Shack brand. Sadly all history now… Keep up these features Keith, they cheer us up in the current Coronavirus situation.

  7. The Citroen CX is the highlight of this uninspiring collection of cars. Even 37 years later, this car looks futuristic and way ahead of the more mundane offerings in Swansea in 1983. Obviously someone fancied an individualistic car and one that would soak up the miles with ease and in great comfort.

    • Yes the CX was one of the cars someone who wanted a to drive something a bit different at the time this picture was taken along with Saabs, Audis & Subarus.

      While the CX had lots of innovative features, these often needed some regular maintenance.

      Often second owners wouldn’t want to pay out for a full dealer service, & they weren’t exactly DIY friendly either.

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