It’s 2 May 1997 and we’re in the beautiful Devon village of Winkleigh. It’s an unremarkable day, and it’s a village centre like so many others in this part of the country. Being drawn into the image, you can almost smell the freshness of the crisp spring air mid-morning. In the distance, a blackbird sings his merry tune, and the villagers take their morning stroll along the wonderfully quiet Fore Street. It’s like any other day in rural Devon in the late 1990s.
Well, it’s an unremarkable day in many ways, except that on the day before, the UK bore witness to a seismic political change – the biggest landslide in a generation. New Labour swept into power, unseating the fag-end of a Conservative Government which had been in power since 1979, after causing its own political earthquake back in 1979. By the time all the ballot papers had been counted on this sunny morning, 418 seats had fallen to Tony Blair’s party, with the Conservative Party pushed into opposition with its Westminster representation reduced to 165 seats. The number one song on this day was Blood on The Dancefloor by Michael Jackson. There was certainly blood on the floor of the Houses of Parliament…
Down here in Devon, we were in the heartlands of the Liberal Democrats, which at the time were led by Paddy Ashdown – it was a very different political landscape to today’s. Back in London, Tony Blair was the youngest British Prime Minister of the 20th century, and promised he would deliver, ‘unity and purpose for the future’. John Major resigned as Conservative leader, saying, ‘When the curtain falls it’s time to get off the stage and that is what I propose to do.’ We’ll let history decide whether the United Kingdom of New Labour ended up being a success or not – but, as Major bowed out of front-line politics after his rout at the hands the electorate, we can say this, the carscape of Britain was a very different place to what it is today.
So, tell us about the cars
When I say different, I can’t help but think more varied. This typical village scene is notable for one major absence: no SUVs. Back then, there was a mix of saloons, hatchbacks and sports cars. Nearest our photographer Andrew Freeman’s camera is a low-spec XJ6-variety Jaguar XJ40, with a late-1980s Honda Prelude alongside. Wonder if these belonged to the vets? Certainly, the Honda would be useful for tight four-wheel-assisted turns in cramped farmyards, and then great fun in the lanes on the way back to base. The Ford Escort XR3i alongside stands out for its sharp styling now – but they were still oh-so popular in 1997, despite being out of production since 1990.
Behind that we have a Vauxhall Belmont and an Austin Metro (with typical rust on the front wing where the inner wing joins it and the front valance) and a Ford Fiesta Mk2. The Peugeot 505 estate behind that is a joy to behold, as is the high-top Renault Trafic tucked away in the background. Over the road is an AROnline favourite, a Vauxhall Cavalier Mk2. This one’s a 1.6GL with red pinstriping (not a good match with the Champagne paint), a factory-fit sunroof and stick-on door protectors. Nice…
There isn’t really much to tell you we’re in the late-1990s in this image, but the Ford Ford Fiesta Mk3 further up the road could be anything up to a 1995-registered example (although it looks older), while the Metro L behind that is rooted in the early 1980s and the Mini Clubman behind that is a up to a decade older again. Finally, the Nissan Sunny hatch over the road from the Fiesta was a proper late-1980s street-view staple. Now they’re all gone…
If you enjoyed this, let us know in the comments and, if you have any pictures you’d like featuring, drop me a line by any of the links below.
Photograph: Andrew Freeman
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