Memories : Sainsbury’s, Oldham, 1987


It’s 15 October 1987, and we’re in the early months of the third term of Margaret Thatcher’s Tory premiership. Prosperity is returning to the UK after a stinging period of uncertainty and unemployment and, as so many tired TV list shows like to remind us, this is the heart of the yuppie/red Porsche/big shoulder pads/brick-sized mobile phone era. One thing that not so many of them dwell on is the UK’s growing North-South divide – and, on this day, it’s wider than ever.

The North-South divide wasn’t an economic one, nor was it a social one. Mother nature was dealing out one of her curved balls, sending in a storm to batter Kent and the South East of England, taking 18 lives in the process. For the lady loading up her Rover 216 Vitesse at Sainsbury’s with a trolley full of shopping, the events down south may as well have been a million miles away.

Most people who were around during the Great Storm of 1987 will remember it for being the one that BBC Weatherman Michael Fish managed to mis-forecast in that afternoon’s bulletin. For many, it was referred to as a hurricane in the early days, but after fevered debate, it wasn’t categorised as one as it never originated in the tropics. Today, such weather events seem almost commonplace – maybe a sign of ongoing climate change.

So, tell us about the cars

The mix of cars at the Oldham branch of Sainsbury’s shows that us Northerners were a sensible bunch in the 1980s. What you don’t see much of is prestige metal – although that could well be down to the fact of this being a Thursday afternoon. The Rover SD3, of course, was quite aspirational at the time after having been successfully facelifted – ending up on the same shopping lists as the Ford Orion 1.6i Ghia and even the BMW 316. Maybe things would be different on a Saturday morning when all the Manchester commuters were having the weekend off and topping up their groceries.

On the same row as the SD3 is what looks like a post-1984 Austin Metro Vanden Plas on aftermarket wheeltrims (maybe missing its headrest pads) or maybe an HLS. In the row ahead, we have (from left to right), a post-1980 Datsun Violet, Mini Clubman in Russet Brown, BMW 7 Series, Yugo 45, Renault 5 and Austin Metro five-door. In the row behind that, a Ford Fiesta Ghia, Peugeot 309, Ford Fiesta, Austin Metro City X, Toyota Carina and Lada 1300 with vinyl roof. There’s also a Datsun/Nissan Laurel on show further back – what a thing of sheer, brutal ugliness that would have been to behold! Simpler times indeed…

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Keith Adams


  1. Nissans were very popular among private buyers in the eighties and at least one could be seen on every street corner. I’d imagine the good people of Oldham wanted a car that was cheap, reliable and economical and image wasn’t important, and also the Laurel, while not the most stylish or desirable car you could buy, probably belonged to a family who wanted a cheap, reliable used car. Also no upmarket German cars in this photo, again only the seriously well off could afford them in Oldham then, but the Rover 213 was considered quite aspirational in 1987..

  2. Judging by the high open boot lid, this 216 Vitesse was one of the originals prior to the boot / tail lights re-design on the SD3.

    Yes the original Datsun Laurels were boxy and not pretty but were well equipped for the money. In the mid 80’s, from memory, the next generation Laurel looked a bit more like a Vauxhall Carlton shape but not many appeared on UK roads. Smaller Datsuns like the Cherry, Sunny & Stanza were more popular.

    • The Rover is one of the originals, judging by the rear end. Still quite an aspirational car in its day and a big seller until it was replaced in 1990.
      Big Nissan Datsuns were never huge sellers, resembling American police cars and being uninspiring to drive. Yet they found a niche among taxi companies who admired their rock solid reliability and big boots, and as used cars, the Laurel/ 200 L were a sensible choice for large families or people who wanted a cheap large car for long journeys.

  3. I remember the storm very well, as it was my first term at university. I popped home to get my washing done the day after, and although the storm was confined to the south it still had knock on effects on public transport in the north.

  4. My Dad chopped in a perfectly good VX2300(champagne starmist?) for a white Datsun Laurel 200L. The Datsun looked to be in good nick and was indeed lavishly equipped when compared to the VX, but felt gutless after the big slant four of the Vauxhall.Worse though was the the alacrity with which it rusted. A look at the registration document revealed that it was first registered in Lerwick in the Shetlands and the sea air combined with Datsuns tendency towards rapid oxidation anyway meant the car literally crumbled before his eyes. Even the roof developed a rusty rash.

  5. I’m trying to work out what the cream coloured car with a vinyl roof next to the left hand arch.

    It’s either a Lada or possibly a 1970s Mercedes.

  6. I think that BMW is actually a 5 series and not a 7 series as the article says, the roof line is too up right for the 7. Is that a Montego I spot behind the white metro?

  7. It has made my day seeing that lovely Rover 216 Vitesse! I still have a soft spot for them, despite their obvious shortcomings, and wish more of them had to survived to put one on my bucket list.

    Clearly the owner was more than happy with its already lavish level of standard specification and did not want to splash out on extra cost options beyond metallic paint such as a sunroof, whether manually or electrically operated.

  8. Why is the first generation Rover 200 often referred to as a “Rover SD3”, when I don’t believe that was ever it’s code name?

    • It was an internal nickname used by Rover development engineers and production line workers. This was confirmed to me by my man on the ground at the time. Trust me, I’d never use it if it weren’t justified.

      I think it’s confirmed in the Rover 213/216 development story on the site

  9. The SD2 was going to be the replacement for the Triumph Dolomite, and SD3 was the informal name for the small Rover,. Also the Rover 213/216 was more of a logical replacement for the Dolomite than the Acclaim, featuring sporting versions utilising old Triumph names like Vitesse and Sprint.

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