Memories : Port of Dover, Kent, 1973

Dover 1973

It’s the spring of 1973, and we’re standing near the administrative and ticket offices at the Port of Dover. It’s one of the busiest thoroughfares in the UK and, at this particular point in time, is enjoying a boom period, with the numbers of cars, trucks and buses passing through the port growing at an impressive rate – between 600,000-700,000 vehicles per year use the Eastern Docks to travel on towards France or Belgium.

In the era of the blue passport, you’d receive an entry stamp when driving homeward (assuming you live in Britain), and the queues could be horrendous at peak times. Right now, we’re between crossings, and the unregistered cars awaiting processing don’t overwhelm the customs staff. Behind, the White Cliffs form an implacable backdrop – a welcoming sign for all those ferrying back to the UK, a sign you’re nearly home.

The year of 1973 is an alien time to anyone viewing this scene from 2020 – a point when the quiet times returned fleetingly, as a result of overseas travel being curtailed, to the Port of Dover. But the overall image remains pleasingly consistent and reassuring, despite the huge amount of growth at the port since the 1970s.

Seeing the ‘Welcome to Dover’ sign at the end of the first leg of your first drive overseas is a wonderful moment – the excitement builds as you get closer to boarding your ferry to Calais (or Dunkirk), and comes to a crescendo as you drive on, jump out of your car and head for the Sea Link restaurant for a welcome wedge of bacon and eggs.

France beckons…

So, tell us about the cars

There’s an interesting mix of cars here. But it’s hard not to notice the unregistered Peugeots awaiting the stamps on their Carnets and their import duty to be paid – or are these left-hookers heading back out? And if so, why? The nearest two are brand new 504s with their factory paperwork still taped to the windows, and awaiting their hubcaps. Alongside is one of the Port’s Mini vans, next to another pair of Peugeots – a 504 Estate and 304 Estate that also look ready for new owners.

Next up, are an Opel Rekord and Ford Capri, also awaiting their UK paperwork, a Datsun Cherry 100A and yet another Peugeot 504. For many, this Pininfarina-styled medium saloon represented the best of what France had to offer for the businessman in a hurry and who didn’t want to run to the extravagance of a Citroën DS. Behind that is a Renault 16 and the inevitable Ford Cortina, this one a Mk3.

Traffic returning to the UK is thin on the ground – there’s a Mercedes-Benz HGV followed by a very new-looking Ford Cortina Mk3 estate and a slightly more patinated Rover 2000. We’d love to see the place chock-a-block with 1970s cars – it’s almost a shame it’s so quiet!

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


  1. Wonder why the 504s are LHD? Badging suggests the sporty Ti version. In transit to somewhere else outside England, perhaps.

  2. Always enjoy these bits of nostalgia, many thanks. Would there have been a P&O restaurant on Townsend Thoresen or any of the other ferry companies operating at that time?

  3. I thought it would have been Sea Link or Townsend Thoresen back then?

    Definatley think the 504s are just parked up ready to head of to other climes – why would they have LHD for UK?

  4. Those 1970s Mercedes trucks (apparently known as Kurbhauber) – I don’t remember seeing any of these during my childhood in the UK in the 1980s. But these days they’re all over the place in Brazil, so I get the impression they must have been made much more recently there. I wouldn’t have taken much notice of them if it wasn’t for the horrendous apocalyptic noise they make pulling away from the lights! I’ve never heard anything like it! I’m not naturally a jumpy person but the din those things make is enough to startle me. I suppose I hadn’t realised how much diesel engine technology had advanced since the 1970s. The only other experience I’ve had which is similar is waiting at Walsall train station last year and being terrified by a horrendous din as a freight train pulled away. Googling the number on the side of the loco told me it had in fact been manufactured in 1968 (!! and still in use!).

  5. In the days when leaving Dover was a long slog through the town centre and the suburbs on the A2. The striking Jubilee Way eastern by pass that goes down the cliffs wasn’t opened until 1977.

  6. In the days when leaving Dover was a long slog through the town centre and the suburbs on the A2. The striking Jubilee Way eastern by pass that goes down the cliffs wasn’t opened until 1977.

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