Memories : York, April 1985

York - 1985

Welcome to York. While the rest of your party are wandering around the Minster, taking in the shops at the Shambles, or spending a lovely day at the Railway Museum, we are enjoying a ringside seat by the car park alongside the Castle Tower. And what a sight to behold!

It’s been an interesting year so far. It’s beginning to feel like the 1980s are finally taking off. The UK’s cellular ‘phone network had opened for business on 1 January and the first phone sold, the Vodafone VM1 cost its owner a cool £1200, plus hefty call charges. The home computer market is finally beginning to mature after five tumultuous years in the making, where at one point, the UK’s population owned more home computers per capita than any other country, including the USA.

This early success could be laid squarely at the door of Sir Clive Sinclair, who’s pioneering ZX80, ZX80 and ZX Spectrum had brought affordable computing power to the masses – specifically for less than £100. But the big corporates have been catching up – first, Commodore with the ‘Elephantine’ C64 and Amstrad with the CPC464. Sinclair’s upmarket £399 QL (below) has been on sale since 1984, and it’s not exactly flying off the shelf, neither is his new battery-powered car, the C5, which has been on sale since January. Has Sinclair bitten off more than he can chew?

Sinclair QL

So, tell us about the cars

There’s a really fascinating selection of cars in this image, which reflects York’s position as a centre of international tourism. It was taken by Andrew Deykin and, looking at this little lot, bad parking is clearly not a modern phenomenon. Prime pig-parkers all seem to be driving Fords… Hmm. Also, again, see how the world had changed in the last three decades – where are all the Audis, the BMWs, the Mercedes-Benzes?

However, there are some real joys to behold. Look closely on the fifth row back and you’ll see a European-market Ford Taunus with its bonnet up. Its owners are hopefully being fastidious checking it over, rather than needing to fix it. But scan to the bottom right of the image, and what do we find here? A Barkas van (parked next to a Morris Marina van), probably over from the country of its manufacture – The Democratic Republic of Germany. Now that’s unusual for England during the height of the Cold War!

There are so many other glories in this photo that I could easily spend all day naming them. Instead, here are a few highlights to enjoy…

Fiat Fiorano, Vauxhall Chevette, Reliany Robin
Fiat Fiorano, Vauxhall Chevette, Reliant Robin
Volvo 240 GLT, Austin Montego, Ford Fiesta, Ford Escort, Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1, Vauxhall Nova Saloon, Toyota Celica, Ford Cortina
Volvo 240 GLT, Austin Montego, Ford Fiesta, Ford Escort, Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1, Vauxhall Nova Saloon, Toyota Celica, Ford Cortina
Zastava Yugo 513, Ford Fiesta, Chrysler Sunbeam, Talbot Solara, Daihatsu Charade, Ford Cortina, Chrysler Alpine, Volkswagen Beetle... and a Daihatsu Charade!
Zastava Yugo 513, Ford Fiesta, Chrysler Sunbeam, Talbot Solara, Daihatsu Charade, Ford Cortina, Chrysler Alpine, Volkswagen Beetle… and a Daihatsu Charade!
Renault 14, Triumph 1500, Lada 1300 Estate, Ford Fiesta, Fiat Supermirafiori, Ford Escort, Vauxhall 'Transcontinental' Victor.
Renault 14, Triumph 1500, Lada 1300 Estate, Ford Fiesta, Fiat Supermirafiori, Ford Escort, Vauxhall ‘Transcontinental’ Victor.

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. When one looks at the flurry to make everyone buy electric cars, was Sir Clive Sinclair just ahead of his time? Think of other ‘failed’ British pioneers – from Brunel to Baird to Freddie Laker.

  2. Best picture yet! Well it is for an avid car spotting kid in the 80s….

    I thought that was a Barkus, though I have only ever seen one. I spot only 2 Mercedes (and 1 Merc van) and 1 BMW – nearly as rare as the 1 Allegro and 2 Ambassadors. I only spot 1 mini!

    Love the Robins, my old man had one in his youth (cos he was too tight to get his driving license). There seems to be a large number of Escorts. I think the colour pallete is also interesting, a beige Ascona and two gold Granadas – wouldn’t ses the varied colours today.

  3. It quite surprises me that in such a large car park in 1985, only two Minis are visible, and not a single Metro!

    Anyone notice the sky blue Lada Riva at the far end near the wall?

  4. Superb picture for a car spotter and good to be able to display it large on the screen. I’ve spotted what I think is a third Merc. A sliver of a yellow 200 on the left border of the picture, next to the silver Volvo 700 series. Far more interesting is the wide white car behind the Volvo which I reckon from the bonnet vents is a Renault 20 or 30.

    I’ll have either the Vauxhall in the background, which from the brown/cream colour scheme and vinyl roof is, I believe, a VX2300GLS or the red SD1 in the right foreground

  5. Theres a Saab 99 in light beige 2nd row towards the right. Not a turbo alas but a fine car. Thats about as exotic as it gets but there is an MG Midget top left and a nice ‘sahara orange(?) VW Sirocco front right. I think there is also a Triumph GT6 middle right in yellow.

    Usual range of horrors from that era but the plastic pig, Yugo and Vauxhall Nova saloon stand out for me.

    Id be interested to see this car park now, the spaces only just fit a Fiesta in, I cant imagine the leased V60 brigade would be too impressed with the room they’d get if the spaces are the same size

  6. Brilliant picky. My view is that it’s a bit brighter than if we took the same picture today. Just look at all those individual shapes and colours. Today we would have a sea of bloated look-alike hatchbacks on stilts interspersed with a river of booted bolides principally from two manufacturers. The pallet would be a subdued mix of black, silver and white – be specked by an occasional metallic burgundy. If we were lucky we might catch a veritable sunflower in the midst – in the form of a yellow Desire.
    For me, the 80’s picture has a Bedford CF Mk1 – surely the best looking van ever made. There is a T4 of course in the colours used for its top of the range models but if I had to drive away in anything? The 109 Land Rover of course!

  7. Look at the way the blue Volvo estate has been abandoned rather than parked. Remember when Volvo drivers were scorned/detested in the same way BMW drivers are today? Similar lack of consideration and courtesy towards fellow road users.Come to think of it, the yummy mummies in their Discos and RRs could give both a run for their money in the road hog stakes.

  8. From bottom row Maestro, Astra, Granada, Mini, Scirroco, SD1, ? poss a Vista?,

    Nex row Escort, Fiat 127 Van, Chevette, Robin, BMW 3, Robin Estate, Marina van, Barkus, (in road
    behind barkus) Escort or Orion

    Next row Avenger or a merc? Volvo 260, Maestro, Fiesta, Escort, VW Camper, Fiesta, Ascona,
    Escort, Sierra, Volvo 340, Golf

    Next Row Golf, Renault 20?, Escort?, Nova Saloon, Celica, Cortina, Merc, 305, Escort,
    Datsun Bluebird, 505, Spitfire, Merc,

    Next row Passat, Escort, Granada, Ital, Escort, Mini, Cortina, Taunus, Datsun Violet?, Yugo,
    Fiesta, Sunbeam, Charade, Alpine, Maestro, Fiesta

    Next Row ? , Sunbeam, ? , Audi 80, Lancia Y10 or poss an Uno, Escort, Metro?, Scirroco,
    Cortina, Astra, Beetle, Merc van

    Next row Mg midget, BMW 3, Escort, Cortina, Volvo 240, Allegro, Datsun Sunny, XJ, Land Rover

    Next row Triumph dolly, Toyota teracel?, Escort Estate, Fiesta, Jeep Cherokee, Escort, Vauxhall
    2300?, Sierra, Escort, Cortina, Orion.

    Next Row Escort, Fiesta, Escort, Escort, Volvo 260, Fiesta?, Renault 14, Super Miafiori, Volvo 340,
    Bedford CF, Escort, Ambassador

    Next Row Escort, Cavalier?, Sunbeam, Avenger estate?, Datsun?, Cortina Mk2, Triumph 1300
    Lada 1300, Fiesta, ? Merc 190E possibly, Toyota HiAce, Escort, Volvo 240

    Last Row Mini van, Manta, Ascona or a commodore?, Hillman Hunter (or Singer?), Volvo 340
    Capri, Estelle, Polo or Audi 50, SD1 (is that a turbo?), Escort, Datsun Cedric?, Transit
    Sierra?, Escort, Cavalier

  9. I was looking at this trying to decide which of these cars you wouldn’t particularly notice driving past you on the road in 2021.

    Nearly every car there would be a proper classic by now and would certainly cause my head to swivel if I saw one driving past or parked up. Quite a few of them must be near to extinction.

    The only exceptions I can see are:

    – The Land Rover Defender. No one bats an eyelid if they see one of these in 2021, they’re still common enough.

    – The Volvo 240s, especially the newer Y-reg one near the front. I still see these fairly regularly and don’t take an awful lot of notice. I think there’s a certain demographic of Volvo owners who are loathe to buy a new car when their old car is still perfectly serviceable and safe.

    People still have these two cars without necessarily considering them to be ‘classics’.

    Until fairly recently, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see that burgundy BMW 3-series driving past (maybe now they’re getting a bit rarer). You also still see the odd Volvo 340 Mk 2 pottering about (although not the Mk 1’s from this photo).

    As for any of the others – Sierras, Cortinas, Montegos, Escorts, Solaras etc. – if you see one of these you know it’s not just a runabout – the owner’s keeping it as a classic.

    I’m wondering if anyone else has a different perspective on this?

  10. What a great photo. TWO Reliant Robins, and not driven for “ironic” reasons. I’d never even heard of the Barkas van beforehand!

    Even the 3 series is a rare Baur convertible

    • I always associate Barkas vans with the Stasi, as they used to use them as undercover prison vans. But in fact it was pretty much the ONLY type of van in East Germany so everyone used them from grocers to builders. I have no idea if they were ever officially imported into Britain so I have no idea how one ended up in York in 1985!

    • Reliants sold quite well in Yorkshire for some reason that the less charitable might put down to Yorkshiremen being mean, but more likely because some older motorists who never took a car driving test could own one on a motorcycle licence and also 65 mpg, motorcycle tax and insurance were still tempting. I could see the appeal in the 1960s, but by 1985, there were plenty of more practical small cars with four wheels that didn’t cost much more.

  11. Just turned the telly on and lovejoy is on drama. He drives a yellow volvo estate, which looks like he is parked in the top right hand corner.

  12. Amazing – a relatively large parking area and not a single VW Golf to be seen… The mix would have been rather different in Germany.
    I wonder if the family in the old Ford is on holiday from Germany – these were already very rare in the mid-80s.

  13. I spy a white Ford Taunus 17M or Badewanne (German for bathtub) parked next to a Sierra
    A Jaguar XJ next to a Land Rover
    An Austin Ambassador ans a few Rovers SD1
    Nice, very nice indeed

  14. I’m from York and know this carpark well. Looks a lot better condition than it’s in nowadays. Also the spots are notoriously small. As you’ve said some of the parking is not brilliant. Can you imagine what it’s like now as cars have got so much bigger and the spots have stayed the same. I parked my Skoda Superb estate in the and it over hung the spot by a couple of feet. A guy tried parking behind me in and X5 and had to find somewhere else to park. Thanks for sharing it’s interest to see how the cars have changed over the years

  15. A quick look on google maps confirmed my thought of knowing the space – just under the castle in York. I once parked our Austin 1800S there – 2004 I think. And the same car is very likely to have been there 1978 – but back than I would have been confined to the rear bench.

  16. How refreshing to not see any aggressively driven premium German cars such as Audis tailgating other motorists!

  17. I did say it in my list above, but no one seems to have noticed – is that a Rover SD1 Turbo at the back of the car park by the back wall? Either that or someone has fitted a a similar kit

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