It’s March 1985 and we’re standing kerbside in Stanningley, near Leeds. We find ourselves looking at one of those small dealerships that seemed to be part of every community back then, despite many manufacturers’ (including British Leyland back in Filmer Paradise’s era) desire to close them down in favour of larger, out of town gin palaces. Today, that battle has largely been won but, back in 1985, dealers such as Yorkshire Co-Op Society-owned West Yorkshire Motor Group were still very much the norm.
It’s a cool spring day, and for anyone looking to purchase a new or approved-used car from the dealership, it would be a good time to do it. There’s plenty of new metal on offer, following the launch of the Austin Montego and Rover 213/216 the previous year – and a bitter price war is already in progress, with Ford and Vauxhall in particular heavily discounting their cars in order to maintain hard-won market share. Austin Rover’s dealers don’t have the same margins as their rivals, but that’s not going to stop punters going for a strong deal if they can get one.
As can be seen from the image below, it’s a larger dealership than you might think. There are cars on the roof as well as a reasonably spacious showroom. Wondering how enticing shopping for a Metro on that exposed roof in November might appeal?
Heading in, either listening to Radio 4 hissing and popping on Long Wave, Radio 2 crackling away on Medium Wave, potential buyers will have been reeling from the news that the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike was finally over. The strike had started in Yorkshire a year before, with unofficial action taking place at the Cadeby, Silverwood, Kiveton Park, Manvers and Yorkshire Main pits before the rest joined on 5 March 1984 following a ballot voting for industrial action . In the end, and after a battle royal between Margaret Thatcher and Arthur Scargill, more than 142,000 miners were involved, and the outcome would leave a scar across the county that would take decades to heal.
For those tuned into Radio Aire or Radio 1, Philip Bailey and Phil Collins’ Easy Lover is all over the airwaves, eventually taking the number one spot for three straight weeks. Other Top Ten music on heavy rotation were That Ole Devil Called Love by Alison Moyet, Every Time You Go Away by Paul Young (a future American number one) and my favourites, Material Girl, by Madonna and Kiss Me by Stephen ‘Tin Tin’ Duffy…
The hottest ticket on TV is EastEnders which debuted the previous month on BBC1, and had already become its most-watched programme, with the shenanigans of Den and Angie Watts and Pauline and Arthur Fowler helping it trounce Coronation Street in the ratings war.
But what about the cars?
What a lovely sight to behold, with it being a case of where to begin. From the left, we have a base-spec Austin Metro languishing around the side of the building. An Austin Maestro – possibly a 1.3L judging by its single door mirror (which lasted until 1997) – isn’t priced, so it has either been sold or is a customer’s car. Alongside it is an Austin Allegro Series 3 1.3L, which managed to survive until 1994 according to the DVLA. This one’s not priced up either – has it been traded for the nearly-new Maestro?
Next up is an interloper – an example of the delightful Audi 80 CD in short-lived fuel-injected 5E form – graces the forecourt. Again, it’s not priced up, which leads me to think it’s either a browser in for a look at the new Rover 216 Vitesse, MG Montego or more likely a Rover SD1. Either that or it’s already been traded in. Wonder what it was chopped-in for, and whether the owner ended up being happy with their choice.
Other lovelies to be spotted in the car park include an Austin Montego (below) behind the Audi, a Mini City alongside it a pair of Rover 200s – I think a 213S and 216SE – with the last of the grouping topped off by an Austin Montego Estate. Today, the building is a Tesco Express, but it did at least spend much of the the 1990s serving time as a used car dealership.
So, was this peak Austin Rover?