Blog : Living in the past through a lens

Thanks to the joys of the Internet, you’re now all able to see the world as I see it. Yes, you see, the online world isn’t just a force for bad – and lots of negativity – there are great repositories of information, photos and nostalgia in general. The news that the Sainsbury Archive has uploaded literally thousands of images of Sainsbury’s car parks and petrol stations has filled me with unbridled joy.

If you’re not familiar with the Sainsbury Archive, take a moment to search through it, and maybe click on a couple of the links I’ve added below, because many of the images are pure gold. The image above is straight out of my childhood (and how I wish the world still looked today), while the one below is what greeted me every time I filled up one of my first cars back in 1987… Check out those fuel prices now and tell me that we have it better today and than we did back then.

The price of fuel in 1979 (when the top image was taken) was actually higher in real terms than it was in 1987, and it could be argued that we were in a golden era fo driving even if we didn’t know it at the time. Despite that, the 1970s picture is the one that’s the most interesting to look at today, clearly showing how distant the world was then to how it is now.

This was clearly taken in the summer of 1979, when we were in the throes of the Second Energy Crisis as a result of unrest in the Middle East. Fuel was in short supply (although not as bad as the end of 1973) and it was getting more expensive by the day. This image clearly depicts the queueing that ensued as people battled to get to the cheapest petrol in town – a cool 73p per gallon or 16.4p per litre in today’s terms.

The cars in the queue are interesting – the Marina and the Dolomite nearest to the camera were pretty typical of what people were driving back there, but look closer and there are some gems in there. The Fiat 128, Simca 1000 and Opel Commodore would have turned my head back then as a nine-year-old schoolboy just as much as they do now. If you’d like to see more of this, do as I did, and lose yourself in the archive – coming back to present day might be the only problem I can think of when following this course of action…

Enjoy – and, if you want more, let me know, and I’ll run some more of these Looking Back in Pictures-type posts!

Fuel in 1989

Search for yourself at:

Keith Adams

8 Comments

    • Petrol jumped to £ 1.20 a gallon by the end of 1979, a rise of 40% during the year. This was the year when America saw severe shortages of petrol in the spring and early summer,,with long queues for petrol and petrol rationing by filling stations. Britain did have a short spell of petrol shortages in May of that year, plus shortages caused by a tanker drivers strike in January, but this was tame compared with America. However, the price rises were severe and petrol prices didn’t stabllise until 1982, when they started to fall in real terms.

  1. Good article as usual, Keith. Whilst it is clear you are nostalgic for the late 1970s, and I don’t blame you for it, because we all look back on previous decades and connect them to our youth, I would politely disagree that we were dealing with any sort of golden era. The British car industry was gradually going to the dogs, petrol prices were high, and the cars themselves were mainly old technology struggling to meet increasing safety and emissions requirements imposed by government, as modern inventions such as electronic, computer-directed petrol injection, high energy ignition, etc, were still years away from either invention or becoming industry-wide. I would be inclined to say that the 1950s and ’60s, while they were not perfect, were a bit more memorable.

    • I think the golden era for motoring was the eighties, after the energy crisis faded in 1981 and petrol prices fell in real terms. It was still quite easy to park in built up areas, motorways were relatively quiet, and cars were becoming better to drive and more reliable. By the mid eighties, five speed transmissions were replacing four speeders, maklng driving more relaxed and economical, fuel injection was spreading into mainstream cars, making them far more powerful, and reliability and rust proofing were steadily improving. Also this was the decade when the British car industry started to recover and make some genuinely good cars.

  2. I wish there was one on here of Richmond Hill Garage in Whitehaven that had the old clock face petrol pumps well into the eighties and attendant service. It’s now a Spar mini mart.

  3. As an aside, I’m really surprised that Sainsbury had petrol stations as far back as 1979, as to me the growth of large “out of town” supermarkets with their own petrol station is more of an 80s and indeed 90s thing.

    • Sainsbury were the first supermarket that launched own brand petrol in 1974, followed shortly by Keymarkets – a small brand owned by Food production giant Fitch Lovell – they went on to become part of Gateway Supermarkets which were in the late 80s the country’s 3rd largest chain after Sainsbury and Tesco.

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