Automotive history

Supermarket car parks looked so much better in the 1980s

by Gavin Braithwaite-Smith
6 December 2022 2 min read
Supermarket car parks looked so much better in the 1980s
Photos: Sainsbury Archive

Look at the cars. Look how they shine for you. According to the magnificent Sainsbury Archive, this photo of the car park at Sainsbury’s in Crosby was taken in 1983, but the presence of a Daihatsu Charade Turbo registered in July 1986 would suggest that it was captured later.

As the Charade is the newest car in the photo, let’s assume it was taken in the summer of 1986. Even then, the Morris Marina was facing the final curtain, its body succumbing to the sea air on Merseyside. It died in August 1987, just a month short of its eighth birthday. They don’t make ‘em like wot they used to…

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Parked alongside the Marina is a Ford Escort Estate – a thinking person’s shooting brake. Lifestyle points come courtesy of the surfboard on the roof, but the condition of the door cards and headrests point to a dog that didn’t like being shut in the car when the owner was riding the crest of a wave.

Next to the Escort is the Charade, one of only two Japanese cars in the photo. Thanks to its 993cc three-cylinder engine, the Charade Turbo was the world’s smallest turbocharged car and could hit 60mph in around ten seconds. The owner paid around £5400 for the car, the equivalent of £14,750 in today’s money. We miss the days of cheap cars. We also miss the days of TURBO decals on the rear window.

You won’t be shocked to discover that the Charade Turbo lived on until 2001, when rust most likely took hold. More surprising is the fact that the Mk1 Vauxhall Astra outlived it by a month. 

Marina Escort Charade

Like the Marina, the Renault 20 wouldn’t live to see 1988, while the Triumph Acclaim and Mk2 Ford Escort made it into the new decade hanging on to their MoT certificates by a thread. Curiously, the Talbot Samba was last taxed in 1992 but changed hands in 2000. Is it still alive?

If not, it’s likely that every car in this Sainsbury Archive photo has checked out. Oil spill on aisle ten. Basket case reported at the exit. No cashback, sorry.

There is something fascinating about these snapshots in time. Photos taken of just another ordinary day at the supermarket. Chap driving away in his Ford Capri. Austin Allegro parked illegally by the emergency escape route. Vinyl roofs baking in the Crosby sunshine. Crooked parking captured for future generations – we’re looking at you, Renault 20, Charade Turbo, Triumph Acclaim and Renault 18 Turbo drivers.

Sainsbury Archive car park

It’s a sea of saloons, hatchbacks and estates. Front-wheel drive taking over from rear-drive. Not a crossover or SUV to be seen. When cars had proper aerials (two in the case of the Ford Granada taxi). Is that a National Breakdown sticker on the back of the R20?

It takes us back to a time when the Festival of the Unexceptional was being played out in car parks, high streets and petrol stations across the UK. Every one of these humdrum heroes and mainstream marvels would be welcome at FOTU 2023. What a shame they’re no longer with us.

Grab a photo of the supermarket car park when you’re doing your Christmas shopping. Although you might not be interested in the Nissan Qashqai and its ilk today, the car enthusiasts of tomorrow will be grateful for the nostalgia.

With thanks to the Sainsbury Archive for permission to use the photo.

Read more

11 forgotten hot hatchbacks of the ’80s
Take a tour of the world’s greatest car park
This Daihatsu Charade GTi is a forgotten RADwood-era hot hatch

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  • Ed Hosford says:

    Prior to the advent of the ” Chelsea Tractor” enough space to actually open the door to get out
    tis a pity Sainsbury ( and others ) have not increased width of parking space to allow for the new generation super width car.

    • James Mills says:

      Ed, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. A new Sainsbury’s, near me, has done exactly that and made all the bays wide enough to open the doors when parked between cars. Blissful!

  • Stephen+Pye says:

    What a great feature! interesting story about the Talbot Samba is it still out there? I have the same dilemma about my Opel Ascona last taxed 1992 but changed hands 2021.HBT 40S are you still out there?

  • Stephen+Pye says:

    The oldest car I can see looks to be a snow berry white Morris Minor between the mk2 Esort and the mk2 Fiesta.


    What, no a Harolds?

  • Anthony says:

    Nobody seems to have mentioned the blue Triumph. Is it a Dolamite. Surely worthy of a mention?!!

  • Mr robin france says:

    Triumph Dolomite also, and nice to see cars with colour and shape not like today’s vehicle’s all looking same shape and so big

  • Steve J Greene says:

    And only 2 Japanese / Asian cars. How times have changed…
    Great to see these old, everyday cars that I grew up with. It creates a warm feeling!

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