I’m a sucker for nostalgia; I guess many of you are too. It’s the reason that I buy cars from the time I was growing up instead of considering any of the newer, objectively better metal. For that reason when the below video popped up in my YouTube recommended page (YouTube clearly knows how much of a tedious car bore I am) I was brimmed with excitement and ready to don the rose-tinted glasses.
Filmed in London just before the turn of the century, the video shows a car running errands around the heart of London with a camera mounted to the dash. There are no iPhones and e-scooters. What it allows for best, however, is an incredible glimpse into the cars that were on the roads in the late ‘90s; and what a stunning glimpse it is. No ULEZ phasing out older cars. No Ubers every few seconds. And no dull homogenised crossover shape making every single car look the same.
None of it is the most precious of metal, but it’s amazing to see the variety of cars being used everyday that nowadays we’d consider to be something special to see on the roads. It’ll also remind you of cars that you just don’t see any more.
So on my lunch break yesterday I had a quick skim through the video for some notable spots. Maybe just skip past the first couple of minutes unless you’re desperately keen on the rear end of a Nissan Bluebird.
6:56 - An ad for the then-new Peugeot 206, which looks light years ahead of the other cars on the road. In the UK at least, the 206 had a massive marketing campaign, with the famous elephant advert among other cunning promos. The result was one on every square inch of UK roads by the mid-noughties.
7:12 - A Mitsubishi FTO actually being driven! You hardly ever see FTOs on the road, and that’s partly because most of them are abandoned in people’s gardens and driveways, slowly rotting. When you do see them on the road, they’re a punchline more than anything. Not in the late ‘90s however; Mitsubishi’s smaller ‘90s coupe was in its prime competing against other FWD coupes like the Mazda MX-6, Toyota Celica and Ford Probe. When compared to those cars, I think I’d be like this Londoner in question and take the little red FTO too.
14:13 - I picked out the Audi 100/200 wagon simply because I have a massive soft spot for them. Every week without fail I scour the classifieds looking for a 100/200 Quattro wagon, usually to no avail. Yet here one is, just plodding around London doing daily wagon duties. Bliss.
15:09 - Before London was filled with a fleet of vacationing Bugattis and more Aventadors per square mile than Sant’Agata, the only top of the food chain cars driving around London were yuppies showing off their newest spoils, and I’d like to think this Porsche 928 was likely part of that exhibition of wealth. It’s a late car because of the chunkier bumpers, and with production ending in 1995, this Porsche was at least a few years old at the time; but yet it catches your eye with how aggressive it looks compared to general traffic
18:09 - Again, a car I’m pulling up simply for my affinity towards them. An M-Sport kitted E36 coupe. Not quite as upwardly mobile as our 928 friend, but still an air of young money about it, especially with the M-Sport kit fitted.
24:49 - I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t instantly recognise this car and it took quite a few playbacks to get what I was looking at. At first I had thought Datsun 280ZX, but I believe it’s a Toyota Supra, due to the metal quarter glass partition that I know was an option on the UK cars. If I’m wrong, feel free to teach me something new in the comments!
31:18 - An E30 saloon followed closely by a Mercedes C126. Again, not the most groundbreaking pairing of cars, but when looked at with 2022 vision, that scene would most likely be two dull uninteresting crossovers or Prius Ubers. The E30 and C126 were loved back in the day, but I guarantee these two owners sitting in London traffic would never expect how much their cars would one day be coveted.
37:49 - The C5 Audi A6 here took me by complete surprise. As the car in front pulls out, the A6 is revealed and looks unlike anything else on the road. In my head I thought it must have been months old for it to look that fresh compared to the other traffic, but the C5 started in 1997! For a car that I don’t give a second thought to nowadays, it must have seemed like an absolute game changer in 1997.
38:25 - A decidedly more down to earth Mk1 Fiesta. A model that would end up becoming the backbone of the UK roads, there’s something quite special about seeing this particular Mk1 that I can’t quite put my finger on.
38:31 - A pre facelift E38 7 Series squeezing itself into a parking space. Something that you’d usually consider old money these days, but what about in the ‘90s? I’m thinking senior manager of the local bank branch.
38:59 - A Horizon Blue Porsche 964 up ahead parked up across the junction. The 964 has had an interesting life in the UK market. It would have originally been bought by wealthy professionals who kept them on London streets like this for years, with many being sold at the complete bottom of the market in the mid to late 2000s. Then as the air-cooled renaissance hit, every single one went to the moon; tiptronics and convertibles alike. For a moment I wondered where this exact car might be today; probably sitting in a specialist dealer’s pretty showroom, up for sale for nearly the same price it cost the first owner in the early ‘90s.
43:19 - The bottom rung of the yuppie ladder, private ‘MAZ’ plate and all. Fitted with a very period correct set of Ronal or Borbet wheels. These were dealer options, if I recall. A quick search shows that this particular plate is now on a 2001 Mk2 MX-5. The MX-5 may have been upgraded for a newer model, so it’s likely that this black Mk1 is a long-gone cube of rusty metal.
44:16 - A TVR Chimaera, parked on a shady London street. Another car I have a massive soft spot for; as my mum owned a purple Chimaera when I was growing up. Yes, we parked it on the London streets when we’d drive in and visit, as you should.
48:39 - This is possibly my favourite moment from the whole video. A moment captured in time. Although the term yuppie mostly applied to the ‘80s, here’s your image of late ‘90s London wealth. A trendy twenty something, leaning into the door of his brand new Porsche Boxster. The UK received the Boxster in 1998, but demand was so fierce that there was a waiting list years long. Whoever this guy is, I bet you he felt damn good driving around London in the hottest vehicular commodity at the time.
53:04 - A double spot that you’d be hard pressed to see naturally occurring these days. A Ford Probe followed shortly by an Impreza wagon. What’s interesting is that the Impreza doesn’t seem to have a bonnet scoop, meaning it’s likely a rare base model UK car, not the far more common UK Turbo 2000 car, or an imported WRX of the time.
59:26 - We end with the venerable W140 S-Class. A car that I idolised when growing up. If you owned or drove a W140, you were probably important, and probably someone you wouldn’t cut off in traffic. Yet in 2022 London the S-Class’ class feels lost. At most it’s an illusion of luxury that you tick on a ride-hailing app.
There you have it, a brief glimpse into the cars of late ‘90s London. I’m sure there are tonnes of cars that I’ve missed so let us know your favourite spot in the comments.