1964 saw the arrival on the Western English Channel of the Viking I and Viking II of newcomer Thoresen Car Ferries. British Railways had closed their loss-making services in advance, confident that money simply couldn’t be made out of these operations. Thoresen very quickly showed them how it could be done and a third passenger ship, the Viking III, followed in 1965.
To illustrate just how different the Viking I and II were, consider that they were delivered in between British Rail’s almost embarrasingly conservative Avalon (1963) and the Dover/Holyhead Ferry I (1965). What must have passengers made of these amazing, thoroughly modern ships?
Equally impressive and modern ferries would follow from other operators and, latterly British Rail themselves. Yet the Vikings stood out for more than just their orange hulls. Styled by Tage Wandborg at KEH, these were utterly gorgeous little ships with modern, Scandinavian interiors and, on a practical level, completely clutter-free, drive-through vehicle decks.
The three original Vikings proved successful beyond just their initial careers – each lived to see their 40th birthday with the premier ship, ranking alongside the likes of the Forde, Free Enterprise and Princess Victoria (I) as one of Britain’s most significant car ferries, being the first to be scrapped in 2008. This post however celebrates the halcyon initial days of Thoresen when they were the newcomer and swept all before them in a wave of style and modernity. The sad evolution to ‘establishment operator’ and the services’ ultimate demise under P&O in the early 21st century was not a pretty sight – P&O clearly hadn’t learnt the lessons of innovation and investment taught by Otto Thoresen himself at the outset.
Show below is a Thoresen Car Ferries brochure from that very first season, printed before the ships were even delivered.