Blast from the Past: Thoresen Car Ferries, 1964

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.

8 thoughts on “Blast from the Past: Thoresen Car Ferries, 1964

  1. Happy memories. I worked on the ships for 3 years as hostess then Chief hostess in charge of duty free shops and information office. Met my husband there and eventually came to Canada in 1967.
    My sister also worked on the ships and eventually went to Norway where she married and still lives.

  2. My first job working in the Freight Office ? Pauline I do remember you .. we used to Board the ships on arrival to Clear them with Customs Authorities .. The Waterguard officers would come on board and take the declarations of contents and then seal the Bar .. the Duty Free Shops and the Bonded Store.. If we boarded on the early morning arrival we would get a free breakfast which we would eat with the Customs officer .. crew going ashore would have to get their ” Chitty” signed and stamped by the officer their “allowance was 1/3 bottle of spirit and 100 ? cigarettes .. there was always a queue.. We would let selected crew come into the office and use the telephone to all home ( always a queue at the Rec Phone Box ) .. the officers would call Norway and I went to Bitterne Park school with 4 Norwegian children of the officers who had houses on Townhill Park Estate in Southampton.. I still see Torne Bye now .. she marries and never went home . Good memories of a vibrant Port and the start of a long career in Shipping and the Logistics ..

  3. Hi I wonder if anyone remembers my mum Lyn Shore. She worked as a hostess I believe. I was conceived in July/August 1964 and I?m trying to trace my biological farther, I have a few different stories to go off, I believe my farther was either the captain, or there was a party with Norwegian sailers. Any information or names would be great. Thanks

  4. Nostalgic to look back on these ferries from Southampton. I was one of the 3 schoolgirls from the 3 ports who were lucky enough to help launch the Viking II and travel back from Norway on the newly commissioned Viking I. Does anyone have any photos / film footage of those events, or the arrival in Southampton in May 1964 ?

  5. Thoresen Car Ferries also provided the first year-round cross-Channel ro-ro service for lorries and trailers. I joined in 1964 as freight sales manager and it was inspiring to work for them. Happy days!

  6. l worked on Thoreson car ferry ships from Southampton in the late 60s and early 70,s when a university student great job ,paid well,t had a good time as a Helpman on board

  7. Gosh here goes. So many stories. I arrived in Portsmouth to a baptism of fire in 1986 at the then Thoresen Car Ferries with the task of dealing with problems arising from transfer of Free Enterprise V bonded stores. She was on loan from Townsend while the jumboisation of Vikings Valiant and Venturer proceeded in Bremerhaven
    I learned so much in such a short time. Ray Parkin ruled the waves and maintained the immense ‘hotel and catering’ standards across the fleet for which the Townsend Thoresen brand was famous for more than a decade.
    I would love to share stories with any of my contemporaries from that time – even including John Dicks – (JD was a mine of information and inspiration for me, more than he knew it).

  8. I travelled from Southampton to Cherbourg on either Friday 5th/Saturday 6th August 1966 @ 22:00 hours with my family. Mid Channel there was a storm with waves coming onto the top deck and the ferry dropped its anchor. I found it very exciting as a 14 year old. We arrived in Cherbourg @06:00 and waited for Customs to open. Our destination was Dinard, where I had a fabulous holiday, meeting a young Frenchman who became the love of my life. So I have very fond memories of Thoresen Car Ferries

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