Matters Of Moment, April 1956

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64

The British Motor Industry

The prevailing predicament in which the British Motor Industry finds itself, on short-time and hedged with industrial disputes, is exceedingly serious. Only a year ago we were told that prosperity had returned to Britain; now we face inflation (which deflates alike Government and citizens) and a gloomy Budget. An unhealthy Motor Industry can cause national disaster, prefaced by a rock-bottom standard of living.

Some of the trouble the industry is facing has been due to a too-conservative policy on the part of its directors, who, anxious to pay rich dividends to share-holders, have buried their heads in the sand so as not to see the design trend of competitive foreign cars and, refusing to re-tool for fresh designs, are now stuck with obsolete vehicles which sell reluctantly abroad and now at home.

This, however, isn’t the whole story, and the workers, who are as essential to motor-car production as roads are to motor-car operation, should look themselves squarely in the eye. Shoddy work has become far too common in our great mass-production car plants. We have before us a letter from a reader whose father is Agent for a popular make of British car. He remarks that whenever a new vehicle comes in he is told to go over it, checking for loose nuts and bolts, before the happy customer arrives. He always finds many, and this, it seems, does not please him, especially as he is a mechanic earning less than half the amount in the fat pay-packets of the assemblers who should have done the job properly in the first place.

Other letters tell of shockingly poor workmanship in modern British cars, and, worse, of indifferent service. One famous example of the Big Five awaits a new door, following an accident, and looks like waiting indefinitely, because spare doors for this three-year-old car are unobtainable, the equivalent modern door, hopefully sent to the Agent from the factory, being riddled with holes because chromium-plated “gew-gaws” decorate the current model. Another car of the same make, sold to a customer in Karachi, damaged all its big-end bearings because of oil-starvation in 1,000 miles, and damage resulted to the crankshaft. A free new engine was refused, repairs took a long time, and letters of protest sent in desperation to a titled Director of the company were unanswered until eventually a small proportion of the repair costs was curtly forwarded (after four months’ haggling). A fortnight later the wipers, heater, dip-switch and fuel gauge gave trouble, the rear doors rubbed against the body and some of the chrome had gone rusty. This shouldn’t happen, particularly to long-established models.

Those are just a few complaints taken at random from Motor Sport’s heavy mail, which depressingly, these days, lists so many defects in popular British cars, defects traceable to shoddy work in assembly and inspection.

Before the workers in the British Motor Industry shout for bigger wage-packets and thereby threaten to bring starvation to the entire population of this tiny island, let them ponder on the magniflcent reputation they have built up by conscientious work in the past and let them resolve to continue to take a pride in themselves and their labour. Their past endeavours, which made Coventry and Birmingham, Oxford, Luton and Dagenham household words when and wherever craftsmanship was discussed, have brought them good living conditions. Their children do not starve and if they have many monthly bills to meet, that is but the fair penalty for enjoying houses, furniture, radio, T.V., motor cars and holidays on hire purchase. To work indifferently while crowing for ever higher wages will merely mean the ruination of one of our greatest and proudest industries, resulting in such a high cost of living in Britain that pay-packets, no matter how inflated, will fail to keep pace with inflation.

Compulsory Tests for Ten-Year-Old Cars

Vintage-car enthusiasts do not fear compulsory inspection and tests of their vehicles, which in any case the police already have power to conduct and which insurance companies often demand before issuing a cover note on old vehicles. But there is every reason to fear the compulsory tests of all cars over 10 years old which the revised Road Traffic Bill may make law. We hold no brief for rusty, ill-maintained vehicles of the 1931-1946 kind and we appreciate that no Government can institute tests of these while exempting pre-1930 motor cars. But tests and inspections at scientifically-conducted test-centres are one thing; compulsory tests of all pre-1947 cars by private garages are quite another matter.

Even a scrupulous garage, endowed overnight with the responsibility of officially certifying cars as roadworthy on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, might well feel compelled to strip a car pretty thoroughly and then insist on comprehensive repairs before signing a certificate of roadworthiness. What unscrupulous garages might do it is not difficult to imagine!

Yet the new Bill seeks to introduce compulsory checks by ordinary garages before licences are granted and, moreover, to make the already outrageously-taxed car owner pay for them himself. This will hit the used-car dealers a severe blow, because, at all events, as a suspicious public waits to assess the outcome of this latest anti-motoring bureaucratic gambit, few people will dare to buy any car built before 1947 unless it, and its accessories, are in exceptionally good condition, in case an over-conscientious/unscrupulous garage keeps it off the road searching for difficult-to-find spares or tyres.

The vintage-car owner will be amongst those unfairly treated, not because he usually has anything on his conscience about the safe condition of his car, but because, motoring mainly as it hobby, he will not he able to “lose” the inspection-fee in business expenses, while not many garages will understand what they are looking for in old vehicles or be prepared to do any small adjustments they deem necessary for any but exorbitant fees.

What the Government will be doing if it passes this Bill is to put the fate of your motoring in the hands of private members of the community not fitted to act in a capacity in which the Bill hopes to place them.

It is well known that vintage cars represent a better insurance risk than modern vehicles. It is exceedingly doubtful whether the Government can prove that structural failures of other cars account for sufficient accidents to justify this new measure (the figure is a mere 2.4 per cent. of all road accidents!). It would surely be enough for the mobile police to insist on prompt and definite checks, at proper Government inspection stations, of cars which, by appearance rather than age, look to be unroadworthy! To introduce compulsory checks of all cars more than ten years of age, refusing a licence until a certificate is granted, yet placing the decision in the hands of those whose livelihood and profit depends on car repairs, is as unsound as it is unscrupulous. This gambit to cover up our shockingly inadequate roads, if it is adopted, will seriously jeopardise the prosperity of the country, with cars languishing in garages while owners argue the toss about the hundreds of pounds to be spent in converting their recently-found “lethal weapon” into essential transport! Those a whose cars pass with a clean bill of health (probably by having good friends in the repair trade!) will protest at having to pay the certificate-fee on top of savage licence, compulsory insurance and petrol-tax duties. So, all in all, this latest bit of bureaucratic nonsense looks like having a significant effect on the occasion of the next General Election! Meanwhile, we hope to hear that the V.S.C.C. and V.C.C., as the most influential bodies representing the interests of old-car users, are about to fight — and fight hard. They will have the backing of a vast motoring community outside their own membership, and the blessing of the used-car trade. It may be, of course, that this is the thin end of the wedge to ban sales of all used cars so that the Industry will have an unimpeded means of selling its new products . . .

B.B.C. Listeners and Motor Sport

Motor sport came under discussion in the B.B.C. Light Programme’s “Any Questions?” feature on February 24th, when Recruit R. C. Wills, of the Royal Marine Training Centre at Lympstone, asked the team: “Every year more people are being killed in motor racing; does the team consider this form of sport as dangerous and foolish?” In reply most of the team, in one way or another, disparaged motor racing, although none thought it should be banned. However, obviously the Rt. Hon. Emanuel Shinwell, Labour M.P. for Basington, is not in any way opposed to motor racing and appreciates its prestige value, as his answer showed. Robert Henriques said “Motor racing is largely a commercial racket and the people involved are largely inspired purely by the motive of gain, and I don’t call them sportsmen at all.” John Connell obviously infinitely prefers mountaineering, remarking after an allusion too it, that “motor racing doesn’t seem to me a sport that enters that sort of high category, and a great deal of it is sensational, for the sheer sensation of seeing people tearing round very fast . . . a rather vile sensation at that.” Jack Longland agreed, adding: “I don’t think it’s a terribly good sport” and discounting any suggestion that it possesses prestige value.

After these answers, which question-master Freddy Grisewood thought “very good,” it was pleasing to find seven letters read in “Any Answers?” on March 1st, of which five corrected fully Henriques’, Connell’s and Longland’s unconcealed contempt of motor sport. We congratulate the writers — J. Campbell-Jones, of London, W.8; Peter Hull, of Oakington; Geoffrey West, of Harrow; John Stock, of Harlow; and G. P. Pearce, of Blandford Forum — on getting their well-balanced views read “on the air.” The two “antis” were M. Corrigall, of Edinburgh, who emphasised that even in the Monte Carlo Rally a pedestrian was killed (his letter, however, suffered from B.B.C. cuts), and Florence James, of Worthing, who said that “the more motorists who risk their lives on a speed track the fewer there will be on the Queen’s Highway killing harmless pedestrians” — a beautiful argument which had its origin in 1906, when Brooklands Motor Course was under construction!

Britain’s Speed Records

Let its give the old country a pat on the back. The other day Peter Twiss, flying a Fairey Delta II, established (subject to official confirmation) a new Air Speed Record of 1,132 m.p.h. Besides holding the Air Speed Record, Britain holds the Land Speed Record (the late John Cobb (Railton Mobil Special) — 394 m.p.h.) and the Water Speed Record (Donald Campbell (K7 hydroplane) 216 m.p.h.). Good show indeed! Our prestige in engineering circles cannot fail to soar. All we now need really to “show the flag” is a G.P.-winning team of British racing cars. Who knows?

Aston Martin Wins R.A.C. Rally

Jaguar and Morgan Runners-up. Miss Palfrey Wins Ladies’ Award

This year’s R.A.C. 6th International Rally (March 6th-l0th) proved a tough and worthwhile event, with tight time-schedules in the navigational exercises and a premium on high performances in the various special tests, the R.A.C. wisely making this primarily a Rally-of-the-Tests, using Goodwood, Silverstone, Prescott, Cadwell Park (where so many ran out of road!), Castle Combe, Brands Hatch and Matchams Park Stadium. The outright winner was L. O. Sims (Aston Martin DB2/4), with a loss of 29.2 marks. lan Appleyard’s Jaguar XK 140 coupe was second (50 marks lost) and Dr. J. T. Spare’s Morgan Plus Four was third (54.8 marks lost), sports-car successes not unexpected in view of the premium put on high performance by the tests.

Starting simultaneously from Hastings and Blackpool and finishing at Blackpool, the rally was run mainly in good but cold weather. “Goff” Imhof made a bold bid for honours with his stark Cadillac-Allard but retired with gearbox trouble. Ken Wharton’s Riley Pathfinder had transmission trouble at the finish, a team of Standard Tens was sitting pretty for the Team Prize, when one of them lost its sump drain plug, and J. C. Wallwork (Standard Ten) looked to have victory in his grasp when he made a fatal error in the Cadwell Park “dice,” losing many marks.

Joan Johns and her husband did outstandingly well to bring the team Austin A90 home in sixth place. Some 54 cars and 17 teams retired from this British rally! We observed every competitor through the Goodwood “garage” test — it was followed by a swirl round a pylon, the whole timed over three-quarters of a lap — and not a single driver touched a barrier. One or two, like Brinkman’s Ford Zephyr and Vard’s Mk. VII Jaguar, stalled their engines, and Hadden’s Rover nearly went the wrong side of the entrance and was very slow, while Sims, the winner, smoked a cigarette as he drove! It would be impossible to refer to all the excellent bits of driving, but most of the VWs seemed made for this sort or manoeuvre, the M.G. MGAs impressed, and amongst the especially skilful were Schluter in the D.K.W., Adams (Jaguar), Patten (Porsche), one of the few to exhibit rally damage. Wadham (Trimnph) in his shirt sleeves. Scott (Triumph), who employed real rally tactics. Quick’s Ford Consul and many, many more.

Results:

1st: L. O. Sims (Aston Martin).

2nd: I. Appleyard (Jaguar).

3rd: Dr. J. T. Spare (Morgan).

Ladies’ Prize: Miss A. Palfrey (Austin).

Team Prize: Johns/Burgess/Sears (Austins).

Normal Series Production Touring Cars:

Up to 1,000 c.c.: P. G. Cooper (Standard).

Up to 1,300 c.c.: J. D. O’Leary (Volkswagen).

Up to 2,000 c.c.: A. H. Senior (Austin).

Over 2,000 c.c.: W. D. Bleakley (Jaguar).

Grand Touring Series Production and Special Series Production Cars:

Up to 1,300 c.c.: J. C. Wallwork (Standard).

Up to 2,600 c.c.: L. O. Sims (Aston Martin).

Over 2,600 c.c.: I. Appleyard (Jaguar).

Series Production Sports Cars:

Up to 1,600 c.c.: A. F. Coakley (M.G.).

Over 1,600 c.c.: Dr. J. T. Spare (Morgan).

*

B.M.C. Prices Up

B.M.C. announce a general price increase for Austin cars. This lifts the total cost, inclusive of p.t., of the Austin A40 standard saloon to £755 17s. (heater £20 5s. extra), or £803 I7s. in de-luxe form; the A90 Westminster standard saloon to £901 7s.; the Austin-Healey 100 sports model to £1,210 7s.; and the A135 Princess I.w.b. saloon and limousine to £3,226 7s.

_

We are informed by the Bentley D.C. that the Roundabout Rally, scheduled for April 7th/8th, is cancelled due to lack of support. This year’s Andover Traction Engine Rally, which usually attracts many vintage-car enthusiasts as spectators will he held on May 12th.