The Parliamentary Debate on the British Motor Industry
Motor Sport has drawn attention on frequent occasions for the need for entirely new British cars of up-to-date design and appearance, backed by a foolproof spares service throughout the world, in order that our Motor Industry can combat the growing menace of foreign competition and the workers in Coventry, Birmingham, Luton, Oxford and Dagenham continue in full employment.
Consequently, when, on February 22nd, a debate on the Motor Car Industry opened in the House of Commons, we were interested to hear what M.P.s, as distinct from Captains of Industry and their engineers, thought of our prospects of survival.
The day’s discussion, which lasted from 11.05 a.m. to 4 p.m., left a disturbing impression that the Government is far too complacent about the drop in British car exports, but it was a pleasant surprise from the point of view of the knowledge of Continental designs displayed by several members of the Opposition.
Opening the debate, Mr. James Johnson (Rugby) called upon H.M. Government to appoint an independent Commission to investigate present difficulties and future prospects in the Motor Industry, including the relevance thereto of credit, and hire-purchase restrictions, and purchase tax. He spoke of the disquiet of people in Coventry and Rugby, ranging from Lord Tedder of Standards down to the lowest-paid worker on the floor, about conditions in the Industry. “There is,” he said, “a feeling that manufacturers have been lazy, that they have had this lush market since 1945, have taken things too easily, and that, with the coming of the Germans, they are now getting keener competition.” He viewed with concern the opening of factories in Australia, by Austin’s and others, because this will mean more competition there and in China and Japan, “not by the VW or by the Fiat 600 and other Italian cars — the competition of which, incidentally, is hitting our own small cars very much — but by our own firms with English speaking workers inside a Dominion.” Referring to two visits to Africa, Mr, Johnson said he had heard some pungent comments on British design and sales service “in Kenya, Somaliland and even in Senegal — let alone in Sierra Leone. Obviously, if we omit Jaguar and Morris Minor, most of our other cars are having a tough time in competition with the VW and other, particularly American, cars. I go to Liberia — a dollar market — and find the first and the only two Humber cars so far imported there. And the last injury of all was to find our Ambassador himself, doyen of the Diplomatic Corps, flying the Union Jack on an American Chevrolet.” On the subject of after-sales service Mr. Johnson remarked: “I am told that the Germans did not put a single car into West Nigeria until they had, not an after-sales but an efficient pre-sales service. They had their service depots ready before they put a single VW on the quayside of Lagos harbour.” Thc case of skilled workers losing their £16-a-week jobs and “becoming porters at main-line stations at £10 or £12 a week,” was quoted. [Tips included ? — Ed.) Mr. Johnson quoted a warning issued by Harry Unwin, Secretary of the Coventry District Committee of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions, in which he pointed out that the two American-owned companies amongst our five big manufacturers are pursuing expansion programmes costing over £100-million and that if within a short time the Big Five became the Big Three — Ford, Vauxhall and B.M.C. — a real unemployment problem would arise in Coventry.
Miss Elaine Burton (Coventry, South) followed Mr. Johnson and painted a black picture of the prospects for the Industry. She stressed the importance of exports in relation to total output and paid warm tribute to Jaguar, whose exports “reached, and have maintained for some time, the very fine figure of 75 to 80 per cent. of total production.” She asked the Minister to explain how he suggests other firms should reach the excellent standard set by Jaguar. Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West) continued to underline the serious position of the Industry and wound up by drawing attention to what a very poor “shop window” Britain has at International House, New Orleans, where we share the fourth floor with West India and Porto Rico, while Germany and Italy possess the best accommodation on the first floor. Commenting on British cars overseas, he said: “The most uncomfortable ride I had in West Africa was in the back seat of a Jaguar. When one compares the Jaguar or the Rover on West African roads against the Opel Capitane there is no question which one will ride in.” [Yet the Opel does not have i.r.s.! — Ed.] Mr. Pannell then praised the VW, which caused Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle) to condemn it as “a very old-fashioned motor car, designed very long ago. [So long ago that it dispenses with rigid back axle, leaf springs, propeller shaft and even coolant! — Ed.] The steering is bad [But so light! — Ed.] and the back-seat accommodation is much more uncomfortable than the Jaguar. [Come to that, our pre-war Austin Seven wasn’t as comfortable as a P. I Rolls-Royce! — Ed.] It is hot and uncomfortable in summer “-here Hansard records an interruption! “In fact,” concluded Mr. Shepherd, “Anyone in this country who buys a VW rather than a Morris Minor qualifies for medical attention.” This apparently caused Mr. Pannell to suffer a pang of conscience, because he tempered his earlier praise with the splendid remark that “if anyone bought a VW to drive here he should have his head tested” but “the fact is we are not producing cars suitable for the American climate.”
Mr. Shepherd, in his turn, capitulated, praising the VW as “a robust machine which can be run 60,000 or 70,000 miles without overhaul and which has a “very good finish.” He thought the Morris Minor the finest all-round small car we have made since the war but “it is badly in need of being re-bodied now and looks antiquated.” That he is, to his eternal credit, an M.P. who appreciates just how out of date British cars are, was proved when he said: “The English manufacturers are today running round the Midlands in hordes testing out new suspensions. They ought to have been doing that a very long time ago, but because they had an excess of demand over supply and because it costs so much money to produce a new vehicle, they were content to continue with the old suspension. With their resources they should have developed new small cars, even if they could not put them into production. The development work ought to have been done years and years ago, and there is no excusing them on that account.” Good for Mr. Shepherd, who later made the following statement from which our readers should derive solid satisfaction: “The quesition of suspension is not merely one of preference: it is of vital importance in this battle for the Continental market. Continental drivers drive their cars very differently from the way we do. The Italians, the French and the Germans have different methods of driving from the British. Hon. Members may say that the Italians and the French are mad and the Germans are bad, but they drive their cars in the way they want to drive them, and if we are to sell cars, we must offer them cars which they can drive in that way. If a driver has all-wheel independent suspension he gets better adhesion on a bad surface and on a cobbled surface; there is a very much increased adhesion compared with the fixed suspension at the back which we use.” He also drew attention to the low status of chief designers and higher executives in this country, saying: “I take as an example the man who has designed the most successful engine in the years since the end of the war — the Jaguar engine. I doubt whether one person in 10,000 in this country knows his name. I assure you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that if he were a Continental his name would be blazoned from one end of the Continent to the other, and he would be known as a man of distinction.”
In this debate which, as Mr. Shepherd said, concerned a problem that “has gone beyond the trivialities of party politics,” it was pleasing to find M.P.s who had studied their subiect at first hand. For example, Mr. Donald Chapman (Northfield) had spent some days at the VW factory — “the four most instructive days of 1956 ” — and Mr. Maurice Edelman (Coventry North) had been at the Renault plant at Flins the week before the debate opened –“Having been driven along the auto-road at literally 90 m.p.h. I can agree with the Hon. Member for Cheadle who paid a tribute to the high quality of the French motor car and the brio of the French driver. None the less, the point is that the French have developed a first-class car. Having seen the factory at work I am obliged, with great regret, to record the fact that the standard of technical equipment at the disposal of the French today is considerably higher in quality and more modern in development than anything we possess in Coventry at least.” He was amazed to see the extent to which automation had been introduced, in a way which had the full acquiescence of the workers.
To these critical speeches Mr. F. J. Erroll, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, had no very convincing replies. He quoted the splendid showing of the British Industry after the war, failing to appreciate that the debate applied to the present and future, and not to past glories, courageous as these have been. Like a minority of Motor Sport readers he tried to bury his head in the sand so as not to see the progress made in Continental car design. The frequent references to VW, Renault and Fiat upset him — “I think some Hon. Members have gone too far in advertising the VW as freely as they have done. I wish they had advertised a few British models in this Chamber and not so excessively advertised the models of our Continental competitors. I am quite certain that the advertising manager of the VW organisation will be delighted at the amount of free publicity he has received in the House today,” to which Mr. Johnson replied: “Is the Hon. Gentleman objecting to the facts as they were stated or to the fact that people do make factual statements which are correct?”
This raises a point very close to our own hearts. Motor Sport, like these knowledgeable M.P.s, praises Continental cars to draw attention to the stern competition Britain is facing in the Motor Industry. To throw out taunts of “unpatriotic” and demand a halt in the criticism of out-of-date British designs is to lose ground we can ill afford to lose in the battle for export sales. In fact, in spite of Mr. Erroll’s censure, the excellence of British sports cars, the Jaguar in particular, and of British commercial vehicles and tractors was emphasised during the debate.
We are at our best in adversity and given a chance our designers and technicians will produce cars to beat the world. But it is ridiculous to underrate the competition we have to meet or to fail to face-up to the requirements of customers in countries to which we must export our cars. In this respect, no one could have put it more realistically and entertainingly than Mr. Shepherd, who continued to advocate all-round independent suspension in these words: “We cannot say to the Continental driver who wishes to drive within an ace of breaking his neck at almost every corner, ‘You should not drive in that way.’ We cannot say to him,’This is not the way to drive a motor car.’ The Continental driver does not want to be told the way to drive his motor car; he wants to buy a car in which he can go as near as possible to breaking his neck without actually breaking it. If he drives a British car on the bends and on the cobblestones as he would drive his own car, he faces certain death; and, naturally, therefore, he does not want to buy our motor cars.
“The motor car manufacturers are apt to pooh-pooh all these things, but I say to them that suspension and the adhesion which one gets from this all-wheel independent suspension is of vital importance to Continental markets, and we must produce that sort of motor car.”
If the Opposition gets its way and the Commission or Inquiry is formed we can only hope it will cure the ills of our Motor Industry, about which Lord Tedder has said: “Quite frankly, unless the Government are willing to find some immediate way of relieving the burdens so as to allow the Industry to maintain a reasonable level of production and sales, one can see no prospect whatever of maintaining exports, and every prospect of the whole Industry being involved at an early date in a dangerous crisis with all that implies for its labour force and shareholders.”
Tubeless Tyres are Safe
We are pleased to print the following sell-explanatory letter from R. T. Byford, Esq., Secretary of the Tyre Manufacturers Conference. The Tyre Manufacturers Conference Ltd. has fifteen of the world’s largest Tyre Manufacturers as its members and therefore this authoritative statement should still criticism, and encourage the waverer to make the change to the obviously progressive choice, the tubeless tyre.
I should like to refer to the letter from Mr. Antony Hyde-East which you published in the March issue of Motor Sport. He seems to be of the opinion that tubeless tyres are not as safe as the conventional tyre with tube and has now come to the conclusion that he thinks he would be very reluctant to use tubeless tyres.
Mr. Hyde-East refers to two cases where accidents have happened when a driver has taken a bend at fair speed and has been “shot off the road in consequence of deflation.” I have no details of the cases to which he refers but in the opinion of the Industry the conclusions drawn by Mr. Hyde-East are not supported by long experience over many years.
A sound and inflated tubeless tyre will not leave the rim as a result of fast cornering but if the car is already sliding out of control and hits a kerb or bank, or if it is on the point of overturning, a bead may be forced off the rim shoulder and the tyre deflate. The deflation is therefore the result of and not the cause of the accident. If the tyre is a conventional tyre with a tube then in similar circumstances the tube would normally blow under the bead and burst, again as a result of the accident and not as a cause of it.
The tubless tyre has called for no fundamental changes in steel wheel construction. Whether a tyre is tubeless or tubed, all rims should be properly cleaned before fitting tyres. If this is done it is not possible for any important deterioration of the taper rim shoulder, on which the bead is a wedge fit, to take place. The vertical flange does not provide the primary air seal and slight distortion due to kerbing should not affect air retention. It is, of course, necessary to ensure that the correct type of valve is fitted and is in good condition.
In conclusion may I add that the tubeless tyre was not launched without considerable experience. The principle goes back to the earliest days of the Industry and it was purposely withheld from production until rim contours, wheel construction and tyre developments suitable for tubeless application were sufficiently established to make this type of tyre as safe and advantageous a proposition not only for new cars but for older cars as well.
I am, Yours, etc., for Tyre Manufacturers’ Conference Ltd., R. T. Byford, Secretary.
[At about one o’clock one very dark and wet morning some six months ago, we were travelling along a very bumpy by-road in the Lake District in a Ford Zephyr fitted with tubeless tyres, when without warning one of the tyres suddenly deflated. Changing the wheel in almost liquid mud was bad enough, but when, back at Dagenham, the tyre was inflated and we were told that there was nothing wrong with it we felt a little disgruntled and distrustful of tubeless tyres, but Mr. Byford’s letter convinces us that ours was “the exception that proves the rule.” Was it? — W. J. T.]
Sprints at Brands Hatch (March 17th)
Sprint meetings are very much in evidence at the present time owing to limited fuel and difficulties in organisation. The B.R.S.C.C. carried on this theme with it short meeting at Brands Hatch on March 17th. This was one of the first real outings for 500 c.c. racing cars this season and over twenty took to the track in order to limber up a little.
Fastest time of the day was made by D. Boshier-Jones in his Cooper-J.A.P. 1,100 at 65.84 m.p.h.
Tony Marsh in his Cooper-Climax with GB plate up made best time in the up-to-1,100-c.c. open class and was just beaten by Sopwith in a similar car but with larger engine.– I. G.
Saloon Cars up to 1,100 c.c.: H. Chapman (Standard Ten) 48.84 m.p.h
Saloon Cars up to 1,500 c.c.: W. Muirhead (Ford) 49.71 m.p.h.
Saloon Cars up to 2,600 c.c.: J. MacAndrew Uren (Jaguar 2.4) 50.61 m.p.h.
Saloon Cars, Unlimited: J. Webb (Jensen 541) 52.15 m.p.h.
Open Cars up to 1,100 c.c.: A. E. Marsh (Cooper-Climax) 61.49 m.p.h.
Open Cars up to 1,500 c.c.: T. Sopwith (Cooper-Climax) 62.87 m.p.h.
Open Cars up to 2,600 c.c.: K. N. Rudd (A.C. Ace/Bristol) 58.73 m.p.h.
Racing Cars up to 500 c.c.: G. M. Jones (Cooper-Norton) 62.35 m.p.h.
Racing Cars up to 1,500 c.c.: D. Boshier-Jones (Cooper-J.A.P.) 65.84 m.p.h.
A novel spring-loaded doorstop has been introduced by Tudor Accessories, Ltd., Beaconsfield Road. Hayes. This is a very simple product in the form of a 6-in. tube with rubber foot spring-loaded to stay down and keep the door open or stay up in the folded position out of the way. It retails at 5s., and is available from leading accessory stores.
Johnon’s One-Step Car Polish
We found this polish a joy to use. Having washed the car to free it of grit we put a not-too-generous quantity of Johnson’s One-Step Car Polish all over a reasonable area of our D.K.W. We then started to rub, and it was then we experienced the joy for, without having to rub any harder than one would when using a liquid polish, we found that we had not only removed the stains and grease-film but had given our D.K.W. at fine bright finish and left a waxed surface which would protect it from the weather. Will it, after many such cleanings, destroy the lacquer or enamel? That we can’t say yet, but Johnson’s say “No,” and that is good enough for us. — J. W.