Matters of moment, April 1983

The motorists’ lot . . . 

At this time of the Budget blues and an approaching General Election, one thinks of the motorists’ lot, wondering whether it is any happier, if indeed as happy, as the old-time policeman’s lot was alleged to have been. In fact, it is all motor-vehicle users the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be thinking about sympathetically at this time, because an increase in the already savage taxation demanded from this vast section of the community increases the cost-of-living for everyone in the country, every man, woman or child, be they employed, unemployed or OAP, paying more.

Thus, although those who motor for pleasure would welcome a tax-reduction, both on their vehicles and on fuel (particularly those using historic vehicles for very brief periods, but being forced to tax them for a minimum of one month’s use of the roads) the issue has a far more vital bearing on the national economy. It was with this in mind that the Royal Automobile Club made its appeal to Sir Geoffrey Howe for some reduction in motor-taxation, appealing to the Government, in fact, to “Ease the Squeeze”. To this important end it sent out a petition for those who agreed, to sign and forward to their MPs.

Naturally, we did this, asking also for comments we could quote, only to receive the following very disappointing reply:

“From Tom Hooson, MP (Brecon and Radnor), House of Commons, London. Dear Mr. Boddy, I have received the RAC leaflet you sent me. It is based on an unrealistic assumption of ‘a pre-Election Tax Bonanza’. You will not expect me to comment on unrealistic material of this type. I cannot understand why the RAC spends my money and yours on such mailings. More of us should go to its AGM to end this sort of waste.”

It may be a brave man who takes on the influential RAC, as Tom Hooson is pleased to do, but his reply shows, very clearly, that he, representing the Conservative and Unionist Party, is indifferent to the way motor-vehicle users are taxed. It might have been expected that an MP thr a rural area, where private cars are essential for transport, not pleasure, purposes, might have shown at least a glimmer of interest in the RAC’s petition, even if he had to explain why no financial relief would be possible for this hard-done-by section of the community at this time. Instead, Mr. Hooson mounts an attack on the experienced RAC, although wide of the mark in assuming that it has wasted the Editor’s money, as W.B. is not an RAC member . . .

Having thus been informed that the RAC was basing its appeal on “an unrealistic assumption and was wasting its members’ money”, we put this point to the RAC. The RAC has replied that it based its appeal for lower vehicle taxation on the many suggestions made in the National Press that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was likely to have available £2,000,000,000 to £3,000,000,000 for the purpose of taxation reductions and that in such circumstances it was anxious that everything possible should be done to demonstrate that motorists expect to obtain a fair share of any tax reductions, and, moreover, that they would object strongly to any tax increases which could still be included in the Budget Statement if other tax reductions might be announced. Quite right and proper, in our opinion, and presumably so say all of you . . . Since then £1-million has apparently been lost due to the drop in the price of North-Sea oil, but plenty remains! That an MP, with an Election in the offing, can brush off vehicle-users’ interests so glibly, blunting the RAC for wasting a little of its vast resources in trying to put over the motorists’ viewpoint, suggests a most unfortunate lack of interest in this very important and considerable section of the voting public, on the part of the Conservative Party, assuming its representatives to speak for it.

Feeling that he had been taken for a ride over this MP’s response (although the only waste was a 12½p stamp!) the Editor asked the Conservative Research Department for its feelings about vehicle-users and taxation, but Smith Square exhibited equal disinterest, referring him back to Tom Hoosen!

All we could do after this was to wait and see what was in store for motorists in the Budget. There are usually disappointments relating to politicians’ promises and Howe offered the excuse of less to give his tax-payers because of the uncertainty of World oil-prices, just prior to his Budget.

Sir Geoffrey Howe’s give-away Budget, as expected, had nothing in it for motorists, the increase in car tax linking them with other luxury consumers instead of recognising motor vehicles as an essential part of the economy. Even more disappointing, in view of the Tory taxation manifesto, is yet another increase in petrol tax, and this at a time of rising fuel prices. Already before the budget over half of the cost of every gallon of petrol was taken as tax by the Chancellor. Pre-Budget on every 168p gallon of 4-star, the Government took 93p and petrol tax has risen steeply since 1960 when it was a mere 12½p a gallon.

The sixty-four thousand dollar question is could other political parties do better and would they care? The party which recognises how savagely 18 million motorists are being treated might well reap a votes bonanza, which we hope the present Government hasn’t forgotten.

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The next breakthrough?

When we mentioned future technical breakthroughs last February we placed anti-lock braking high on the list of what we hope will be seen as the next engineering priority. Better by far to keep control of a car than have protection from the consequences of not being able to control it! So it is encouraging that not only Mercedes-Benz, down to their smallest car, offer ABS anti-lock braking as an extra, but so do BMW, while Honda have a less-sophisticated anti-lock system of their own.

This seems a most important development, whereas the growing use of fuel-economy meters in the instrument panels of the higher performance cars does not, for surely those who buy such cars are aware of how to drive them economically, if they need to do so, but who will want to make use of the performance ability as well as the thrift of such cars? So that is one distracting complication we can do without — mercifully, we have yet to be talked to by a car with a “voice synthesis unit” . . . Incidentally, should this catch on, won’t women drivers want a manly male to give them their warnings, if conversely the men motorists are supposed to enjoy a silky, sexy female telling them how to drive? But enough of this new nightmare.

On the subject of fuel economy, the Editor was once foolish enough to crave in the pages of Motor Sport a 60 m.p.h. / 60 m.p.g. baby-car, as if many of our readers care. Anyway, this ideal has never, we think, quite been reached, whatever those absurd Government fuel consumption figures are sometimes quoted as meaning. However, some time ago Safer Motoring, the VW magazine, said that the 87 m.p.h. Volkswagen Polo Formel-E was the first car that had achieved over 50 m.p.g. throughout one of their road-tests, performance figures and all.

This seemed too good to be true and we asked VAG Ltd. to let us have a Polo Formel-E to test, so that we could see for ourselves. The Editor was unable to meet up with it, but A.H.’s comments appear on page 399. If VAG are as disappointed as we were at the below 50 m.p.g. petrol consumption we obtained, Motor Sportwill gladly try again, in the warmer weather and without taking performance figures, to see if it is then possible to approach this 50 m.p.g. target, without using freak driving methods. What say you, VAG?

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National Rally Sport Show 

Believed to be the first show aimed purely at the rally enthusiast, this event takes place over the week-end of June 18th 19th at the Thruxton Circuit, nr. Andover. As well as trade stands and a Rally Jumble, there will be the spectacle of rally cars in action, plus a Rally School with top drivers, and a skid-pan skills test for the public. Intending visitors or exhibitors can ring Paul Curtis, Ascot 22807, for details.

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British double duck 

Anyone restoring a pre-war car, or attempting to re-cover a more recent convertible, will be aware of the cost of suitable hood material, most of which is now imported. However, a British company has just re-introduced a high-quality hooding which they manufactured extensively before the war, but with all the benefits of modern technology. John Foster & Son, of Black Dyke Mills, Yorkshire (Yes, it is their band!) are the makers, and they also sponsor the lightweight E-Type and ex-works XK120 of one of their directors, John Foster, who will be racing both cars during the coming season.

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Slide car 

The head of an advanced driving school In America has come up with a neat method of providing skid training without using a slippery skid-pan. He has modified the rear suspension of a Saab 900 so that the back wheels swivel by up to 14 degrees. Thus the car accurately simulates a vehicle sliding on ice, while driving on dry tarmac.

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“Oh dear” department

On page 266 last month it was stated that Kitty Brunell, who drove Talbots in pre-war Monte Carlo Rallies, married Ken Hutchinson — actually, she married Ken Hutchison, as I well know, but the printers didn’t . . . Then, in the analysis of the Alfa 6, it was not made clear that the total mileage odometer, affected by reflections, appears to read one digit less than the actual figure. Thus, when I took over one of these Alfa Romeos I was told that it had done only 623 miles from brand-new and was disappointed to find that, in fact, its mileage was 6,236, which shows that the reading confuses others, besides myself. Also the tappet clearances were inadvertently quoted in inches instead of mm.

Then there was that ghastly caption-writing error, on page 272, in which it is suggested that the R-type MG which crashed at Brooklands hit the barrier and then caught fire, whereas, in fact, Doreen Evans, who was driving it, had to jump out when it caught fire, after which it rolled driverless across the course, luckily without any other competitor hitting it, to end up against the Finishing-straight barrier, the photograph having been taken after the fire had been put out. Miss Evans was not badly hurt.

Finally, apart from too many literals, we seem to have now dealt with last month’s clangers, although the BBC studios are in Portland Place, not Portman Place.