Matters of Moment, April 1984

BL bouncing back

IT SEEMS a very short time ago since British Leyland was constantly in the news for all the wrong reasons. Strikes, tea break disputes, moles and poor workmanship all had their inordinate share of the news columns, and not many people believed that Sir Michael Edwardes and the team he assembled stood any real chance of sorting out the chaos.

Yet out of this mess has come order. A slimmed down, highly productive workforce now produces Austins, Morrises, Rovers, Jaguars and Triumphs that are much in demand (though the days of the Triumph name seem to be numbered), and the Austin Rover Group is now poised to launch its new medium sector car, the LM11, to challenge the Cavalier and the Sierra. Profits are being made in the car divisions, and a sure sign of renewed confidence is the major programme of motor racing planned for this year.

Today, April 1st, is no April Fool’s day for Jaguar and Rover. At Monza two-car teams operated by Tom Walkinshaw will set out to challenge the almost traditional superiority of the BMWs, which with six wins only narrowly beat the five successes of Jaguar XJS entries last year. The Tourist Trophy at Silverstone showed that the Rovers are very competitive too, and race wins with production-based cars in continental Europe will enhance the image of Coventry’s products in a way that no advertising campaign, in isolation, could do.

Four or five Jaguars and Rovers in the European Touring Car Championship is not all. Rovers are being prepared for top drivers in the German, French and Belgian national production car championships, a fully international MG Metro Challenge has been devised, and on the rally front a TWR prepared Rover will appear in selected events this year, while the Metro 6R4 undergoes tests in the prototype category. And in America, the Group 44 Jaguars appear as winners or close runners-up in the IMSA series, and may yet race at Le Mans. It is inconceivable that a programme such as this, the biggest ever put together by Austin Rover and Jaguar, could have been contemplated three or four years ago, and it signals a new vigour in all that remains of the major British owned motor industry. Win or lose, the two main arms of British Leyland’s car division are going to put across a powerful message this year, andwe wish them every possible success. — M.L.C.

As Expected • • •

COMPULSORY belting-up has been in force long enough for, as we predicted, statistics to be bandied about to show a saving of life and limb thereby — but figures can be made to prove what their presenters want to prove. This is undoubtedly the commencement of a campaign to introduce compulsory back-seat harness and to up the cost of car ownership by more strict checking of seat belts at each MoT test.

However, a number of MPs have not been hood-winked. In the House of Lords, while approval of the wearing of seat belts was generally expressed, Lord Kilmany asked whether the statistics included any estimate at all of the number of people whose lives might have been saved by being thrown out of their vehicles instead of being trapped in them by their seat belts. If only a guess, he felt he was entitled to ask the question to get a proper balance. In reply, Lord Lucas of Chilworth said no reliable figures are available but the Government is to report towards the end of the three-year seat belt experiment and that “the monitoring currently in force will take what account it can of the matter Lord Kilmany had raised.” Lord Allen of Abbeydale asked if there were any statistics about deaths to pedestrians, which might show whether or not belting up had made drivers over confident. He was dissuaded from this view by Lord Lucas, although no figures are available — except that we know that total road accidents have increased in this period, and Lord Monson quoted a Times’ article that claimed that more pedestrians and cyclists have been killed by cars since seat belt wearing became compulsory. Lord Nugent of Guildford spoke of a racing driver who 20 years ago would have thought it safer not to use safety belts but who now would not dream of not using
full harness, but other speakers countered the anxiety about occupants being trapped in vehicles by seat belts with the suggestion that proper quick-release gear be insisted upon. But this would convene an EEC directive, suggested the Minister, to which Lord Paget of Northampton replied: “Could there possibly be a worse reason?”. . . .

In spite of the bureaucratic rejoicing over the apparent improvement in the accident situation since the belting-up compulsion, speed is still regarded as the prime cause of road disasters, with no real evidence to endorse this. Fines for speeding are reaching savage heights, with the prospect of a maximum speeding fine of £400 in future. As it is, there was the solicitor who could not resist opening up his new Porsche for a few minutes on the M5, to what was said to have been 121 mph. He was fined £200 and banned for five weeks. A hard penalty for a burst of speed on this safe road, one might think? Another driver, troubled by the possibility of violence when the car behind him on the same Motorway continually flashed its lights, accelerated to 114 mph to get clear. The flasher was driving an unmarked Police car. This earned the alarmed motorist a £120 fine and a 14-day ban. Yet other crimes, car offences involving accidents, stealing, and driving under the influence of alcohol, are often far more leniently dealt with, as study of almost any local newspaper will confirm.

The relationship between the Police and Vehicle-Owners seems to be regressing, more’s the pity. . . — W.B.