Matters of moment, April 1991


Accuracy is a vital element in motor racing and also desirable in everyday driving. In school days, avid enthusiasm for motor racing prevailing, we were thrilled to read of how Guinness “held so definite a course that the wheels of his Sunbeam would almost go over a coin laid in the road, each lap,” and of how Nuvolari’s Alfa Romeo cornered so close to a wall as to remove an advertising banner with a front-wheel hub-cap. In today’s Fl races similar accuracy is seen in close overtaking and late braking.

Accuracy is essential in the preparation of racing cars, and in the pits when four wheels have to be removed and replaced with fresh ones in a very few seconds. Accuracy is also of great importance in the historical context. Never before has so much interest been shown in this aspect of the motoring movement and much painstaking work is applied to researching it. Thus it is extremely important to ensure that history is not distorted. Museum exhibits must be of the utmost accuracy and the records kept on file correct, if this aim is to be achieved.

Research into the evolution of the motor car and its participation in races and other competitions will be distorted unless museum artifacts are properly labelled, and care is taken by motoring word-smiths (terrible expression!) not to commit errors. . . . Yet instances could be quoted of replicas presented as genuine cars, exaggerated claims appearing in auction catalogues, and false claims being made in advertisements. All to the detriment of historical accuracy.

In this respect, that great computerised Government department, the DVLC at Swansea, is far from blameless. When the information formerly contained in the old green Log Books was put on computer not only was a severe brake applied to motoring history but also a considerable inconvenience to car owners who had reason to want to know about, or to contact, earlier owners of their vehicles. Such information is lacking from the replacement V5 form, which lists only the current ‘keeper’ and these were originally the subject of much muddle and confusion. This has been exacerbated by the changing about of the numbers which the older vehicles are permitted to display. When at last the DVLC saw the error of its ways, it agreed that original Registration numbers could be restored to the appropriate vehicles if proof was provided by clubs and Registers involved with the make of vehicle concerned. Sadly, an inadequate list was drawn up and we are surprised and saddened to learn that the very organisations supposed to exist to foster enthusiasm for one-make activities frequently charge for linking up an historical vehicle with the DVLC’s requirements. The position may have improved some-what, but for chapter and verse, ask Arthur Freakes of the Hillman AC (3 Kingfisher Court, E Molseley, Surrey, KT8 9HL).

When it was decided that computers would be an improvement on the Log Books first issued soon after the end of the First World War (which in itself can cause confusion, because the date of a car being committed to a Log Book is sometimes mistaken for its date of first registration) there was alarm that irreplaceable records might be destroyed. We believe the NMM had hoped to retain the discarded Log Books but found transporting them too fraught — surely, however the HCVC would have enjoyed beating that one?

It isn’t clear where such records have been lodged — some with local councils, others at Swansea, it seems, and one hopes none have been lost. The fact is that research is hampered, if not obstructed, by the DVLC. Confirmation? In 1953 we wanted to establish the fate of a rather famous racing car. Quite simple. Quote its Reg No to the London CC where it had been registered and enclose a 1/- (5p) search fee with the request. Within a week we received the name and address of the last known owner and of the person who had surrendered the Log Book, stating that he had scrapped the car. All part of the Public Control Department of the LCC, under the Roads Act, 1920.

Much more recently we wanted to confirm the make of an old racing car for which we had a Reg No. We asked the DVLC, making it quite clear that the owner’s name was not required, only the car’s make, and offering a search fee. We were told we had no right to the information. We tried again giving proof that we were serious historians. No go!

To an autocratic Government department this may appear a trivial complaint. But while museums are encouraged, surely historical research should not be impeded by this lowering of standards? One just hopes it is not because invaluable documents have been destroyed. — WB