Matters of moment, August 1956

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The Octane Race

The Octane Race which the leading Petroleum Companies are about to enter is of interest to those who run high-performance cars with high-compression engines.

Shell-Mex and BP Ltd were first off the mark with 100-octane pump petrol. Shell Super and BP Super Plus being sold from luly 14th, at from 4s 11d to 5s a gallon according to zone (and don’t forget 2s 6d of this goes to the Treasury !). 

Shell point out that the average compression-ratio of engines at the 1938 Motor Show was 6.24 to 1, whereas last October it was 7.1 to 1, with a 9 to 1 maximum. Opinions differ as to which engines 100-octane petrol caters for, but Shell seem to consider it desirable with a cr of 8 to 1 or over, assuming efficient breathing.

It is significant that the majority of today’s sports cars come into this category with some of our Climax-engined versions using 9.8 to 1. New British high-performance cars employing a cr of 8 to 1 or higher include 2.4 Jaguar, MG, MGA, Singer Hunter 75 and Sunbeam Rapier, so there should be some demand for 100-octane petrol.

However, the view that the time for 100-octane petrol is ripe is not shared by some of Shell’s rivals. Cleveland tell us that their Disco/, which costs 3d a gallon less than Shell Super, is rated at 98-octane and suits any car on the market. Fina state that 7.5 to 1 cr engines run happily on their 95-octane petrol at 4s 7d on a gallon. Power and Regent are not interested in high-octane petrol at present. The Vacuum Oil Company do not intend to market 100-octane fuel, preferring to assist economy motoring with Mobilgas Special at 4s 7d a gallon as their highest octane-rated petrol “Suitable for all save a negligible number of cars on the road.” National Benzole prefer to talk of anti-knock rather than octane rating, although they will be introducing Super National Benzol this month which will compete with 100-octane petrols and will cost the same. Esso explain that Esso Extra with an octane rating of 97/98, is suitable for a cr up to 8 to 1. But they are bringing out Golden Esso Extra 100-octane petrol. So the octane race is on and sports-car drivers can rejoice that their specific requirements are being met at roadside pumps.

Anarchy versus Industry

It is to be hoped that by the time this issue of Motor Sport is in your hands the strike of BMC workers will have been called off. But at the time of writing BMC are facing a complete stoppage. Who is to blame ?

Five years ago Motor Sport saw fit to criticise certain aspects of Austin cars. As regular readers are aware when Austins complained we went up to Birmingham intent on discussing technicalities and publishing any corrections which might, after discussion, be due. To our utter astonishment the Austin spokesman said quite probably their cars did suffer from the shortcomings we referred to, his purpose was not to discuss that, but to stop Motor Sport from ever again criticising Austin products. We naturally refused to be muzzled and the result was that BMC banned their cars to us for road test and thus lost valuable help and readership goodwill.

The Austin management must be blamed for turning a blind eye to design faults, for not planning more advanced cars for world markets, for allowing shoddy workmanship to go through and for not ensuring decent servicing and spare-part facilities for their cars here and abroad.

Short-sightedness and opinionated self-assurance on the part of the management have caused a fall in the demand for BMC products, but for the entire plant to be crippled by strike action, because less than one-eights of its workers have been declared redundant, is a situation which every honest British citizen finds intolerable, especially as BMC states it has operated short-time working for 7,000 of its employees from January to June, 1956, increased its labour forces by 16 per cent (compared with 12.4 per cent of now redundant employees) and has the remaining staff working a three or four day week. BMC claims that 75 per cent of the redundant employees have less than three years’ service, and each received £40 to £60 in wages.

It can be presumed that the 6,000 operatives that BMC have sacked were the least useful or the shortest-employed of their 49,000. In upholding their right to sack redundant workers BMC should have the support of the entire Motor Industry. A prolonged strike will undermine the possibility of the plant’s full recovery and until this great motor empire functions efficiently the prospect of this country’s economic survival will be in jeopardy. Let us pray, then, that the disgraceful interference by the Trade Unions will not cripple BMC, and that it will not be long before more up-to-date cars will be made and easily serviced the world over, publicised less casually, emanate from the Birmingham and Oxford factories. (Austin employees are said to have been incensed when BBC TV engineers arrived at their factory in VW Microbusses, the better to compete than condemn. surely !).

On a healthy Motor Industry depends the economic survival of the British people, While condeming Sir Leonard Lord and George Harriman for lack of foresight coupled with a misplaced cocksureness in their leadership of the Austin Company, let us congratulate them on their stand against this foretaste of anarchy. 

As we close for press the BBC has announced that a large proportion of the workers have ignored the call to strike and are at work. 100 percent in the case of the MG factory, but that the Trade Unions are attempting to improve their position by calling on dockers to refuse to handle BMC consignments, ferry drivers to stop running the workers’ buses, and similar outside attacks.

We cannot believe that serious-minded leaders could possibly contemplate such action, and feel confident that if such action is taken the other motor manufacturers, in particular Ford. Standard, Rootes and Vauxhall will take immediate steps to assist BMC.

The action of the Trade Unions has caused sympathy by to pass from the redundent workers to the BMC, against whom claims for compensation are being made, which can only be gained from the Government by Act of Parliament.

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