Brave new world?

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Sir,

After reading about the new Jaguar E-type, I tried to summarise my feelings, but the best phrase that I could come up with was “worshipful despair” – a most uncommon confusion of senses shared only, perhaps, by Mrs. Andy Capp when considering her magnificent spouse.

The choice of sex may be significant because I rate as one of the trousered Aunties to whom you refer in your April editorial. I think that 160 m.p.h. is for the birds – or aeroplanes, anyway! It is, in fact, just twice the cruising speed of an Auster light aircraft.

The Jag. looks to be a beautiful piece of work. That chunky rear suspension unit illustrated in your article would merit first prize in any display of modern sculpture with some such fancy title as “The Dynamic Ultimate.” But 160 miles per hour… ! !

Where, mate, are we going … and why?

Admitting that Mr. Marples’ Highway Code is as profound and authoritative as any of Miss Blyton’s “Noddy and Big-Ears” sagas, that braking chart on the back cover still indicates that the minimum stopping distance, including reaction time, for a vehicle travelling at 160 m.p.h. is 480 yards – or just over a quarter of a mile!

A recent Science Fiction classic iffed-up a world depleted of mankind through atomic war wherein dogs had been trained to speak and to crew the aircraft and submarines. Accepting the thesis – and kicking it around a little – I could resign myself to riding in a motor vehicle at this speed if chauffuered by a lion or tiger. Their reflexes are attuned to cope with a 50-60 m.p.h. collision speed when pulling down their prey and should be second to none. Even domestic cat-lovers like myself (another Auntie attribute) may have noticed their pets, when startled, delivering a paw movement as an indistinguishable blur. By comparison, homo sapiens rates pretty low in the scale, with reflexes conditioned to cope with the maximum speed of the genus – about 10-15 m.p.h.

We are quite puny creatures, still saddled with vestiges of claw and tail, and destined to be perpetually dwarfed by our own creations. Perhaps the next logical step is for Mother Nature to accelerate the human species into the new environment with a nuclear war – thus producing such perverse mutations of animal, vegetable and mineral as to cope with any force or condition. Three heads might be useful on the E-type! One head to dispense with a rear-view mirror, and another composed wholly of foam rubber to absorb impact.

Frankly, though, I like people the way they are and if this letter is to be considered as anything other than waffle, it should be taken as a plea to motor manufacturers to relate their product to the margin of error displayed by a tired and distracted human rather than a superman.

If I may digress to the world of aviation, the same stricture is applicable. Hands up all those who want to fly at 2,000 m.p.h. in a stainless steel-cum-porcelain aeroplane built to withstand the thermal thicket. I contend that if you can build an aircraft capable of cruising at 300 m.p.h. with a speed at landing and take-off of 10 (repeat ten) m.p.h., the airline passengers of the world will beat a path to your door. For myself, I am even less ambitious, and think nostalgically of the old airships and how comfortably safe they could be made with helium and modern turbo-jets. It is on the airship that one can visualise a real Captain in control. A bearded, comfortably paunched, authoritarian figure who rocks placidly with legs astride, hands clasped behind his back and issues, through a subordinate chain, such commands as: “We will execute a five-degree turn to starboard, Mr. Christian.”

Compare him with the frenetic young captain of any jet-transport juggling nervously with his controls on final approach and halving, with tongue enwrapped in cheek, the tolerance of his air-speed. Drop below 110 m.p.h. and he’ll fall out of the sky. Increase above 130 and he’ll tear his flaps off. If this bod wears a beard, it is an affectation, and he has a pile of Cliff Richard’s discs in his crew-locker to prove it.

I was four years old when the R101 cruised over the school playground like an ocean liner in the sky. It was an epic and memorable sight – since slightly tarnished by Nevile Shute’s revelations of awry planning in the marque. (Furniture and fittings made of wasted aluminium to save weight – and large potted plants in tubs containing real earth! Pure Goon Show.) From a distance of years, one gains the impression that the government A.I.D. was too closely identified with the project for its own good – but this is over-simplification. The same might be said of the Comet protect, except that when a designer is breaking entirely new ground in research, who is qualified to apply safety regulations? By natural law, the top brains are employed in creating – not in inhibiting the creations of others.

Finally, a point in your April correspondence concerning shoddy irispection and implying that a manufacturer’s products are only as good as his individual inspectors allow them to be. This supports a theory beloved by the super-tax Classes and is as realistic as Mrs. Dale’s diary. (“The peasants won’t work. Master Bob “) Pardon my vomit. More than three-quarters of the inspectors in the motor trade are semi-skilled and have little more status than labourers. The employers like it that way. From their view, what is the point in training a man in every aspect of motor engineering when he may spend half of his working life examining one piece of trim? Of course, after half a lifetime, he will get to know that piece of trim quite well, but should he establish his own standards of perfection and act “bolshie,” as it were, he is liable to be transferred to another section at small notice, and the transfer decision can be made at foreman level.

As well as a production line, Henry Ford I initiated a whole new philosophy in production engineering. He had an impersonal loathing for skilled specialists because their absence through sickness or cussedness could hold up production, so he built machines to eliminate them. What blame can rest on the human element in a dehumanised industry?

Incidentally, in case I seem to be panning the modern Ford, the company at Dagenham is one of the very few in this country which allows its adult workers time off with pay for vocational schooling. Pure altruism? I don’t know. The motor industry, like the U.S. Navy according to Hermann Wouk, is a system designed by geniuses for morons. I suppose Ford’s have to recruit their genius from somewhere. As a shop-floor peasant working for an aircraft sub-contractor, I come under the scrutiny or some pretty solid inspection We have an A.I.D. man in residence. and his disapproval can – literally – put the firm out of business. He goes berserk, occasionally, rather like the Red Queen – only shouting “Scrap the job!” rather than “Off with his head!” Everybody laughs at his jokes, and, if necessary, no doubt, tender shorthand-type maidens can be sacrificed to him at intervals. A veritable ogre, but a very necessary one in aviation engineering. With aircraft-type performance, like that of the Jaguar E-type, the motor industry may need ogres of similar quality.

I am. Yours, etc.,

Hutton. – D. F. Bowden