Matters of Moment, August 1969

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• See How They Sell

Man, we are told, apart from needing somewhere to live, rates his motor car as his most important possession and sometimes likes it better than a wife. Certainly those who have driven a variety of different cars know that in matters such as character, perversity, beauty, desirability, the ability to infuriate, and sheer fascination, apart from satisfying performance, cars need scarcely regard girls as serious rivals.

All over the globe motor-cars are in avid demand. They are turned out in such astronomical numbers that it is difficult to visualise where they all go to. As a commercial gambit the motor vehicle holds out promise of stupendous financial gains, especially since Henry Ford the First invented mass-production of these relatively-complicated products. Thus how to sell cars is a matter of paramount industrial importance. If the reasons which culminate in a sale were assessable, the Industry would have the key to untold gold. As it is, no-one can be sure what moves the pen to the cheque. Bright advertising, a good Press, competition victories, good handling qualities, shapely styling or the colour of the thing appealing to the little woman who is in competition with it; it could be any of these or even just the outcome of motor topics talked everywhere, from pub bar to women’s institute.

The fact remains that cars are built to be sold. Some sell in minute numbers and are proudly proclaimed as status symbols or an indulgence of the Very Rich. Others sell in unbelievable floods and are regarded enviously as the automotive success of their era. Those in-between sell in quantities which their makers hope will be sufficient to keep them going and which enable them to hint at the snobbery of those who invest in small-output makes while pointing out that their vehicles are superior to those turned out like the legendary hot cakes.

The end-products add up to the World’s Motor Industry. Once upon a time individual manufacturers were often reluctant to disclose production figures. We were asked to publish percentage figures only for different models or were not given any figures at all. This cloak-and-dagger approach has since changed, however.

We are reminded of this by a fascinating publication called “New Registrations of New Motor Vehicles”. It is a very expensive luxury, for it costs £40 as a soft-cover 22 page booklet. We should probably never have seen it had we not received a free copy as members of the S.M.M.T., for it is issued by the Statistical Department of The Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders Ltd., 21/24, Grosvenor Place, London, S.W.1. Expensive as this sale-breakdown of cars sold in Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man is, the S.M.M.T. generously says the contents may be reproduced if acknowledgement is made to them, so, without blowing the whole gaff, we can deduce some significant items therefrom.

In the first place, sales of new cars, excluding Home Delivery Scheme Vehicles (which, although a mere drop in a big bucket, are worrying enough to those with falling home sales), totalled 1,098,887 in 1965, 1,047,532 in 1966, rose to 1,110,266 in 1967, and were maintained at 1,103,862 last year. Alas, there is no cause for complacency, because in the first three months of this year only 242,206 new British cars were sold, against 362,172 for the same period in 1968. (The picture is much the same for imported cars, at 266,197 against 391,862.) This is a serious matter, which the Government will have difficulty in shrugging off.

The fun of the thing comes in comparing the sales-success or otherwise of rival makes and models. For the years of 1965, 1966, 1967 and 1968 the Big Four ran in the order, British Leyland and Ford, first and second, but Vauxhall overtaking Rootes by a narrow margin during the two latter years. The 1968 figures are informative. For instance, B.M.C. 1100/1300 models sold 65,000 more than the Mini range. B.M.C. sports-car sales fell from 10.2 in 1965 to 8.3 (expressed, as are all figures hereafter, in thousands) in 1968, but it is interesting that M.G.-Bs and M.G.-Cs sold more than twice as well as Midgets and Sprites. British sports-car home sales fell by 1.2-thousand in 1968 against those of 1965, but in this earlier period the small B.M.C. sports cars were in considerably greater demand than the bigger M.G.s; this is counting open sports cars from B.M.C., S.-T. and Rootes only, the 1968 sales of which were a mere 15.9; compare with 137.8 Ford Cortinas, for instance, and you will appreciate that Motor Sport has been sensible in not confining itself to sports cars! The sales of the Jaguar E-type fell from 1.3 to 0.8 over the four years and Jaguar/Daimler saloons also became less popular-12.2 in 1965, 11.7 by 1968. On the other hand, the Rover 2000, aided by the Three Thousand Five,* increased home sales for these models from 14.4 in 1965 to 22.5 last year. In comparison, the six-cylinder Triumph 2000/2500 has less impressive respective figures, of 13.0 and 15.6.
*The S.M.M.T. lists the Rover 3500 and 3½-litre for 1965 and ’66 but the former wasn’t announced until early 1968, the latter not until October 1967.—Ed.

Ford must be very pleased with 98.2 Escort and 137.8 Cortina sales last year, Whereas the Hillman Hunter sold only 11.1, the Vauxhall Victor 34.7. On the other hand, Leyland shifted 151.1 100/1300 saloons to Ford’s 112.1 Escorts plus Anglias in 1968, although the Anglia was, of course, on the way down. The Vauxhall Viva made 101.0. Lumping every permutation of Imp together, including those called Singer and Sunbeams, gives 32.2, so the Mini must be smiling a shy Sir Issigonis smile, with 86.1.

There are some surprises, such as the recovery in sale’s by the big Rovers, from 4.6 in 1965, down to 2.2 in 1967, but up to 4.2 by last year, no doubt helped by the light-alloy V8 engine. But the biggest Fords have slumped badly, from 43.2 to 19.9 over the four-year period, nor has Vauxhall’s big-model policy paid off, its much lower sales, 9.9 in 1965, falling to 9.2 last year, with the Ventora included.

Unfortunately, makes other than the Big Four are lumped together, but have a sales-total of only 5.9. They are happier than they were four years ago (3.7). The least salesworthy model of the Big Four over the 1968 twelvemonth was the Ford Capri, with literally 39 cars sold (figures in thousands do not apply here, or hereafter), but it was a newcomer and the long-established Humber Hawk sold only 40 cars. Such figures are fun, or the despair of great companies, depending on the viewpoint. Another S.M.M.T. £40 publication, covering British new-car registrations for the first three months of last year against the first three months of 1969, shows the Fiat 600 to be only four up on the two-cylinder Honda N600 for Jan.-March 1969 sales, so air-cooling still has its advocates! The excellent little Fiat 500, which we regard as the World’s best economy car, sold 655, the Fiat 600 only 259, however. Against which, the Honda N360 hardly justified importing (62 sold). The Fiat 850 was surpassed salewise by the newer Tipo 124, and there is a shock for exponents of the watch-like high-revving twin-cam sports car, for only 37 Honda S800s left their packing cases for the road, whereas B.M.C. got rid of 944 Austin-Healey Sprites/M.G. Midgets in spite of the slump. Import duty distorts the picture, of course.

In a period when total sales were down, note that more 3.5-litre Rovers were sold than in the equivalent period of 1968, a “record” achieved also by the M.G.-B and M.G.-C, perhaps because the “C” is not such a poor sports car as some experts have suggested. Sales of the biggest B.M.C. saloons were fractionally up, too, and the biggest Vauxhalls are at last beginning to catch on, for there was an increase of 856, led materially by the Ventora. Otherwise, it is a depressing picture, with Mini and Viva sales down by over 10,000 and Cortina sales down by more than 22,000. In the annual statistics imports are not quoted by make, but in those for Jan.-May of this year they are, and we perceive that Fiat was leading Volkswagen by 866 sales, VW having moved up just ahead of Renault since March, perhaps on account of the new VW 411. The rest of these foreign cars were virtually also-rans in this five-month sales race, in the order Vulva, Simca, Alfa Romeo, then Honda just ahead of Toyota, another placing reversed since March, with Skoda last, although the picture is spoilt because “other importers” exceed Fiat’s sales. Note, however, that these foreign makes between them out-sold Roots’ sales total up to May in this bleak, black year. (To end on a high tone, Lotus sold nearly as many cars as Honda, but 134 fewer than Alfa Romeo. . .)

John Eason Gibson

John Eason Gibson died in his sleep at the age of 63, soon after returning from a holiday in his native Scotland—which is as good a way to go as any, except perhaps in a racing car on full song. He was Secretary of the B.R.D.C. from 1956 until heart trouble in 1967 caused his retirement, a position now held by Tony Salmon. The Editor writes:—

I knew John quite well before the war. He was a proud Scot, outspoken, with is ready sense of fun and a dry wit. He had a very sincere love of motor racing and never failed to let it be known that Nuvolari was his hero. I drove him for a time after he had lost his driving licence because of some pre-war traffic misdemeanour. That was in Opel and B.M.W. cars. We went to Donington in 1937 for that Grand Prix which, by the size of the crowds, the traffic jams and the interest displayed, showed that motor racing had at last become really popular in Britain. We went in the Opel Cadet and we met the German drivers beforehand at Croydon aerodrome, and Caracciola (who refused to fly) at Victoria Station. Gibson was 100% enthusiastic, although we both hopped pretty smartly over the railings when we heard the first G.P. Mercedes-Benz coming through the Donington woods in practice!

At the time Gibson was running the Beecholme Garage at Clapham and there he tuned a Brooklands Riley for racing and later built a monoposto Ford Ten with one of the first semi-enclosed cockpits. He encouraged the mechanics to hot-up their motorcycles and when times became less easy, continued to race in any car that was to hand, which is how I had some good rides with him in Fiat 500 and Lancia Augusta, in High Speed Trials at Brooklands. Eason Gibson read competition regulations very thoroughly and was expert at getting round them—you know, when it says a spare wheel will be carried, but does not specify a spare tyre or what size the wheel shall be! Consequently, when he ran the B.R.D.C. and controlled Silverstone circuit he was adept at framing unbreakable rules and was about as astute as Col. Lindsay Lloyd had been at Brooklands in seeing that they were obeyed. A trifle flamboyant, Gibson loved the role of the great ace drivers, himself wore a tartan helmet for racing. He lived for proper motor racing and thought little of later milk-and water developments. While serving in Italy during World War Two he learnt the language and this was useful when he managed racing teams and wrote his books on racing. Apart from his post-war associations with Aston Martin, Austin-Healey and E.R.A., John Eason Gibson was instrumental in achieving the pre-war competition successes scored by those Jabberwock Fords—three yellow 30 h.p. Ford V8 coupés, mildly modified, and driven as an effective team by Norton, Loader and Koppenhagen in important trials.

For a time he conducted track tests of any famous racing car he could borrow, a brave form of motor journalism, because it involves going faster than the writer is accustomed to, in someone else’s machinery. In recent times Gibson wrote a meticulous weekly motoring page for Country Life. For a time he managed without a car, but recently he used a 3-litre Rover coupé on his lawful occasions.

The tall Sherlock Holmes-like figure in the sporting suits, terse phrase uttered with a glint of humour in his eye, will be sadly missed. He was a teetotaller who trained on milk and seemed altogether too relaxed to have died so young. To Mabel Gibson and Neil I offer sincere condolances. Neil Eason Gibson is following in his illustrious father’s wheeltracks, with his work at the R.A.C. Competitions Department.—W. B.

Jack Barclay

Jack Barclay died, aged 69, last month, alter a long illness. The Editor writes:—

The short, slight figure of Jack Barclay, dressed in all-black racing attire was well known at Brooklands, so another link with the old days at the Track has been unhappily severed. He won several races there, was placed in many more, and broke a few records. with T.T. Vauxhall cars, which he shared with Parry Thomas, Duller and Cobb. Barclay’s best remembered race was the 1929 B.R.D.C. 500, which he and Clement won at over 107 m.p.h. in a long-tailed 4½-litre Bentley. By this time Jack was one of the famous “Bentley Boys”. But he began racing at the Track long before that, with 5-litre Ballot. Austro-Daimler and 30/98 Vauxhall cars, as well as with his well-know T.T. Vauxhalls. He was able to indulge in this sport, having already built up a successful motor business. There is a picture of him in Motor Sport standing dwarfed beside a delectable Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost all-weather, in which he used to drive to Brooklands with his chauffeur, Plaister, who was a close friend.

Barclay gained a reputation for being something of a Brooklands dare-devil; he certainly displayed no fear of fast cars. At the 1926 Easter Brooklands Meeting the Vauxhall he was driving was forced up the Byfleet banking and went into a high-speed skid, eventually coming down, turning round and travelling backwards at some 80 mph. Barclay kept the engine running and continued the race. Later he brought the car out again and won, lapping at nearly 112 m.p.h. In that first 500 Mile Race the Bentley went backwards off the Members banking at some 126 m.p.h. but, after a wheel change, its driver continued, as if this was to him just part of motor racing.

Before Barclay retired in 1967 he had established the largest Bentley and Rolls-Royce retail business in the country, with those famous showrooms in Berkeley Square, to which was later added a Fiat franchise. After his retirement he took pride in an Oxford Motor business and his 1,000-acre farm. But we like best to think or him at Brooklands, showing a variety of racing cars that his slight stature did not mean that they could intimidate him. Perhaps his love at speed was born during his service in the R.F.C.—W. B.

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