Matters of moment, August 1974

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The Brighter Side

Non-political citizens residing in this off-shore island of Europe can be excused for feeling confused as well as depressed over the prevailing financial outlook. On the one hand, we are informed, by the Daily Mirror among other sources, that Britain is on the brink of inflationary disaster, and on the other side of the coin we find reassuring news relating to how rich and prosperous this country will be when oil begins to flow in quantity from the fields beneath the inscrutable North Sea. As motoring, not political, writers we can only wait and see. . . .

The situation reminds us of that verse by Hilaire Belloc, about the poor who came to some highfalutin’ function in their Fords (Model-Ts, presumably, but Populars and Prefects would do just as well) and laughed like anything to see so many Lords and Ladies there assembled. The gentry had, of course, arrived in carriages and pairs, and also in Rolls-Royces, and were talking of their affairs in loud and strident voices. It was the unfortunate, down-trodden, impoverished middleclass visitors who looked so utterly miserable, because they didn’t fit in anywhere. Apparently they came on foot or bicycles.

This seems much the situation again in 1974, but with a more vicious trend. There must still be plenty of well-off folk about, when they can bid up to £45,835 for a 1932 Isotta Fraschini (admittedly this was in Texas, but it is much the same here, with good Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts and the more exciting Bugattis in the £30,000 category). The former poor, backed by powerful Trade Unions, are now doing fine, or at any rate sufficiently well to continue to run their Fords—and even to graduate from Escorts to Cortinas and Capris. It is the “white-collar” in-betweens who look like getting the light pay-packets in this age of rapidly-rising costs, for many of them are Union-less, and not all of them qualify for a cost-of-living bonus.

What has this to do with motoring ? Simply that less-expensive, more economical cars will be in great demand as the knife of inflation and industrial unrest cuts deeper.

Motor Sport dealt editorially with the more modest cars in March and again in June and has no compunction about returning to the subject. What the mean middle-classes, to use the Belloc idiom, will require must surely be good quality economy cars with a charm and purpose of their own. Such have been made down the years. In vintage times there were the Humber Nine and Talbot 10/23, which were a cut above the average Morris-Cowley-class car, even if the Sequeville-Hoyau did not quite make it. Later there was the baby Railton Ten and the Triumph Mayflower. Coming to a more recent decade, the Vanden Plas version of the Issigonis receipt offered exactly what was required and does so still, for £1,517 in Princess 1300 form. Going up the scale a little, one understands that many middle-class buyers are investing in Dolomite Sprints, while looking longingly at BMWs. . . .

Looking in, the brighter side, one thing all car purchasers can be thankful for is the continual general improvement in production models. By this we mean that items once worth underlining in road-test reports are now commonplace—two-speed wipers, heated rear windows, reclining front-seat-squabs, sill door-locks, petrol warning-lights, heater blowers, and so on. In addition, excellent radial-ply tyres are now almost universal and have improved road-holding very substantially.

Moreover, motor racing goes on, with Britain able to challenge the might of Ferrari when once-upon-a-time there wasn’t a hope. And if only the petrol barons can ensure that distribution of their costly spirit is not suddenly interrupted by tanker drivers’ disputes and control industrial disputes at their refineries, ordinary motoring will continue also, while our money holds out. Remember, however, that the outcome of the next General Election may decide for ever the kind of cars the middle classes can afford in future—will they, for instance, find themselves in Moskvitches, Skodas and Wartburgs ? And now we shall be sure to get at least a few letters asking what would be so terrible about that !

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