Matters Of Moment, December 1959



The New Motorway

The new London-Birmingham Motorway is a splendid thing for Britain, not for the entertainment it provides for young, and not-so young rubbernecks on its innumerable bridges — no doubt they will enjoy innocent fun there throughout the whole of next summer — but because it is our first real attempt to relieve congestion and speed-up the traffic on our roads. It was built in 19 months, a feat that can be set alongside the building of Brooklands Motor Course in a similar period over 50 years ago.

But whereas Brooklands is defunct, the Motorway is very much alive and will, we hope, like Brooklands, remain free of speed-limits. We express this hope, not so that owners of fast cars, like a certain lady in a Mercedes-Benz 300SL, can go there to have their accidents, but because any prosperous country needs such roads to speed business and industrial traffic on its way.

Detailed comments on M1 appear elsewhere in this issue and here we merely wish to comment on some of the muddled thinking which is already threatening to engulf the Motorway. For instance, the Daily Mail, usually to the forefront in fostering speed and progress, while generally taking an exceedingly sensible view of M1 and not for one moment wanting any speed-limit imposed on users of it, does suggest that owners of slow lorries and car-delivery firms should not prohibit their drivers from using the road. But surely it is these slow vehicles which have least to lose by staying off M1. Every slow traveller causes faster drivers to pull out in order to overtake, and the less overtaking the safer will be the Motorway. While it is unnecessary to have to exceed 50 or even 45 m.p.h. to be a reasonable occupant of the left-hand lanes of M1, vehicles proceeding at 35 m.p.h. and under would surely be better on the old roads? At the other extreme, the Daily Mail says that drivers wishing to exceed 100 m.p.h. “would be better off at Silverstone or Le Mans.” This may be generally true, but on weekdays modern disc-braked high-performance cars should be able to exceed “the ton” along M1’s right-hand lanes with reasonable impunity, in the hands of drivers accustomed to such speeds. We note with sorrow that John Gordon of the Sunday Express hopes for a 70-m.p.h. speed-limit on this road built for speed — does his Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud never exceed 70 safely on less suitable roads?

Somewhere we saw a criticism that the scenery through which M1 passes has been described as beautiful, the suggestion being that a Motorway isn’t the place from which to appreciate fine views. This is to utter an extreme sense of caution — to drive along M1 needs nothing of the concentration that Moss and Brabham may have to employ when they battle at Sebring later this month. If to enjoy the countryside a driver has to crawl along and wander about the road this expression of caution applies. But to suggest that a drive up the mere 68 miles of our new Motorway calls for such intense concentration — after drinking a cup of coffee in order to stay awake! — that no glances can be spared for the rolling English landscape is not only nonsense but nonsense which will frighten ordinary good safe drivers off the best road their taxes have bought them for many a long day.

Such sad accidents as have already occurred on the Motorway would appear to have been caused by fog and inexperience. In one instance a rescue vehicle appears to have been stationary on a roadway where to stop is forbidden — and this a vehicle which, more than any, should, one would have thought, have obeyed this vital rule. We hope the express ‘buses designed for Motorway use, now run on a make of tyre which can be relied upon not to burst under the speed conditions imposed on them.

Such precautions, and a sensible approach to M1 particularly by drivers of fast cars, should give this brief Motorway as good an accident-record as any other road. After which, let us give up publicising a fine but overdue road — at the rate it has been in the news and on the air to date we are in danger of becoming the laughing stock of countries where hundreds of miles of similar road have existed since before the war.

Postscript — Since writing the above Editorial we have gained further experience of M1, which endorses our opinion that experienced drivers can achieve usefully high average speeds on this road in complete safety. A driver who had never seen the Motorway before covered the 57 miles between Watford and A5 in exactly 30 minutes, an average speed of 114.4 m.p.h. This was between dusk and darkness, but never once did he have to use the brakes hard or blow the horn, no one was inconvenienced, and he caused no concern to anyone. But an appropriate car was used, with suitable tyres — a Dunlop disc-braked Jaguar XK150S coupe on Dunlop Road Speed RS4 nylon tyres. There isn’t a bend that cannot be taken at over 100 m.p.h. by a skilful driver in a good car.

Incidentally, while on the subject of Britain’s new roads, praise is due for the excellent work being carried out on A1, once notoriously narrow, but now having many miles of dual-carriage way, with more to come. This, has been accomplished quickly without any of the bally-hoo which surrounds M1.