Matters of moment, December 1960



Never had it so good?

Some years ago, when we were criticised in biased and unenlightened quarters for praising foreign cars, our defence was simply that we were a motoring, not a political, journal. Today we are greatly relieved that this is so, because political writers and economists must be finding it pretty difficult to explain away the sudden swing from Mr. Macmillan’s recent assurance that Britain “has never had it so good” to the dismal situation now prevailing in our motor and allied industries. The change has occurred as quickly and just as unexpectedly as the lead can change in a close-fought motor race.

From being, less than a year ago, a prosperous little Island in which Mr. and Mrs. Citizen would have their nice new house, the car of their choice, their boat, their TV., and their electrical gadgetry, and entertain their friends adequately if not lavishly after all these luxuries had been acquired, we have swung to a country where new cars are difficult to sell, the older, used cars are worth little more than scrap, many workers in the motor industry are either redundant or on short time and a newspaper of the magnitude of the News Chronicle has failed.

Not being a political journal we have no need to try to explain what has happened. But the drop in demand for British cars here and about the world is our affair. We are prompted to enquire urgently what British designers and engineers are doing about it.

Volkswagen are admittedly in a unique financial situation, having built up their great plant with no shareholders to placate, no dividends to declare and with employees who, able to remember hunger, are presumably willing workers in the fine new factories. Even the advent of excellent U.S. “compact” cars has not halted the advance of the reliable, value-for-money Beetle across the continent of America.

Renault has geared its great factories around Paris for efficient mass-production of virtually one model, the eyeable, economical Dauphinee. Their aim is to sell a car every 18 seconds (Realities. Nov. 1960. issue), which is a measure of their immense output and the volume of competition other factories have to face. In England today, import duty notwithstanding, you can buy a rugged Russian family saloon with very complete equipment for £759, a Czechoslovakian car for £745, while last October yet another invader arrived here from Sweden.

What is Britain doing to combat this vicious foreign competition? Precious little, it seems. Vauxhall, who were the first to feel the pinch, has half-heartedly increased the power of its bigger models which, according to those who have driven them, has rendered them rougher-running. Standard-Triumph introduced i.r.s., but not before its time, and the great Ford organisation, with four speeds and o.h.v. for its small cars, and disc brakes on the bigger ones merely as an optional extra only recently available, has merely ceased to be out-of-date. Only the British Motor Corporation shows any real advance, with its brilliant Issigonis-inspired babies, and even these jolly little cars have given a certain amount of anxiety, judging by complaints we have heard from their owners.

It does seem that where big-output is the object, concentration mainly on one model has paid off – our “Big Five” continue to offer a wide range of cars, which are beginning to choke the showrooms.

If there is a solution, we hope our engineers will quickly arrive at it; meanwhile our sports cars – Triumph, Austin Healey, M.G., Jaguar, Sunbeam Alpine, etc., are still selling strongly in world markets.

The real cure for trade depression must surely come from the government? We are not political or economics experts but it seems to us that unless taxes of all kinds are cut drastically – purchase tax on new cars, hire-purchase restrictions, petrol tax, and the savage tax on income which kills individual initiative and any desire for Britons to work really hard – British industry is in grave danger of losing its fighting spirit. That will lead very quickly to national apathy and disaster, via even fewer sales.

Perhaps those in authority want it that way? Maybe they think the time has come for England to recognise that it is a small State, crippled by winning two World wars, subservient to, and merely a satellite of, the U.S.A.? In that case those not sensible enough to emigrate can all relax, lie in the sun, and work just sufficiently to keep body and soul together, thereby obviating the tighter clutches of the tax collector. They will keep their existing cars, doing their own maintenance, not grumbling if new road programmes come to nought and existing roads fall into disrepair, sighing over loss of British trade and success in Sport, remembering with pride the place Cooper held in motor racing in 1960 but remembering, too, the savage price they paid in taxation to achieve these successes, own worthwhile goods or even for working in excess of Trade Union hours.

If we do thus change our way of life we may find things restful for a time but very soon this country’s standard of living will fall and our children be faced with near-starvation. However, we are at our best when our backs are to the wall. So we suspect that a government which told us glibly that “we had never had it so good” a year ago will get as big a surprise at the next election as its subjects are now experiencing over the sudden change, from prosperity to recession, unless it takes immediate steps to reduce the savage level of taxation which is crippling our trade and rendering still-born the initiative and desire to work which is latent in honest British citizens of all classes and creeds.

Reduced taxation will sell cars on the home market and enable British manufacturers to stabilise prices abroad, in preparation for the battle on the Common Market. Then, providing its designers take heed of modern developments such as front-wheel-drive, petrol injection, inexpensive automatic transmission, new forms of suspension and so on, and if they sew their products together properly so that they are dependable and do not leak, then probably we have little to fear and the British motor industry should regain its respected position in the world.


Game and set to B.M.C.

In describing the Ford Anglia endurance run last month the Editor was in error in describing the Anglia as the smallest car in which a seven-day record or endurance run has been attempted. As several readers point out, an Austin A35 was driven round the Montléry track near Paris by a group of Cambridge University undergraduates for a total of 165 hr. 59 min. and a distance of 20,000 kilometres, while the seven-day record was taken with 12,583.20 miles, and 10,000 miles were completed at an average speed of 74.79 m.p.h. A number of other records in the Class G International category were also taken during the run.

The five drivers were Gyde Horrocks, J. R. Simpson, T. J. Threlfall, P. G. Riviere, and J. A. B. Taylor. J. R. Aley who was also in on the records has sent us his interesting personal diary and press cuttings of the record attack. Naturally, the Montléry track is more suitable for sustained high average speeds than Goodwood, but for a private effort in a standard car it must rank very highly and, along with the A40 records, B.M.C. seem to be well ahead in the sphere of record attempts.


Roy Fedden Trophy Trial

(November 12th)

The annual Roy Fedden Trophy Trial, held near Bristol by the Bristol M.C. and L.C.C., resulted in a tie over the 21 hills and the winner was found on the result of the driving test. Charles Pollard, driving a Cannon, tied with Peter Highwood, driving his Canhi, with a total of 121 marks each. However, Pollard recorded a neat and fast 18.2 sec. on the simple garaging test to the 21.6 sec. of Highwood. Fastest of all in the special test was rally driver Eric Jackson, who recorded an electrifying 17 sec.

The hill-climbing was split into morning and afternoon sections, with the morning hills being held in Goblin Coombe not far from the meeting headquarters at Bristol Airport, and the afternoon hills at Mendip Lodge some five or six miles away. Goblin Coombe is a steep-sided valley with short slopes which require maximum power to climb to the top, and very few of the hills were climbed “clean.” With mud impeding their progress some of the cars became impossibly entangled with the trees and bracken and needed much expert de-ditching work to extricate them. Thick, almost liquid mud made the final morning hills almost impossible to reach, let alone climb.

After a break for lunch and the tie-deciding driving test, drivers proceeded to Mendip Lodge, where the long winding climbs on a fairly shallow climb required delicate handling rather than blustering speed, and the more experienced drivers began to come into their own. Several short, extremely steep climbs were included which were impossible to climb and most drivers made only a token run before flopping back to rest. Luckily no one overturned. The final obstacle was a steep descent down a hill followed by a long climb which defeated everyone and caused a good deal of trouble in extricating cars from behind trees. A. W. Francis collided rather violently with a tree and broke the radius arms and propeller shaft of his Cannon. The cavalcade then wound its way back to Bristol Airport for tea and the results, which were announced quickly and efficiently.


Roy Fedden Trophy: C. W. Pollard (121 marks).

Alexander Duckham Trophy: P. F. Highwood (121 marks).

Daphne Trophy: E. J. Chandler (142 marks).

First Ciass Awards: G. R. Lindsay, P. A. Barden, G. Langden.

Second Class Awards: A. W. Francis, G. L. Holdrup, I. Portlock.