The Earls Court London Motor Show now seems far distant—the 1971 Show I mean—for which grateful thanks to St. Christopher. I say this because an organisation which sends you an invitation to its Press Preview Day and a personal invitation to take tiffin or stronger nourishment with its President and, when you arrive at 9.30 a.m., cannot find you anywhere to park your car, doesn’t exactly inspire respect. This Car Parks Full business being well known to me I put the Austin Maxi in a distant side road and took some exercise, but not before I had optimistically been twice round the Earls Court block looking for an elusive overflow car park, getting horribly bogged-down in a side street on the way—the Police seem not to car an iota about sorting out the traffic tangle but the wardenesses were out in force with their stickers, booking anyone who had come to rest in the aforesaid side road, where residents’ parking discs have come into force since the previous year.
Where I left my personal transport, on that and other visits, I am not going to tell you, although you would never remember it by Earls Court 1972, in case you fill it before I arrive, but I was able to remember where I had left the colourful Gp. 1 Austin Maxi by thinking of a vintage make of car….
Writing of Earls Court 1971 reminds me that when I did penetrate to the SMM & T Party any hopes that the London Show would in future be held bi-annually were being firmly undermined by Mr. Corley’s speech.
Once upon a time Motor Sport was able to come out with a brief Motor Show review before the thing closed, by rushing round madly on preview day, or what was left of it after BMC (later BL) lunch, writing even more rapidly, and bringing forward the publication date of our November issue. In recent years our (advert.) has rendered this impractical, so perhaps I may be allowed this short December look-back….
The outstanding impression was of a motor show which was anything but—by which I mean it was a display of nude girls, animals, birds (the other sort), fashions, Show Biz and music, not forgetting a political demonstration on the Moskvich stand and an exhibition of fist-i-cuffs (a punch-up, mate) at TVR. I have already done my piece on those BMW lion cubs and I have second thoughts about the Lamborghini flamingos. At first I thought they might be reasonably comfortable, as in an aviary, albeit a very small one. Then someone said, “as their little pond isn’t enclosed they are probably doped, anyway”—and why were there three on opening day, two thereafter?
On Press Day non-completed stands seemed to be catching, for Motor Sport’s was pretty barren when I arrived and there wasn’t a car on the Trident stand opposite. All was rectified by afternoon, however. I thought it an uninspiring show, but enjoyed the four-cam V6 Maserati engine out of an SM on the Citroën stand, decided that the Reliant Scimitar can give beauty-prize points to Volvo’s new sports-estate (but TVR’s is another matter), that the lines of the Fiat 127 were boxily uninspiring and that Ford has such a comprehensive display that 90% of the customers presumably need look no further, the Tyrrell-Ford Constructors’ Championship car which overlooked without overshadowing this great display seeming to personify Ford’s present sporting demeanour. There were one or two other competition cars about, nor is it easy to escape Lord Montagu for there on the Daimler stand was his 1899 1,000-Mile Trial car.
There were personal disappointments, like not seeing Ron Barker doing his inimitable appraisal of the exhibits, though I think I spotted W. G. S. Wike of the VSCC taking stock. I didn’t trouble to acquire a Show catalogue, since this has become a cumbersomely large book instead of a useful-to-file source of reference. The caravans were still as Earls Court, portent to worse traffic congestion to come, but most of the tyre manufacturers had folded their tents and crept quietly away. Curiously, really, because a car hasn’t got to tow a caravan but it won’t get far without tyres….
The escalator to the Gallery wasn’t working for mere reporters but I took the stairs in order to claim my free Papermate from Mintex (whom years ago we mistook for peppermint manufacturers but now know to be makers of brake linings) but not my free-glove from Ferodo. This means of enticing writers to the accessory stands won the disapproval of one of the great daily papers, from which one assumes that its feature writer uses a fountain pen and doesn’t wear gloves. It really is time the SMM & T re-planned the Gallery stands so that one can find one’s way about them—only because it was on the edge of the maze did I come upon the National Motor Museum’s big display of historic cars, which included a Vanwall, and the 1920 350-hp Sunbeam single-seated which some of us thought the only real motor car in the entire Show –but you may say Urraco to that!
I had many much-appreciated invitations in my briefcase but, being anti-social and teetotal in about equal proportions, made little use of them although, to show impartiality, I did call on Dennis Miller-Williams on the Rolls-Royce stand (the financial crash, apparently, simply means they are selling more Silver Shadows than ever) and Peter Morgan (the antiquated lines of whose sports cars American buyers love more and more the longer they go on, as it were). Erik Johnson had asked me along to look at the new Mercedes-Benz 350 SLC (minor detail—it has the three-pointed star as a motif but not as a mascot) so I did that, without going on the stand, which you were not permitted to do by Maserati, where a notice said close-up viewing was by appointment only.
I also proved that I should not apply for a job as a computer programmer, when I twice messed-up my questionnaire to the Honeywell 58, a machine which costs £384 a month to hire. I got it right third time of trying and was told the next car Motor Sport should buy me must be a Rover 3500, Vauxhall Viscount, Lancia Flavia, Ford 20M XL, Volvo 144GL, BMW 2000 or Alfa Romeo 2000. I had just about settled for a Rover 3500S anyway, only to learn that having come round to giving it a manual gearbox they have discarded its leather upholstery….
At this Motor Show most people seemed quite content with bunny-girls, dolly-girls, bikini-girls and gooseflesh, and untroubled by such things as 7-litre AC 428s, 2-littre GT Veloce Alfa Romeo, Ferrari Dino 248, the new twin-cam Lotus Europa, a sectional Jaguar V12 engine or Jackie Stewart.
Even at my age I began to feel restless and went along to the Goldie stand, to see if my favourite bathing-girl had shown up—through the roof. She hadn’t. Maybe she finds briefs too hot for a motor show, these days….
Fortunately, at this point a driver came to say there was a Morris Marina outside and could he swop the Maxi for it? so, in teeming rain, down there in that side street, we changed over cars and I was off, over the Shepherd’s Bush flyover, along the A40, round Oxford’s expanding ring-road, and motoring in the country. Already Earls Court seemed far distance and quite unenchanting—until next October.—W.B.