Matters of Moment, December 1972

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• Tight squeeze

The prevailing state of the National economy is a matter for political rather than motoring writers and for this we are grateful, because we confess we would rather think in terms of Fittipaldi versus Stewart than Mr. Heath versus Jones and Scanlon. What we do see clearly is that, whether ultimately Britain is ruled by a democratic Government or the TUC, we are in for a tight squeeze, economically.

Such a squeeze directs attention towards motoring in economy-type cars. Fortunately, little cars have improved enormously in the decades since the war, offering good performance, excellent road-holding and reasonable space within, coupled to the obvious advantages under town-driving conditions which modest overall dimensions bring. It was, however, apparent at the Earls Court Show that two very long-established frugality-cars, the Morris Minor and the Fiat 500, had gone from the economy-car scene. (Fiat rectified this at Turin with the new Tipo 126). France however, had the 956 c.c. Renault 5 to sell. But Citroën and Honda are at present the only truly inexpensive baby cars to challenge the British Leyland Mini, still available in 848 c.c. 34 b.h.p. form. Improvements in tyres and suspension have enabled larger saloons to catch up with the Mini’s tenacious front-drive stability, so that no longer does it cock-a-snoce on corners, as it once did to Jaguars and other big cars, in saloon-car races. But it remains the popular small car, the 1970s equivalent of the original Austin 7. In the first half of this year BL sold 52,429 Minis. In the hard times ahead many people will be grateful to Austin/Morris for continuing to make Issigonis’ ingenious little car, which the tune-up-shops might now consider endowing with even greater economy, as well as extra urge.

We should be proud, too, that British Leyland still offer the most economical sports car, that cheeky, long-lived M.G. Midget.

• Driver legislation

When Motor Sport warned of what might happen to the vintage and veteran car movement under EEC legislation we were informed that we were talking nonsense and we had our knuckles rapped for spreading false information, because, we were told, Britain will not tolerate any changes in the existing laws governing the old-car movement. To this we asked to be reminded of how wrong we were, ten years hence.

Apart, however, from any concern we feel about possible changes in old-car legislation, We have been freshly disturbed by the announcement, in the Evening Standard, that Britain is studying proposals for a European driving licence, intended to replace all National licences issued by member countries of the EEC after 1976. Such driving licence requirements would embrace tests from every five years to annually, depending on a driver’s age, regular medical check-ups, and “psycho-technical” examinations to compute “character aptitude” for handling a motor vehicle. From 1974 it is proposed to institute a National file of driver convictions and set up common rules for driver disqualification. At the same time, methods of vehicle testing would be brought into line with EEC ideas.

There are other ways of controlling motoring than banning certain conditions and types of vehicles! As the reader who drew our attention to this news-item (this time a well-known prewar racing driver) says, medical tests seem reasonable but depend on what sort of tests are in mind, while “psycho-technical” tests sound like the LSD fantasies of a long-haired freak—and who would conduct them and in how unbiased a frame of mind? Then there is the proposal to have a lifelong driving licence, expiring when the holder reaches the age of 70, although many drivers of greater age enjoy accident-free motoring.

No doubt we shall have our knuckles rapped again for bringing these matters to your notice. After all, hasn’t the Transport Industries’ Minister said that he does not favour some parts of the scheme laid before Europe’s Council of Ministers? We would emphasise, nevertheless, that therein lies a possible loss of future motoring freedom. You have been warned and we say—watch it, and fight for your rights, especially those of you who have driven safely for decades without such rules.

Just as officialdom is unable to differentiate between the hysterical safety recommendations of Ralph Nader and the sensible “primary safety thinking” of the more intelligent car manufacturers, so it seems highly probable that it will be unable to accept that many drivers of all ages who through skill, experience, an affinity with cars and a knowledge of their personal limitations are able to drive safely, will be denied the right to earn a living and/or enjoy motoring because they will fail the sort of advanced, scientific, brain-washing requirements of the proposed EEC tests.