Matters of moment, December 1978

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The motoring factor

With another eventful year running to a close, the motoring factor, which presumably affects all who read this magazine, has become a curious mixture. On the one hand the British Motor Industry seems intent on committing suicide, via its worker-brothers, on the other hand enthusiasm for the motor vehicle as a prized personal possession and a practical form of escapism is stronger than ever. Apart from which, it remains the only truly conventional means of door-to-door instant transport.

The crippling strikes that have been going on for weeks at the British Ford plants and which break out every now and again at Leyland have a foundation dangerously more complex than dissatisfaction with pay differentials seen in the light of enormous declared profits on the part of the Ford Motor Company and others; they have to do, surely, with a sort of cold-war, which one brilliant writer, in the days of our youth, used to refer to as “The Truce of the Bear”…  Their continuation or capitulation via higher pay/shorter working hours can only mean a return to galloping inflation in Britain and an even bigger flood of European and Japanese car sales.

Fortunately for our sanity, Motor Sport  is concerned only obliquely with such sordid situations. On the sporting side motoring is, in general, as healthy as ever. We have seen a technically outstanding car win the majority of the 1978 F1 races, in the form of Colin Chapman’s Cosworth-Ford-powered Lotus 79, which gives a pleasant impetus to contemplation of how the Lotus 80 will fare next year, and which must have given joy to those who own race-bred Lotus cars. Just how much interest there is in the escapist side of the motoring game is brightly reflected in the numbers of spectators who, both in the fresh air and “on the air”, watch Grand Prix motor-races, who line the route from Hyde Park to Brighton on Brighton-Run Sunday, and who fill all the many vantage points during the RAC Rally and similar events. Indeed, this great love-affair with the motor-car added up to disaster for the NEC Motor Show, as more than 900,000 visitors arrived there to find the attendance so vast that they paid their money but saw scarcely anything of the exhibits.

Thus at a time when the Motor Industry of this country seems intent on destroying itself, in other directions the motoring factor has never been stronger. Technically we appear to be on the brink of a breakthrough in which electronics will play a big part in automobile design. Among the 59 different makes of cars still on the British Market there is a fascinating, alluring choice of personal motor-vehicle. Scares about a petrol famine and the risks from pollution have had no lasting effect on performance or design originality. At one end of the engineering scale, to give but one example, Citroën have put new levels of refinement into the dear old air-cooled, flat-twin-cylinder power-unit, once associated with such crude manifestations as the Rover Eight and the ABC. At the other extreme we have such desirable high-performance cars, again quoting in one context only, as the BMW 635CSi, the 5-litre Mercedes-Benz 450SLC lightweight, and the Porsche 928, which Paul Frère has compared brilliantly in a weekly contemporary recently, concluding with the words: “And please don’t ask me which I would choose!  I have enough problems to solve for myself without adding yours!” Which sums up exactly the excitement of choosing a new car and explains why the Motor Trade (as distinct from the Motor Industry), the Used-Car Dealers, the Auctioneers and almost everyone associated with the sale of motor vehicles and their ancillaries are doing such good business…

Successive Governments should have realised almost from the beginning that the motor-car couldn’t be stopped, however hard they tried with the Paris-Madrid race of 1903 and are still trying to do today in the guise of imposing ridiculous crash-tests of expensive prototypes (ridiculous, because no accident repeats itself in exactly the same way, making laboratory simulations a very tiny aspect), in trying to repress pollution that manifests itself seriously only in Los Angeles, and in trying again to make strapping oneself to one’s car compulsory, regardless of the known fact that the British are an obstinate race, willing to be persuaded but not imposed upon, and that having got your horse to the water, how do you make it drink (and shouldn’t it wear a crash-hat as well as its belt?) — expect much correspondence hereafter from boffins and do-gooders…

Notwithstanding, the motoring future is set-fair. A full season of F1 racing begins again in the Argentine on January 21st, so that you should be making your travel plans now. Historic and vintage affairs are in good shape, with the most influential club, the VSCC, listing 22 competitions for 1979, including a new Donington Race Meeting scheduled for May 12th. The MCC will again run its traditional long-distance trials, the “Exeter” on January 5th/6th (entries have closed), and to these very different types of contest will be added a very full (perhaps too full) motor racing and rallying fixture-list. Enjoy it!

We wish our readers A Happy Christmas and New Year.

January issue will be published on January 5th 1979.

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