MATTERS OF MOMENT

• BREAKING THE HIDDEN CODE

The country in which a car was made used, in some degree, to be stamped upon it, a sort of National-imprint, just as language, accent and appearance indicate a human being's origins. With the coming of Multi-Nationals and World-cars, this aspect of the motor car has changed, with almost identical utility vehicles being churned out in vast numbers. The throwback to a time when, for example, the dignified Royal Daimler dispensed with a badge or name-plate, its famous fluted-radiator and slatted petrol-tank being deemed sufficient identity, has grown very slim. Now name-plates are about all that distinguish one little Eurobox or Japobox from its innumerable brothers and sisters. Gone are the days when Italian cars possessed more than most the ability to storm up Alpine passes without stalling or boiling, when French cars, developed through the pioneer road races, had a logical personality all their own (as Citroens still do), when American cars were mostly for the masses and so were made from inexpensive materials that nevertheless endowed them with longevity (remember the Chevrolet "Cast-Iron Wonder" or "Stove-Bolt Six"?), and when Germany, like Britain, tended to go for stodgy, solid cars.

These ramifications of National identity evaporated long ago, although a few tenuous links remain. From Italy, where they adore fast driving and motor-racing, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, while it may not be any faster on a given journey than, say, a Ford Escort XR3, and is perhaps more tiring to drive quickly, is still FUN. The real point of this discourse is, however, that with growing competition all round us, the "Jobs For Britain" campaigners believe that buying foreign imports inflates British unemployment and that the resultant costs of Unemployment Benefits and Social Security increase taxation, no that investing in a foreign car costs more than its face value. But how do you ensure that the car is British-built, when the Astra, Capri, Cavalier, Cortina, Escort, Fiesta, Granada, Horizon, Rancho, Royale, Samba, Sierra, Tagora or Viceroy, for example, may well have come from abroad? Ford has plants in Germany, France, Belgium and the Irish Republic, and went to Spain for its Fiesta factory. Vauxhall has upset its workers by assembling the new Nova / Corsa in Spain, and other Vauxhall models are thinly disguised German Opels. So how do you tell if you are really buying a British car?

The cracking of the hidden code that tells you was divulged to us recently. Seeking our car at the end of a tiring day at the NEC Motor Show, in the distant car-park to which we had been directed because the Press one shown on the SMMT's map was a myth and all the reserved space for 21,500 vehicles was filled before the Show opened, our long walk in pouring rain ended at last. Never have we been more pleased to see the Alfa Romeo. But it was annoying to find a piece of sodden paper flapping from a wiper-blade. What could it be? Not a parking-ticket, for this was private-ground. A blurb for some nude show or a Birmingham restaurant, maybe. Reluctantly we stretched out an arm into the damp night and removed it. When it had dried out it proved to have been issued by the "Jobs for Britain" campaign and it explained how to Crack The Code. . . The JFB people believe that you have a right to know whether or not you are investing your money in a British-made car. It had certainly obtained sizeable free publicity in those crowded SMMT car-parks. . .

This is how it works. Every vehicle is required, by the Trade Descriptions Act, to carry a Vehicle Identification Number, usually found in the engine compartment. This computer-like VIN looks something like this: VTXSENBDDIADI123456x. "Not easy to decipher? Holmes." "But it can be done, Watson!" With the help of the JFB Code-Breaker, he might have added! You crack the VIN code like this: You can tell where the car comes from by looking at the first letter or, in some cases, you need to look at the first two letters.

If the first letter is:.....................................................................The car was made in:

U................................................................................................Republic of Ireland

W...............................................................................................West Germany

Z................................................................................................Italy

...................................And the second letter is:

Y...................................A, B, C, D or E......................................Belgium

Y...................................S, T, U, V or W.....................................Sweden

V...................................F,G,H,J,K,L,M,N,P or R.........................France

V...................................S,T, U, V or W......................................Spain

S...................................A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, J, K, L, or M.......United Kingdom

Using this chart, and the aforesaid VIN as an example, you can see that the car it applies to which has V as the first letter and T as the second, was made in Spain.

As a tempestuous year draws to a close, and remembering the closing-in of the Japanese Invasion, the growing importation of cut-price cars from the Continent, the loss of sales even to Rolls-Royce Motors, and the realisation that, just as it has been said that up to the war, Lancia had never made a really had car, so Germany today has mainly good makes of cars, we feel that those who patriotically buy British should be in possession of this code-breaker. . . .

• MAKE HASTE, NOBLE

Richard Noble, who has been questing for a new LSR with Thrust 2, is a brave man. Doing a timed 595 m.p.h. over Nevada's Black Rock Desert endorses this — and proves that the usual tyre-less wheels of his car can cope with such speeds. But, alas, he has failed to break the American record, by under 40 m.p.h.

We maintain that those who complain of the long delays inevitable with record-bids of this magnitude should remember that it is the driver, not they, who has to get in and go, when the time comes. This was very evident in the tragic case of Donald Campbell. . . .

Nevertheless, Project Thrust finance has now topped £1,305,000 and there is a growing impatience for results. Let us hope that Noble will eventually succeed. Otherwise Thrust 2 will join past failures like Djelmo, the Sunbeam Silver Bullet, and the Fred H. Stewart Enterprise, etc.

Rolls-Royce Heritage Art Exhibition

THE Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust, in association with the Guild of Aviation Artists, is to hold an exhibition at Derby City Art Gallery from February 26th to March 26th, 1983. The theme for the exhibition will be "Rolls-Royce from its foundations in 1906 to the present day".

Considerable prestige and publicity will attach to the exhibition. The Trust and the Guild would like to know of any paintings of Rolls-Royce powered aircraft, ships or cars which are in the possession of companies or private owners which might be borrowed for possible inclusion in the exhibition. Work by such well-known artists as Terence Cuneo, Frank Wootton, David Shepherd, Michael Turner and the late Roy Nockolds is particularly sought. Please reply to Mrs. Yvonne Bonham, Secretary, The Guild of Aviation Artists, 11 Great Spilmans, London, SE22 8SZ. (Telephone: 01-693 3033.)