Matters of Moment, February 1962

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1962

In the words of Credit Trends, “Few people will shed any tears over the passing of 1961.” Certainly British car exports were not maintained at a satisfactory level last year; but does 1962 show greater promise, or is Britain slowing down?

Letters take up to a week to arrive where a day sufficed, and delivery services are far behind those of distant days of the 1d. post—this has been postal employees Working to Rule; any other deliberate delaying of H.M. Mails would surely rank as treason? Civil servants are contemplating discarding typewriters for long-hand letters, and the Pay Pause is threatened by strikes. Mr. Marples continues to impose increasing financial burdens on the motorist and although exit from London and other cities has been expedited by brave new by-passes and fly-overs, traffic still piles up at important junctions and Sunningdale, on A 30, still disrupts the flow with its level-crossing. On other roads 1961 marked the flowering of rows of new parking meters and elsewhere to stop a car became a minor crime, costly if not impossible.

Purchase tax will this year be imposed on single-seater racing cars that do so much to proclaim Britain’s engineering prowess and competitive spirit to the rest of the World.

Prospective newcomers to motoring are told that the likely outcome of investing in a car is sudden death, perhaps to be avoided if they strap themselves firmly into their new possessions with one of the many devices available, none of which is foolproof and many of which are downright unsatisfactory. Little wonder more and more money is being spent on boats, homes and holidays. .. .

In the first few weeks of 1962 smallpox has returned. There was another strike at the Ford factory. The telephone engineers threaten to go-slow. Stirling Moss again demonstrated his skill in the rain by winning the New Zealand Grand Prix. C.A. introduced independent car testing in Britain. After 66 years The Autocar was replaced by Autocar.

Not the best of starts perhaps, but with a number of bright patches. This year, unless Britain is to become an insignificant little island with a low standard of’ living, lethargic inhabitants who are content to idle in the sun (when there is any) while other nations move forward, we must commence to fight tenaciously to maintain our existing place in the World, and the present individual living standards in the face of savage taxation and the ever-increasing cost of living. In particular, the well-being of each one of us is largely dependent on a healthy Motor Industry.

We face formidable foreign competition, which entry into the Common Market certainly wouldn’t alleviate. If greed on the part of workers or financiers continues, output from our factories will be crippled and any attempt to lower the prices of our products will become impossible. During 1962 we must build more and better cars and do everything in our power—through Press publicity, powerful advertising in lucrative mediums, and by race and rally victories—to sell these cars at home and in World Markets. In the past British firms have sometimes sadly mishandled opportunities of this sort and have not always shown the same appreciation of Press co-operation as their foreign counterparts. However, advertising is worthless unless the product is sound, in spite of recent attempts to pin the fantastic sales successes of Honda motorcycles and Volkswagen cars merely on lavish space-buying in glossy American journals.

Volkswagenwerk still have a waiting list, although making some 4,000 cars a day, and last year their exports increased to 580,210. That is impressive, to say the least, but before we are accused, in the words of the poem, of loving any age but the present, any country but our own, let us say that we have great faith in the British Motor Industry. If it is not hampered by strikes, go-slows or politicians it should be able to fight back, aided by recent and forthcoming new models. Jaguar, Daimler and Rover remain supreme in the high-performance/quality-car field and there is every hope that with B.M.C.’s co-operation Rolls-Royce will recover from the tumble it has taken since expense-account cars were restricted to a maximum of £2,000…

C.A.’s CAR TESTS

The introduction of Consumer Association’s independent car-tests was greeted with enormous excitement on radio and television as something entirely new, although, in fact, candid and unbiased road-test reports have been published in MOTOR SPORT since before the war. In contrast to publicity via the B.B.C and I.T.V, the newspaper motoring correspondents were quick to disparage C.A.’s car-tests, either because they fear competition or feel they owe so much to the Industry that it is their duty to defend British products against criticism.

Motoring journalists who are afraid of these new independent tests are very short-sighted. C.A.’s tests suffer from two major disadvantages-by driving each car for at least 10,000 miles time is needed which precludes them from reporting on the latest models and because only one sample of each car is purchased, manufacturers whose products show up badly are able to claim that the car reported on was one of those occasional “duds” that even modern mass-production does not eliminate (but as such “duds” spell frustration for those who have the misfortune to buy them, Which? can retort that it is thoroughly justified in exposing them).

Whereas Press road-tests cover new cars, cars of all types, and are available weekly or monthly, C.A. produces its findings quarterly, its first group of eight being bread-and-butter cars ranging in price from £554 to £761. The next group will comprise only six cars, all British family saloons. Again, these Which? reports give the impression of having been compiled by ordinary drivers (who are anonymous) for ordinary motorists and consequently the effect of advanced handling techniques on controllability and a wide range of performance data are omitted.

One trade motor paper, niggardly criticising C.A.’s tests, remarks that 12,000 is too brief a mileage in which to report faults, because cars can give every sort of trouble in this distance and then settle down to reliable running. This has also been our experience but, remembering that after a house and perhaps a wife, a car is man’s most important and expensive possession, and knowing how long repairs take, even under guarantee, early failures on a new car can be heart-breaking. Anything that enables a prospective buyer to avoid such troubles is to be commended.

In brief, these new test-reports are fine for motorists who do not corner with their arms crossed, leaning on their tyres, and who are interested primarily in family vehicles. There is no doubt about Which? being candid-just how candid is reflected in pictures depicting the difficulty of inspecting the electrolyte level in the battery of a B.M.C. Minicar or of driving a Ford Anglia if you have long legs, and in the appended comment, on finding that of the cars tested the B.M.C. Minicar had the least luggage space in its boot : this ” in spite of the claim You’ll rub your eyes with disbelief when you see how much luggage she carries.

These C.A. tests complement normal Press road-tests but do not in any way supersede them. British cars do not show up too well, a second Morris Minor 1000 having to be used because the first one failed the hill re-start test with chronic clutch slip, while a second B.M.C. Minicar had to be purchased “as the first one had so many major mechanical failures.”

That the Volkswagen was found by C.A. to be the best car only confirms what MOTOR SPORT has proclaimed for many years. No doubt the 5-million purchasers of these cars are in complete agreement! Incidentally The Spectator is astonished that MOTOR SPORT refused advertising space to Which?; it is the policy of this journal to refuse all publishers’ advertising and this has no bearing on our opinion of C.A.’s car tests…

The most interesting section of the Which? report is that detailing defects on delivery and in 10,000 miles’ driving. This requires 2 1/4 column-inches (of very small type) in the case of the Triumph Herald S, 2 in. for the B.M.C. Minicar, 1 5/8 in. for the Austin A40, 1 1/3 5/8 in. each for the Ford Anglia, Ford Popular and Morris Minor 1000, 1 ¾ in. for the Renault Dauphine, but only an inch for the VW. Verb sap!

The A 6 bottle: Following our Editorial on the A 6 bottle. the Chief Constable of Northamptonshire has allowed us to see a report on the incident. Although this cannot condone bottle-slinging by police constables, it does appear that the Austin-Healey had already ignored one police signal and had averaged approximately 100 m.p.h. from Dunstable to Towcester before it was stopped by this drastic method-how fortunate that aim was taken at the right car.

Monte Carlo Rally: There is no reference to the Monte Carlo Rally in this issue because it went to Press before the start. In the March issue we intend to publish the usual table showing how the entrants fared, make by make.