Matters of Moment, February 1979

• Oil!

The recent oil-tanker-drivers’ strike must have made some people wonder what it would be like to live in a World from which all oil-supplies, which to the car-user means petrol, have dried up. This is a happening threatened by the Scientists and the Politicians with great frequency and the only consolation is that it is a scare which was with us in the nineteen-twenties, yet supplies, so far, are as prolific as ever, until a simple, selfish strike by tanker-drivers simulated all the frustrations of a natural cut-off. No-one seems to have any very valid ideas for road vehicles which will not require petrol for their engines, and we confess to not looking forward to driving electric or steam cars in the future! It may even be a case of back to springs, gravity, pendulums, hydraulics, compressed air, high-pressure gas, or liquids combines, and the like, which were forms of power specified by some of the would-be entrants in the Paris-Rouen Trial of 1894.

Be that as it may, one hopes that present-day motorists, and those who have motored for a considerable number of years in fact, appreciate how very well they are served in the matter of fuel for their cars, by the great petroleum companies. These companies are not even responsible for the savage price of a gallon of today’s distinctly-precious fluid, because a sizeable slice of the cost is taxation, inflicted by the Government. Although presumably the higher pay to the tanker-drivers will again raise petrol prices. The World’s oil-refiners may be multi-million-dollar profit-making companies. But we should be in a poor way without the service-stations they have erected to dispense their products. Once upon a time the owner of a horseless-carriage had to rely on chemists’ shops for supplies of petrol of a specific gravity suitable for wick carburetters and unheated inlet-pipes. Garages later began to stock petrol, in those two-gallon cans, first used in 1898 by Pratts, which have since become “collectors’ pieces”, delivered to them at first in horse-drawn drays. The writer can just remember when a car-owner was dependent on these gaily-coloured stacks of tins, a nasty fire-hazard if stored in the home garage, and of a chauffeur being reminded to take in a stock before a long journey, say from Cardiff to Oxford (with an overnight stop deemed desirable if ladies were to be of the party), and this in the mid-nineteen-twenties, in as sound a car as an Austin Heavy Twelve.

Then came the roadside petrol pump and inconvenience was a thing of the past, except perhaps to owners of Austins in which the petrol-tank was beneath the front-seat or of small Humbers in which the fuel-filler protruded from the dashboard, so that the drips from the hose fell into the luckless passenger’s lap.

It was the petrol pump that revolutionised fuelling the car. According to “Guinness” the first British one was seen in Shrewsbury in 1913. That shown in the accompanying picture is a BP pump, or “Bowser”, dating from 1931, when petrol cost about 1s. 3d. a gallon, of the hand-operated kind. Very few of these remain in use and those that do merit photographing. (We see that some at Corse, near Gloucester, have been changed recently for the electric-type.) Even these automatic upright pumps are almost obsolete, the cabinet type having replaced them. Self-service has also crept in. All for the overall convenience of the car-user.

Thinking back to the crippling shortage of petrol caused by the strike, it was Esso that filled the tank of the Mercedes-Benz 280SE that brought us so comfortably and majestically down from Scotland after Christmas. But it was the local Elf and Esso stations that ran dry soon afterwards, when BP provided a tankful of petrol for a business journey. And even several days after the Media had informed us all that the strike was a thing of the past and there were no shortages, many garages remained closed and we had to queue on the M5 for some two-star petrol, which cannot have been good for the aluminium engine in the Rover 3500 we were driving, and a poor return to that car which had proved an instant starter under very abnormal winter temperatures, the vee-eight torque of which, coupled with plenty of litres, had got us out of some very sticky (or slippery) snow conditions, and the washer-bottle of which had proved virtually inexhaustible at a time when it was desperately needed to clear salt from the screen, thrown up by trucks whose drivers were not supporting their particular strike…

It is at times of a fuel shortage that one wonders a little about the future. Soon after the war of 1914/18 was over there was much enthusiasm for petrol made from British coal and called Benzole, with the AA opening the first Benzole-station at Aldermaston, after tests by the RAC, using Sunbeam touring cars, had proved this to be a good and “patriotic” petrol. There is a flash-back to this in the National Benzole Co. of today. We do not pretend to know why petrol from coal cannot again be viable, any more than we have understood the power-politics of the Oil Barons along the years – it is said that C. G. Grey, when he was Editor of that lively weekly, The Aeroplane, first disclosed the presence of an oil-pipeline across Arabia, in 1923. He used also to discourse on oil developments in Abyssinia, that might bear re-reading today. Later, around 1928, came leaded “Ethyl” petrol, leading to today’s high-octane fuels we all use, but with 5-star being phased-out. And who remembers the inexpensive ROP petrol, of Russian Oil Products?

All we can say is that it has not been a very good New Year, what with the petrol-shortage, train-stoppages (no longer “it’s faster by rail”!) and the lorry-drivers’ strike, all of which caused the VSCC to abandon its Measham Rally and led to the MCC Exeter Trial being postponed. We can only hope that we are correct in believing that the majority of Britain’s workforce is decent at heart and will one day refuse to be led by Communistic influences into striking for higher pay, when its individuals must have sufficient intelligence to see that this will merely result in increased Inflation, which will in turn destroy the value of higher wages, a circle so vicious that it may well lead, if not curbed, to the destruction of all the desirable things that fair, as distinct from unrealistic, earnings can purchase, and greatly harm this country.

Opel Monza/Senator Fuel

I omitted to mention fuel consumption figures in the road test of the new 3-litre, fuel-injected Opel Monza and Senator models on page 195. They are not especially thrifty, averaging around 17-18 m.p.g. on normal day to day usage, but the Monza returned a reasonable 21.53 m.p.g. on a fast return journey to the Midlands. The Monza fuel tank holds 15½ gallons, that of the Senator one gallon more, so a touring range of safely over 300 miles can be expected.

Pressures of deadline and space also made me forget to mention these big Opels’ excellent steering lock of just over 32 ft. between kerbs; the wheel takes 3½ turns from lock to lock.

C. R.

FIA Year Book

The 1979 issue of the FIA Year Book, a prerequisite of any involvement in international motoring sport, is now available from Patrick Stephens Ltd., Bar Hill, Cambridge CB3 8EL. It costs £7.95.

For those who aren’t familiar with this essential bible published by the Federation Internationale de L’Automobile, it contains between its yellow covers definitive words on vehicle homologation, recognition and classification, the International Sporting Code, International Championship Regulations, the 1979 International Calendar, a guide to circuits and hill-climbs, lists of graded racing drivers and seeded rally drivers, results of 1978 championships and a directory of useful firms. Multi-lingual, the “yellow book” contains many hundreds of pages, yet is pocket-sized.

Stocks are usually exhausted in a matter of a few months, so order quickly! – C. R.

Historic Overkill?

With two major National Championships to contest, competitors in historic single seater racing cars have a busy season ahead of them, which won’t be helped by the some of the rounds in the two Championships. Most of the eligible cars like Maserati 250Fs could end up doing far more races, though nowhere near as many miles, as they did annually in their youth.

The Historic Sports Car Club’s Historic Car Championship, for which prototype or sports racing cars are eligible too, continues this season with a six round series sponsored by Lloyds and. Scottish Finance. With the rising cost of racing historic cars the HSCC felt it necessary to bring in sponsorship to expand the prize-monies and spread them down the grid. Some £1,500 per round in the Lloyds and Scottish Championship will include £500 for the winner, ranging down to £24 for each finisher.

Hard on the heels of the announcement of the HSCC’s plans for its established championship came Donington Park’s announcement of a six round Historic Single Seater Championship sponsored by Esso to the tune of £1,000 per race. The Donington Collection will enter some of its own cars in this series.

With rounds of the two Championships on consecutive days over the Easter weekend and several other rounds only one week apart, competitors in these fickle historic Grand Prix cars are going to be hard pushed to contest both Championships in their entirety, especially as many of them will also want to support VSCC and one-marque club races. As the number of raceworthy, eligible cars is limited, there could well be an entry conflict between the two championships.

One race competitors won’t miss come hell or high water will be the Lloyds and Scottish round at the Silverstone British Grand Prix on July 15th. Other rounds are: Silverstone. April 16th; Brands Hatch, May 20th; Silverstone, June 23rd; Brands Hatch, August 27th; Silverstone, September 16th.

Dates for the Esso Championship are: Donington, April 15th; Thruxton, May 7th; Silverstone, May 28th; Donington on July 22nd, August 19th and September 9th.

Other HSCC championships for 1979 include an eight round series for Historic Special GT cars (1964-68) supported by Wild Rose Caravan Park and a fourteen round series for Sports Racing and GT cars (1960-64) sponsored by Brian Harvey’s Grand Prix Models. – C. R.

Clang! – The photograph on page 45 last month was of a Mercedes-Benz W154, not of a W125 as captioned.