Another brave new year has started to unfold and in many ways it can be said that, in the reported words of the late Lord Stockton, we have never had it so good.
Today’s production cars represent a very wide choice for buyers, and there are no truly bad cars about these days. The overall level of performance is high, in respect of speed, acceleration, and fuel economy, set against the machines in the catalogues a decade ago. Even small-engined cars go indecently quickly, for those of us who remember the dismal family cars of pre-war days. The high-performance modern offerings are very quick indeed — never mind that nowhere except in enlightened Germany can they be legally extended to more than half their potential!
Design trends have progressed impressively. Items of specification such as fuel injection, electronic ignition, turbocharging, and five-speed gearboxes, once the preserve of expensive sports-cars, are now commonplace. Within the car “mod cons” such as fully-adjustable seats, central locking, remote mirror-adjustment, rear fog lamps and many things once found only in luxury cars are rapidly becoming the norm.
Moreover, anti-lock braking and four-wheel drive are beginning to follow this trend, which must help road safety. It is surprising how even a little mud can bring a rear-wheel-drive car to a standstill.
Colleagues on other motor papers seem to have an extraordinary amount of trouble with their cars, but our experience points to the reliability of today’s machines. Two Ford Sierra XR4x4s have not so much as lost a bulb in an aggregate of 30,500 miles.
In 1987 we can look forward to continuing enjoyment from fast, economical, and essentially safe cars such as the Peugeot 250 GTi and Volkswagen Golf GTi 16V, and real satisfaction (for the more wealthy) from Jaguar XJ6, Porsche, BMW, Rolls-Royce, Maserati or Mercedes-Benz. It is good, too, that open cars have survived, with the Nissan turbo-powered Reliant Scimitar high on merit. We wish Austin-Rover well in the days ahead, with their Rovondas, MGs, Metros, Maestros and Montegos in the face of ever-pressurising Japanese opposition.
The roads on which we use our cars are generally improving all the time. The opening of the M25 London orbital was the motorway achievement of 1986, and more British motorways are planned, but will they be completed in 1987?
Road Safety Year may have been a disappointment, yet the record does not seem too bad, remembering that antiquated routes are used by everything from bicycles to multi-tonne trucks, at a legal “closing rate”, or, two-vehicle-width winding paths, of 120 mph. But if real progress in road-accident prevention is to be made, we cannot see how smoking, using a telephone or peering past dangling dollies can be condoned while driving.
In the sphere of motor sport, a splendid year is envisaged, with another intense season of Formula One and equal interest being maintained in endurance racing, rallying, veteran to classic events and trials.
As we have been reminded recently, the practical motorcar is now more than 100 years old. For those who use it for fun, as well as for transport, there is just about as much pleasure still to be had as in the true pioneering years of unreliability and short distances, the magnificent Edwardian years of great cars such as the big Mercedes, Napier, Daimler and 40/50 hp Rolls-Royce, or the vintage and subsequent period when so many sports cars emerged.
Let us hope 1987 sees great industrial leaps forward, so that 1987 is as good as, or no worse than, 1986 — depending on whether you rate yourself an optimist or a pessimist.