Matters of Moment, February 1991
It is War
The Editorial of the October 1939 MOTOR SPORT carried the same heading as the one above. Great Britain had gone to war with Nazi Germany. The outlook was grim. Invasion appeared imminent. Air-raid shelters had been dug, gas masks issued to the entire population. Children were being evacuated to supposedly safe places and car headlamps were masked. In all this alarm and despondency we decided, at the last minute, to continue publication of MOTOR SPORT, hence the aforesaid heading in an emergency 8-page issue.
Thereafter fairly normal publication was resumed, with much appreciated help from readers divorced from motoring in Army camps, ships at sea, and RAF stations around the world. Notwithstanding the heavy bombing of London, incendiaries all round our offices and other hazards, not one issue failed to appear throughout the period of the war. Racing drivers, along with butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, having been hastily trained to fly Hurricanes and Spitfires (powered by Rolls-Royce Merlin engines developed from the Schneider Trophy R-type racing engine), the Battle of Britain was finally won and the fear of invasion of our ‘Island Fortress’ (which, thanks to the Channel Tunnel, it is no longer) receded. By 1945 victory was achieved, at a terrible cost.
Writing this on January 15th 1991, it is ghastly that, unless there is a last-ditch change of mind, war will again have broken out, in the Gulf. Rumour says that the Third World War will start in the Middle East and the Gulf conflict will be devastating, with traumatic after-effects. The situation, however, is not so immediately centred on this country as it was in 1939. Then, private motoring was quickly curtailed, then abandoned, with petrol rationing, dire penalties inflicted for ignoring the regulations, although farmers and journalists got plenty and aeroplanes got a wash in it. For a time, though, enough petrol was permitted to allow horse racing, but not motor racing, to continue. This despite the truth of the couplet saying that “The Battle of Waterloo may or may not have been won on the playing fields of Eton but the Battle of Britain was undoubtedly decided over Calshot Water.”
If the Gulf War has started, we are told fuel stocks are enough to last for more than two months and that sources are secure. But Americans have been queuing to fill their tanks and the cost of a gallon rose here before the battle deadline, the oil moguls more concerned in maintaining profits than in assisting their vehicle-owning customers. . . . The Gulf conflict has been called the “Oil Barrel War”, so the future for drivers may well be bleak. The sales of cars, except perhaps for economy models, would then stagnate and what is now, in all its branches, a vastly bigger industrial force than in 1939 would lose heavily; and we could be deprived of all forms of competition motoring.
These are selfish thoughts at a time when the full horror of chemical, possibly of biological, even of nuclear weapons may explode at any moment. If war has been declared by the time this Editorial is published, let us hope and pray that America and her allies will achieve their aims swiftly, for a long war will be highly injurious to this already ill-treated, badly-abused planet. . . .
Alas, with the Gulf problem comes Soviet unrest, and we must hope that the Moscow publication Za Rulem, which claims to be the best-selling Soviet motoring magazine and has asked to exchange copies with MOTOR SPORT, will be able to continue publication.
At present all thoughts should be on the tragedy of another horrific war, and the sadness and disaster this will cause to so many people. But if mercifully a solution is found, car owners will still have problems. The oil barons having messed us about with fluctuating prices, the withdrawal of 2-star, and seemingly more inflammable petrol, the “green” element has spread to F1, in which “unleaded” would be nothing more than a sop to environmentalists, good as it might be in longer races and rallies, and which Ferrari is likely to fight. Then one pessimistic source sees the forthcoming MoT exhaust-emission requirements as likely to put more than half the classic cars off the road; this, however, the new Transport Minister does not endorse. And on the heels of the “Old No 1” legal battle comes news that Pendine Community Council is taking to the High Court Owen Wyn Owen in an attempt to wrest from him the Thomas Special “Babs” which he has meticulously restored since he dug it up 22 years ago. WB