On the post-war trade boom and our motor industry

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THIS miserable war must end sometime. Being a mere motoring enthusiast and not a political journalist I am spared the task of endeavouring to prophesy when an armistice will eventually be declared. What seems of more moment is that, as those who study trade journals know, a big boom in International trading, amounting to a quite deadly Trade War, is predicted fairly soon after we have finished with barbarian fighting. At the moment we seek to cripple Germany’s exports and she seeks to hamper British trade through the medium of submarines, mines, military aircraft and naval vessels. When all this sort of thing is finished with, the world looks like fighting with materials and goods, trading and production weapons. Neutral countries look like getting a nicely catapulted start. So, with the Government doing all it knows how to stifle what is in peacetime our third largest industry, it behoves those who have sufficient foresight, to consider what will be the position of this great British Motor Industry when peace breaks out.

I do not think there is much doubt that, if a trade boom comes at all, motoring will boom very loudly indeed. Cars are still plentiful on our roads now— I write before December 31st and shudder to think of 1940—which is ample proof of the essential motor-mindedness of all classes of our community. The two worst dampers on pleasure driving in war-time are the black-out and fuel rationing, the former because it so seriously curtails driving hours in winter if eye-strain, nerve-strain and frayed temper are to be avoided, and the latter because it cuts out all idea of frequent long drives and presents to all, save a few abnormally irresponsible folk, horrible mental tussles as to how the “pool” can be used in the most fitting and proper manner—a tussle which haunts one whenever the garage doors are opened. Remove these two heavy restrictions .and motoring comes into its own again, so that not even fuel at 1/9½d. a gallon -or maybe 2/- or 2/6 a gallon, and the h.p. tax at 25/- per horse-power, can seriously interfere with it. You must remember that when peace breaks out people will seek relaxation and hang the expense— for a time. Under this temporary lust for pleasure what better medium than a good car? Sick with walking, driving, visiting and riding close to home and office, we shall discover, more than ever we did before, that distance lends enchantment. Driving shields the mind from pressing problems and worries and 300 or even 400 miles a day will be balm for many a troubled brain. Family reunions and meetings with old friends will entail extensive travel. The war will have rendered cinemas, variety halls, football fields, and dog tracks stale to the mass of bread-winners, who will be eager to follow another family man’s tail-lamp down the smoky trail leading from the home town to the very nearest seaside resort, every summer Sunday. Men, back from an exciting and exacting life on Active Service, will seek to quell a new restlessness by participating in motor racing and trials driving. It seems likely that some, at least, of those attractive young things who are entering this war in slacks and tin hats will, by the time that hostilities cease, have learnt a little more of what real motoring implies than they know at present and will be anxious to experience the new Sport—I only hope at some war profiteer’s expense, if not at their own . . . And, writing of the war profiteer, he and she will want to deck out in new finery at war’s end and such display must include one or more very fine automobiles. So, however depressed the Industry and Trade is now, it can at least dream rosily of a better time to come.

In dreaming, let us hope it is also scheming. After the last international dispute (1914-18) America built cheap automobiles of the right sort and got a nice slice of world trade, notably in our own colonies. Only of recent times have we looked to this virile market and, if we are not careful, history will repeat its nasty habit of repeating itself, and we shall lose similar desirable markets during and after this war. Fortunately, motor export business is to be encouraged while the nations seek to destroy, and, in particular, I am very glad to see that Rootes Brothers have had the courage to put over the new Humber-Hillman range, as these cars suit colonial markets so well.

What of other markets? It seems common-sense to assume that after the war lots of us at home and in other war-distressed countries, will have to motor as economically as possible. So a car able to command the very lowest tax and capable of a really good fuel consumption should surely be carefully exploited when our designers again think in terms of gearboxes and not of variable props. I know someone is sure to write to City Road to say that the difference between a reasonable year’s driving in a 6 h.p, car as against like recreation in an 8 h.p. baby is a matter of approximately £6 only and, damn it, sir, if a man cannot afford that he should not be allowed a car.

That’s a really beautiful argument until you remember that most car owners are fairly civilised mortals who keep, as often as not, a home and a wife and other luxuries, besides the baby car. To such people, if they have to balance the annual budget with considerable care, a matter of pounds saved in a year’s motoring permits of quite a few pleasures while they have a car as well, and who can prove that a 6 h.p. economy car, skilfully designed and produced, may not save a further £30-£40 or so on first cost, as opposed to the price of an Eight, into the bargain? Even a rabid motoring bachelor must see that such annual saving on running costs presents him with an extra mileage of 3,000 a year. The “second-hand argument” similarly leaves the 6 h.p. car high and dry. It may seem just as easy to save this £60 or so which is likely to be accumulated on the credit side in the lifetime of running a “Six” as against an “Eight,” simply by buying second hand. Yet we know that, in practice, far from the New Car Industry fearing the second-hand market, agents have a devil of a time disposing of used cars given in part exchange for new. Austin, Morris and Ford, etc., go on happily selling “Eights” in spite of never ending bargains in the Ten and Twelve horse-power groups.

So, when big output factories have to start tooling up for car production again, a real economy job should be an attractive thought. Austin did it a few years after the last war and had the monopoly of this market for a very pleasantly long time, notwithstanding lots of other babies which followed from divers hopeful sources, and a “Seven” which could show hydraulic anchors and a three-bearing crank amongst its selling points.

Turning to exactly the other end of things, when our directors of armament factories and aircraft factories come ashore again off their yachts, we should be certain to have nice, expensive motorcars, with lots of room for growing figures and silk hats, for them to occupy, for it would be a crime if some off-spring of the Golden Bugatti came up and collared the market. Not that anyone in his right senses could want anything better than the modern, independently-sprung, V12 90 m.p.h. Rolls-Royce, nor is any better car available than the “Phantom III.” But in the early nineteen twenties there was healthy competition in this luxury car market, between the “Silver Ghost” Rolls-Royce, the big sleeve-valve Daimlers, the overhead-camshaft 40/50 Napier, the Wolseleys, Armstrongs, and other stately carriages. Then the newly-poor should be catered for by new lines in high grade cars of low-horsepower, such as that instanced by the Rover Ten of to-day.

Another market I think we should exploit, and one of particular interest to enthusiasts is that of the high-performance car costing between £700 and £1,000. France, with her Delage, Darracq, Bugatti, Delahaye and Hotchkiss, offers remarkable performance and appeal in this category. Such cars are likely to be in considerable demand, as offering excellent value in high-speed luxury transport, when we motor normally again. I am not easily led away by performance figures alone. I know that reliability, and ability to obtain spares, counts for a lot with the majority of buyers. I know that a car which is docile, displays excellent acceleration, and which goes up to around 100 m.p.h. on a test run, may tend to assume a false value in the eyes of one who is not able to extend  his impressions over a couple of year’s hard driving. At present I am using my fuel ration in a 7 h.p. saloon, which, when we bought it, worried us because it steered and braked curiously and had what seemed a very funny driving position indeed, which made us feel we should never be able to hurry with it. Yet we now sling it around corners and slide it through traffic-gaps in a manner which horrifies our passengers at this time—simply because we have grown thoroughly accustomed to the vehicle’s characteristics. Similarly, the owner of a car which is able to cruise at 80 m.p.h. , becoming familiar with sustained high-speed, will invariably hold this speed every day he uses the car, whereas the tester is likely to achieve the 80, feel charmed, and proceed at a far more sober gait. I know only too well that regular high-speed puts a great strain on the car and its engine and I say here and now that for complete reliability and satisfaction under such conditions no car has anything on our own 4¼-litre Bentley and V12 Lagonda a statement both these magnificent cars have themselves proved. But in a slightly lower price-category I advise British designers to watch their step. Likewise in certain economy car directions, where cars like the 8 h.p. Renault on the one hand and the f.w.d. Hotchkiss Ten on another, seem to offer a little something others perhaps haven’t got.

Here those who have the interests of our Motor Industry at heart may ask why I advocate the introduction of lots of new models after the war, when we have the engineers, technicians and production experts fully capable of building cars which, category by category, can lead the world, and, by leading the world, must gain a monopoly of each market in any case. Such persons must remember that while they only have the interests of the Industry as a whole at heart, other folk, such as designers who get their bread and butter by planning new cars and editors of motor-papers who seek the support of as many advertisers as possible, also have their own interests to consider. Fortunately, we in this country have a happy knack of making individualistic cars, so that even in similar price and power categories there is usually room for more than one make to exist. Actually, it goes deeper than that. Remember, that lots of people who own more than one car, or who change their make every so often, would not do so if, when making a choice, they had not found other cars in a similar category almost as attractive as the ultimate purchase, resulting in a desire to experience the alternative later; or if new models were not being frequently introduced to stimulate their desire to purchase.

So I sincerely hope that, while designers are planning destructively and factories are producing destructively, some people will give more than passing thought to what their company will produce when sanity returns to Europe and of how the British Motor Industry can cover every market of the International motor business. A few plans put on paper in the form of working drawings or a modification carried out as and when possible to the designer’s personal car while the war proceeds may sow a useful seed which will be profitably productive later on, when everyone has to steel himself to face a bitter Trade War, and to endeavour to make enough during this boom period to enable him to carry on through the depression that will follow.

OBITUARY

In company with many other motoring writers we find it impossible in mere words to convey our regret at the death, on December 11th, of A. V. Ebblewhite. Mr. Ebblewhite needs no introduction. He was the world’s most famous handicapper and time-keeper of motoring events, he had figured at every Brooklands meeting of importance since the Track opened and, more than that, he was a very definite character and a charming personality, without whom no gathering of great drivers, whether for action or relaxation, seemed complete. No one can ever replace him and we shall all miss him very much indeed.