Things to which we can look forward

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The war news, which is about the only news we get now, is so promising at the time of writing that there is a stronger incentive than ever to look forward to peace and consider what motoring then has in store for us. This is not a political paper, but motoring is such a vast and far-reaching business that everyday politics have a very important influence on it, and, remembering how great a part motor-driven vehicles and motor-minded men and women are playing in this war, it can truly be said that motoring has a very important influence on politics. That notwithstanding, Government departments delight in dragooning motorists and the motorist does next to nothing at all about it. The enthusiast, rightly, regards himself as very far removed from John Citizen, who, when not a pedestrian, occupies a small, glass-windowed box at 29.9 m.p.h. midway over the white line. Consequently, the enthusiast is not very greatly interested in politics as they affect his motoring —albeit, I have met young men with red ties and Red Label Bentleys.

As the enthusiast exists in hundreds to John Motorist’s’ tens of thousands, there really does not seem much reason why he (and very occasionally she) should attempt to focus polities on motoring. The only good reason that I can see why he (and, very occasionally, she) should do so is twofold, and, incidentally, my excuse for these observations. First, because motoring means so very far and away more to us than it does to those who drive only as an alternative to strap-hanging. Second, because John Motorist has been sound asleep for the past forty years, the enthusiast is more than wide awake, and therefore it is he (or the occasional she) who is probably best fitted to fight the bureaucratic encirclement of motoring that many more knowledgeable and authoritative people than I fear may herald the coining of peace. The writer of a letter which was published in The Motor of 25th November last, stated that “there is no getting away from it, the British people have a deep-rooted love of bureaucracy and will vote for it every time” I am not concerned so much as to whether bureaucracy is or is not a desirable business. I am very concerned that, if bureaucratic control over the citizen extends, it shall not encumber the motorist unfairly and out of all sane proportion, as hampering regulations and stifling laws have troubled our world in the past. If the ordinary private and commercial user of the motor car is not interested in doing anything on his own to protect his interests, the enthusiast will have to lead the way. So, here and now, I suggest that we resolve, through the oft-avoided channels of Press and M.P., to exert the motorists’ rights after the war. Let it be generally realised just how much the motor industry, motor technicians and motor-car drivers have done, and sacrificed, in putting Germany-under-the-Nazi-rule off the map. The i.c. engine in its many forms is vital in this war and will be in the next.

Skilful and fearless handling of aircraft, ships and tanks is equally so. The R.A.F. has attained its present supreme position, technically because of lessons handed on from the Schneider Trophy races and tactically because of the quality of its flying and ground personnel, so many of whom have been shaped in ability and temperament by motor racing. The Eighth Army drives on with vehicles which owe a very great deal to trials cars of peacetime, driven by methods taught in such trials by crews who display the same endurance and stamina that characterised the successful competition motorist. The refuelling and re-arming of aircraft on airfields in this country and the Far East, no less than the repair of mechanised fighting vehicles in the desert, owe their efficiency to the pitwork of peacetime long-distance motor racing, as journalist Tommy Wisdom has so clearly told us. Much has been lost to the British in time and money in having to train unskilled personnel-the ladies of A.R.P. and general wartime road transport amongst them—to accomplish things which peacetime competition motoring required individuals to accomplish by self-training. It is these matters which must not escape the notice of the bureaucrats of the peace —and in his excellent new hook “Sea Fliers,” C. G. Grey reminds us that “burro” means little ass in Spanish and is pronounced as the French word “bureau” of no etymology or derivation.

The danger is there. Donald H. Smith, Assoc.Inst.T., in an article published in The Autocar of 20th November last (I am not afraid to recognise the existence of and to acknowledge the weekly motor Press, in spite of their completely ignoring this paper, always excepting Eric Findon, editor of The Light Car digest, who gave us a flattering mention in his November, 1942, issue), entitled “Stop This Nonsense!” quoted some disturbing examples of officialdom gone mad, such as a £20 fine for deviating 200 yards from a main road on supplementary petrol in order to eat a picnic lunch during a journey the legitimacy of which was not in question. Yes, the danger is there, and if we do not want to be rationed in our use of cars for years after the next armistice, or prevented from using our cars at all because no priority scheme for replacing requisitioned tyres has been granted, or to be governed by new and more futile anti-motoring laws and regulations, we had better start shouting now, because one of these fine or not so fine days it may be too late to shout. So, with this warning to those who, as I do, find their motoring dear beyond price, particularly to those fighting in H.M. Forces, I will leave motoring politics for motoring—fully forgiven, I hope.

There seems every prospect of ample motoring sport after the war, bureaucracy or otherwise, but some important and vital issues will have to be faced by organiser’s of racing and other events. The need for a live governing body to control the Sport has long been apparent, and when Capt. Phillips rose at a recent Junior Car Club Council luncheon and said that he thought the time had come for younger men to control competition motoring, that may or may not have been a straw in the wind. Certainly, the existing Competitions Committee of the R.A.C. should either be made to understand that it must do more to further our interests in the future, or it must be disbanded or reformed.

People so often say that the R.A.C. can be ignored that I must once again emphasise why it cannot and explain what power it commands. It is just that any event held in this country more ambitious than a gymkhana or treasure-hunt is supposed to be run under R.A.C. permit. Anyone can run any event without such a permit, but then the R.A.C. just comes along and takes a note of who competes, or someone tells them, and those competitors suffer the risk of not being allowed to compete in any permit-controlled event. In other words, you may run once in a local race round a field and find, when offered a wheel in, say, the Monte Carle Rally years later, that the R.A.C. refuses you a competition licence and the organisers return your entry. Which is a prospect very few enthusiasts care to face. The majority of events are run under R.A.C. control for sound reasons, so it is not very clever to say the solution is to ignore the governing body and run permitless fixtures. For instance, for some time before the war the Government regarded trials over public roads with disfavour, doubtless goaded by public opinion, and police permission to use certain hills had to be obtained and special third-party insurance taken out. Naturally, the police wanted some guarantee that the event would be properly conducted and took as their guarantee R.A.C. sanction of the fixture. The R.A.C. tried to control the calendar in order to ensure less hostility and better entries, and so organisers of trials were quite happy to apply to the R.A.C. Competitions Committee for a permit. In much the same way, race organisers wanted R.A.C. sanction for their events because good gates are essential and Continental entries bring good gates, and Continental drivers expect an event to be approved by the national governing body of the Sport, apart from which few, if any, British drivers would risk their competition licence by entering for a non-approved race unless absolutely certain that all future races would be on the same basis.

It might seem that organisers of speed trials could be happily independent, but a little thought shows that they obviously cannot, because the speed trial exponent never knows when he may want to become a proper racing driver or a slime-storm king, and so he isn’t going to risk his competition licence any more than anyone else. Then there is the question of obtaining insurance cover against damage to spectators which usually requires proof of R.A.C. sanction, because on the day of the event and beforehand the R.A.C. sends a steward to insist on certain safety precautions being taken by the organisers. So permit-run events have been the rule, and it would all work very well if the Competitions Committee of the R.A.C. wasn’t composed of old gentlemen who probably haven’t driven a fast car since present-day competitors were born, and, consequently, refuses to sanction many events for no very good reasons, hampers go-ahead organisers, and does not very effectively arbitrate when disputes arise.

The question which has to be decided is whether the R.A.C., or some other body, is to govern the sport in this country when it happens once again. I do not profess to know the answer. But I do know that to attempt to hold events without permits is going to result in lots of excellent drivers and invaluable organisers being barred for ever and that disputes along these lines, or an attempt to dispense entirely with a central governing body, is not only going to throw British competition motoring into disrepute, but is going to play right into the hands of bureaucracy—and effect the finish, as likely as not, of trials, sprints, racing and all the rest of it. The British Racing Drivers’ Club is so dead that I cannot even drag it in as a possible successor to the R.A.C. Competitions Committee, and I rather feel that this existing committee may survive, we will hope with plenty of fierce young blood around its table.

Then there is the question of what sort of events people like H. J. Morgan and Fred Craner and Percy Bradley and the R.A.C. itself should set out to organise. Will plenty of racing cars be forthcoming for races at Donington, Crystal Palace, and, as Bradley leads us to hope, at Brooklands, as of old, or will the best of them be owned by a kind of syndicate and raced round a national sports arena as a public spectacle?

The partner of an engineering business which is now turning out small aircraft bits, but which did quite a lot with racing cars before the war, is devoting considerable thought to the possibilities awaiting the manufacture of racing cars of E.R.A. calibre, and I shall expect Alta to go back to that task whatever happens at Bourne. Incidentally, this same person mentioned in the previous sentence showed me some photographs of a very interesting sports car which his firm built before the war as an experiment to see what could be achieved by careful development of an existing 10 h.p. British sports chassis. This car had quite a normal T.T. appearance, because this young man, who regards 100 m.p.h. on the road as a fairly normal speed, believes that people like that sort of motor car. And it did reach, or just exceed, 100 m.p.h., and it could have been produced not too expensively for those requiring an individual and really potent sports-racing job. The basis was M.G., but there was no intention of introducing one-design racing, as such. On the other hand, Nigel Orlebar, who, by the way, once did his stuff as an amateur motorcycle dirt-track rider, is very partial to one-design racing and hopes to organise it for cars all possessed of standard Ford Ten engines. He has managed to acquire a light-alloy body for his own car, which was intended for an M.G. to be driven by Dorothy Stanley-Turner in the T.T. that never happened. The plot is to permit only such tuning as L. M. Ballamy carries out on these engines until things begin to pall, and then, perhaps, to allow supercharging, or the fitting of American o.h.v. conversions. The scheme would seem to depend for its success on whether good clubs would run classes for such cars.

If not, I gather private grass-tracks would be used, but then one comes up against the permit problem, unless, of course, one is a Richard Caesar, and although I can visualise the fun and games such racing would permit: I prefer that keen beginners occupied themselves devising specials of a more individual brew for Dancer’s End, and Prescott and Shelsley Walsh. But, of course, Nigel may somehow convince those in high places that this is just the sort of thing for teaching the fitters their job ready for the next war, in which case one-design racing, advocated by Laurence Pomeroy, the sports and sporting editor of The Motor, last winter, may become an entity of its own for quite different reasons. However, there really seems no reason why racing-car races and sports-car races and sprints should not go on very much as before. And trials are sure to do so, if organisers do not run wild in the early part of the peace and function without permits, so that officialdom comes down with a heavy hand before the R.A.C. or its successor can do anything at all about it. Whatever happens, there should be a return to free road motoring as post-war relaxation for discharged soldiers and sailors and airmen and backroom boys, if we shout loudly enough for our rights for even the bureaucrats to hear. If we do that, we may even find Italy and Germany invited to send their AIfa-Romeos and Auto-Unions and Mercedes-Benz to play at motor-racing with us, so that politicians and taxpayers and the youth of Britain can see how the vanquished are shaping. If that comes about we may even expect to be lent Hyde Park around which to race. But we shall have to shout!