Matters of Moment, January 1962

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The A5 Bottle

First the A6 murder, then the A5 bottle. We refer to the lemonade bottle flung by P.C. John Bignold through the windscreen of a young student’s Austin Healey as a means of stopping it for exceeding the speed limit in Towcester. Note that the driver of this sports car wasn’t a criminal fleeing from justice, just an ordinary motorist driving fast up A5 in the very small hours of the morning, when his alleged speed of 100 m.p.h. before entering the town was nothing exceptional on this excellent, straight and now largely-deserted road. He was being followed by a police car but it was the bottle thrown by a police constable that stopped him.

John Gordon in the Sunday Express was but one of many reputable commentators who are askance at this remarkable episode. When this young driver came before the Magistrates he explained that he saw what he assumed was a drunk on the road waving his arms and naturally preferred to steer round him rather than stop. He went over the Towcester traffic lights quite properly when they were green. For exceeding 30 m.p.h. in this deserted built-up area at 4 a.m. he was fined £10 and disqualified for six months on a charge of dangerous driving—plus the cost of a new screen.

The bottle-lobbing policeman acted far more dangerously but we have not heard whether his action was condemned or commended by the Court. The driver could have been killed, blinded for life, could have swerved and struck a house or innocent early-morning pedestrian, or the bottle might have missed its target and done much damage. We are not clear how this zealous police constable knew it was so essential to stop this speeding sports car, or even that it was the right car to stop. We do not believe the Austin Healey was still doing 100 m.p.h in the town—you try hitting a car doing “the ton” in the dark, scoring a bull’s-eye first go—even discounting the possibility that policemen are not normally equipped with empty bottles as part of their equipment and so presumably the Towcester man had to stoop to pick one up…!

A lot has been made of the fact that a police Jaguar pursued the Austin Healey for 12 miles without managing to stop it. We leave it to mathematically-minded readers to calculate how long the average Jaguar requires to close on a car passing it at 100 m.p.h., assuming it to be stationary when the chase commences…. 

Motorists in general should call for a full explanation of this un-British episode, which will do nothing to cement good relationships between motorists and the police.

We hope sincerely that armouries of empty bottles are not being built up in Northamptonshire police stations for the express purpose of bringing to rest speeding cars that it is beyond the scope of their mobile police, even when Jaguar-mounted, to catch. We have asked the Triplex Glass Co. Ltd. for their opinion as to whether laminated glass windscreens would be sufficient protection from flying mineral bottles, but they do not seem very optimistic….

Fortunately, ex-rally driver John Gott, M.B.E., G.M., is Chief Constable of Northamptonshire, so we can hope that he has already dealt with the police constable with the Bisley-aim and that no more episodes of this kind against foolish but not criminal drivers will take place. If they do, Britain will have taken a step nearer the Police State.

Purchase Tax on Racing Cars

The vexed question of the Government’s decision to withdraw the purchase-tax concession on racing cars occupied five minutes in the House of Lords on December 5th last year (Hansard “Parliamentary Debates,” Vol. 236, No. 17). At 2.40 p.m. Lord Montagu of Beaulieu asked Her Majesty’s Government whether, for the sake of the future of British motor racing they would reconsider their decision to discontinue allowing purchase tax rebate on racing cars.

This had the pleasant result that Lord Mills, the Minister Without Portfolio, told the House that Her Majesty’s Government recognise the value to the British Motor Industry, on grounds of prestige and technical development, of successful British participation in International motor racing. He went on, however, to say that “in present circumstances” it would no longer be justifiable to maintain a special concession for racing cars and suggested that the Industry should support racing “to the extent that they consider this would be warranted by the benefits which it would bring to them.”

Earl Howe asked whether the noble Lord was aware that many motor-racing firms are not big firms “such as, shall we say, the B.M.C.” Lord Mills said he was quite aware which firms participate in racing but not aware that they cannot go on if the rebate is withdrawn, as it will be.” Lord Derwent pleaded that purchase tax is chargeable only on passenger-carrying cars, Lord Windlesham that racing cars are prototytles and “that the reliability of the cars in which your Lordships come to this House every day is largely affected by the experiments which are carried out in this way.” Earl Howe asked what would be the gain of removing the concession and was told: “About £30,000.” Lord Stoneham asked whether this amount had been set against the value of racing cars for research purposes but was told this hardly arises. The Earl of Swinton then ended the discussion with the words: “My Lords, is this not perhaps another case for a pause for the moment?” At 2.45 p.m. the House turned its attention to the next question on the Order Paper….

Well, it is nice to know which of the noble Lords are on our side and we congratulate Lord Montagu for raising the matter. In former times we imagine the problem could not have arisen, because each manufacturer raced their own cars and did not build them to sell. Today the tax goes on because selling as well as operating G.P. cars is big business, or else because of financial complexities within the firms concerned. To have continued the concession would have reflected well on the Government at a time when British engineering prestige is vital to commercial virility.

Taxation in general, and on motoring in particular, is savage in this country and it could be that at the next General Election many motorists may cease to feel conservative about voting and may do so more liberally than before, unless the existing Government acts quickly to ease the burden of middle-class motorists, the majority of whom have no Unions behind them to ensure that wages keep pace with the ever-rising cost of living and few of whom enjoy tax-free profits on Stock Exchange deals.

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