Matters of moment, January 1984

Mixing our metrics

For the past two years at least petrol has been sold in litres at major garages, and nowadays a pump that registers in gallons maturity. Yet, having gone halfway to metrication we insular British still quote fuel consumption in Imperial miles-per-gallon, which seems anomalous to say the least. The Department of Transport sets the lead in this (despite it having been a Conservative government that pushed through decimal coinage, and the conversion to metrics generally) by quoting the official fuel consumption figures in mpg; motoring magazines habitually convert litres to gallons simply because there is no alternative . . . but, now we have reached George Orwell’s year of destiny, should we not quote our cars’ consumption figures in more realistic terms?

Progress in the past decade has brought us ever-smaller computers, and now anyone who wants one can afford a pocket calculator, so providing we remember the magic conversion of 4.54 litres to a gallon there is no great problem in converting our fuel consumption into miles-per-gallon. But it does involve an extra calculation, and the real question is whether we should persist with this anachronistic calculation.

While corresponding recently with Mrs Lynda Chalker, Minister of State for Transport, on the subject of our speed limit peon we asked for her views about the presentation of fuel consumption figures, and to the lady’s credit she gave us a long and detailed reply. We quote: “Many alternative formulae have been put forward for expressing fuel consumption — miles per litre, miles per five litres, litres per mile, litres per 62 miles, and your suggestion of litres per 100 miles. I am sorry to say that each suffers from one disadvantage or another. We are reviewing the issue, and if we can achieve a formula acceptable to consumers, then we shall certainly move to this. However, I must be sure that any new formula will be well understood by the motoring public at large”. Naturally we agree that any formula must be acceptable to the public, but having said that, any change is going to take time for assimilation. When we decimalised our coinage in 1973 it took weeks or months for people to stop asking “what’s that in real money?” and older people often felt thoroughly confused. We did get used to pounds and pees, in due course, and after a short time would probably not have wished to convert back to £ s d.

To convert litres and miles to miles-per-gallon involves one calculation more than any of the metric alternatives, so for Mrs Chalker to say that each suffers from one disadvantage or another is puzzling. Rather, each alternative has one disadvantage fewer than the present practice. Axe matter of interest, 30 miles per gallon equates to 6.608 miles per litre, 33.04 miles per five litres, 0.151 litre per mile, 9.38 litres per 62 miles (this being the equivalent of the Continental norm of litres per 100 km), and to 15.12 litres per 100 miles. Clearly the smaller figures, ie those for miles per litre and litres per mile, involve going to three decimal places for the sake of accuracy.

Most of our readers are consumers or are interested in fuel consumptions — so what do you think? Are we being pedantic in thinking that there is a better way of expressing fuel consumption? Does it matter? And if it does, what is the best way of presenting the figures? Do tell us, and if a clear pattern emerges we will be pleased to pass it on to Mrs Chalker, who probably has no feedback “from the field” and is, as we know, prepared to take the views of our readers into account. — M. L.C.


As a rival to the traditional and conservative USAC race organisation in America, CART has spent the past five years developing and expanding the premier form of national single-seater racing. CART does not subscribe to ACCUS, the FISA nominated ruling body, and is not therefore governed in Paris, but until now M Balestre has not chosen to impose any sanction on CART, its entrants, drivers, constructors or circuit owners.

Strange, then, that early in December FISA should have issued a strongly worded bulletin warning all interested parties of excommunication on the grounds that “CART has made proposals to different countries to transform what was only a national Championship into a World Championship in complete violation of the International Sporting Code”. CART did approach the Hockenheim circuit a couple of years ago to stage a race, but we are not aware of any more recent or wide-reaching proposals; on the other hand, CART has agreed to stage a race at Long Beach in lieu of the Grand Prix, and probably offers other American organisers a more attractive deal than FISA or FOCA could hope to do, in terms of budget and potential publicity. Passively or actively, CART could threaten the expansion of the World Formula 1 Championship in America, where Grands Prix are scheduled in 1984 at Detroit, Dallas and New York.

Under threat of suspension from FISA are all the CART drivers (including the Andrettis, who would be unable to return to Le Mans, and Teo Fabi who has already been dropped from the Lancia World Endurance Championship team), circuits which stage such races, and constructors who include March Engineering, who hope to sell 32 Indycars in the States and would be precluded from running in Formula 1 or Formula 2 in 1984.

It is easy enough to recognise the threat to FISA. But the threat has been apparent enough since 1979, and by taking no action in the years of growth FISA has helped to foster the organisation it now wishes to punish. The threatened sanctions will inevitably widen the rift between FISA in Paris and all American bodies which tolerate, at best, government from Europe and may well lead to a permanent rift which will do nothing to help M Balestre and Pierre Aumonier bring America back into the World Endurance Championship.

It would befit the situation for FISA to talk to the CART organisation, to recognise it officially, to reach agreement on its schedules — and to drop the threat of sanctions which seem likely to backfire on FISA in a big way. — M.L.C.