Rumblings, June 1961

“5d. OFF”

Motoring is going to cost more now that the Chancellor has put up the cost of a car licence and anything to reduce the expense of running a car is welcome. That is thelaudable aim of Jet Petroleum Ltd. of Keadby, Lincs.

To a growing number of motorists Jet is the cut-price petrol. It was introduced eight years ago by Mr JW Roberts, who has been a “petrol man” most of his life. When Mr Roberts decided to start up on his own selling petrol he had three major aims to fulfil. He had to sell, competitively, good fuel and agree freedom from competition in a given radius. At first jet petrol was of 90-octane rating. In the months October to April de-icing additive is added.

Since that early start Jet has gone ahead in gushers. Today it is sold in three grades. There is the famous jet 93 (the actual octane-rating of which is now claimed to be 941/2). On this there is a saving of 21/2d a gallon over other commercial brands and the claim is made that Jet is of much better quality. Then there are Jet 97 and Jet 100, the figures indicating the octane ratings. Each of these grades saves 41/2d a gallon over other brands, at present price levels—the Jet stations show boards proclaiming “5d off,” which was the case before other Companies, perhaps grudgingly, brought their prices down by 1d. Thus, if you buy 134 gallons of Jet, which the average motorist could do easily in six months, the Chancellor’s tax increase is automatically washed out.

Jet have, since May 6th, been selling, as their top grade, petrol which they claim exceeds an octane-rating of 100.

Jet import refined fuel from the Middle East and West Germany, using chartered tankers, five of which operate a daily service across the North Sea alone. It takes eight hours to off-load each tanker, which then sails across to pick up another load of fuel, so that at Immingham dock, not far from Grimsby, Jet have one ship per day dispensing fuel to their new storage tanks, which are being erected at a cost of £250,000. Fuel is also handled at Felixstowe in Suffolk. Jet is sold through free or non-tied petrol stations only and the Company has no intention of competing with the Trade by setting up its own stations. The petrol is transported in their own fleet of tanker lorries which include AEC Mammoth Majors, Matadors and Mercurys, Bedfords, BMCs and half-a-dozen Thames Traders,

Not unnaturally more and more motorists are turning to jet petrol to reduce their motoring costs. It is possible to buy this petrol from over 300 garages and service stations; indeed, so quickly is the list growing that space precludes publishing it, but you can get Jet from a garage in Angus, another in Biggleswade, another in Newport Pagnell, from 5 garages in Cambridgeshire, 6 in Cheshire, 10 in Derbyshire, 3 in Durham, 11 in Essex, 3 in Hertfordshire, the same number in Hunts, in Bromley, Kent, no fewer than 15 in Lancashire, 10 in Leicestershire, 24 in its home county of Lincs, 5 in London, 1 at Enfield in Middlesex, 7 in Norfolk, 1 in Northants, 19 in Notts, even one in little Rutland, another in Shropshire, 8 in Suffolk, 4 in Surrey, the well-known one in Pease Pottage, Sussex, 11 in Warwicks., and, most prolific of all, 66 in Yorkshire; all the time the list is growing. So if the idea of less expensive petrol, sold by a company financed by British capital and with the initiative to cut prices, appeals to you—go out and fill up with it ! Many delighted garages sell from 1,000 to 5,000 gallons a week and in some cases the opening of a new Jet pump has resulted in such enthusiasm for cut-price petrol that the police have been called upon to control the queues of eager motorists waiting to try it.

Ask Mr Roberts how he is able to cut the price of a commodity which the great oil companies keep to a.higher, strictly-controlled price and he smiles, looks you in the eye, and says he has fewer liabilities, smaller financial investments and operates economically. It would be interesting to have the reply of the huge petrol combines to these plain statements that back one of the most sensational competitive ventures of all time! Mr Roberts is a keen motorist who has had Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar XK150 and other fast cars and, as befits an oil baron, today uses a V8 Bentley, whose chauffeur has passed the Rolls-Royce Drivers’ Course. Jet do not go in for expensive high-pressure publicity but we liked the transfer on the Bentley’s back-window—this reads, quite truthfully, “This Vehicle is JET PROPELLED,” which causes amusing speculation, especially when the car is taken on one of its frequent Continental tours!

Fiat of all trades

We have recently been investigating that ingenious little car the Tipo 120 499-cc Fiat Giardiniera, or miniature station-wagon. For example, in securing the preceding story about Jet petrol the Editor took off from Wembley and rowed his way up the Great North Road, where much of the dual carriageway is still incomplete, so that this was a rare “pleasure” he would gladly have gone without. A deviation was made into Huntingdonshire to search for a pre-war racing car, which has apparently long since gone the way of all metal, although a garage was located in the office of which there still hangs a picture of the car’s owner, HAA Ironside racing a blown-single-seater Austin Seven at Donington Park before the war.. .

Beyond the peaceful town of Ramsey the surrounding fen-like countryside, was as drab and depressing on an overcast April afternoon as anything the poorer areas of. France can produce. Pressing on through Bourne, thoughts flitting to the Brescia Bugattis, ERAs and BRMs of Raymond Mays, whose home town this is, the tiny Fiat was cruised at an indicated 65 mph along Lincolnshire’s straight and relatively deserted roads, with no more protest than the noise of what in boating parlance would be a woolly outboard humming in the stern-sheets. The Giardiniera’s 21.5 SAE hp air-cooled “twin” is literally out of sight and out of mind, for it lies on its side under the floor of the luggage compartment. Perhaps it is this low c of g that enables the little Fiat to cling on remarkably well round corners, in spite of suspension flexible enough to provide comfortable riding over ridged roads and rear wheels carried on steeply-cambered swing-axles.

It was thought a good idea to spend the teeming wet night in the cathedral town of Lincoln. It isn’t as beautiful, at all events as approached from the south along A15, as one might expect, but strolling round it after dinner the canal, the old buildings, and the aircraft warning lights winking against the night sky from the spires of the cathedral at the top of the town went some way to atone for the general drabness. We secured the last available room in the Grand Hotel, after finding larger hotels fully booked up„ which wasn’t very grand, for a hot chimney running through the small air-less chamber made the temperature almost unbearable, and in the adjacent so-called writing-room a TV set blared forth the story of the “African Queen” until not far off midnight. The food was good, however and it is possible to park a car in Lincoln without being dragged off to the dungeons.

Next morning the Giardiniera buzzed up the dead-straight road to the Scunthorpe area, about which, seen on another pouring wet day, the less said the better. In demisting the screen we found that not only are starter and choke levers to hand on the floor but that the heater lever is conveniently placed by sliding the left hand back along the prop-shaft tunnel, and that by adjusting side knobs great gushers of hot air enter the car. On the return journey we filled up with Jet 93 petrol in Gainsborough, on which the motorcycle-size Fiat engine ran faultlessly.

The Fiat’s excellent 4-speed gearbox controlled by a well located central lever and its effective if insensitive brakes made the return journey south no real hardship even when we left before 1 pm and drove non-stop for 61/2 hours. The marked speeds of 15, 25 and 40 in the gears need not be observed too strictly and by freely using the gearbox there is never any fear that the Fiat will impede the general flow of traffic—rather the reverse, for Englishmen cruising along at their habitual 40 mph in old Fords and new A40s were surprised time and again as the diminutive Giardiniera squeezed past.

Next day the sun came out, the simple sun-roof, easy to open and close and completely waterproof in a downpour, was folded back, the back-seat squab folded forward, and an enormous load stowed behind the front seats (the maximum capacity is 440 lb), loading being simplicity itself through the lockable, side-hinged back door. The load had practically no effect on roadholding and the braking remained adequate, while the generous floor area enables most loads to be distributed so that visibility through the back window remains unimpaired.

There is an interior lamp to facilitate loading, which also illuminates the remarkable looking propellent machinery when the load is out of the car and the rear floor is lifted up. For checking oil level and sump replenishment a trap door is provided, enabling the load to remain undisturbed. Clever, this Fiat! At the front the rear-view mirror incorporates an interior lamp and the separate bucket seats are quite comfortable, their backs tipping forward to give access to the back sat.

The low-hung engine above the driven wheels ensures excellent traction, ground clearance is generous, the interior finish is not particularly spartan, and such items as stalk controls for lamps and flashers, twin vizors, glove container centrally under the facia, etc, are provided. There is no fuel gauge, but a warning light, coming on when 0.8 of a gallon remains, reminds one that the front tank should be replenished after 220 miles. This is intended to be a very small car, so that tall people would suffer in it and visibility tends to be restricted by sloping screen pillars and low roof, nor do we like front-opening doors. On the test car the horn was sometimes disinclined to work, the near-side clip of the sun-roof needed considerable force before it would engage, and the clutch was a bit fierce. But as a jolly little station-wagon, selling here for £585, this Fiat Giardiniera is a splendid maid-of-all-work, a jack-of-all-trades which will surely become the universal carrier of goods and personnel all over the World and which makes a very pleasing second-car for busy families. Its handy size, light steering, compact turning-circle, adequate performance and great economy must endear it to town-dwellers. In 927 miles the overall consumption of cheap-grade fuel was 52.3 mpg. After 650 miles check showed the oil level to have fallen just below “min” and rather more than a quart of oil was required to restore the level. The 125 x 12 Pirelli “Extraflex” tyres neither protested nor deflated. All the little Fiats from the great Turin plant are delightful cars and the Giardiniera solution to lots of space in a miniature car is brilliant in the extreme.

This month’s best story?

An enormous, fully-laden lorry and trailer broke down on a steep mountain road. Seeing a Fiat 500 approaching the driver flagged it down and asked its owner to take a message to the nearest garage, asking them to send out a powerful tow-wagon to bring the broken-down lorry in. “No need for that,” said the Fiat’s owner, “I will give you a tow.” The lorry driver grinned and repeated his request. But the owner of the tiny Fiat persisted that his car would make light work of the tow. He persisted so strongly that in the end a chain was produced and the two vehicles coupled together. The lorry driver made it abundantly clear that the owner would merely ruin his car. To his absolute astonishment the little Fiat moved off and slowly but surely started hauling the gigantic lorry and trailer up the hill. After a while, however, it began to emit clouds of smoke. The worried lorry driver flashed his lights, bidding the car to stop. “What’s wrong ?” asked its owner. “You’re ruining your car, mate,” replied the lorry driver, “there’s clouds of smoke coming from it. Please unhitch me and get the garage, to do the job.” ” Sorry,” was the Fiat owner’s retort, I have forgotten to release my handbrake.”