Matters of moment, June 1961

A tax on prestige

In this country we pay tax on our earnings and on interest on capital, additional tax on high earnings, tax on company profits. Our marriages, houses, dogs, guns and TV sets (even when they receive only sponsored programmes) are licensed and when we die there are death duties. Motorists pay purchase tax on a new car, have to buy a car licence and driving licence, take out compulsory insurance not always equitably priced by private companies, and contribute 2s 6d tax on every gallon of petrol consumed. In return, we are permitted to indulge in private transport, harried by the police (Anne Scott-James of the Daily Mail said last month : “The policeman has become a public enemy . . . due entirely to persecution of the motorist”), harassed by traffic jams (Mr. Marples may have cased congestion in London to some extent but a Flower Show in Chelsea is apparently of more importance than unimpeded traffic flow along one of London’s main arteries), and troubled in summer by a feudal system of road repairs necessitating loose grit and wet tar, which is detrimental to our tyres, paintwork and the carpet at home. Now the Chancellor has aimed another blow at the motorist—his proposal to prohibit tax relief on executive’s cars costing more than £2,000. This proposal hits hard at Alvis, Bristol and Daimler but hardest at Rolls-Royce, because they produce the greatest number of luxury cars, of which only about half are exported.

We have no particular love for Rolls-Royce, for they have steadfastly refused to co-operate with Motor Sport, we have not had any of their cars for test since 1956.

But British prestige will suffer if the car bearing the illustrious name of Rolls-Royce, a name welded to the self-imposed title of “Best Car in the World,” should go out of production. Just as the name Ford can never, in certain circles, quite escape from the stigma of the model-T people’s car, no matter how good and how different are modern Ford products, so does Rolls-Royce represent to the majority of the World’s motorists the highest pinnacle of perfection; even if, in the same way that the British Empire was at its zenith under Edward VII, it can be argued that the Rolls-Royce reached its climax of quality as the Edwardian “Silver Ghost.” Be that as it may, this Government weapon that could kill the Rolls-Royce car is barbaric and ill-conceived. Naturally, there are counter arguments. Those not privileged to pay sur-tax may question the right of executives to indulge in £6,000 cars subsidised by the community—in which case the Editor in his “minibric” feels reasonably guiltless ! The Sunday Express considers that the Government has subsidised Rolls-Royce so generously over aero-engine research that the company shouldn’t moan about possible loss of car sales. Yet to those of us who believe that, if the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, the Battle of Britain was undoubtedly decided over Calshot Water (where the victorious Supermarine seaplanes were powered with Rolls-Royce racing engines from which came the war-time “Merlin”), and to all who value craftsmanship in an age when some employees consider it easier to command high wages by strike action than by hard work, this proposal to tax British prestige must appear foolhardy in the extreme.

Say goodbye to Rolls-Royce cars ? It’s unthinkable. . . .

The success of Formula One

The last few weeks have been stimulating. Ferrari is back as a force to be reckoned with, the new Italian driver Giancarlo Baghetti gave established GP drivers a shock at Syracuse, and a four-wheel-drive Ferguson racing car has been announced. Stirling Moss has endorsed his unchallenged superiority in an Inter-Continental Cooper in the wet at Silverstone and in a Formula One Lotus in the dry at Monaco. Best of all, in the latter race a Formula One Lotus (Moss) and Formula One Ferrari (Ginther) both lapped only 1/10th of a second slower than the 21/2-litre lap record and Moss won at record speed. What an effective answer to the pessimists who declared that the 11/2-litre Formula One cars would be desperately slow and at a sad disadvantage to Inter-Continental cars ! Inter-Continental racing (curious title for fields predominantly British !) may for a while be a better yardstick of driver-prowess ; that is, while sufficient 21/2-litre “yesterday’s bangers” hang together to enable this second-division racing to continue.

First by a long way

We congratulate Motoring News on another first in getting motoring news to their readers. We refer to the Syracuse GP which took place on Tuesday, April 25th, a full report of which appeared in their edition of Thursday, 27th. Letters received from around the world indicate that Americans were reading the report by mid-day on Friday, 28th, and in New Zealand at breakfasttime on Monday, May 1st. Well done, “MN.”