MATTERS OF MOMENT, June 1975

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THE BRITISH LEYLAND COLLAPSE

Since the take-over of BMC by Leyland Motors in 1968 the British Motor Industry has comprised the Giant and several minute specialist-firms, some of the latter struggling, others, look at Rolls-Royce Motors, doing very nicely. Now the sick Giant is ailing seriously, a state of affairs which may not have come as any surprise to those who read that disturbing book “The Leyland Papers”. What many people in this country never expected to see, virtual Nationalisation of our only major car-producing complex, has come about.

How are we to view this great change in the Motor Industry of our country? On the face of it there need not be too great a disruption, at all events in the kind of cars BL will continue to try to market. Renault has been a Nationalised undertaking since the war but this has not affected the distinct individuality, quality, versatility, or demand for Renault cars, and they continue to be raced and rallied. Some of the journalists who were invited recently to the Polish Polski-Fiat plant came back with impressions of all being quite nice under Communistic conditions, although one of them reminded us that whereas British motor workers look for weekly pay-packets in the region of £50, the Polski workers take home the equivalent of about £12. .

It is the political and financial consequences of the Nationalisation of British Leyland that have to be considered and this is not a task with which a motor journal need concern itself. It may recall riots at Renault, the conflict at British Steel, and view with distaste the well-known inefficiency of Nationalised Industry (postage at over a shilling for a second-class letter and the Post Office still losing millions, for instance). It may raise an Editorial eyebrow at BL unable to meet its taxes but its late-leader Lord Stokes offered a presidential position in the reformed Government-aided Company, when individuals have to pay every penny of their income-taxes, and of thousands-of-millions-of-pounds, yours and ours, being poured-in to succour the sick Giant. But it should be more concerned with whether near-Nationalisation will benefit the British Motor Industry and the British economy, in terms of improved World and Home sales. It seems a big gamble, and all we can decently do for the moment is to commiserate with the BL shareholders and wish Alex Park, who replaces John Barber as Head of all that comprises British Leyland, a cool head and the best of British luck.

The sad thing is that this collapse is the result of inefficient management, as well as strikes and short-time working. For surely there is not much wrong with the cars BL had to sell? The Jaguar XJ12, the long-lived MG-B and Midget, the Rover 3500S, the rapid Dolomite Sprint, the immortal Mini and its derivatives, culminating in the recently-introduced 1800/2200 range, cannot be called bad cars even by our worst enemies, surely? MOTOR SPORT has been criticised for devoting as much space as it did to the last-named new BL cars but is unrepenting, because if we do not blow our own trumpets, no-one else will, and in this case one could say honestly that there had been worthwhile improvement.

Now that we all have quite a sizeable stake in the future finances of the Giant perhaps “Buy British” will make more sense, always providing that the obvious and essential improvements are made to existing BL cars and further worthwhile new ones introduced.

SENSIBLE ECONOMY

Having referred two months ago to the ridiculous economy exercises put on by Opel and Ford, which could have no meaning for ordinary drivers, much as they presumably entertained the respective technicians, we can now mention a sensible economy demonstration carried out by Michelin. The ploy was to show that a car using steel-braced radial-ply tyres can give better m.p.g. than the same car on cross-ply tyres. This has been known to users of Michelin and similar tyres for a long time but the Michelin Tyre Company in this country thought emphasis was appropriate at the present time.

What they did was to organise an RAC-observed run with two pairs of cars, Ford Cortina 1600s and 1.3-litre Morris Marinas. Each pair of cars was driven twice round a predetermined route and the tyres were interchanged after the first round, to equalise matters between drivers and cars. The use of pairs of cars ensured conformity of speeds, weather and traffic conditions. The paired cars were of the same model, age, type and in similar mechanical condition, and were loaded to their rated capacity. One was fitted with cross-ply tyres, the other with Michelin ZX steel-braced radial-ply tyres, inflated to the recommended pressures. The route traversed embraced Motorway, town, lane and hill driving and as it is accepted that the following car has the more difficult task in convoy, the Michelin-shod cars were the followers. Fuel (Shell 4-star) was measured by weight, from test tanks.

The Marina on Michelin ZX tyres ran 14.7 miles farther than the Marina on crossply tyres and the Ford Cortina on Michelin ZX tyres 14.19 miles more than that on crossplys. The actual consumptions were 37.42 m.p.g. against 34.48 m.p.g. and 34.24 m.p.g. against 31.40 m.p.g., respectively. So steel-braced radial-ply tyres seem to have all the advantages, including the currently important one of better economy of fuel. They are known to give better road grip and longer life, perhaps at the expense of rather greater road noise. The sometimes-heard objection that they “let-go” too suddenly when a car is cornered on the absolute limit is hardly valid in ordinary driving, especially now that we are legally restricted to a top pace of only 70 m.p.h. and that on comparatively-straight Motorways.

. . . . and Ashes

IT WAS lax of the Editor to describe the Silverstone fire-tender, in his VSCC report, as a Ford, when he knows very well that Jaguar presented an XJ12 for the purpose. There is nothing new under the sun, as the accompanying photograph reminds us. At Brooklands this 3-litre Bentley was used as a mobile fire-fighter, the idea being, as with the Jaguar, that it would be able to get to a fire quicker than a conventional fire-engine. It is said to have been able to out-pace some of the racing cars, although, unlike the Jaguar, it did not normally aspire to circulate with them.

SITTING PRETTY

THOSE of us who sport a short neck and back invariably find the top of the steering column splits our forward driving vision. The seat can be raised, but I’ve never been satisfied with the finished result, either from a utility or appearance point of view.

The alternative is a cushion, which falls in or out of the car, when you are getting in or out, and forms lumps to pain and overheat your reredos when sitting on it. Imagine my joy when I discovered a cushion that was heavy enough to stay put and supple enough to mould itself to one’s shape and to allow one, after four hours’ driving, to leave the car cool and one’s pants or panties not sticking to you.

The Spenco Seat Cushion is obtainable from Zimmer Orthopaedic Ltd., 134-180 Brompton Road, London SW3 1HN for £24.42. It is made from a skinlike urethane fabric and “Naugahyde” and has a weight and feel similar to human fat. The buoyant ride of this synthetic fat is also similar to the body’s own internal cushioning system found under tendons, between the backbone and around the kidneys.

It is unnecessary for me, but should added comfort and support be needed, a Spenco Backrest Cushion is available for £12.20. Pressure is so evenly distributed that you can sit on an egg without breaking it. Punch the cushion as hard as you can and you simply cannot hurt your hand. Shock absorbency of this nature must protect your back and kidneys. The cushion is virtually indestructible.

W.J.T.

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