Matters of moment, June 1979

• Outlook uncertain

Although motoring remains one of the most enjoyable relaxations, within the limits set by its ever-increasing cost, legal restrictions, and the pleasure-decreasing aspect of more and more road congestion, not improved by an increase in crawling “mimsers” who are presumably trying to save fuel, when they are not downright frightened of the machinery of which they have charge, its future seems uncertain — just as properly conducted, top-scale motor racing is the finest of all sports but is also afflicted at present by an uncertain future.

Our claim made in last month’s Editorial that there may well be a trend towards smaller, petrol-thrifty cars, even to the extent of a sort of inverted-snobbery as to who can own the best makes and models, or even modified vehicles, in this economic category, is strengthened by recent happenings. We have stopped at petrol stations when far from home, on business journeys, to be told that we can only have a small allocation of the essential fluid. In our nearest towns garages have been displaying notices such as “Regulars Only”, “No Petrol Until Thursday”, or even simply “Closed”. This is an alarming situation, because there is little point in owning a car unless it can be operated freely. In peace-time no one is going to tolerate lightly a return to war-time rationing. This petrol shortage seems to have come into being from May 1st, when garages were notified without warning that they might receive short and/or delayed supplies — bad for the garages, bad for us. Shell have been among the worst offenders. They tell us that the Iranian cut-back is the cause but claim that they have maintained a 100% on-stream delivery compared to last year, the shortages being due to the rise in demand. Car-owners, and householders, are, it seems, burning more liquid fuel. It is not generally realised that in Ireland, where they are experiencing an economic miracle, the licence-fee on cars of under 2,000 c.c. has been abolished (along with the proposed Wealth Tax and domestic rates) but that on cars over that size it is set very high, to encourage conservation of petrol. With the aforesaid shortages at the pumps in Britain and mile-long queues reported at Irish petrol stations, we do appear to be in an age when there may soon be more enjoyment in watching the fuel-gauge than the tachometer (not rev-counter, please, although we had one of these on our bicycle). Certainly we have unpleasant reminders that our fun is dependent on Middle East politics.

If our predicted enforced enthusiasm for little cars comes about, fortunately there are manufacturers ready to meet it, in spite of their claim that no worthwhile profits are made on such cars. There is the Renault 5 Gordini (£4,149), Ford have their Fiesta 1.3S (£3,277) and the Alfasud 1.511 (£3,600), Fiat XL/9 (£4,757) and Peugeot 104ZS (£3,134), etc. are reminders that more economical motoring need not be too dull. . . In this economy-car field, it is significant that Citroen have given their flat-twin engine a new lease of life and that Fiat not only still make their Tipo 126 air-cooled vertical-twin but offer it in “De Ville” form and are now importing a limited edition of even more deluxe “Black & Silver” 126s, priced at £2,029.95 each. If the smaller cars refuse to be snubbed, and indeed look like becoming the “in-thing” in the near future, it can be said that not only the petrol famine (which has nothing to do with that scare-idea of a petrol-less universe) but speed-limits will encourage them. A weekly contemporary has published the depressing news that the Government may be contemplating the purchase of large quantities of hand-held radar-guns, with which to enforce speed-limits. It is obvious that such law enforcement extracts large quantities of fine money from those caught in such lotteries. This money may go towards financing the increased Police pay — and do not read us wrongly, the Police have earned this and richly deserve it. Such trapping in no way reduces accidents. So one can only hope that the Brand New Government, so convincingly elected, will have none of this costly nonsense.

Finally, it isn’t only petrol supplies which are slowing down in this busy modern age. Although we haven’t heard from them, we have extracted the information (see out April Editorial) that there is no longer any benzole in the National Benzole Company’s petrol. Nor has Esther Rantzen yet told us how her production-car “motor race” is conducted (see our April Editorial) which gave Japanese cars such a big boost on TV. Perhaps PR is drying up, too?

• For a good cause

The Motor and Cycle Trades Benevolent Fund’s Lynwood Veteran and Vintage Rally takes place at Sunninghill, Ascot on June 30th. Kay Petre will present the prizes. The Rally raises funds towards the cost of running the Lynwood home for the disabled and elderly. Entry forms from Paul Finn, BEN Lynwood, Sunninghill, Ascot, Berkshire. — W.B.