Matters of moment, March 1971

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Another lost cause?
This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This fortress built by nature for herself,
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world.

This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happy lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

It isn’t like that any more, alas. With HM Royal Mail moribund for week after week, Rolls-Royce liquidated, Ford able to sell cars but its workers refusing to make them, Shell/BP, having put 2d. a gallon on petrol, every so often unable to supply any (however, during the tanker-drivers’ strike we were well served by Murco and Mobil), most of the population, from teachers to Air-Line pilots, on strike or work-to-rule, and bitter fighting going on in Ulster. Britain is in a perilous situation.

Nationalisation of Rolls-Royce is the ultimate disaster; as the Daily Telegraph said, with a Receiver appointed things will never be the same again. The majority of our readers might not vote a Silver Shadow their ideal car. But we think few would deny the enormous importance of Rolls-Royce to this country, in terms of technological achievement and prestige.

It is true that Motor Sport was at loggerheads with R-R some years ago, because of the seemingly out-dated specification of their Silver Clouds. But that was resolved amicably after our memorable interview with their then-Chief Engineer of the Motor Car Division, Mr. S. H. Grylls, always a stimulating person to confront, and following the advent of his very advanced Silver Shadow.

That this legendary Company, which established so much valuable prestige for Britain with so many top-class aero-engines and cars, has been destroyed by incompetent businessmen and politicians, accelerated by the sordid Grab-Grab disease from which this country is suffering, its lifeblood infected by Commy bugs, is very poor thanks to the memory of Sir Henry Royce and the brilliant engineers who worked with and after him. (The Ford strikers would probably regard the wages of these R-R engineers as just an insulting tip, even in terms of modern currency, but it was on such terms that they created the R-type racing engine which won the Schneider Trophy and from which was developed those Merlin power units that dominated the Battle of Britain and saved the skins of the Ford workers’ parents.)

With the financial fall of Rolls-Royce all manner of take-over bids for its car division are being propounded. Donald Healey is reported as anxious to create a 6.7-litre V8 Jenoyce. We have considerable admiration for Healey’s determined pre-war competition endeavours and some of his engine transplants, Riley, Nash, Alvis, Austin and Coventry-Climax, have come off. But putting a Silver Shadow engine into another car will not necessarily make a worthy R-R successor. Four litres of R-R industrial six-cylinder engine planted in a Vanden Plas failed to crown that particular Princess with much success, remember…. Nor do we wish to see Rolls-Royce Americanised. Other once-thoroughly-British makes, including Vauxhall, have been plaguarised in that way but it is not a fitting fate for Rolls-Royce.

In fact, while the Crewe car division, like the man who invented the perfect mouse-trap, has customers metaphorically beating a path to its door, determined to buy its products to the extent of earning us £7-million in foreign currency last year, with customers at home willing to wait 12 or 18 months for delivery of cars the price of which rose, with purchase tax, by £2,000 in 13 months, we cannot see why the R-R Motor Car Division cannot be permitted to continue as it is. Hands off, we say, to Donald Healey, Jensen, Aston Martin-Lagonda, British Leyland, GKN and anyone else who is seeking to bolster up their reputation by acquiring the Rolls-Royce/Bentley name. (But if we do get the Jenoyce we assume that not only its badge but the entire vehicle will be finished appropriately, in black.)

Where all this trouble and strife, which the failure of R-R so sadly underlines, will lead us, it is impossible to foresee. We must hope that before all is lost ordinary decent British citizens will somehow get the situation in hand. Under the banner “Buck Up, Britain” and with the incentive of history, this could happen. Because in the past this remarkable Nation has made rather a habit of recovering from grim and frightening predicaments. After the moat defensive had been breached and it seemed, in 1916, that nothing could prevent the Zeppelins from bombing us into submission, Lt. Leefe Robinson climbed aloft in a BE2c and brought down the first of them over English soil, thereby demonstrating to the population that even this menace could be destroyed. After Dunkirk, while the Civil Servants at home were being drafted to safe no-bomb areas and fussing for their furniture, etc. to be fully insured against enemy attack, the brave little ships were bringing back what they could salvage of the British Army, so that it might fight again. And in the Battle of Britain Churchill’s “few” sat precariously behind those race-bred Rolls-Royce Merlin engines and shot down sufficient Daimler-Benz-powered Messerschmitts to safeguard us from invasion. Remember, too, that the General Strike of 1926 fizzled out in nine days, without bloodshed, after the Government had recruited civilian transport drivers and squads of young men to assist the Police to quell riots and had mingled a few armoured cars and tanks with the lorries that were taking food through the East End from the docks.

So, in spite of the R-R disaster and all Britain’s other troubles, we stand a chance of recovering and of again becoming a happy breed of men. That is, if we do not succumb to Grab-Grab disease and allow Japan and Europe to out-sell us in the market places of the World or are more forcibly defeated by communist infiltration and attack. Let us hope that, long before this becomes a possibility, common-sense will prevail among all classes of the population of this blessed plot….