Matters of moment, March 1977

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Outlook tepid

As the year advances the general and motoring outlook can he described as tepid, improving in some quarters but showing little or no uplift in others. The most momentous moment of the past month, judging by the column-inches in the Press that it evoked, was the release on the Home markct of the new Ford Fiesta. Expectation set it high, in anticipatory terms. In the event it can be described as just another small car, but just the sort of small car the World to badly needs. The advent of Fiesta did not have quite the impact of the Model-A Ford, away back in 1927. However, we have covered an exploratory 1,000 miles in a 957 0.0. Fiesta L no (£2,124.77, including an excellent rear window wash-wipe) and have no hesitation in saying that it is a very, very good little use indeed, for those who favour, or are forced to use, that kind of thing. Plenty of life, light steering, excellent safe handling, 37 to 39 m.p.g., a range of over 300 miles to the tankful (if you carry a can of fuel, and at the risk of collapsing the tank). A useful 3-door hatchback body with good seats and instruments within removes any suggestion that the latest little Ford is tepid. No, it’s a hot number, from the top-sales aspect, and we have no doubt that Ford, who so providentially supply such sound transport for the masses, have in Fiesta-Bobcat exactly what they want.

It is rather amusing, however, to reflect in assessing the range of small cars of which this Ford is the latest and others from General Motors, Toyota and Chryslers are forecast, that the motoring papers are tending to put the VW Polo at the top of the list, if purchase price and the Fiesta’s simplified servicing attractions are overlooked. Amusing because, when some 20 years ago, Motor Sport proclaimed the Volkswagen Beetle as very good value, we were strongly criticised for our German bias and lea of patriotism, in spite of all we had written in torrid praise of many British cars and British motor racing achievements. This criticism persists. Not all Wet long ago the Editor of Motor Sport was asked by Cliff Michelmore, during a BBC interview, whether he was ashamed of his long advocacy and implied preference for German cars. Yet now we have the VW Polo proclaimed as leading in the small-car stakes by a short head, in terms of quiet cruising, good ride and superior finish. So maybe the EEC has done some good. But although the Fiesta has a trace of present-day Model-Ts about it, with ifs simple iron, push-rod Kent engine with cast-iron 3-bearing crankshaft and non-alloy head, and its components are made and assembled all over the place, it must be remembered that this remarkable little package is now made in Dagenham as well as in W. Germany and Spain and that already some 76,000 have been sold, which is 9,000 , on Ford’s estimate of Fiesta sales from last July to the end of 1976. Fiesta will surely be an enormous success, as much a second-car status-symbol as the Mini, and its sales will, remember, help employment in Britain.

So in this respect, the 1977 outlook is not so tepid. But it cannot be overlooked that unemployment is high and seemingly uncontrolled by the Government, and that the Banks have overnight shown a strong bias towards borrowers, at the expense of their once-respected deposit-customers. By dropping interest-rates more than once within a matter of days they may hope to improve business expansion. But this is a raw deal for many of those who, as Senior Citizens—fearful term—rely on earnings from their investments at a time when the price of petrol, general food and milk prices, and other items that increase the cost of existing, show no sign of a fall. Many of those persons thus affected probably commenced saving under the war-time call of “Lend to Defend the Right to be Free”. The Banks should continue to honour it. . . .

Coming back to direct motoring matters, there is the chilling news, vide the Sunday Telegraph, that Leyland have placed a £1-million order with Ford-of-Europe to help them improve the top-model Jaguar/Daimler cars, due to a shortage of sufficiently skilled pattern makers and tooling craftsmen in Britain. If this is true, the news is not tepid, it is downright bitter . . .

Tepid again is the announcement that the Donington Park race circuit will not now open this spring, as scheduled. It appears that after overcoming all the costly legal bickers, Tom Wheatcroft has been confronted with water getting under the track surface and raising the tarmac. We would have thought that if tarmac behaves for anybody, it would behave for master-builder Wheatcroft and we trust that postponement of the track’s opening will not mar the eventful resumption of racing at the Donington course or the proposed gathering together at the first BRDC meeting there of many of the racing personalities who were associated with the last such race, run there on April lot 1939, as outlined by D.S.J. in the January Motor Sport. To off-set disappointment over the Donington delay, you will note that there will be the “Race of Champions” at Brands Hatch on March 20th for Formula One cars, and that the BRDC Formula Two racing at Silverstone happens even earlier, on March 6th. Then, this year being the 700h Anniversary of the opening of Brooklands Motor Course, we were glad to be told by a spokesman for the Brooklands Society that it is hoped to have some very interesting racing cars there for the Re-Union next June, such as the Napier-Railton, the single-seater 8-litre Panhard-Levassor, and the Fiat Mephistopheles. The current issue of the Society’s excellent journal, whose Editor is now Cyril Posthumus, carries the full details.

On a less happy note, there is the threat of our cars being photographed and their speeds recorded on that latest piece of Gestapo equipment, the Orbis camera, and we sincerely hope 500 000 protesting to your MP and to the Motoring Organisations about the retention of the futile 50 m.p.h. speed limit which wasn’t even imposed to reduce accidents but to save fuel, of which the alleged shortage is long past, is an affront to safe-driving over-taxed car users in particular, also to the Motor Industry, which is so vital to the economy and reduced unemployment.

Finally, arnong these mainly-tepid topical matters, a ray of sunshine from Angela Rippon, the charming BBC news-caster. After the news-film flash showing HRH Prince Charles accepting a tin of baked-beans from a child, before he went for a test-drive in the new Aston-Lagonda, she commented: “He should stick to beans, they’re cheaper.” We are sure the Bean Register will confirm that Angela is absolutely right, surely the only time that a Lagonda cost less than a Bean was in 1926, with the 12/24 at £285 against the 11.9 Bean at £298, Happy motoring!

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