Matters of moment, March 1980

Exploitation is a dirty word! 

“Man’s rich with little, were his judgement true; Nature is frugal, and her wants are few; These few wants answer’d, bring sincere delights; But fools create themselves new appetites. . . .” 

No-one likes to be exploited. But that is what seems to be overtaking certain echelons of motoring sport at the present time. We have had that scare of an almost impossible increase in permit and competition-licence fees and complicated fresh legislation announced by the RAC British Motor Sports Council. These have been postponed only because the smaller Motor Clubs made such a fuss about the arrogant way in which they had been informed by the RAC of these changes, which would have done away altogether with some of the events so much enjoyed by amateur-status competitors. The proposed regulation changes had already killed-off the Vintage Sports Car Club’s very popular and formerly successful Measham Night Rally. . . 

From the aspect of exploitation of the smaller Clubs by the RAC it seems that the time is ripe for radical changes within the Competitions Committee over the manner in which it controls events promoted by these smaller Clubs. We like very much the idea suggested by A. F. Rivers-Fletcher that perhaps a two-tier arrangement of control should be instituted, so that while the rich organisations may be persuaded to make the RAC richer, the smaller Clubs can have a more understanding top-man — Neil Eason-Gibson has been suggested as a possible candidate for the task — working-out their destinies, with different rules and fees applying in their case. Mr. Rivers-Fletcher sees this as a badly-needed split between that part of the RAC Motor Sports Council that governs the top echelons of the “Sport” and that which controls the smaller sporting competitions. He went so far as to suggest forming a new department moving with the latter objects, and moving this away from expensive Belgrave Square. Whether a change of offices would be possible is something to be discussed. The point is that two-tier control of motoring sport is vital and should take place quickly. Note that there is no suggestion whatsoever that the RAC, which controls British motoring sport with the approval of the Government, should be overthrown; only that it must be restrained from exploiting, knowingly or inadvertently, those Clubs and their hundreds of members which can less-well than the Big Battalions afford to pay ever-increasing permit and licensing fees. 

That the situation, in a world of galloping inflation and rising petrol costs, has become desperate, is evident when you realise that the Motor Cycling Club, the oldest sporting Motor Club in this country, which continues to organise its classic long-distance trials dating back to 1908, had to pay more in Ministry-of-Transport Authorisation-Fees to run last year’s Land’s End Trial than the RAC did to hold the sponsored International RAC Rally — something to do with the MCC having more entrants who cover a bigger mileage. 

It is understandable that the Forestry Commission has to charge for the alleged wear-and-tear that the passage of fast-moving rally cars cause to its forest tracks and for spectator protection (ropes and whistles), but it is not clear to us why a Government Department should charge the MCC for competitions which use public roads, with every competitor paying his or her normal road-licence duty. But it does, and that cost the MCC more than £1,000 for the 1979 Land’s End Trial alone, apart from the cost to entrants of RAC licence fees, etc. 

This is a sure way to kill-off many highly worthwhile Club events, which occupy many people, if not usefully, then constructively. Authority should be glad of this, in an age of increasing hooliganism and terrorism. Indeed, we feel so deeply that every effort should be made to preserve the healthy sport of competition motoring and motorcycling, at Club level, that we would be inclined to take our grievances and frustrations to Hector Munro, Under Secretary of State with special responsibility for Sport (himself a member of the Bentley Drivers’ Club and who has raced his Bentley, like the son of the Prime Minister, in Club races), if he were not so involved at present with the vexed question of whether or not the Moscow Olympic Games should or should not take place. 

Then there is another bit of exploitation of car-owners in the Ministerial pipeline. We refer to ideas for abolishing four-month minimum car-licences and substituting minimum six-months licensing, with abolishment of refunds for unexpired portions of such licences. There is no need to emphasise the effect that such legislation would have on the less-affluent car-users or how this would affect adversely those who run the older vehicles for just a few days, or week-ends, in a year. The Daily Mail exposed this official planning on the part of the Minister of Transport last year and the Morris Register and the Historic Commercial Vehicle Club, among others, have issued warnings. But there may be worse to come, even if the “no refunds” scheme is abandoned. Because the rumour of a savings-stamp scheme to help us pay for our car licences suggests a sharp rise in their cost! Then there is an idea being considered for taxing vehicles on a possession basis, instead of on usage. This would mean, presumably, that every existing vehicle, including all those out-of-use on private land, would have to pay some sort of tax. The plan may seem preposterous; but do not overlook the fact that, since all the old-style Log-Books were called in and owners of the older cars conned into believing that, unless they registered details of their vehicles with the DVLC at Swansea they might forfeit their right to original Registration Numbers, there now exists the means of tracing all vehicles and implement such a tax on their owners. 

To do so would be quite inexcusable. How would the bureaucrats who say they cannot impose Capital Gains Tax on the profit from sales of historic cars because it is quite impossible to differentiate between heirlooms sold for profit and cars used as mechanically-propelled means of essential transport, decide which vehicles, if any, should be exempted from a “possessions” tax? Demanding licences on old wrecks parked on public roads is one thing. Taxing every out-of-service vehicle quite another. If museum-exhibits were exempted while tax was charged on every individual vehicle in private collections, or those which enthusiasts were rebuilding, jealousy would be bound to result. Whichever way you look at it, this is another charge and imposition on the ownership and operation of historic motor vehicles, which give the public so much enjoyment. Those who thought up this diabolical scheme would be advised to remember that the Englishman’s home is still very much his castle and keep their money-snatching hands off unused cars, whether parked beside a maisonette or in the barns and outbuildings of great estates. . . .

Never forget, in respect of the foregoing, the hundreds of millions of pounds the DVLC at Swansea has cost the country. It has been admitted to have been a colossal mistake. Its long delays, muddles and ridiculous misrepresentations in the revised vehicle-logging system, are legion. As long ago as 1971 the Vehicles (Excise) Act made provision for date-to-date short-term car-licensing, using the flexibility of those so-costly DVLC computers. That has never happened. Now we are threatened with longer-term licensing and taxing cars on “possession”, further financial burdens, especially on the old-car movement. All who care should start opposing them, NOW. 

This leads on to another unsavoury aspect of the Swansea System. Prior to it, those legitimately requiring information about registered vehicles could obtain this on payment of a one-shilling search-fee to the local Motor Tax Office in possession of such records. Even after this arrangement fell into disuse, and particularly while Log-Books were being hauled into Swansea’s eager maw, many regional Motor Tax Offices were most helpful in this respect, a fact, widely appreciated by historians and some restorers of historic vehicles. But no more, it appears! For when we wanted merely the make of a car long-since disused and quoted its Reg. No to the DVLC, this information was refused. It is understandable that certain data must remain confidential, and only be available to the Police, particularly that appertaining to currently-licensed vehicles. But one might have thought that a genuine enquiry, needed for historical research, might have been treated kindly. Not so! Some faceless bureaucrat has only to put a tick to a DVLC printed-form to withhold such information, for one of seven different reasons — this was done in our case, not by computer, the simple little tick having been made by Civil Servant Mrs. W. Bevan. So, while wanting more revenue from motorists on the one hand, with changes stacked against the historic vehicle movement, the DVLC refuses a legitimate request for simple and harmless assistance with historical research, either because its filing-system has become bogged-down by those “flexible” multiple-computers or because of disinterest and indifference. . . . 

Further exploitation is seen in the muddle into which Vintage and Historic motor racing has got itself, with fake historic racing-cars being built and definitions like “Original” “Replica” “Reproduction” “Replicar” “Imitation” “Authentic” and “Fake” being bandied about, while confusion reigns. Finally, the present-day lowering of former high standards constitutes yet another, if milder, form of exploitation. To give but one instance, we drew attention in January to a statement in The Times saying that Nuvolari did nearly 150 m.p.h. on Brooklands in 1921 in a V8 Hispano-Suiza-engined Gordini car. Two people we know who genuinely wanted that great newspaper’s further views on this matter wrote to the Editor but their letters were unanswered. So W.B. wrote himself. Belatedly he has received the following condescending reply: “We have shown your letter to the Obituary Editor who tells us that the Obituary . . . was written some years ago by a motor-racing correspondent who contributed regularly to the obituary columns but with whom he has long lost touch. It may well be that the writer of the note in Motor Sport is in the right.” And first class postage has been suddenly increased before the second Conservative Budget, to 12p — almost the old half-crown a letter! — although not all 1st class mail arrives the day after it has been posted? A case of fallen standards? 

It is a great pity that, as the quotation that heads this Editorial reminds us, life has had to become so unnecessarily complicated, casual and mercenary. . . .

The Bugatti Owners’ Club

The BOC has announced its 1980 Fixture List. After a Social at the close of this month, Prescott opens on April 12/13th with the Midland Hill-Climb Championship. The “Classic” Meeting at this delightful Cotswold venue takes place over the week-end of May 31st/June 1st and the Summer Prescott Meeting on July 5th/6th. There will be a Beauty Show and Members’ Garden Party at Prescott on July 20th, the VSCC takes over the hill on August 2nd/3rd, there will be a Bugatti Day the following week-end, and the RAC Hill-Climb Championship meeting is on September 6th/7th. 

Details of all these fixtures and of the Club’s general activities are obtainable from the Club Office, Prescott Hill, Gotherington. Cheltenham, Glos. (Tel. Bishops Cleeve 3136) — W. B. 

Rover beats the “Blue Train” — again 

In 1930 the late Dudley Noble, when he was Publicity Manager for the Rover Company, used a 2-litre Rover “Light Six” saloon to beat the celebrated “Blue Train” from St. Raphael to Calais, a feat much-publicised at the time. Fifty years later, two Dutch journalists driving a Rover 2600 and a Rover 3500, have accomplished the same thing. Cars and roads (with Autoroutes) are faster now, but so is the celebrated Express, drawn these days by an Alsthom BB-22200 electric locomotive, instead of the Type-230 steam locomotive pulling British-built steel coaches of Dudley Noble’s time. However, the modern Rovers beat the train again. The Rover 2600 averaged 62½  m.p.h. and 28.2 m.p.g. for the 725 miles and arrived very comfortably ahead of the famous Express. On the Autoroutes it had been averaging 66 m.p.h. at 29 m.p.g. 

Tony Dawson and Jan Wendelkes, of British Leyland, travelled on the “Blue Train”, which was delayed by shunting and many stops, and far less comfortable than travelling by Rover. — W. B. 

Good news for trials competitors 

In her motoring column for The Sunday Times Judith Jackson wrote recently of climbing slippery hills. “Do not deflate your tyres because, contrary to popular opinion, it doesn’t help”. This may make her in debt to many Land’s End competitors, for many lost Premier Awards! More Judith J.. this time on correcting skids. “If you are driving a rear-wheel car, try and steer in the same direction as the wheels are skidding. If in doubt, do nothing until the wheels have stopped skidding. In a front-wheel-drive car, don’t move the steering wheel. If you do not know which sort of drive your car has, find out”. — W.B.