Matters of Moment, May 1968

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Momentus happenings have occurred recently. The Budget has been and gone, leaving behind the inevitable savage tax increases on the not inconsiderable section of the community that motors. The increase of £7 10s. in annual licence duty is unfortunate; the additional 4d.-a-gallon on petrol tax surely unnecessary, as a tax which will affect everyone’s pockets, not just those of car-users. This one can in many cases be circumnavigated by re-setting the car’s ignition-timing, so that, at some cost in performance, it will burn without protest the next-lower octane-rating fuel, and by adopting driving methods akin to those which pay off in the annual Mobil Economy Run, the best figure in this year’s Run being 50.6 m.p.g. from a Michelin SDS-shod Riley Elf, at fairly high average speeds. But the increase in p.t. will affect new-car sales, and thus Home Market prospects of the British Motor Industry, and thereby its export prospects.

Like the Budget, Barbara Castle has also gone. She has left a sad legacy of horse-age thinking behind in the M.o.T., all of which continues to restrict British motoring. No-one can complain about safe tyres being made a more obvious legal requirement, but as prudent car-owners would scrap tyres before the treads were down to a bare millimetre, this additional piece of legislation is somewhat futile, although not so ludicrous as being made to fit safety-belts to the front seats of comparatively-recent cars without being compelled to wear them!

We hope that Mr. Richard Marsh, the new M.o.T., doesn’t think as foolishly as this. Perhaps he is more likely, as car-washing is one of his hobbies, to ban dirty cars from our major cities, which is, we believe, enforced in Russia. . . Joking aside, as he is a keen motorist we can at least hope for an end of the restrictive practices which were such a shortcoming of the Castle regime. The police, loaded already with breathalysers, tread-depth gauges, truncheons and, in some cases, guns, should not want any more clobber for the purpose of catching motorists. Motor Sport frequently criticises the police, so we would like to pay belated tribute to the splendid manner in which 1,000 police controlled 10,000 anti-Vietnam war demonstrators and political agitators in Grosvenor Square last March. Police Comdr. J. Lawlor said at the time “I still like to think there is a good deal of affection between the general public and the police here.” If rioting increases he will need the help of ordinary decent citizens in keeping order. It is time, therefore, that Police Chiefs, J.P.s and Magistrates eased discrimination against motorists who unwittingly commit non-criminal offences, remembering Comdr. Lawlor’s Sentiments and that there are some 13-million drivers in this country, the majority law-abiding, except when their vehicles creep up to 33, 45 or 76 m.p.h., in speed-limit areas, or a lamp bulb fails or a Reg. No. gets painted legibly but at 45º, etc., etc. . . .

So, in bidding goodbye to Mrs. Non-Driver Castle our main regret is that we did not buy shares in tyre companies.

As to the panic Press which motor-racing accidents receive, this has been energised afresh by the fatalities of Jim Clark, O.B.E., and Robin Smith. Let us, then, reflect that, because a Boeing 707 monoplane caught fire and burnt five of its occupants, in spite of the highly commendable piloting back to Heathrow by B.O.A.C. Captain Taylor, to whom warm congratulations have very deservedly been paid, no-one seriously suggests that aeroplanes should be abandoned or that a Back-to-the-Biplane movement is overdue. As for having to defend motor racing by quoting the valuable lessons it teaches, no-one tries to justify the game of football by saying that it improves leather, or develops better balls. . . .

There is the threat of Nationalised transport, even eventually a Government motor industry, if the dreaded Transport Bill goes through. But unless older vehicles were to be banned, which surely no Government would dare to do, variety will continue to be a characteristic of our roads, and for this we should be truly thankful, for even cars like the early version of pre-war Hillman Minx we noticed in Hersham and the ’30/40s Austin 10/4 seen in Frimley at Easter make their contribution to this happy state of affairs.

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