Matters of moment, May 1974

The right road

When we realised that the new Chancellor of the Exchequer was named after a car, our hopes rose. They were far less optimistic after we had heard his Budget; we then felt like calling him othel names than Healey! However, he has pledged himself to put Britain back on the Right Road and we can but hope that he will be able to do this without taking too many Left turns … Mr. Healey and his Government have expressed the’ view that, although Britain has signed the Common Market Treaty, she may not necessarily get a fair deal from Europe. So perhaps the time has come to bat on our own wicket, discarding the excuse that now we are a small part of Europe it is sensible to buy, and boast about, foreign cars. Maybe it will be wiser in future to Britain and British in a real endeavour to steer ourselves back onto that vital Right Road, no matter how enticing and excellent is the opposition from American-financed concerns, from Japan, and from the wider bulk of Europe

May we remind you that way back in 1936 there was a strong Buy-British movement afoot, as reflected in the accompanying reproduction of one of the series of advertisements which were then appearing in the motoring Press?

At that time we were troubled as to whether increased Import Duty might be imposed to cut-back sales of British cars to America, nor were our cars as suited to Continental travel and high-speed running over the new European motor-roads as they are today. Our supremacy in the top class of International motor-racing had yet to be established.

Yet here was this strong desire for British patriots to be seen in British cars. It is something we might well reintroduce, in the far more crucial times in which we now find ourselves. In 1936 our economy Austin 7s, Morris Eights and Ford Populars were being challenged by the Italian Fiat Topolino and the German two-cycle DKWs. There was plenty of opposition, too, higher up the price-scale, from European and American factories.

But Britain was in a good position to fight back. The Roesch Talbots were still made—just. Riley was toying with a V8, so was Standard, and Daimler offered dignity, MG and Aston Martin sporting performance. The Siddelcy Special had made its hiduminium appearance and you could invest in an Austin for £102.10/-, buy a Daimler Double-Six 50 chassis for £1,650 or a closed Phantom III Rolls-Royce for £2,615. The V12 Lagonda was amongst us, Sunbeam, embedded in Rootes, was trying a last fling with an eight-cylinder engine and the 4.1/4-litre Bentley, the six-cylinder Lagondas, and the 20/25 and 25/30 Rolls-Royces were well-established foils to Bugatti, Mercedes-Benz, Lancia Dilambda and other worthy Continentals.

When that advertisement was published, one of several depicting horror, in varying social stratas, that any well-known citizen of the British Isles should buy a foreign car, Raymond Mays had just won the Mountain Championship race at Brooklands in an ERA, at record speed, from foreign opponents. Cobb and Eyston had broken notable long-duration records at Bonneville Salt Flats in British cars. Malcolm Campbell, who held the Land Speed Record at over 300 m.p.h., was advocating rear engines and Dominion Centipede tyres to reduce the great plague of skidding (remember?), and Ford-of-Britain had taken over the Albert Hall to display a range of stylish cars that included the famous 22 h.p. and 30 h.p. V8s. You could get a 570 c.c., 50 m.p.g., Fiat 500, tax five guineas a year, for £.120. The Austin Ten Cambridge saloon was a dependable investment at £178 with a sliding roof. Wolseley and Morris were separate entities and Alvis was there to deflect attention from the competitively-priced Delage. Britain had a front-drive car in the BSA Scout .

Some things have not altered all that much since then. The Boat Race, the Grand National, the International Trophy, the British Grand Prix (let’s get that name right!) and the TT are still run-all British institutions. And it is time we made much of the fact that not only has nothing yet vanquished the Cosworth-Ford F1 engine but that Britain still makes fine cars, from Sir Alec Issigonis’ spacious little Mini to the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow. Where can you get better value-formoney than from Daimler/Jaguar? Or a more rugged V8 GT than from Aston Martin? Ford-of-Britain offers a truly comprehensive range of competition-proved family and near-luxury-class cars. The Hillman Avenger has been well received. Vauxhall produce stylish, value-for-money, robust and sporting transport. Rover still build fine Cars and sports-models are available from Triumph, MG and Jensen. The Morris Marina had a far better reception than early models led us to believe possible. The Austin range provides safe and comfortable motoring for different size purses, the Morgan, as the Continental Correspondent pointed out last month, must be the last stronghold of what motoring used to be all about (replicas and imitations apart) and a Ford-powered Reliant Scimitar is good enough for a certain brave and sporting Royal Princess. Vanden Plas know the answer to luxury-in-a-small-package, and individuality is offered by Britain’s courageous small-output companies, led by Lotus, of which there is nothing quite the equal in race-bred, safety-fast driving.

The Budget, as Lord Stokes has said, did practically nothing for our Motor Industry. The time is therefore ripe for more support from you, the customers, for British cars, so that, unlike Charles in that 1936 advertisement, you will not be censured for running a foreign make.