In the beginning, motor racing at manufacturer-level was a fairly serious business, undertaken for research purposes, or publicity, or a blend of both. It seemed to work, at a fraction of the cost of running today’s Formula One teams. But in recent times racing has become far more of a public spectacle, the drivers sometimes more publicised than their cars, with “funnies” such as dragsters and trucks joining in.
We have nothing against the art of dragstership, except when it involves comic cut-about once-staid saloons whose proper place is classic-car events. Truck races are very high in the spectator popularity stakes, and good luck to them; but do they teach commercial-vehicle makers useful lessons, or increase their sales? Remember that for a long time truck and bus chassis used to set technical examples to their private car counterparts, pioneering blown two-stroke engines, multi-ratio gearboxes, sophisticated power-brakes, and so on.
Another contemporary anomaly is the speed with which the oil barons reduced the tax benefit Chancellor Lawson gave to users of unleaded fuel; it should be remembered too that great progress has been made in the performance, smoothness and economy of compression ignition engines, like the 53 mpg £7211 Citroen AX Diesel.
A growing trend is that of publishing information about forthcoming cars which are anything from six months to two years away from the market-place. Even “Automotor” has adopted this ploy, which was once the preserve of audacious foreign journals photographing secret models scarcely weaned by their designers. How old fashioned it now seems for Motor Sport to scrupulously observe Press embargoes and turn a blind camera on hush-hush cars!
A further anomaly is the RAC’s obsession with the noise made by racing cars, a problem which has been with us since Brooklands opened in 1907, if not before. Quiet racing cars would be as distasteful to many people as a muted symphony orchestra! Aeroplanes rend the peace most of the time for those who live close to airports, so why pick on cars which are unleashed at sprint venues on only a few days in the year? A reprieve has been granted, but only for some racing cars, which questions the need for such restrictions in the first place.
Another odd development has been an increasing desire among one-make clubs to appear at classic car shows with elaborate stands, specially-prepared exhibits and plenty of publicity. Such clubs were originally formed out of mutual respect for favoured makes, and the need to pool data and spares; they used to be contented, self-contained organisations. Can their present exhibitionism be explained by enhanced one-make pride, a need for more members, or just chauvinistic competitiveness in this tediously commercial age? If the latter, surely it is time that profit-making shows financed club stands? But hands-up all those clubs which manage to exist happily without supporting these events …
Finally, we live with safety and self-preservation ever in mind. Jackie Stewart was criticised for introducing the safety-first attitude to motor-racing, but would the sport have survived otherwise? On the road, wearing rear seat-belts has been strongly recommended for young children, yet mums still cycle with tiny-tots perched high on bicycle carriers.
If Esther Rantzen takes up this anomaly, let’s hope she acknowledges Motor Sport!