Last Motor Show-time, presumably in an unguarded moment, The Sunday Times Magazine published a profile of us in which it pointed out that the yellow parking lines stopped just short of the Motor Sport offices, as if respecting our editorial policy.
We regret to report that these lines have since been extended (although still enough waiting-time for you to slip in and renew your subscription), a portent of the severe political restrictions that are crippling the British Motor Industry.
The Credit Squeeze, the Wages Freeze, the Employment Tax, the threat to nationalise steel and the blanket 70-m.p.h. speed-limit combined are fettering away car sales, putting on the dole workers who used to down-tools only to promote fatter paypackets, and presenting a prospect of hard and troubled times. At B.M.C. and Routes’ Scottish factory many carworkers are redundant, Jaguar is on a four-day week, and cars are piling up in B.M.C.’s stock yards. to which the front cover of this year’s Sunday Times Auto-Mania magazine inadvertently drew attention! Ford of Britain is not yet, however, in such an unhappy situation.
The past year saw Ford of America win at Le Mans, the Japanese Motor Industry, scarcely in existence in 1960, on its way to building 750,000 vehicles, with a target of 1 3/4-million by 1968, and Honda, after winning a F.1 race with a mere 14 months’ development work announce the much-discussed twin-cam 8.500-r.p.m. S800 sports car; even in remote Welsh backwaters Suzuki motorcycles are warmly praised.
This is the net that is closing around our Motor Industry and from which it must wriggle free. What Britain is doing to combat the depression comes over at the sist London Motor Show now open at Earls Court. The 1967 cars are described conventionally elsewhere by a staff writer. The Editor prefers to withhold praise or criticism until he has driven them for a reasonable distance. Effective publicity is more essential than ever if the new models are to succeed. Paper’s with sufficient influence and circulation can have a profound effect on sales. It is significant that some makers have such confidence in their products as to offer them for long-duration appraisal—Ford. B.M.C. and Fiat in our experience. (And the only car scheduled lot test that has remained elusive to us has been an Alfa Romeo, so either the prang that excused its appearance on the appointed date was extremely serious or the Alfa Romeo repair shop has been unusually busy . . .!)
Meanwhile, at fascinating but frustrating Earls Court, frustrating because its Car parks seem ever full, its adjacent parking areas quite inadequate for the hundreds of thousands of visitors who drive to this motor shop-window, the new models can at least be assessed for style, colour and seating comfort. You can, for example, sample the back quarters of 2+2 bodies and decide whether they are adequate, or would be more accurately described as 2+ 2/3s.
Amongst a zoological display of Jaguars, Sting Rays, Hawks, Snipes, Tigers, Hornets, Kestrels, Chamois, Mustangs, Falcons, Skylarks, Gazelles, and Beagles, there are vehicles for all tastes, from Rebels to Princesses, and even the Elves and Daffodils. . . Plenty of mystic numerical designations also remain, to compete with the 12/50s,14/40s and 30/98s of old. Indeed, announcing the new 850-c.c. Daf in Eindhoven, van Doorne brought logic to bear on this matter, explaining that some new models now have different names in different countries but it is the maker’s name that really matters, so they decided to use 44 for their latest model, ” a number having no connection at all with h.p., number of seats, wheelbase or anything else.”
Confusion remains, however, because a Jaguar now becomes a Daimler on account of its fluted grille, an absurd situation perpetuated by Rolls-Royce some years ago, which has prompted a Bentley Drivers’ Club Member to ask whether the owner of a recent-model Rolls-Royce would be admitted to his club and if not, why not, since there is no difference between the package labelled “Rolls-Royce” and the package labelled “Bentley” ? But “badge-engineering” goes on; we have a Hillman which is a Singer which is a Sunbeam. and the complex B.M.C. family-tree.
The Credit Squeeze has not yet killed sports and high-performance cars, but the 70-limit may do so, especially if Mr. Moore of the Cwnbran Chamber of Trade has his way, with “selected” motorists encouraged to inform on other drivers. Sir Alfred Owen is reported as saying that 28 vehicles, 54 or them Jaguars. overtook him when he drove the length of M1 in his Bentley at 70—which seems to indicate contempt for the Castle of Transport’s stupid restriction, or a faulty speedometer . . .
But in a country where we are discouraged from driving fast there is a growing emphasis on motoring in dignity and comfort. Small, quite inexpensive cars have clubland interiors, once the monopoly of opulent makes. Walnut and leather are excellent, imitation tree wood allied to plastic is cheap and nasty. The next development must be better ventilation with windows shut and quarter-lights sealed, as with Ford’s famous Aeroflow, and even better sound damping. Coil-spring suspension is gaining ground but the two-stroke engine is receding, which is historically sad but brings no lasting personal regrets.
At Earls Court Jaguar have introduced a re-Styled saloon, but that sham Sovereign s8 a shocking example of make-swapping, for which only the announcement of a new V12 Daimler will atone! In spite of the freeze, Vauxhall have the Viscount, and Ford the Executive Zodiac for the sort of people who occupy executive houses. Imps as raced and rallied have sired the Sunbeam Sizzle and Chamois Sport, the Triumph GT6 is dubbed a poor man’s E-type, and the Rover 2000TC appears to be a great improvement on a highly individual theme. Rootes have dropped the acceptable Super Minx for the Hunter, apparently believing that if they couldn’t beat Ford they could at least copy the Cortina. (The new Hillman’s type-name, once used by Singer, suggests a cross-country car that will jump ditches.) Amongst the opposition, VW, with sales approaching 11-million have rejuvenated the irrepressible Beetle with 1,500-c.e. engine and disc brakes.
Anyway, whether you crave the comfort that crushed hide and burr walnut give you in the Executive Zodiac or something functional like a Porsche or Lotus Elan, its all there crammed into Earls Court. One day, maybe, the Motor Show will be moved to a more spacious venue, where there are adequate test and parking facilities and customers can drive the exhibits instead of just looking at them through the tobacco and whisky fumes.
Meanwhile, look well at this buyers’ market, in which £50 or £100 or so off a new car is commonplace, remembering that no matter how fast, how comfortable, how safe a car may appear, unless it is as dependable year-in, year-out, as a piece of domestic hardware (such as, in the writer’s experience, a General Electric refrigerator, his Bardic electric torches or his Breitling wristwatch, to quote at random), you may as well leave it alone. After all, cars that refuse to start are-equally worthless, be they Model-T Ford or Model-T Bentley.
On that note we leave you, reflecting that things might well be in a happier state had Hitler seen himself in the role of a Lang or a Caracciola, and if Wilson and Heath had been fully occupied trying to vanquish one another on the circuits instead of at politics.