Matters of Moment, November 1968

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• Showtime Soliloquy

Less than a week ago the Earls Court Motor Show ended, marking the end of another year. It has been a year marred by riots, floods and strikes, and set about with speed-limits, so that the hand of both man and nature has inflicted us with disasters. Add to this the latest manifestation of Go Slow with Labour, whereby the Post Master General has messed-up Her Majesty’s Mails (interference with which, in times gone by, was surely regarded as treason?) and there is precious late cause for congratulation; 1968 can hardly be regarded as a vintage year, even if it will see the 100th issue of that enjoyable Bulletin of the V.S.C.C. Mercifully, Motor Sport is concerned more with motor-cars than with politics, although the association between the two is a vital one inasmuch as Britain’s well-being depends on a healthy Motor Industry.

For this reason we should perhaps be grateful that British Leyland under the leadership of Sir Donald Stokes has set about cleaning up and making keenly competitive car production in this country, much as some of us may regret that to do so it has scooped up Austin Healey, Daimler, Jaguar, M.G., Morris, Riley, Rover, Standard-Triumph, Wolseley and Vanden Plas, whereas previously it had made but one private car, Parry Thomas’s luxury Leyland 8, or two if you count the Trojan. Whether Sir Donald will abandon some of these makes remains to be seen, but it should be remembered that so-called badge-engineering is not an Olde English monopoly. In America you don’t just buy G.M., Ford, A.M. and Chrysler cars. They are still called Buicks, Cadillacs, Chevrolets, Lincolns, Mercurys, Fords, Oldsmobiles, Plymouths, Pontiacs and Ramblers. Make prestige still counts for something, for materialism has not entirely submerged sentimentalism, and for this reason Routes cling to such famous names as Sunbeam, Humber, Hillman and Singer, Luton still makes the Vauxhall, and Rolls-Royce have never banished their classic radiator shape or the nude lady who rides on it. Thus next year and the year after and the year after that there should be quite a variety of makes at the Motor Show and no lack of mechanical variety among production cars.

At present in the cars on the British market engines range in size from 500 c.c. to 7,736 c.c., delivery from 18 to 400 b.h.p., are cooled by air alone and air and water, have their cylinders in-line, opposed, or in a vee, and are found at the back, at the front, and in the middle of the car. Poppets prevail, unless the manufacturer is sufficiently confident and forward-looking to chuck valves and pistons away and go Wankel. Valves are prodded in many different ways, fuel injection is creeping up slowly on the float carburetter, and this theme of non-standardisation, even to the extent of unconventionality, is evident throughout the structure of the modern car. Those who prefer to be pulled instead of pushed can enjoy f.w.d. in a growing number of makes, i.r.s. has not gained much ground but is finding fresh advocates here and there, one of the latest converts being the Peugeot 504, and the sophisticated de Dion rear-end persists on Aston Martin, Iso, the biggest Lancia and the Rover 2000S and 3500.

Obviously there are a great many permutations to choose from, so Publicity Agents, Advertising Managers and Salesmen will have to work hard for their living. Fortunately for them, the Press is always willing to help by publicising favourably good cars, and these gentlemen probably sleep soundly at nights consoled by the thought that the motor car is man’s most coveted possession, although women are warm competitors, particularly since their more interesting structural and performance aspects are pretty freely exhibited nowadays and boosted by the new breed of glossy magazines.

Nevertheless, were we engaged in selling automobiles instead of words we should be distinctly worried, remembering that in a comparatively short space of time we have seen 12-million Volkswagens roam the roads of the World and that some car or other is coming off someone or other’s assembly lines almost every minute of every 24 hours. The vital but elusive requirement is to know what makes a customer buy one car in preference to another, and, having acquired it, how long he or she will keep it. Those companies who hit on something near the right answers to this problem will survive; those who find the answers elusive will suffer terrible financial penalties.

Whatever smart writers of today may say, we continue to believe that motor racing improves the breed—that the racing car of today is the GT car of tomorrow—and that competition successes stimulate sales. We should, therefore, never fail to remind anyone who will listen that Britain leads the World in Grand Prix racing, admittedly with the encouragement and dollar support of Ford and the engineering genius of Keith Duckworth. The Cosworth V8 engine has been in every winning car but one in this year’s Grande Epreuves. It must be remembered that Ford themselves now dominate many aspects of racing and have won Le Mans three times with their own GT40, which they must regard as a very valuable advertisement and one which must surely increase Ford sales in every civilised country and in some uncivilised ones.

In the face of such pressure it is unfortunate that the British cars on show at Earls Court were in almost every case largely unchanged or merely interim models. Fine new engines in fine new cars are promised from British factories in 1970 or 1972. In a pre-Show speech to the Press, Mr. George Turnbull, Head of the new Austin/Morris Division of British Leyland, said: “Talking for a moment of the cars you are seeing today, these are only interim models and we will not be showing you a completely new car until the Spring of next year . . .” and on the same occasion Harry Webster, now Executive Chief Engineer for Austin/Morris, said: “Sir Donald Stokes has already mentioned to you our challenging two car franchise future, but I am sure you all realise that new cars take at least three years to develop so all that we can do in the intervening time is to freshen up and enhance the selling potential of models already around us.”

That can hardly seem like Heaven to Mr. Filmer Paradise, the new Sales Director of the Austin/Morris Division, even though he increased European sales of B.M.C. cars by over 50% in the preceding twelve months. We hope that he will succeed in spite of the handicap of “interimism”, for we feel great affection for the front-drive ingeniously-sprung Issigonis space-savers. But if we were Filmer Paradise we would prefer to have some new goods to display. . . .

When the Jaguar XJ6 was expensively released, the information included the statement: “Within the next two years it is intended to introduce new and additional power units into the range”. In plain words, by 1970 your Six-in-line Jaguar, quietly as it may run, impeccably as it may handle, will then be obsolescent.

So 1968 isn’t much of a year for new British cars and there cannot be much incentive for people to go out and buy them. Jaguar introduced the XJ6 with much colourful publicity and it is admittedly a good example of racing improving the breed, for its engine may be outdated but was certainly developed on the circuits, and its wide-tread, low-profile, radial-ply, Dunlop SP Sport, E70 VK 15 anti-aquaplaning tyres definitely follow the current motor-racing trend. But it no longer looks like the sporting Jaguars we used to know, which may be why, at Earls Court, it was identified by a life-size Jaguar mascot towering over the main exhibit on the Stand.

What the British Motor Industry badly needs is some entirely new models and significant victories in the more important races and rallies.

• The Great November Marathon

However the ambitious Daily Express London-Sydney Marathon turns out, it should go a long way towards enlivening the dreary month of November. It could indeed be the biggest motoring venture of this generation and the outright victory should be an extremely valuable accomplishment. On page 1010 our Rally Reporter has a pre-view of this unique and ambitious event and seems to think that The Daily Express has hit the Sun a back-hander over the starting date. Whether or not this is the case, we are enthusiastic about the event and wish the best of good fortune to the crews of the 100 cars entered, which break down as follows:

By Countries

Great Britain .. 57

Australia .. 18

France .. 5

U.S.S.R. .. 4

West Germany .. 3

Eire .. 2

Switzerland .. 2

Holland .. 2

U.S.A. .. 2

Norway .. 1

Kenya .. 1

Italy .. 1

India .. 1

Poland .. 1

By Cars

Ford .. 29

B.L.M.C. .. 18

Volvo .. 7

Rootes .. 5

General Motors .. 5

Moskvitch .. 5

Mercedes .. 5

Porsche .. 4

Simca .. 4

Renault .. 2

Deep Sanderson .. 2

Saab .. 2

Daf .. 2

Rambler .. 1

Chrysler .. 1

Lancia .. 1

Volkswagen .. 1

Alfa Romeo .. 1

Citroën .. 1

Peugeot .. 1

B.M.W. .. 1

Bentley .. 1

Meyers Dune Buggy .. 1

By Crews

Two drivers .. 59

Three drivers .. 37

Four drivers  .. 4