Matters of moment, November 1970



Showtime soliloquy

The Earls Court Show, at which Motor Sport faced the BMW and Gilbern stands, which some people may have misconstrued as reflecting our prevailing affinities, marks the end of another motoring year. A year, alas, of riots, strikes, world unrest. rising prices, persecution in the Courts, and congested roads. Indeed, 1970 has been a very bad year for the British Motor Industry with production seriously affected because workers stop working on the slightest provocation (not only for extra pay) and dealers short of cars in spite of the oft-repeated dictum that we cannot export successfully unless the Home Market is healthy.

Lord Stokes has called those who invest in foreign cars “idiots”. Ford is making more use of its German factories for the models with which it penetrates the European and British markets, America is avidly introducing sub-compacts in an endeavour to stamp on the uncrushable Volkswagen Beetle (now available in even-more-desirable Super Beetle guise), and although assembly lines may come to a halt, the roads of the world grow ever more crowded.

It may be that ordinary car-owners, faced with ever-increasing motoring costs and nose-to-tail driving, will turn in ever-increasing numbers to fresh pursuits, such as gardening (second, apparently, to motoring as a national hobby), boating (which, however, entails driving to, even trailing the boat to, the water) flying (which, especially as an all-weather sport, calls for more skill, patience and expenditure than operating a fast car), or model-making (also a skilled hobby). Not so the enthusiast, who still enjoys driving, choosing the better roads over which to do it, in the better motor cars, of which plenty of both are still available. If the British car-owner finds England too frustrating, there remain Scotland, Ireland and Wales. . . .

Car design continues to be fascinatingly flexible and even in America, where most automobiles look alike, they are pressing on with some wonderful ideas, such as wipers that commence work automatically as the first drop of rain falls, while I understand that our Joseph Lucas is busy perfecting headlamps which dip of their own volition on meeting another car on full-beam, which makes us wonder who will be first with vizors that drop, under the action of photo-electric cells, when similarly dazzled. To the keen driver all this automation seems quite unnecessary. The other day we drove a new car with so many warning lights to remind us of what we were fully aware—that we had released the hand-brake, pulled out the choke, put the lamps full-on, applied warmth to the back window, signalled a turn, had omitted to put fuel in the tank, had the ignition on, etc.—that it occurred to us that, with all this electro-mechanisation to aid the driver it is high time that sump dip-sticks were abolished; some read accurately but others are exasperating. Expense would be saved if drivers were recognised as having some common sense but we have come too far from “autocar” and “horseless-carriage” and automation is verily engulfing us— changing our gears, turning our steering wheels, applying our brakes, opening and shutting the windows, and so on, even, perhaps, one day opening the doors if we give a discreet cough, closing them when we whistle. It would be far better if badly-placed controls, reflections in windscreens and vision-defeating screen pillars were eradicated, instead of making the facia panels of modern cars resemble over-excited pin-tables. We shout about safety, call for collapsible steering columns, uncrushable body shells and ever-more-effective seat harness, and yet let cars go out on the road with blind-spots, screen dazzle and misting-up windows. By 1971 all cars should have Triplex heated back windows fitted as standard, for a start. . . .

It would be nice to turn away from such complexity and enjoy the older cars, if the prices asked for them (not always realised) were not so absurd. A car which was mediocre and not very pleasant to drive in 1930 isn’t going to be any better for the passage of forty years and many tens of thousands of miles on its “clock”. Car owners were once intelligent people (some of them even formed the VSCC when design and quality deteriorated!) but if they are prepared to pay £500 for, say, an aged Austin 7, £600, for instance, an ancient Singer Junior, and untold gold for almost anything bigger, their sanity is questionable. We recall one high-priced, not especially distinguished, vehicle which the printers, to their everlasting credit, had described in an advertisement as a dropdead. . . .

The converse argument is that if astronomical values are set for the better and older cars, at least this means that they remain decently preserved and in appreciative (if speculative?) hands.

Leaving this vexed subject, good new cars stand out from the rank-and-file and remain in demand, so that the small manufacturers remain in being. Of big-production models, it is noticeable how many of the new smaller Renaults were quickly to be seen about (“Count them on the road” could well be adopted by Alan Dakers, the British Renault PRO, as his slogan and, with the demise of Standard, who originally coined it, there should be no copyright troubles!) and one supposes that the excellence of the R16 and a sensible sales-drive have paid dividends here. Ford have gone to considerable lengths to make even more desirable the well-established Cortina range, of which the 2-millionth was produced this year, the millionth exported, making it Britain’s best-selling car, and a 2-litre o.h.c. Cortina four-door GXL saloon, at £1,338, should give a lot of the people a lot of what they want in a car. Volkswagen have proved that if you improve the rear suspension of a rear-engined car so that its admirable adhesion is allied to safe handling characteristics, and make such a car well, with service facilities to match, you can sell it the world over in quantities to rival those 15-million of the legendary Model-T Ford, although perhaps not quite so quickly (Model-T: 1908-1927; VW: 1945-1970)—compare with over 2-million Ford Cortinas, earning over £400-million for Britain, since September 1962. And with so much hot-air floating about in the Motor Industry, it is rather nice to think that the Beetle uses cold-air as an engine-cooling medium, in company with the smaller Citroens, DAFs, Fiats, Hondas, NSUs, and all Porsches, proving there is no need to carry water around. And on the subject of hot-air, Alan Dix, of VW Motors, who knows how to sell motor cars, has proclaimed that sex isn’t a part of it, and there were no bikini-girls on the VW stand at Earls Court. You may not agree with such an austere policy but, engineering-wise, contrary to suffering a decline, these attractive Wolfsburg insects will likely multiply faster than ever. . . .

Another very good car is the Rover, that 3-1/2-litre multi-pot compact with an outstandingly comfortable ride, for which Mr. Heath has asked Harold Wilson to wait! For Lord Stokes’ “idiots”, there is the Alfa Romeo and other fine products from Europe.

The Garage Trade has been exposed by the Consumers’ Association, and there are those who believe that all petrols are the same, apart from octane-rating variations. On the latter score, rather than be lumbered with trading stamps, coins, puzzle cards, cheap tumblers and tights we don’t wear, we think Amoco have something when they advertise that dirt, rust and water collect in all garage storage tanks, whether they belong to Shell, Esso, BP, National, Amoco or anyone else, so they have fitted an extra filter (they claim to be the only petrol company to do so), called the Final Filter, to nearly all their pumps, which they find they have to renew every few months because they clog so badly petrol won’t pass through them. It seems to us that clean petrol in the tank is worth dozens of gimmicks in the cubbyhole. …

On the subject of motoring injustices, of which the vigilant readers of Motor Sport keep us well supplied with ammunition, we are increasingly perturbed about cases brought by outsiders, with no police intervention. Such as the sports-car driver who wasn’t identified at the time and whose only alleged “crime” was using a narrow bridge so that a lorry coming the other way had to stop (someone had to stop), who was fined, with costs, £32. 7s. 3d. and his licence endorsed at Liskeard on the evidence of other drivers, although no accident had happened (The Cornish Guardian, 1/10/70), compared to the woman police Superintendent who failed a breath-test after a car crash but who was cleared of driving with an excess of alcohol in her blood when she explained that she had drunk two large whiskies after the accident! Fine £20 and endorsement, at Betwys-y-Coed (Daily Mail, (12/ 1 /70).

Whether the authorities like it or not, cars will continue to become lower, leaner, faster and hungrier for the open road. Not only faster beyond the Welfare State speed-limits but faster through open corners, through the traffic and away from the traffic lights. In an age when millions of pounds’ worth of airliners can be blown to pieces without the gunboats going in, when crime almost exceeds honesty, when promiscuity is all about, causing a respected conservative daily paper to remark that virgins (hands up, girls!), by their rarity, cause comment when non-virgins are accepted as part of society and unrest and rioting forever round the corner, it might be as well to encourage comparatively healthy pursuits like motoring and motoring sport, as possible substitutes for drug-taking, rape, sexual perversion, sit-ins, bank hold-ups, civil and political disturbances, and all the rest of the popular present day pastimes.

Instead, we learn that the MoT, John Peyton, has decided to retain the 70 m.p.h. speed-limit on Motorways without even experimenting with his 80 m.p.h. section on the M1. This is a smack in the eye for those engineers who have striven to make tyres, brakes and cars generally safer and safer. It disregards the fact that most accidents happen at low speeds, in towns, to those who do not feel safe above 40 m.p.h. and due to bunching on Motorways caused by the speed-limit. Mr. Peyton’s ruling will be enjoyed by the A35 fraternity, most of whose vehicles never wear out they are driven so slowly, and by those who buy cars to impress the Joneses (who always seem to live next door) by polishing them outside the pad on Sunday mornings. It will depress the bulk of the experienced motoring population; remember, Mr. Peyton how many of us voted for you! Mr. Heath should put this Peyton place quickly in order, for the Minister’s caution (accidents will happen anyway) is contrary to the Prime Minister’s policy of a forward-looking Britain. If he condones a speed limit which wastes the third lane of our splendid new Motorways, why spend millions of pounds on them ?

A two-seater to Venice

THOSE readers who correctly defined this car as a Cubitt were: P. Machon of Ingatestone, A. B. Snow of Newcastle, Staffs., R. P. Rae of Edinburgh, J. R. Price of Greenwich, D. A. Jackson of Cheltenham, Capt. N. Clift., R.N.(Rtd.) of Winkleigh, T. R. Lloyd of Churt, J. A. Richards of Stafford, D. I. Cubitt of Hethersett, J. Waterman of Leatherhead, R. Hargreaves of Reigate, T. Cardy of Attleborough, B. W. Rivett of Bickley, J. Wilner of Wimborne, D. Cameron-Small of Troon, who referred us to Saint Luke, Chap. 12, verse 25 (we will overlook the different spellings), and D. Griffin of Paignton.