Matters of moment, November 1971

Showtime Soliloquy

With the last of the Earls Court visitors leaving the Motor Show to discover whether or not the cars in which they arrived have been towed away or merely scribbled on by darling little children, one can almost say That Was The Year That Was….

It has been an eventful, but even from the motoring aspect, a rather unfortunate year. For the Industry 1971 was marred by stoppages, and the prolonged Ford dispute, the effect of the latter so far-reaching that this great provider of dependable personal transport sold only 99,718 cars from January to June, compared to 164,041 for the corresponding period in 1970 (even so, Ford were second in the sales race to British Leyland and well ahead of Vauxhall and Chrysler UK—the statistics are from the industrious SMM & T).

The year has seen the tragic falling apart of Rolls-Royce Ltd., leading to liquidation, a terrible situation for the makers of the Silver Shadow, a car so technically advanced that it is universally acknowledged to ably continue R-R’s “Best Car in the World” theme. Another British make likely to be restricted by a financial straitjacket is Aston Martin.

It has been a year during which the price of petrol rose yet again, Vauxhall exchanged coke-bottles with Ford, and Woolmark took over the publicity aspect of the British Grand Prix (fortunately woollen overcoats were not needed at Silverstone that day but if anyone had arrived with a pet Iamb it would presumably have had to be admitted, whereas dogs were rightly barred). Stewart won his second World Championship, thereby linking his name with those of Ascari, Graham Hill and Clark in the minds of those who reckon driving prowess in terms of points scored; he has yet to emulate Fangio’s five and Brabham’s triple Championships.

It was the year in which Datsun won the gruelling E. African Safari, the allure of Le Mans diminished and new racing-driver talent flourished, to replace the sad fatalities which overtook some of the fastest of the older school—who are most decidedly not forgotten as another racing season closes. It was the year in which Jaguar at last revealed their V12 engine, but in the dated E-type, and BL produced the antiquated Marina formula after years of progressive Issigonis engineering. Whatever Penthouse may not do for morals, it is currently sucking up to the Motor Industry by praising the cheaper-to-produce, less-advanced cars, recalling the clever advertisement with which Ford sardonically welcomed the Marina. (Cortina sales from January-June 1971 were 37,062 in spite of go-slows; Avenger 33,740; Victor; 19,459; of the new Marina 3,699). On this theme, we do not think that many of the masses of spectators who will line the route of the LondonBrighton Veteran Car Run on November 7th will wish to see modern cars reverting to the specifications of the gallant pioneer vehicles they will see in action on that day. But we do accept that the less technically-complicated cars can sometimes be transformed by clever “tuning” of their power units and suspension systems, a fact perhaps best illustrated by the inimitable Ford Escort Mexico, which the Editor has so enjoyed driving on the road and which his assistant has started to race.

It has been a year in which some well-established race circuits have been threatened with closure but in which the brave new Birmingham round-the-houses course was mooted. It was the year of Tim Carson’s retirement after his piloting of the VSCC to its present unassailable position but one in which a Learned Judge allowed Chitty-Bang-Bang II to go to America, at the exorbitant price some people are prepared to pay for ancient machinery—although this speculative trend seems to be sharply declining.

In the first half of 1971 the British Motor Industry churned out 500,818 new cars, only 370 fewer than in the same period of the slightly less strike-ridden 1970. Another 118,769 cars were sold by Importers, an increase in the Foreign Invasion of 42,326 against the corresponding 1970 period—writing in the sky no British citizen should ignore. The Invasion was led by Volkswagen (25,028), pursued by Renault (22,443), Fiat (15,795) and Chrysler-France (10,988).

It was a year in which inventors went on trying to oust the conventional piston engine from the place it has occupied since Otto, spurred on by fears of pollution, cessation of petrol supplies and excessive noise. Yet the NSU Wankel remains the only commercially acceptable solution and has been adopted for only a couple of makes of car. The Electricity Council announces its order, presumably at taxpayers’ expense, for 80 battery-driven vehicles from Enfield Automotive. But as they seem satisfied with a top speed of 40 m.p.h. and a city range of 60 miles, you can ignore them.

So, as another motoring year begins, the motor car, killer, polluter, eye-sore and consumer of scarce resources as Ian Breach of The Guardian has labelled it, continues to provide, as that paper has to admit, “more gratification for more people than any other single man-made object”. And so say all of us….