Matters of moment, November 1973

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Showtime Soliloquy

Motor Show time in Frankfurt, Paris and London is an appropriate period for thinking about the state of the movement and what the immediate future holds for it. In recent years the private motor car, which represents the most covetable possession of modern man after, perhaps, his wife and home, has been hedged about by suggestions that it is a Big Bad Influence—pollution, congestion and danger being pinned on it, So that it has been expensively-controlled technically, numerically and construction-wise. Yet there are many worse and less-convenient things in the World than the automobile, which provides employment for hundreds of thousands, gives untold pleasure to the masses, who might otherwise turn to more viceful pursuits, and which is unrivalled as a means of swift, comfortable, convenient door-to-door travel, apart from being indispensable to businesses and all manner of essential services.

So it is disappointing that, with the fine display just concluded at Earls Court, where 29 stands contained new models and I8 showed revised cats, the threat of petrol rationing and rising prices may well put a brake on sales. Why the ultra-wealthy oil companies are permitted to further increase the price of petrol, which is already carrying a savage tax, is a political conundrum we cannot pretend to understand. The threat of rationing arises, we think, from political sources associated with the Middle East War, which may blaze into a World Calamity, and not from the much-publicised panic suggestion that the World’s supplies of fuel are all but exhausted. If the latter be anywhere near true, we face an unprecedented crisis which will alter completely the life and travelling habits of civilised man—if Such a being exists To suggest that driving at 70 instead of at the proposed Motorway limit of 80 m.p.h., or running small instead of large, thirsty motor cats, will sufficiently conserve fuel so as to postpone the demise of all mechanised transport or any reasonable time is punk. In any case, we are suspicious of shortages, whether of petrol, oil, food, electricity, steel, rubber or water, all of which are spoken of (although there is no scarcity of hot air), because shortages usually betoken a rise in consumer costs.

If petrol rationing comes, it will be on account of war cutting supplies to Europe, not a drying up of the World’s oil wells. But it is a miserable prospect, apart from the interest of seeing how the Post Office will differentiate between large and small cars when handing out ration-books, now that all are taxed at a flat-rate and not by cylinder capacity, and the sooner the danger is overcome, before it results in a major conflict between the two great powers representing Capitalism and Communism, the better for everyone, we poor motorists very definitely included. The prospect of five gallons a week, which cautious bureaucracy might well interpret as five gallons a month, will not encourage people to buy the brand-new :cars with which every nation in Europe, America, Canada, Sweden, Japan, Czechoslovakia, Russia and Poland tried to tempt them before the doors closed at Earls Court.

Unobtainable fuel apart, it will take more than the politicians, the wardens, the radar-traps and the enormous cost of every motoring thing to kill or even materially diminish the prevailing enthusiasm for cars and motorcycles. Formula One racing is in a bit of a muddle but saloon-car racing thrives, with BMW and Ford on top and the effect of such racing rubbing off on their production models for the benefit of the customers who drive them. There is to be another World Cup Rally next year, which sounds exciting, and motor competitions of all kinds, from drag to rallycross, long-distance sports-car contests to autocross and International rallies are flourishing as never before—and let us not forger that even the once-prolific so-called “reliability trials” are still promoted, by the MCC.

There are encouraging signs that. the Metropolitan Police are making valid attempts to explain to drivers the function of their Traffic Department and to enlist our help and sympathy in easing their accident-prevention and traffic-congestion problems. This is great—but it was disturbing to learn that when a motoring journalist was involved in a recent traffic-incident punch-up, the London police proved disinterested in trying to bring the thug to justice. How we can he expected to cheerfully face the fact that the Police are not interested in common-assault charges and that the GLC will not disclose, even for a 25p fee, the owner of a vehicle whose number has been secured in connection with such an assault when we are pestered for such information if a car is wrongly parked, and the Police continue to operate radar-traps to catch us if we exceed by a few m.p.h. a city speed-limit on a deserted road, is something that those concerned with improving Police/public relationships might usefully consider. Parking wardens and radartraps obviate very few accidents but the foregoing is a definite invitation for more punchups on our streets, the offenders knowing they will be almost impossible to trace and expensive to bring to Court—is this what the Police authorities want ? Is it yet another unfair motoring interpretation of once infallible British Justice ?

If all the gloomy predictions relating to a curtailment of motoring prove false there are some excellent new cars to enliven the scene, and if the emphasis has to be on little cars, for no worse reason than Mr. Rising-Price, we can console ourselves with what an excellent performance even small cars possess nowadays, thanks largely to the widespread use of items such as hemispherical combustion chambers, multi-valve heads, overhead camshafts (albeit often driven by belt), multiple carburetters, and other power-producers which we used to know at Brooklands, Donington and other speed venues of long ago. And although there are a lot of dismal tales circulating about new cars which give instant trouble and of almost-new cars being called-in by their makers for vital mechanical mods., on the whole the 1970s cars stand up pretty well to much abuse, in heavy traffic and on fast Motorways. Extended tests of a BMW 520i and a Ford Consul 3000GT have endorsed such optimism, at least in respect of these two most-excellent cars.

So far as the Japanese and European invasion of the British Market is concerned, instead of crying embargoes, let Lord Stokes (and the Trade Unions) meet the challenge with sound, competitively-priced British products,remembering that the layout of compact front-drive small cars which Europe (and Japan) has so widely copied was first made commercially viable by BMC’s Alec Issigonis and that, at the opposite extreme, His Lordship’s Rover and Jaguar engineers, the latter inspired by the irrepressible Sir William Lyons, have produced British cars of fine quality, the value-for-money of which is unrivalled anywhere in the World.

If mileage restrictions are , inevitable, we cannot see those who drive in a day for business or pleasure the distance that rationing would confine to a week or a month taking kindly to it, while competitions would be immediately affected (an argument, here, for returning to alcohol racing fuels). So we will probably have to keep going mainly on motoring history, as Motort Sport did without missing an issue between 1939 and 1945, until American might prevails or we are over-run by Communism.

On this note, it is good to know that the Police have permitted entries for this year’s Veteran Car Run from Hyde Park to Brighton, on November 4th, to be increased from 250 to 270, which is a bright reflection on the flourishing state of the old-vehicle movement and the interest in old-time motoring, not only in this off-shore Island but all over Europe and indeed the World.

Pedalling Backwards

Mr. Keith Speed, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, having rubbed the motorcycling fraternity up the wrong way with compulsory helmets, the raised age-limit, and the absurdity of compulsory passenger insurance for solo riders, immediately tried to assure them of his brother love. So the pedal cyclists had better beware, for the same Mr. Speed went to great lengths to tell the Pedal Club, at a meeting in London in September, what a splendid thing he considers the pedal bicycle. Although tempering this with comments about the problems of safety and lack of facilities, the Minister spent a lot of time prating about how efficient a machine the pedal cycle is, what a healthy thing, what a gentle thing he finds it, ending up with the remarkable observation that “Since the bicycle makes little demand on material or energy resources, contributes little or no pollution, makes a positive contribution to health, and causes little death or injury, it can be regarded as the most benevolent of machines”.

Goodness, the cycling fraternity needs to watch it! He is likely to have you all wearing safety helmets, out-rigger wheels and number plates, unless you call his bluff, if he doesn’t ban you altogether. The Ministerial softsoaping of the engineless included the news that the Cycle Racing Regulations made provision for 22 racing events on the roads this year and that in 1974 a sort of Tour de France is expected to happen in the Plymouth area— which will presumably virtually he closed during this event. Mr. Speed also talked about the possibility of combining future pedestrian precincts with cycle-ways, which, unless Armco is envisaged, sounds like the best possible way of bowling over a great many precincted pedestrians and thus upping the cycling casualty-figures. It was interesting to learn from Mr. Speed’s pro-bicycling address that the Government makes grants to several cycle touring organisations and that some new roads have special provision for bicycles, notably the’ 23 miles of cycleway at Stevenage with some 90 special under-passes.

Our purpose in drawing attention_ to Mr. Speed’s spiel is to warn bicyclists to be careful of the hand which is feeding them this powerful stuff. Dog does not eat dog, and motorists should side with cyclists, however much they may envy them their special roads for which they pay no tax, ‘their freedom to -race over public roads from which all motorised timed contests are forbidden, even ifthey believe that there is really no place for bicycles on modern motor roads; although it would be nice to permit them in traditional places, such as the Bath Road on Sunday mornings.

Apart from his distasteful reference to pollution (presumably from sweaty riders ?), Mr. Speed surely cannot be serious, except from the viewpoint of vote-catching, in his excessive enthusiasm for pedal cycles ? It is sad to have to acknowledge progress but nevertheless it cannot be denied. Motor-races and speed-trials over public roads have virtually ceased. The horse is scarcely ever seen on the highways. Pedestrians cannot any longer roam at their leisure along the centre of even the village street. The motor-car has arrived and Mr. Speed must be lacking in wisdom, even for a Parliamentarian, if he cannot recognise this. With so many votes from motorists and so much jolly lolly to he garnered from them, the Minister is unwise in proclaiming, as he did before the Pedal Club, that “Building more roads for cars is no longer so fashionable; and increasingly, the emphasis is being placed on encouraging people to use public transport and on finding methods of restraining use of the private car“. Our italics. He should be advised not to antagonise those who feed millions in taxation into the Government coffers. It will be time to encourage cycling when ears are either too expensive for all but Government Ministers and Senior Civil Servants to own them Or when those who govern us have so mishandled the said-to-be-dwindling fuel supplies that we have no option but to all ride bicycles. – W. B.

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