Matters of moment, November 1976

Showtime soliloquy

The International Motor Show at Earls Court, just concluded, lived up to its name, with sparkling new cars from Great Britain, France, Italy, West Germany, Canada, America, Japan, Sweden, Australia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Russia. In a Way it was historic, apart from the exhibits from Beaulieu’s National Motor Museum and others, because it was the last SMMT Show that will be staged at Earls Court. In 1978 the SMMT will move its shop-window to Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre. Earls Court has long been regarded as the place you drive to for the purpose of buying a new car and then get a “ticket”, towards loss of your licence, for parking there, where ‘flu germs multiply fatster than foreign-car sales, and which is thought of by some as a magnificent exhibition achievement, by others as the personification of the modern-times Rat Race. . .

It is Significant that this great Exhibition, great in whatever context you choose to view it, was opened this year by the Prime Minister, James Callaghan. There would have been times in the past when a Labour Prime Minister might have had second thoughts about performing the Openingi Ceremony of a Show devoted to the playthings of the rich, with unnoticed poverty just round the corner. Times change, however, for better or for worse, and now cars are owned by all classes and creeds, are used in their thousands for essential everyday travel and for factory and office commuting, so that, although the cost of them has become astronomical, producing them represents top-level employment for so many workers that Mr. Callaghan was able to go to Earls Court, usually a hot-bed of last-minute Industrial stoppages, with a clear conscience, if that term can be applied to political-thinking. In any case, his Welfare State now looks after all of us, so that the poor, like last summer’s reservoirs, have, we are told, evaporated, leaving only the wealthy and the less-wealthy!

Because all car-owners are now virtually as one (although the owner of a tenth-hand Mini who encounters a Camargue may find this hard to swallow) it is all the more incredible that drivers, not only of private cars but of every kind of vehicle that moves along our roads, have never effectively banded together to fight. the growing legislation that forever diminishes the pleasure of motoring and threatens Continually those to whom a driving licence is essential to their work. Endorsements, savage fines, costly legal enforcements like the soon-to-be-doubled-in-cost cartesting, etc., continue, in spite of the enormous number of drivers who -contribute vast sums to the Exchequer every time they so much as start their engines. All those who use wheels, whether two-in-line or multi-tyres on artics., might well ponder this fact of automotive life, when they next receive an endorsement or pay the tax on the petrol in their tanks. . . .

Mercifully, Government obsession with compulsory seat belts seems to have had as much fire as a damp squib and has therefore lost most of its impact. . . .

Among the nice new cars at the Paris Salon and Earls Court there was still no new Leyland Mini. It’s nice of the British Leyland workers to give their permission for one to be produced eventually; we just assume that Alex Park has heard of Neville Chamberlain’s other piece of paper. However, let us hope they follow most of the other Unions in respecting wage-restraints.

Ford are much nearer to big sales in the economy-car field with the still-mysterious, BMC/Issigonis-crib Fiesta, whose most-feared rival seems to be Renault’s 5GLT. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Mercedes-Benz have their new 6.9-litre V8 overhead-camshaft, fuel-injection, dry-sump„ hydropneumatically-self-levelling, 286-b.h.p., nearI 50-m.p.h. 4505EL to disturb Rolls-Royce complacency. It may be that instead Of producing the Camargue, R-R should have spent the effort on further developing the Silver Shadow. However, if Three-Pointed Star again thrusts dangerously at the Silver Lady in the boardrooms of the World, it is a feather in the Crewe-cap that the prestige of the British-Royce continues to be reflected in the so-far undiminishing demand for it.

Of the more ordinary kind of car, which the bulk of the population shop for, the Rover New 3500 represents remarkably good value-for-money, as we have tried again to convince you on page 1310. Further down the family-car scale there would seem to be little need to look further than the excellent Chrysler Alpine-8 (reasons; next month), if it were not for the fact that Ford-of-Britain has still further enhanced the attractions of the Cortina, a car that on sales-statistics is clearly what the majority require. In terms of Ford, Vauxhall and Chrysler, it may be worthwhile when hoping for fewer Strikes and stoppages in British motor factories to remember that the Big Three are now employing European as well as British workers and factories to make their products. The Chrysler Alpine is a nice example of this trend, its engine and body panels coming from France for assembly at Ryton, outside the Motor City of Coventry. Supposedly it is too much to hope that the workers in one factory will decline to strike because to do so might start redundancies across the Channel. We can only hope that all responsible Shop Stewards will play their important part in getting Britain out of its present fearful financial mess and that factories will be solidly behind them— we have always thought of the Skoda as the ideal Shop Stewards’ car and, comforting thought, it remains a rear-engined car, with the works behind the driver. . . . Let us. not overlook the fact that Alfa Romeo have had riots in their Milan plant and here there has been a mini-riot at Ford’s.

If the Industry is plagued in this and other ways, the Sport is also very sick. There have been all the petty rule-making and protests that have left James Hunt unsure whether he is on his head or his slicks and almost ruined this year’s F1 racing, similar protests even at Cowes (which, the VSCC says, cost only one-twenty-fifth of protests in motor racing; but perhaps this is only a beginning), the odd decision in the Ali-Norton Championship boxing-match, not to overlook a riot at a motorcycle race-meeting and the threat from bottle-throwing spectators at Brands Hatch when they thought hero Ilunt wasn’t going to start. But at least the 1976 World Drivers’ Championship, for what it is worth (and here, if we are not careful, we shall become involved with those millions again, which crop up whenever public expenditure is discussed these days, and which are creeping into sport) remained open until the very last race, at Japan’s Mount Fuji circuit. . . . And vintage motor sport is lusty.

Finally, thinking of these 1976 Motor Shows, although the effects of amalgamations are showing, with Renault-Peugeot-Volvo linked, Fiat responsible for Lancia and Ferrari, VWs based on Audis, Opels labelled as Vauxhalls, and Chrysler’s Alpine and Ford’s Fiesta representing European-built cars from American-sponsored factories, technical stagnation is far distant. For which young Students-of-Design (and Old-Squares who may remember when the fully-dressed female form enhanced the lines of a Sedanca but who avert their eyes (do they ?) when girls in half-bikinis are thought necessary to help sell saloons and sun-roofs and the rest of the automotive paraphernalia) can be truly thankful. See you in Birmingham in 1978? Meanwhile, Motor Sport intends to do its best, in its own particular style, to keep you informed of the important happenings in motoring and motor-racing.

Facel Vega Owners Club

Recent correspondence relating to Facel Vegas has prompted reader M. M. Motashaw to inform us that a club for the marque exists in France. Two years old and with a thriving spares section, it claims more than 300 readers. Its address is Amicale Facel, 1 Rue de Is Louvre, Sevres, Paris (Haut de Seine).

Mr. Motashaw is interested in forming an English Facet Club and asks like-minded marque enthusiasts to contact him at I 10 Ward Avenue, Grays, Essex RM17 SRI. (Grays Thurrock 5222).

Graham Hill Appeal Forums

From October 25th to November 11th Ford Rallye Sports dealers around the country are staging series of motoring sport forums to raise money for the Graham Hill Memorial Appeal Fund. The idea is to give enthusiasts the chance to participate in question and answer sessions with race and rally stars and well-known personalities from other fields. At least three or four of the following will be on each panel: Roger Clark, Barry Sheene, Ken Tyrrell, Ari Vatanen, Russell Brookes, John Taylor, Stirling Moss, Raymond Baxter, Jim Porter, Stuart Turner, Peter Bryant, John Surtees, Dean Delamont and Tony Mason. Each forum will feature two films— one on Graham Hill and the new film of the 1976 Scottish Rally, Scotch and Dry.

Prizes already acquired for a raffle to be held at each forum include several Brambilla/Peterson “modified” March monocoques.

Venues from the beginning of this month are : November 1st, Hull; 2nd, Leeds; 3rd, Perth; 4th, Carlisle; 8th, Bournemouth; 9th, Brighton; 10th, Welwyn; 11th, Chelmsford. Consult your local Rallye Sport Dealers for further details.