Outlook Uncertain

The sad situation in the Middle East is affecting car owners and, if it flares up, will go down in history as the Oil War. Already, without a shot having been fired, except at ships which appear undisturbed, petrol prices have risen to over £2.40 a gallon.

It now seems ironic that when the 1200 mile oil pipeline from Kirkuk NE of Baghdad, to Haifa, (of which The Aeroplane had the story in 1923/24 before any daily newspaper discovered it) was finally opened officially in January 1935, by HM King Ghazi of Iraq, who flew there in an aeroplane of the Iraqi army, he was received by Sir Francis Humphreys, the British ambassador, who arrived in his own light aeroplane accompanied by the Earl of Stanhope, and that others who attended included Sir Robert (and Lady) Waley Cohen, MD of Shell, and representatives of British, French and American oil companies. Indeed, Sir Robert had been flown in an Imperial Airways’ Short Syrinx four-motor bi-plane, with an Avro Ten monoplane in attendance, bringing the European party to this and the separate celebrations at Damascus, Tripoli, Haifa and Amman, through which this pipeline, an insurance against having to ship the precious oil round the Persian Gulf and through the Suez Canal, passed.

Equally ironically, in those times the pipeline was guarded by British RAF fighters against possible interference from Turkey. Before that our supplies of oil might have been reinforced from Russian oil wells. But such fuel was not popular here and ROP petrol found few advertising outlets, apart from the back covers of MOTOR SPORT. However, now that Russia is extending the hand of friendship to the West, this might become a possible source of reinforcement of what we are assured are, at present, ample stocks of petroleum. Another useful source of oil might well be produced from British coal, especially with the prevailing plight of coal mines, the closing of which is putting so many miners out of employment. Such petrol was successfully produced before the war, indeed, in the mid-Thirties the RAF had a squadron of Bristol Bulldog fighters flying on just this kind of British benzole.

The disturbance in the Gulf cannot be a good omen for the alleged Depression, Recession, Slump or Decline, call it what you will, in Britain’s financial affairs, nor under these circumstances, and remembering what the Falklands War cost us and the present policing of the Middle East is now costing us, can inflation now be easy to reduce? But let us remember that in the days of the Harold Wilson (Labour) Government, it was as high as 25%. The rise in the cost of petrol, which the Oil Barons are unable or unwilling, to control, obviously implies not only expensive motoring but a general decrease in living standards. If the worst happens and petrol has to be rationed, as it was during World War Two, thrifty drivers may be reduced to coasting down hills, if they are not doing so already. We have an idea that Officialdom frowns on this practice, although it is surprising what it can do to improve one’s mpg figures. In pre-war days a number of cars were equipped as standard with freewheels, like bicycles, but the view then was that brakes were not always up to the added burden. In these enlightened 1990s, when almost all cars have efficient brakes and synchromesh gearboxes make it foolproof to engage a gear from neutral, will someone please tell us what is dangerous about sensible coasting down reasonable gradients and how, if it is illegal, can we stop our cars, for instance at red traffic lights, without stalling our engines?

Finally, let us hope that morality soon returns to the Gulf. If it does not, perhaps we should recall, and sing, that least known verse of our glorious National Anthem, which goes:

‘0, Lord our God arise,

Scatter his enemies

And make them fall.

Confound their politics,

Frustrate their knavish tricks.

On Thee our hopes we fix.

God save us all.’