Matters of Moment, October 1972

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The changing face of motoring

Inevitably the nature of motoring and the machinery in which it is done have changed since the war. No longer can we expect to get away with casual legislation governing such a dangerous means of locomotion. No longer do we enjoy the sort of freedom of the road which was personified on the occasion when we became very stroppy because a policeman had stopped our dubious Austin Seven Special as we were driving it along the Kingston By-Pass, only to hear him say as he rode away, “Keep your wool on, sonny; I was only going to tell you that a wheel seems to be coming off”. Gone are the days when we thought nothing of driving to and from the Motor Sport offices in a back-braked overhead-camshaft Rhode, relying on friendly passers-by for push-starts because the electric starter didn’t work and the starting handle was non-existent. The engine, even then in the vintage category, emitted something of a smokescreen, partly due to its unusual lubrication system but more likely because its valve guides were far from new. We arrived one afternoon at the Bank crossing in this condition and were told by one of the Point-Duty policemen to turn the thing off, as he said we were making excessive smoke. “If we do, Officer”, we yelled, “you will have to push-commence us!” — and he just smiled and went back to his task of controlling London’s traffic. . . .

No, it’s not the same anymore! However, this is not so much a lament for the past as a warning about what may be in store. The boffin-pundits tell us that the anti-pollution laws, coupled with the growing anxiety of ensuring that no citizen gets damaged while using a car, no matter how badly it is driven, will result in vehicles so costly as to be beyond the reach of most of us and/or so heavy that we shall be lucky if we overtake returning milk-floats. Perhaps it is that this depressing outlook which is boosting enthusiasm for sporting motoring of all kinds, has elevated to absurd heights the prices of pre-war cars (even allowing tor the desire to break away) and has produced a rash of old-style non-historic cars constructed of modern components.

As we see it, proper enjoyment of old-car motoring entails mingling the fun with facets which drivers of current cars see only as disadvantages. Cranking up by hand, dressing up to combat unheated cockpits, timing correctly a non-synchromesh-assisted gear-change, enduring a hard ride necessary to good road-holding, even the task of restoration at a time when essential parts are elusive and inevitably expensive—all this is the very stuff of motoring in pre-war cars, together with the recognised ancient virtues. If it appears foolish or repugnant to a less-discerning breed of motorist they can take short cuts and buy sports cars, like those British Leyland creditably continue to make, a Lotus Seven, a Morgan (pause to shed a tear for the demise of the Plus-8’s separate gearbox), a Jensen-Healey, etc. But they will miss something which the owner of a genuine pre-war car can claim, namely the fun of contending with motoring much as it was thirty and more years ago. . . .

Zig-zag justice

Car owners are so heavily persecuted these days that it is nice to hear of a convicted driver getting off. Earlier this year we read of a Vicar whom the police alleged had crossed double white lines, taken corners on the wrong side of the road, and exceeded 70 m.p.h. while driving to take a Sunday service. But, told by his defender that what the Police had seen was an example of skilled fast driving by a man who regarded the run as a rally exercise, Mold Crown Court acquitted the rally-driver Vicar.

Since then we have heard of a lady driver convicted for not understanding the new zig-zag lines which flank some pedestrian crossings and of a case where an experienced motorist was fined £10 for passing another car, as he said on oath, while leaving such a crossing. Contradicting the defending Solicitor, a Police Inspector told the Court that there was an absence of any ruling as to where it was permissible to cross the lines.

Yet the Department of the Environment has published advertisements about the new crossing layout in which the only overtaking offence mentioned is that of doing so on the approach to such a crossing. . . .

Incidentally, the best way of avoiding a motoring conviction would appear so be to do all your motoring in Flintshire, to become a rally-driver, or to take the cloth. For complete immunity maybe you should take all three steps.

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