Matters of the moment

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Showtime Soliloquy

This year you can have a Soliloquy but you cannot have a Motor Show, apart from the Daily Express Motorfair, described in our advertising pages, to be held at Earls Court from October 19th-30th, the Equip’Auto 77 that is to take place in Paris from October 7th-16th, and last month’s two-day South Wales Motor Show, which HRH The Prince of Wales opened at Aberdare. But there will be no great London motor exhibition. Abroad there will be no Turin Show or Paris Salon, and the Frankfurt Show is over.

Yet, if the most famous motor show in the world is no more, new cars flood the showrooms as never before. Chryslers have reinstated the make of Sunbeam, BMW have introduced new six-cylinder engines, Audi have their five-cylinder power-unit, an odd-sounding configuration once the preserve of the Heavy Vehicle world and a moribund Rover, although we were accustomed to three-cylinder in-line power-packs while two-stroke engines were permissible, from DKW, Saab, and Wartburg. Mercedes-Benz have defied the thrift-mongers by going to 5-litres for their latest 450 SLC V8. It’s all happening, as regular readers of Motor Sport have been informed, month by month, in these pages.

Fiat has recently revised the indomitable 127. But British Leyland’s New Mini will not appear until 1978-79. By then there will be that many store cars using our roads, which in this country will be unchanged, if the promised Public Sector spending spree is frozen, so perhaps this New Mini will need to be even smaller externally than the present Issigonis offering that has been so blatantly copied by almost all the World’s small-car manufacturers. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, we should be very proud of Sir Alec, and happy in the knowledge that the New Rover 3500 has an eight-cylinder engine while other makers are prodding with two, four, five and six-pot power-units.

The staggering thing is that on this impoverished planet there is this never-ceasing demand for more and more motor cars, which represent high-cost products of modern civilisation. It isn’t only all those hundred-thousands, nay millions, of new motor vehicles that pour from the production lines—to these you have to add all those used cars which are such a feature of the end-pages of Motor Sport. They go to swell the numbers of people who had the motor car irresistible. And the appeal of the past is so strong that not only do the ancient makes and models get marked-up at some exceedingly lofty prices, but there are persons sufficiently misguided as to pay exorbitant sums for cars that were quite horrid even before they went on the road and which must be that much worse after the passing of some thousands of miles, especially in the press of today’s traffic; that is if anyone actually buys such advertised offerings. (The only reason cars of this kind sold when new was the very low prices they then commanded!)

Anyway, the great Motoring Game goes or, healthily enough, in spite of rising prices, the scream about petrol dribbling to exhaustion, and the Rules and Regulations and Laws and Statutes to which all those who turn a wheel in a mechanically-propelled vehicle are subjected, in these enlightened days. Perhaps the owners of the older cars come off better, inasmuch as they earn all manner of exemptions when facing the DoE test, if they have been built or in use before 1931, 1932, 1968, 1965, 1937, 1973, 1933, 1969, 1959, 1970, 1938, 1932 or 1936, depending on which particular item of the test requirements we are considering, such is the complex mind of Bureaucracy. (Did you know, for instance, that if you own a car first used prior to January 15th 1973 it can be equipped with a closet, urinal, lavatory-basin or sink, if you so wish, without it having to comply with “certain requirements” compulsory for later vehicles?)

The cruellest blow to carefree 1970s motoring is the effect the new Motor Vehicle Type Approval Regulations will have on the building of home-designed specials, or the modifying by amateur enthusiasts of existing vehicles. After April 1st (note the date!) next year, it seems that the building of such specials will be virtually prohibited, for apart from having to comply with the new requirements, it will cost a £60 fee to have them compulsorily examined, a further £20 for the Certificate, if granted, this £80 being in addition to the fees for testing many of the components used, some of which will be destroyed by such tests. Purchase-Tax laws were changed until commercial kit-cars were no longer viable and now it seems the home-builder will no longer find it possible to enjoy his innocuous hobby. In view of the very small numbers of specials of this kind involved, this seems a quite unnecessary Big Brother off-shoot, of the nastiest kind, and odd to contemplate while those tax concessions on the lower h.p. cars are continued, for a mere handful of under-8 h.p. vehicles. The 750 MC is, we know, most concerned about the effect of these new Regulations on its members’ interests and the VSCC might well give some thought to whether the building of specials with vintage parts isn’t also threatened.

It seems, then, as if you get on best either with a brand new car or a good old one, but mustn’t hope in future to improve on such designs in the home workshop. You may still lose your licence fairly soon in radar-traps or those set by unmarked police cars. But if luck and money are yours, motoring can still be enjoyable, at certain times, on the few then-uncongested roads of this packed and regimented little Island. Indeed, petrol, although savagely taxed, now costs rather less than milk, which might suggest that Capitalism has overtaken Agriculture in a rather unfortunate manner! Do the hens know that for every egg they lay the housewife pays almost one silver shilling? Callaghan will indeed be a Magician if he can reduce inflation without controlling food prices!

Those who once strove to get £100 cars on the new-car market would have been sadly surprised to know that today even the tiny Fiat 126 is priced, in this country, at £1,424 and at these elevated levels refuses to fade quietly away (quietly?), being now available as a de ville, with a larger engine, and with fitted suitcases! But if the 1969 Mini is no larger than a Fiat 126, or smaller, we will hazard a bet that you won’t be able to buy one for less than £2,000. Which brings us back to the numbers of new or revised 1977-78 models there are to choose from. In this context, we are told that we shall find it hard to resist the new 2.8-litre Ford Granada, especially in fuel-injection form. We can but hope and pray that some of these new British cars, ohs Rover 3500 among them, will effectively stem the flood of foreign makes that are now dominating the market. The British Industry’s excuse is that it’s not poor design, crude construction and indifferent finish which stops sales of its cars but the fact that, due to industrial disputes, they are simply not available on the showroom floor. We prefer not to be drawn into Ohio argument—over to our readers . . .

On a happier note, apparently there is plenty of money in motor-racing, if Lauda is able to refuse £200,000 to stay with Ferrari. By the time you read these words we must hope that the Silverstone TT will have been won by Jaguar (we closed for Press just before the race was run); and if you want to see clubmen enjoying themselves in a long-distance race, there is the 750 MC’s Relay Race, now to happen at Donington on Oct. 8th, to which we refer elsewhere. And next Autumn, if you care to go to Birmingham, you should be able to see a major British Motor Show once more.