What will happen next?

The crisis in the Middle East has begun with the equivalent of the ‘phoney war’ period of 1939, when German bombers droned over London but no bombs fell and we shed leaflets over Berlin. But pessimists have predicted that the Third World War will emanate in the Middle East. So we must hope and pray for a peaceful solution.

Wars, the Suez Crisis, even a tanker drivers’ strike, have resulted in petrol shortages. In WW2 petrol was severely rationed, although farmers and journalists were treated leniently; so leniently that the writer ended the war with a huge wad of unused coupons for his 12/50 Alvis, having been unable to afford all the allowable fuel. For most car owners, only brief outings were possible, if at all; one has to hope that there will be no return to this frustrating situation. Meanwhile, less traffic congestion caused by the record high petrol prices is apt to be tempered by cars driven abnormally slowly to conserve the precious fluid.

The Oil Companies have again been treating their customers shabbily. Almost from the start of the Gulf Crisis petrol prices rose, exceeding the previous £2 gallon, since when they have fluctuated by some 24p a month, with dishonest prices apparently being displayed at some pumps. Apart from which, confusion and anxiety continues, over some engines boiling on 4 star and others thought likely to suffer damage if run on 4 star instead of on the now unavailable 2 star. The former trouble was seemingly due to a change in fuel volatility, unsuited to hot weather, and never mind the customer! Further confusion exists through vehicle owners being encouraged to burn unleaded fuel — its cheaper anyway — only to be warned that the consequence may be damage to some engines, in which valves and valve seats were designed for leaded fuel.

This is droll. Because when Rodwell Banks delivered his learned paper on Tetraethyl Lead in Fuel before the R-Ae-S in 1934 he was careful to stress that if such an additive were used he would expect steps to be taken to reduce exhaust valve temperature and for valves and seats to be made of austenitic steels, and stellited. The exact opposite surely, of what drivers using unleaded fuel are now troubled about? The oil folk have certainly got their customers in a twist! Yet Air Commodore Banks, CB, OBE, whose ethyl-lead moved 1930’s octane ratings of 65 to 70 (or 76 for the 1930s aviation fuel) up to ratings of 90 to 92, knew what he was talking about. His research into anti-knock fuel enabled Rolls-Royce to get 1900hp from their Schneider Trophy engine that had previously peaked at 900hp, and we all know what that led to . . . .

At best, we must see the enormous build-up of American and other military hardwear in the Gulf as safeguarding the world’s supply of oil. It could spare us roads flocked (blocked?) by 2cv Citroëns and similar “thrifters”. (Nothing against the excellent 2cv as such — it gives 29 bhp from 603cc, whereas before WW2 many thrifty drivers put up over the years with an average of 13 1/2 bhp from the A7’s 747 1/2cc . . . . a sound, if low key, advance).

Should faraway sources of petrol dry up, a perhaps too idealistic solution for us might be to start producing benzole from British coal, blended with that North Sea oil we are told we are so very fortunate to have. Even Rodwell Banks knew that the more lead you add to petrol the less the anti-knock effect; whereas with benzole the result is just the opposite. Alas, seldom do ideals work out in practice. WB