Matters of Moment, September 1969

• Men on the Moon

Only now are we able to offer congratulations to America on her stupendous achievement, because at the time when her lunar space-craft was making its scheduled landing on the moon the previous issue of Motor Sport was on the printing presses.

Words like incredible, fantastic, stupendous, are inadequate, as a measure of this massive step forward in human accomplishment. We can but offer our most sincere congratulations to all concerned, from the astronauts downwards . . . . .

One item about this moon-landing is comforting. During B.B.C. radio coverage of this momentous event one of the experts assembled in the studio was asked to assess the risks to which the astronauts were exposed. His reply was that they were not so great as those taken in the more sophisticated sports, such as motor-car racing. So we are still in business . . . . .

Because, although we deplore over-emphasis on hazards and danger, there is spice in risks fearlessly faced and overcome, whether human or involving technical advancement. And that is largely what motor racing is all about.

• When are we going to Rebel?

A party was staged the other day in London to celebrate the opening of the University Motors/Downton Improved Performance Pit, which means that the well-known B.M.C. agent has become the first leading distributor to market performance conversions. This interests us, for conversion kits are very big business these days and those by Downton are particularly interesting because Daniel Richmond who makes them admits that he has always considered flexibility, economy and refinement to be more important objectives than mere performance when it comes to bettering the qualities of the cars he tunes. On the economy score, we must remember to ask him whether he could convert a Mini into our oft-expressed ideal of a “60/60” small car—one capable of a top speed of 60 m.p.h. with a regular fuel consumption of 60 m.p.g.?

That apart, and appreciation of Richmond’s acknowledgement of the help and inspiration the motoring Press has given him, and a smile at his reference to a conversion job he did on an M.G. 1100 in 1962 which, he said, was almost exactly as good as a modern M.G. 1300 Mk. II from the factory, the thing which caught our attention was the fine fighting speech made at this assembly by Mr. M. H. G. Bradstock, Chairman of University Motors.

Leaving out those parts concerned with the marketing by his Company of Downton products and Downton-converted cars, Mr Bradstock, after remarking that improved fuel economy from the Downton M.G.-C can equate to something over 25%, and reminding his audience that this is not to be sneezed at when petrol now carries a higher tax in relation to its basic cost than any other commodity sold in this country, had this to say:—

“I must admit that the present state of the Motor Industry is hardly conducive to launching new ventures of this sort. It always seems illogical to me that successive Chancellors have used us and the car manufacturers as their favourite milch cows. A car has an extraordinarily low import content—it is about £5 12s. 6d. I believe—and an extraordinarily high export record. Nevertheless, the Chancellor has, since 1964, thrown the book at us every year to a point where it very much looks as though this year he will hold down sales to the home market to a figure of about 950,000 motor cars which, believe it or not, will be the lowest figure since 1961.

“Since 1964 we have had to cope with three changes in the rate of Purchase Tax, eight alterations in hire purchase regulations, and three doses of S.E.T. The retail side of the Industry now pays £45.8 million in S.E.T. every year. In these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that one reads of old-established and respected motor traders in financial trouble, or that we have to increase our charges to the public which, in its turn, leads to less service being carried out on motor cars and, therefore, less safe motor cars on the road.

“The present cost of money, and stocks of motor cars use a lot of it very quickly, coupled with the deliberate brake which has been placed on home market consumption of motor cars will mean, in my view, that there will be other companies joining Rootes in short time working by the autumn of this year, or perhaps even earlier. This will be a poor reward for the manufacturers who have flogged themselves half to death increasing their export of motor cars by 16.3%, by numbers and no less than 25.8% by value.

“The heavy handed treatment that we have had from the Chancellor is having many other ill effects on the industry; our profitability both on the manufacturing and on the retailing side has fallen to levels which make re-equipment, certainly on the retail side, a difficult undertaking. The relatively greater profitability of other forms of retailing has meant that the motor trader is increasingly being forced out of the market place to sell his wares. Luckily, we have an essentially mobile clientele and so I think our customers will still be able to get to us, but we are going to have to do a lot more to help them get to public transport when they have left their cars with us.

“Our wretched customers are as badly off as we are. They are stopped from buying one of their most cherished possessions—the motor-car. Less and less can they afford to service it; the roads on which they drive become more and more crowded; the regulations surrounding the use of the car grow more numerous each day and on top of everything the spirit which is necessary to make their cars run goes up in price regularly every Budget, and sometimes in between as well, although its basic price has actually gone down since the war. One really wonders when they are going to rebel.

“This Industry is at one and the same time the Chancellor’s greatest exporter and his greatest unpaid collector of taxes and yet he treats us almost as miscreants. It should be said in clear terms that if he comes to this particular well very much more often he could easily find it dry.” There will hardly be a car user in this country not in full agreement with the context of this fighting speech. Motorists pay astronomical sums in taxation; they are fined in millions for mainly non-criminal offences, many of which are the result of our out-dated road system. Recent figures show that we paid £1,564,000,000 last year in motor vehicle taxation and were fined to the extent of £7,883,963 for minor offences.

Motoring is big business indeed for the Chancellor but a pretty poor business for the Industry and the ordinary car owner and driver. When we stop we are harassed by Wardens, when we move we do so under the observation of Radar-eyes and police patrols. Even those who believe in keeping strictly within the law while driving can inadvertently commit offences. We have to face roads strewn with flints until they resemble sea beaches, which can damage tyres, now subject to inspection for cuts, injure motorcyclists, and smash windscreens with the strong possibility of an accident. We are supposed to obey a multitude of varying speed-limits, drive over any gulley a builder likes to dig across a road, crawl behind overloaded commercials and fit safety belts whether we wear them or not. We are obliged to submit any but brand new cars to M.o.T. inspections and pay a fee whether they pass or not. We. . . but why go on?

You are aware of all these iniquities, even if the amount motorists pay in taxation comes as a fresh shock. Those who regard police traps as a contribution to road safety must surely ask themselves why they encounter a growing number of radar-traps but seldom or never see a single policeman apprehending lightless bicycles on dark rainy nights or pulling up commercials which obliterate the view ahead with clouds of obnoxious diesel smoke?

All in all, we as motorists are getting a raw deal unparalleled in the long history of human oppression and exploitation. The Government will go on grabbing the motorists’ money. The golden eggs will continue to be laid. But it is high time that one of the largest and most outrageously-taxed sections of the community took steps to get much better value in return. As Mr Bradstock said, when are we going to rebel?