THE WAY WE WERE
Tony Turner takes a trip down the M2 in 1974 when oil prices were rising sharply – but the roads remained busy.
As we enjoy fuel prices lower than they’ve been for years, spare a thought for these 1974 drivers, who must have been feeling seriously out of pocket. Following the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, the oil producers in OPEC cut supplies to the USA (and, by extension, the UK) as a penalty for supporting the other side, causing severe shortages and a massive 70% price hike. Within the space of a year, a barrel of crude rocketed from around $3 to well over $11 (which rather puts the $30 a barrel we’re currently celebrating into perspective).
Add to that random IRA bombings, a huge budget deficit leading to drastic spending cuts, and continuing industrial disputes in the coal mines, railways and power stations, and it really wasn’t as cheerful a time as rose-tinted nostalgia might suggest – especially for drivers.
However, whether pleasure-seeking or working, some defiant drivers are heading off from the London end of the M2, perhaps planning a quick cross-Channel trip in search of fewer restrictions and cheaper fuel (some chance!). Leading the charge towards us are two Ford Cortina MkIII estates. The lead one has an intriuguing grille – it looks like the centre bar has been painted black. Behind them come a Jaguar XJ6 Series I, by now superseded by the Series II introduced the previous year that brought with it rocker switches on the dash and some new quality control issues. It’s followed by a determined-looking Simca 1501, the facelifted version of the ultraconventional (but very competent) 1301/1501 saloons and estates, and a Ford 105E Anglia (or maybe the larger-engined 123E Super), out of production for six years. Just having crested the hill are a BMC/BL 1100/1300 and what looks like a P6 Rover 2000 in pre-eggcrate grille form, which dates it to before 1970.
Making orderly progress in the left-hand lane are another BMC/BL 1100/1300, the multi-bar grille confirming it’s the Morris version, along with a Volkswagen Beetle 1300, which according to the DVLA is still alive and well (its MoT isn’t due until September 2016), an Austin A40 MkII, a Cortina MkI, an NSU, a mystery car, a Hillman Imp, an FX4 taxi and a Ford 100E.
Just four cars are climbing the hill towards London: a Renault 17 (based on the rather more mundane Renault 12), a Ford Cortina MkII estate, a Ford Transit and another Cortina MkIII. Let’s hope they found enough fuel for the return journey.
Incidentally, the ‘temporary’ fuel-saving speed limits were extended until May 1977, long after the fuel shortages had eased, after which they were raised to our present 70mph for dual carriageways and 60mph for single carriageway roads. Given the developments in vehicle safety and capabilities over the intervening 39 years, you might think it was time for these limits to be reviewed for a possible increase, rather than more fiercely enforced as seems to be the case in many parts of the UK. But we couldn’t
possibly comment, of course...
Renault 17 was an attempt to take on the Ford Capri and had quirky French looks. More grille spotting – the brightwork and centre badge makes this an XL, we reckon. Did the blacked-out grille centre on this Cortina relate to a trim level or a DIY special?