In the news: The first big oil cri­sis

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - The Way We Were -

This was the year ev­ery­thing started to change for UK driv­ers. Those hazy days of care­free driv­ing be­gan to dis­ap­pear for­ever in Oc­to­ber 1973, when a ma­jor oil cri­sis sent fuel prices rock­et­ing.

It started when OAPEC – the Or­gan­i­sa­tion of Arab Petrol Ex­port­ing Coun­tries – protested against US in­volve­ment in the Yom Kip­pur War by an­nounc­ing an oil em­bargo against the UK, USA, Canada and Ja­pan (as well as, a lit­tle bizarrely, the usu­ally harm­less Nether­lands, which pos­si­bly got caught up in things by mis­take). The mat­ter wasn’t re­solved un­til March 1974. In that time, the price of a bar­rel of oil quadru­pled from $3 to al­most $12. It con­tin­ued to rise right the way through un­til 1986.

In Bri­tain, petrol sud­denly be­came very ex­pen­sive and there was even talk of it be­ing ra­tioned, us­ing coupons left over from World War II. That ul­ti­mately didn’t hap­pen, but driv­ing, fly­ing and boat­ing was banned on Sun­days, and Ed­ward Heath’s Con­ser­va­tive Govern­ment fell out of favour af­ter sug­gest­ing peo­ple should only heat one room of their house dur­ing the win­ter. A ‘cri­sis elec­tion’ in Fe­bru­ary 1974 re­sulted in Heath’s regime be­ing re­placed by Harold Wil­son’s Labour Party, al­beit with a mi­nor­ity.

An­other sig­nif­i­cant out­come was that the mar­ket for big, thirsty gas-guz­zlers al­most evap­o­rated. Compact hatch­backs be­came much more pop­u­lar and the flood­gates were opened to many more au­to­mo­tive im­ports from abroad. Ja­pan did es­pe­cially well as its car firms al­ready spe­cialised in small, fuel-ef­fi­cient ve­hi­cles. This was their first ma­jor foothold in the UK.

Still, at least we still had the Mini, born out the ear­lier Suez Cri­sis in the 1950s. Sales that had been de­clin­ing dur­ing the lat­ter half of the 1960s re­ceived a shot in the arm and re­mained buoy­ant un­til the dawn of the 1980s.

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