In the news: The first big oil crisis
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.