Exactly 50 years this month ago a deal was signed between Austin boss, Leonard Lord, and his equal at Nissan in Japan, Mr G Asahara. Nissan needed a modern design to replace its obsolete Datsun cars, and chose British Austin "Counties" models which were built under licence with Datsun badges. Copies of the Longbridge production lines were built in Japan. The respected name of Alvis made a gross profit of £102,806 for the year, yielding just £42,232 after tax. How small those numbers seem, half a century on. Geier, the German driver who had ended his racing career with a heavy crash at Berne before the war, was invited to the new Zandvoort track in Holland to demonstrate the latest Mercedes-Benz 300SL. On his fifth lap he crashed again at about 70mph, bent the car and cut himself above his eye. His passenger, track manager John Hugenholz, escaped with bruises. About 300,000 German people who had subscribed to buy a Volkswagen from the German Government in the 1930s, and received nothing in return, started legal proceedings. Some £40m had been raised by the scheme. They wanted either a car or their money back. HRH the Duke of Edinburgh presided at the BRDC Ball, held at the Royal Festival Hall. Club founder and former Le Mans-winning Bentley driver, Dr J D Benjafield, welcomed the guests at the door. Dancing continued to 3am, to the music of Edmundo Ros and his Rumba Band. Peter Ustinov and Jimmy Edwards starred in the cabaret. The Vicomte de Rohan, President of the FIA (the world motor sports governing body), went to the Alfa Romeo factory at Milan in person to present Alberto Ascari with the 1952 World Drivers' Championship Trophy. Somehow, it seems things were a bit more dignified then. What happened to the Vogt? Karl Vogt, a former Luftwaffe mobile repair engineer who had been taken prisoner, remained in Britain after the war as a draughtsman in a Bomb Disposal unit at Portsmouth. He built an interesting MG-engined one-off sports car, using four surplus aircraft auxiliary fuel tanks as the basis for the car's 'wings'. In the first half of 1952, Americans bought 15,903 foreign cars, and 15,288 of them were British. More than 25% of those were MGs.
40 years ago: December 1962
Let's go Christmas shopping for the 1962 motorist. We can park in the underground car park at Marble Arch for 2/- (10p) for the first hour and
1/- (5p) an hour after that. Gamages' transparent, sturdy plastic car seat covers cost around £5 to £7 depending on the car model. Then there's the Smoker's Car Companion at 6/6 (33p): this handy holder for cigarettes and matches has rubber suction pads for easy mounting on the screen or other smooth surface. It comes with grey, red or cream plastic finish and it includes a large ashtray with chrome-plated ash grid. After Gamages, we can drop into Les Leston Ltd at 314 High Holborn and buy a terylene tie in blue, maroon or green with a silver single-seater racing car motif: a bargain at 14/6 (73p). The ACO announced one major change to the Le Mans regulations for
1963: grid positions would be decided by practice times instead of the traditional pattern of having the cars with largest engines at the front, and so on down the field. The Alert-O-Matic was part of a design project by the Liberty Mutual Insurance Co of Boston. Following nine years of research, it was a signal system to prevent drivers from sleeping at the wheel. How it worked was not disclosed. Richard von Frankenberg had accused Lotus of winning 1962 Formula Junior events with illegal 1.5-litre engines. Famously, he bet Peter Arundell £1,000 that, using an 1100cc engine, he could not repeat his winning speed in the Monza Lottery of the previous June. Under very public official supervision on December 2, Arundell won the wager with a works Lotus car, actually taking 1.1sec off his lap record. Happily conceding defeat, a smiling von Frankenberg congratulated Arundell on his achievement. The World F1 Championship came down to a duel between Graham Hill(BRM) and Jim Clark(Lotus) in the South African at East London on December 29. Clark led, but retired, leaving Hill to win and take the 1962 title.
30 Years ago: December 1972
A late night traffic jam in London's Parliament Square forced the Prime Minister, Edward Heath, to abandon his chauffeur-driven car and walk the 400 yards from the House to Number 10 Downing Street. Some hoped this national news story might lead to increased effort to improve traffic flow. Major British car makers all announced that very soon all their cars would be built to metric measurements. The Mini became the first British car ever to pass the three million mark in production. Jackie Stewart was supposed to be seriously considering a switch in career to become a movie actor. Alistair Maclean's novel "The Way to Dusty Death" was said to have been written quickly for adaptation to the cinema so that Stewart could quit racing as soon as possible and make his debut as a screen idol, but shooting was postponed for a year. As the book was one of the most feeble novels ever set in motor sport - including such nonsense as F1 drivers flashing their lights during a Grand Prix - this was probably one of the luckiest escapes of Stewart's career. The RAC Rally ran later than usual in 1972, finishing on December 5. For the first time since 1959, it was won by a British driver, Roger Clark. His works Ford Escort was navigated by fellow Brit, Tony Mason. Back in 1959 the event had been won by another Ford, a Zephyr crewed by Gerry Burgess and Sam Croft-Pearson. By 1972, however, the 'RAC' was a special stage event, racing mainly through closed forest tracks. Significantly, Clark proved that a non-Scandinavian driver could triumph in the modern style of rally. For the first time in Britain, a driver was prosecuted after being observed by police from a helicopter. His offence was to overtake on the inside on the M1. But were the outside lane hogs prosecuted for obstruction?
20 years ago: December 1982
Not too clever: Nottinghamshire County Council's Christmas road safety campaign ruffled a few feathers by claiming, "A woman is enough to drive you to drink." The idea was to persuade men to get their sober wives or girlfriends to drive to and from parties. Another nail in the de Lorean car's coffin: it turned out that the bankrupt Belfast car maker had not completed British Type Approval procedures prior to the company's collapse. The Dept of Transport pointed out that the 11 people who had bought de Loreans by auction in Britain could not automatically register them for use. Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus, died on December 16, 1982, aged 54. In three decades of outstanding achievement as an automotive engineer for road and track, his reputation became legendary. Within 15 years of starting, Lotus had overtaken Ferrari's record total of World Championship F1 victories. Even today, there are many people around the world who flatly refuse to believe that he has gone. As 1982 came to a close, Britain was shown to be suffering from a huge automotive trade imbalance in new cars. The country had spent about £1billion more on imported cars than it had earned from export sales of cars. Even so, the latest monthly figures revealed the Ford Escort as by far the biggest seller among new cars. Volvo's small car, the most numerous foreign import, was the tenth best seller in Britain but wealthier British buyers were turning to expensive imports that did not figure in the Top Ten in terms of numbers. The good news among British car makers was that, following the introduction of the new Rialto three-wheeler, the Reliant company was back in profit.
10 years ago: December 1992
Ten years ago this month, the best-selling French car of all time was dropped in France after 31 years in production. No, it was not the 2CV. It was the Renault 4. The very first Toyota to be built in Europe was produced on December 16 at the new factory in Burnaston, Derbyshire. The model was a Carina E and the 'E' stood for 'Europe'. The Department of the Environment in Britain put forward a proposal that all cars should be fitted with governors preventing them exceeding 70mph. The stated idea was to reduce carbon dioxide pollution. The industry rejected the idea as pointless because it would have no effect on pollution. The real reason it got no further was probably the massive vote-losing potential of such a rule. After just two drives for Brabham in 1992, 32-year-old Damon Hill signed to join Alain Prost in the Williams-Renault F1 team for 1993.