Tuesday April 24, 2018
Many of you will have already heard of the first ever production Land-Rover that went on display at the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall - https://www.royalautomobileclub.co.uk/motoring/rotunda-cars/land-rover-series-one-chassis-no-860001-1948 . My initial thoughts mainly related to the sheer immensity of the restoration process and the second was to how crucial 1948 was to the motor industries of Europe. After all, this was the year that marked the debut of the Jaguar XK120, the Land-Rover, the Morris Minor MM, Oxford MO and MS Six, the Singer SM1500, the Sunbeam-Talbot 80/90 and the Wolseley 4/50 and 6/80. Across the Channel there was the latest family car from Citroën, a fascinating vehicle painted in grey called the 2CV, plus a new sports car called the Porsche and a quite incredible Czech rear engine six-seater named the Tatra 600.
Naturally all of these vehicles will be the subject of individual blogs over the course of this year, for they were the products of incredibly challenging conditions. There were the bomb-damaged plants, the need to re-convert from wartime production to civilian vehicle manufacture and the fact that in 1947 a company had to export a minimum of 75% of its output to be eligible for a quota of steel. In that same year the basic petrol ration for private motorists was withdrawn and it was not restored until June 1948: you can imagine a young Arthur Daley as a street corner spiv selling petrol coupons that had ‘fallen off the back of a lorry’.
However, only two years after the end of the Second World War, the UK vehicle plants were building as many products as they did in 1938. Of course if you were fortunate enough to obtain a new car, you would have to sign a covenant stating that you would not sell it within a stipulated period while the waiting lists would last for a very long time; a three-year period was not unknown.
Yet, there was an immense sense of anticipation at the new products – those Land Rovers on display at the Amsterdam Motor Show certainly looked to have the potential to win the “Export or Die” battle and at Earls Court that autumn, the XK120 rendered not a few visitors utterly speechless. If such a sublime vision of automotive beauty were not enough, how about the Morris Minor; the model name may be familiar but where are the exposed headlamps and the separate running boards? As for the latest big Wolseley, is the 6/80 just too elegant for its intended market of police chiefs and bank managers. The new Sunbeam-Talbots have an air of pre-war elegance but on the Singer stand the SM1500 does not look anything like the old Singer Ten or Super Twelve.
Clearly it is time for a restorative cup of tea and a scan of The Motor where yet more shocks await. If Citroën’s penchant for front wheel drive was not sufficiently unorthodox they now appear to be marketing a car designed to travel across a ploughed field and that Tatra looks as though it belongs in H G Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come. That Porsche looks jolly nice though with its aluminium body and it is already a class winner on the race circuit – I wonder if it will catch on…
Rationing would continue for several years after 1948 – in the UK it would not finally end until 1954 – and lengthy waiting lists for new cars would long be an established part of post-war life. But this was the year that marked the launch of so many models that shaped motoring around the world - and here is some footage to capture a little of the excitement felt by enthusiasts across the UK -