Bike – September 1975
Written just after the launch of Norton Villiers Triumph’s two new trailbikey models which used Yamaha engines, and the Easy Rider moped powered by Italian ones, this was my sarcastic but arguably realistic response to NVT’s utterly misplaced industrial jingoism. Needless to say NVT curtailed their advertising in the mag shortly afterwards.
THERE’S ONLY ONE THING WORSE than a bigot, and that’s a crazy bigot. I must therefore thank providence that my socially undesirable presence was not requested to attend NVT’s emotive press launch of their dinky little lightweights a couple of months back. Had I been a fly on the wall though, I gathered that l would’ve heard some quite alarming right wing patriotism coming from the sanctimonious lips of diverse Very Important Politicos.
Apart from the quite predictable demands that the government should of course make available umpteen million pounds to avert the awful disaster precipitated by those recalcitrant bounders at Meriden (The worker’s co-operative then running the factory – MW), there were some angry suggestions that imports of foreign (i.e. Japanese) bikes should be curbed in order to give our chaps a chance.
Whichever red-faced gentleman it was who made these remarks obviously needed a large helping of reality pie rather than the copious liquid refreshment that’d no doubt helped fuel his ill-informed outburst. And yet on the other hand it’s common knowledge the UK car industry has for some time been murmuring darkly about the supposed “dumping” of excess stocks of foreign cars here. Moreover the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT) – a highly prestigious organisation, incidentally has been preparing secret reports on such evil practices and apparently recommends that some form of import restraint be imposed to safeguard the home industry.
But if selling off a surfeit of car production at unrealistically low cost is harming the British manufacturers in their own backyard, there is indeed a type of restraint that I might personally condone. And that’s selective taxation based on currency fluctuations and differentials which could bring imported car prices into line with their cost in their home markets – in which case Moskvichs and Skodas would probably double in price. (Moskvichs were rubbish Russian saloons that rusted even before they left the showroom, and East German Skodas at the time weren’t much better – MW).
However that, as the actress said to the professor, is rather an academic point. For in the car market we actually’ do have British products which compete, specification against specification, with foreign tinware. And if some eighty quid a week spot welder in Coventry is losing overtime because his East German colleague does the same thing for a third as much loot, then John Bull is inevitably going to start ranting and raving before you can whistle the Red Flag. But in the field of motorcycles we just don’t produce machinery that in any way competes with most of the Japanese or European ranges.
So slapping an embargo on imports would inevitably mean that if granny wanted a little pip-squeak to go shopping on she’d have to settle for a Norton Commando or a Triumph Trident (with pedals?). Unless of course NVT followed the example (example?) of the communist countries and resurrected its 20 year-old designs and tried selling them as everyman’s motorcycles at bargain basement prices. Fat chance.
Jeez, can you imagine what the car park at Brands would be like under such circumstances? Rows and rows of Norton Jubilees and Fanny-Bees plus the odd Commando owned by some minor dignitary. And the coughing and spluttering and bump-starting that would follow each meeting as the poor sods tried to leave for home
Forget for a moment that we have a tottering industry with a record of poor decision making that rivals even that that of Mr. A. Hitler. Forget that the newest designs produced by this industry rely on major components bought in from abroad. Forget if at all possible that virtually nothing new in the way of engine design has found its way into production in Britain during the past fifteen years. Now ask yourself if preventing the importation of foreign bikes would do any good for British industry or for motorcycling.
At NVT‘s July press binge Dennis Poore (Its then boss – MW) exhorted my brethren hacks to help his company by adopting a patriotic approach to the company and its problems. In a welter of emotive oration he asked us whether we wanted to see the Union Jack behind him flying proudly or lying as a shroud on the coffin of the British motorcycle industry. Heavy stuff, but hardly relevant.
The company may well have a few bold new designs – which I for one find both practical and attractive – but on the basis of their past performance and against a background of hysterical flag waving and blind patriotism, should we really put our faith in their ability to forge a bright new future for limey bikes?
Personally I think it’s too late. The only thing that would convince me of NVT‘s ability to cope with the future would be the employment of energetic, competent new blood in responsible positions where foresight could be appreciated and acted upon.
There is an unhealthy but increasingly prevalent tendency to blame outside sources for our present economic hassles. Sitting on our little island surrounded by what many people see as the communist and/or oriental threat to our trade and thence our lifestyle, there’s a temptation to entertain hastily contrived short term answers that won’t help anyone in the long run.
Supporting an ailing industry be it manufacturing motorcycles or mousetraps just ’cause it’s British and employs a fair number of British chaps, is like running a farm for lame ducks and wondering why only lame ducks hatch from the eggs they produce.
We’re wandering perilously close to Orwell’s vision of a country where only the Government has the power and the money to keep the people employed, clothed and fed. Such absolute power corrupts absolutely, no matter how nice a guy that dear Mr Wilson might be. And although letting NVT go to the wall would be a sad day for motorcycling, if the alternative is another step toward state controlled everything, then I have mixed feelings about it. At the very least.