How did we survive?


I came across an article written by the late John Weinthal, Automania’s Editor at Large a few years ago, where he described ‘road racing’ in 1963, in Brisbane, Australia. This prompted nostalgia, a nasty disease at times!

When I look back at my motoring career, the first thought that comes into my head is “How did I survive?” In this world of ABS, airbags and microprocessors that measure everything from how often you change gear, to how hard you stomp on the brake pedal, and all in the name of safety, are these things necessary, or were we (you and I if you are over 50 years of age) just lucky?

On reflection, I have to say that I think it is the latter. We were just lucky.

In the article I mentioned, he reflected upon a time when we pitted a 1949 MG TC against a Mk X Jaguar. I hasten to add that this was a long time ago (about 45 years, I estimate). The combatants were John Weinthal in the 1963 Jaguar Mk X and myself in the 1949 MG TC.

Here we were in 1963, coming from a party where several rum and cokes were consumed (by John, I hasten to add – I was on beer), and would we have been over the 0.05 limit (which was brought in many years later)? If I am honest, then I think we would have been, though we were certainly not clinically falling-down drunk.

The road out to the Queensland University was subject to the city speed limit of 30 mph in those pre-metric days (50 km/h), and to get 1,900 kg of a Mk X to drift requires a little more speed than 50 km/h. And drift it did indeed. So here we were, over the (today’s) limit of 0.05, over the (then) speed limit of 30 mph, and now living to tell the tale. How did we do it?

The first thing is that there were not so many cars on the road, and at 11 p.m. even less. The police did not have breathalyzers and speed guns to easily trap the unsuspecting motorist, and since there were so few cars at such a late hour, they were happily watching TV in their respective police stations.

The cars we drove were certainly nowhere near as safe as the cars of today. Would an MG TC pass an ENCAP test and come out with a five star rating? With a 25 year old wood framed body on a simple ladder frame chassis, there would have been no stars for the MG.

But what about the Mk X? Undoubtedly stronger and safer than the MG TC, but it had no airbags. In fact, I doubt if it even had seat belts. However, John did not get to crash test the Mk X under these extremes (and with test cars, especially not).

On the other hand, I did get to crash test the MG TC some time later. I survived. It did not. There was more than a modicum of luck involved. We were certainly “just lucky” in more ways than one.

With cars that now have more computing power than we had when we put astronauts on the moon, which can second guess our next moves and even over-ride our pressure on the brake pedal if it “sees” a looming problem that we haven’t, can detect if we have strayed from the lane we are traveling in, and if all else fails, deploy a minimum of six air-bags.

No, the “luck” factor is very definitely not as important as it used to be – as long as we use all the safety features that modern technology provides for us.