Magazine article The Spectator

Pointless Penalising

Magazine article The Spectator

Pointless Penalising

Article excerpt

Big, lazy V8 engines, powerful and durable, are as American as Coca-Cola and Stetsons. Europeans, with smaller cars, shorter distances, dearer petrol and hightaxing governments, have traditionally gone for fewer cubic centimetres and higher revs, which usually meant more stressed engines but better handling cars. There have been many exceptions, of course, particularly those manufacturers who imported big Americans and adapted them. Best known is surely the Buick 3.5 alloy V8 that General Motors considered too small for the American market. Rover's managing director, William Martin-Hurst, spotted it powering a friend's fishing boat while holidaying in America in the mid-1960s. He took out a manufacturing licence and Rover re-engineered it, dropping it straight into the P5, the P6 and, most famously, the Range Rover, where it survived in various forms for nearly half a century until BMW replaced it.

It also powered a number of other marques, including Morgan and MG, and thousands of the friendly old lumps rumble faithfully, if thirstily, along our roads to this day.

But such happy morsels of automotive history may soon become rarities: America is forsaking the V8. The Energy Independence and Security Act signed into law by President Bush at the end of last year stipulates that manufacturers selling into the US market should meet a Corporate Average Fuel Economy figure of 42mpg (in British measurement) by 2020. Greenies will complain that that's a pretty leisurely timetable and that in terms of CO2 it will put the US only on a par with what European manufacturers already achieve. It won't kill the V8 but will probably limit it to low-volume products such as the Corvette. Indeed, the big boys are already forsaking it for directinjection twin-turbo V6s or even four-cylinder units such as that fitted to the new Ford Explorer.

But it's still like hearing that Americans are forsaking beef -- and from George Bush, of all people, the man the greenies love to hate. Yet perhaps we shouldn't be surprised: the act is of a piece with the three fundamental premises of his environmental policy, which are, to paraphrase: (a) America is not to be deindustrialised; (b) the solution to the human contribution to global warming is to be found in improved technology, not in a reversion to the Dark Ages; (c) for geopolitical reasons -- which will have environmental benefits -- America should become self-sufficient in energy. Imagine this country doing anything so bold. …

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