Magazine article The Spectator

Old Masters

Magazine article The Spectator

Old Masters

Article excerpt

Picture the scene: you are cresting a hill on a clear summer's morning and the road ahead is blissfully clear. Your senses are alive to everything, from the temperature of the road surface to the routing of the telegraph poles peppering its sides. The speedometer briefly nudges 90mph before you drop down a gear and steer a satisfying arc through a bend in the road.

What could be better? To anyone who enjoys their motoring, not much. A speedy road journey is one of life's great uncomplicated pleasures. The mental discipline and physical co-ordination demanded seem to leave the brain eerily unfettered by other inhibitions. Thoughts, faces, memories and smells rush past, but little stays.

Yet, for perhaps the first time in history, we are to beginning to get slower. Within a few years, driving at anything over the state-sanctioned speed on a public road in a new car or motorbike will not just be difficult or expensive, as it is now - it will be impossible.

The EU, the Department for Transport and Ken Livingstone are all in cahoots, trying to introduce speed limiters into private vehicles. 'Yes, here's your £100,000 Ferrari, sir, in red - but I'm afraid it won't do anything over 60. Enjoy.'

As long ago as 2001, the Guardian ran a story headlined: Tests on car speed limiters extended'. It chronicled a government-sponsored trial which 'could lead to computer-controlled over-rides as a standard fitting within five years'. Last year, the government asked for consultations on European Directive 2002/85/EC, which extends the speed restricters currently fitted to some commercial vehicles to yet more.

And this summer the Mayor of London welcomed a plan calling for speed limiters to be fitted to vehicles in London. He said, 'The use of speed limiters could save many lives in London.' Make no mistake, the tide is turning against modern cars and the speeds that they are capable of.

Campaigners point out that more than 400 models on sale at the moment can exceed 140mph - twice the national speed limit. According to government figures, speed is now responsible for twice as many deaths on our roads as drink-driving. So maybe it's inevitable, and perhaps in some ways only right, that the authorities should move to eradicate what they see as the main cause of road casualties. But it's certainly no fun.

So here is one very simple way in which the wily motorist can still get his kicks: buy an old car. The technology underpinning today's proposals for speed limitation is wholly dependent on modern electronic management systems. A satellite system (already in place) will detect your car's location and a signal in the car will simply cut your acceleration at, say, 60mph on a deserted stretch of the A9 in Scotland (the late Alan Clark's favourite road). …

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