Remembering a time when speed was a safety feature

| 18 Dec 2012

One of the joys of reading old motoring literature is the effusiveness of the prose, which is often shoved into the shade only by the outlandishness of the claims it masks.

Whether it be in adverts, owners' handbooks or manufacturers' literature, there seemed to be a tacit understanding in the 1960s that, like US bhp figures, a lovely bit of flowery writing was far more important than the information actually being useful. Or true.

Recently, I think I discovered my favourite example of all because as well as outrageous cheek it demonstrates a certain ingenuity to get around a bit of a thorny issue.

While sitting in my Elan +2 reading the owners' manual but avoiding tackling the actual job I had set out to do because of the finger-eating weather, I distracted myself by happening across the section on safety features.

Now, it is not as if this is filled with bare-faced lies, but what amuses me is the straightness of the face with which Lotus, clearly feeling obliged by the sensitivities of modern '60s safety-conscious (or at least death aware) society, must have conceded that it was imperative to have a section on the engineered-in systems provided to keep skin and bone together like everyone else did.

Unfortunately, there is a stumbling block – Lotus has signally failed to engineer in anything to specifically protect its driver and their passengers. No matter, they would get the wordsmiths on to it and make do with what they had.

Hence the rib-tickling passage starts:

"The Elan +2 has been built with safety in mind and incorporates "in-built" safety features, which we feel, when sensibly used, should assist in avoiding an accident."

Crikey, I thought, I know I haven't had the +2 that long, but I am yet to consciously deploy any of these state-of-the-art safety features.

I was rapt as I read on to discover what they might be. Hold your hats because here, verbatim, are a few of them.

"Excellent visibility including a very low bonnet line."

"Powerful servo-assisted brake discs." OK, I'll give them that one.

"Light, accurate, high-geared steering requiring the minimum of movement to change direction." See what they've done there? They – and I presume that they is the great Graham Arnold – have sold the Elan's superb steering as a consciously "in-built" safety feature because it means you can miss things.

"Excellent road-holding and very high cornering ability." Look, they've done it again. The fact that it is a brilliant drivers' car means it is inherently safe.

"Vivid acceleration… ensuring rapid overtaking with the minimum of delay." So the fact that you can hit things going very quickly is a safety feature. That's genius. And that's it, all the amazing "in-built" safety features that the +2 has to offer.

Of course, that's not what it is all about and Lotus isn't the first and won't be the last to "repurpose" speed and performance as safety features for expediency's sake, but the bravado of their attempts did amuse me.

The next time I am driving far too quickly, overtaking on a sharp corner heading towards a truck whose numberplate will decapitate me as my low bonnet line dives under its front axle, I will say a little prayer of thanks to the considerate chaps at Lotus!