Much more complicated in many areas. Today when I select main beam all I do is switch on another set of lights to supplement the already lit dipped beams. Long ago the main beam was a single bulb and dip was achieved by the offside main bulb going out and the nearside main bulb being dipped. This dipping was achieved by a solenoid behind the reflector which when dip was called for, physically moved the whole reflector and bulb downwards. Thus with the light beam pointed downwards and the offside bulb extinguished the oncoming motorist avoided being blinded by 45 watts of concentrated power.

Of course if the solenoid or the contacts got a bit out of adjustment, selecting dip resulted in the whole light fitting going up and down and winking like a demented soul.


Why it’s called the ‘MOT’

Following the second world war and into the late 1950s most people purchased second hand cars and light vans, many of which were originally manufactured before 1940 and vast numbers of which were not in ‘tip top’ condition, nor were they regularly serviced. As a result there were numerous vehicles being used on the road which were potentially dangerous. In particular they often had defective brakes, lights and/or steering.

As a result of this, in 1960 the then Ministry of Transport under the direction of the then Minister of Transport Mr Ernest Marples decided that all vehicles over ten years old should have their brakes, lights and steering checked every year. This became known as the “ten year Test”, or alternatively the Ministry Of Transport Test – which became shortened to ‘MOT’. The Testable age was progressively reduced to 3 years by April 1967.

Over the years the MOT Test has been extended and expanded to the comprehensive examination which is today’s MOT Test. And the Test is developing all the time. Significantly since the 1990s has been the development of highly sophisticated emissions Testing for vehicles with catalytic converters fitted.

A significant development of the MOT has resulted from Britain being members of the European Union. All vehicle Testing is now decided by EU Directives which set minimum standards for vehicle Testing in member states. Each state can, however, decide to install more stringent vehicle Testing regulations in their own domestic regulations under the EU principle of subsidiarity. In many EU countries, for example, Testing is carried out every two years – the basic EU minimum, whereas in Britain it is on an annual basis.

So the MOT is a regular examination of the condition of cars and light commercial vehicles in mainland Britain. It is required annually on all vehicles over three years old with one or two very minor exceptions

There are now over 19,000 Testing Stations in Britain and 50,000 MOT Testers.


When I started motoring the cost of a gallon of 2 star petrol was 42p. Petrol was graded with stars 1 to 5. This represented the octane content. 2 star was the standard brew and 5 star for exotic machinery.

42p was in pre-decimal money and the cost was was 240/42 = approx 1/6th of a pound. I was earning £3.50 a week at the time.

At the time of writing (2012) fuel is 136p a litre or £6.20 a gallon!!!...mostly tax as the price of petrol is roughly the same everywhere.

Petrol used to contain lead to prevent the engine knocking and on public health grounds in 2000 the sale of leaded petrol stopped and lead replacement petrol or LRP went on sale.

The problem with this was that the lead in the petrol prevented the engine valves sticking and picking up particles of metal from the valve seat. If left, the seat would recess and the valve clearance would close up.

This did not inconvenience most modern car owners as their engines had hardened valve seats and all was well. Those of us that had cars with older engines ie British Leyand products had a few decisions to make.

You could have the valve seats replaced...expensive

You could use an additive which replaced the lead content with a less harmful chemical

potassium, sodium, phosphorous or manganese. In the early days there were plenty of products to choose from not all of which were effective. So the The Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs ran a series of tests and produced a list of approved additives which worked.

You could seek out a garage which still sold leaded petrol There were a few dotted around the country. Of course, you paid a premium rarity price for it.

However, the accepted wisdom was that provided you didn't load the engine by a lot of towing, racing with high revs or did low annual milage you could leave it all alone until the next rebuilt when the valve seats could be replaced. The theory was that the seats had a lead memory as years of leaded petrol had built up a lead presence.

You might have to tweak the ignition timing ie retard a bit.

I had a head modified for the A series engine in the Turner which was eventually replaced by another unmodified head and finally by a larger A series engine with unmodified head. I now use an additive. As I live in the USA I tend to buy my additive in the UK when on a home visit as the US does not have the same approval system for additives.

Another thing I do find here in the USA is the equivalent of the Institute of Advanced Motorists.  This organization exists to promote safer driving by offering training and an advanced driving test. This test goes well beyond the normal driving test. The training is done by accredited members and the testers are usually police drivers.  I took the course and found it very useful as I was driving full time for a living.

Some motoring thoughts