Choosing four wheels over two

If you wanted to travel around Britain in the 1940s it’s likely you would have been walking, cycling or travelling on public transport. And if you were a critical worker, delivering milk to doorsteps early mornings, then you might even still be relying on a horse-drawn cart.

The average distance people needed to travel to get to work was around five miles and a bare six percent of workers choose to get there in a car. The motor car was still an unaffordable luxury for many.

Take the Ford Anglia, for example. In 1950 it would have set you back around £310. And to give that figure some context, the average house price in 1950 was £1,940 – making a car purchase one sixth of the cost of a house. So, converting that in today’s terms, (with the average house price around £256,000) it would mean the cost of an average car was equivalent in value to around £42,000!

1948 Ford Anglia E04A Deluxe Saloon

And if you were able to find the funds, then you’d have to rely on a whole of patience! While more than thirty British car manufacturers proudly showed off around fifty models of car at the Earls Court Motor Show in 1948, the majority were intended for other countries, with a wait of anything between a year and more than two years for British owners. But the interest in motoring was certainly increasing, with double the numbers of visitors attending the Motor Show that year than for previous years.

But the car was still out of reach of most people. The UK population at the end of the 1940s was around fifty million, and yet there were barely two million cards on the road, nevertheless car production was seen as an major boon to the British economy. Soon after the Motor Show of 1948 a talk on the BBC Home Service included the claim:

‘Britain, perhaps just for the time being, is the greatest motor-car exporting nation in the world.’

Austerity Britain by David Kynaston

The situation would remain the same for several years, with Britain responsible for fifty-two percent of world motor exports in 1950.

And while Britain’s rail network was beginning to struggle under the strain of under-investment, any plans for road improvements – which were soon to be desperately needed – were shelved. A ten-year national road plan, announced in 1946, was abandoned, perhaps due to the economic difficulties of a country landed with enormous post-war debt, and too many demands on a decreasing pot of money.

Of course, for anyone who could afford a car – and lucky enough to get their hands on one – then petrol rationing would continue to restrict their use of it. During the war years – from 1942 in fact – any private motoring was banned, with petrol restricted for essential workers and emergency services. Once the war ended petrol could be used for private use, but it continued to be rationed until 1950, with supplies restricted, allowing each motorist to travel no further than 180 miles in a month.

All in all, plenty of reasons for choosing ‘Shanks’ pony’ !

Published by Isabella Muir

Isabella is passionate about exploring family life from the 1930s through to the 1960s and beyond. She has published six Sussex Crime mystery novels set during the 1960s and 1970s, a standalone novel dealing with the child migrant policy of the 1950s and 60s, several novellas set during the Second World War, and two short story collections. All available in paperback from your local bookshops, or online as ebooks. Her novels are also available as audiobooks, and have been translated into Italian.

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