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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

“Economies are dynamic, complex systems. They are most strong and productive over time when they are free to adapt to new realities, circumstances and changing patterns of supply and demand. Was UK mining truly protected by overt government decisions to buy domestic coal in the late 1970s or early 1980s? Or was that protection merely insulating the industry from the competition of cheap natural gas, meaning that when the protection was withdrawn, the industry collapsed?”

Ryan Bourne.

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41 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Regional

    British brown coal cost £100 at the pit head yet Astrayan black cost £60 at the docks. Arfur Scargrill sure knew how to manipulate the MSM.

  • Stonyground

    Did something similar happen to the motorcycle industry? I’m not sure what the situation was regarding imported stuff for a couple of decades after the war. There seemed to be a short burst of innovation just after the war followed by refining the design of the parallel twin. Once in a dominant position the industry seemed to settle into complacency and stagnate. It was then obliterated by foreign competition in the nineteen-seventies.

  • lucklucky

    After WW2 British Islands went to a strange economic decadence, maybe it already existed before and WW2 was just a blip. For me is unexplainable that 30 years later a part of Germany was already richer.

  • bobby b

    “Did something similar happen to the motorcycle industry?”

    Before WWII, you guys had almost 300 motorcycle manufacturers. The war effort killed most of them off through material shortages and design stagnation. The military bought tons of heavy road cruisers only, which killed off the race-oriented makers. The public wanted cafe racers, not lumbering behemoths, but the money was in military sales, so . . . Then, when the war ended, England was flooded with used military bikes, which badly hurt new bike sales.

    Then y’all put a big tax on bike engines over (IIRC) 200cc’s, which meant your remaining makers turned to export, mainly to the US. For a bit, we were the beneficiaries of a great remaining manufacturing base, with Nortons, BSA’s, and Triumphs selling as soon as they hit our shores.

    But design stagnated again – why invest in design when you sell out your shipments to the US? – and soon Norton and Triumph were known as having a retro look even when brand new. Add in the newly strong trade unions hitting up the makers for a bigger slice of the pie, and the sector was hurting.

    And then the Japanese hit.

  • Mr Ed

    The British motorcycle industry has had a renaissance over the last 14 years or so with Triumph in Hinckley.

    Many moons ago I saw a Top Gear which suggested that the demise of the British motorcycle industry in the 1970s was due to Japanese innovations like electronic starters, which were scorned by UK manufacturers who stuck with kick starters, and other Japanese innovations such as quality, and bikes that would start and would stop.

    By the mid-1970s, Honda motorbikes were plentiful on the UK’s roads.

    I was struck by how prosperous southern Germany was on my first visit in the mid-1980s, compared to rather dingy England, although things were looking up by 1985.

  • lucklucky

    Well that does no explain how Italian motorcycle industry exploded after WW2 and was for a time the only competition to Japanese.

    For what reason? cultural? education? seems the British man lacked the will to do physical things.

    Same happened in US car industry, from great designs and varied creativity to the 70’s and 80’s disaster.

    Maybe one question is: After surpassing a certain level of education that is a barrier to the will to build things? The more media bound the society is less engineering bound it is?

  • Mr Ed

    Well there were lots of factors: culture, punitive taxes on corporations, unions.

    This Top Gear clip touches on the impact of Japanese cars on the European motor industry, with an unkind portrayal of the Corolla (and a libel of King Cnut) before demolishing in style an Italo-Japanese hybrid, the Alfa Romeo Arna.

  • Eric

    Same happened in US car industry, from great designs and varied creativity to the 70’s and 80’s disaster.

    Companies need to be forced out of profitable ruts. To change is to take risks, and if you can make money without risk why would you change? The US auto industry became used to a captive customer base, and resistance to change seeped into the business at every level.

  • bobby b

    While the British went the way of big boring military road bikes, the Italians pursued their racing traditions, and designed and made some of the world’s best speed bikes. They kept their eye on engineering advances and design (while the British coasted to a slow death.)

    The Italian MC companies also received financing help from some of Italy’s big monster-car producers, who saw the MC engineering efforts as being a good combination with their own. Also, the Italians put a rather huge tariff on imported bikes, giving their manufacturers a sheltered market.

    Today, Italians make some of my favorite bikes.

    Check out this Ducati: http://www.ducati.com/cms-web/upl/MediaGalleries/323/1/MediaGallery_1323867/Color_Hypermotard-939_starWhitesilk_01_1067x600.jpg

  • bobby b

    Oops. Wrong pic. Try this.

    (Sorry – can’t get img src to work.)

  • Paul Marks

    There is a Golden Mean to be followed.

    Do not “protect” an industry in an Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay or Donald Trump (?) way.

    But do not WAGE WAR AGAINST industry either – as Barack Obama did with his endless taxes and regulations.

    Such industries as the American coal industry were not dying a natural death – they were being murdered by taxation and regulation.

  • Seth Roentgen

    The British motorcycle industry died because in the 1960s it was still making essentially pre-war designs by pre-war methods to pre-war standards.

    The Triumph Speed Twin was a pre-war design which set the standard. The only British developments in the ensuing 30 years were transitions to telescopic forks and swinging arm frames.

    Your basic 650 twin when parked would sit there pissing oil onto the drive because the castings of the vertically split crankcase were so badly cast/finished the gasket technology of the time couldn’t cope. Similarly, even with the later unit constuction engines, the primary chain case would empty itself and your primary chain and clutch would be running dry.

    Electrics were by Miller, a manufacturer which made Lucas seem a paragon of reliability. If the electrics worked at all, you could guarantee that the generator would boil the battery and ensure that the inside of your left leg was soaked with battery acid.

    The “cafe racer” thing was for a reason. If you tried full power for anything more than a trip up to the roundabout and back, you’d melt your pistons and need to have a sack to carry all the parts (footrests, lights etc.) which vibrated themselves loose and fell off.

    Honda Soichiro was a genius. In the ruins of post-war Japan he started his business in a shed, strapping war surplus auxilliary engines to bicycles. His test rider was his wife. He would send her out shopping in a dress and see if she could manage, and get back without oil stains and chain marks. The result of his vision is the Honda Cub, a machine which has sold in millions, has motorised Asia and is still in production.

    The Honda Cub is cheap to buy, economical to run and easy to ride for anyone who can manage a bike. It’s step-through with leg shields. For the laydeez, there’s no need to swing your leg over or get the wind up your skirt.

    My point. Honda (plus his money-man Takeo Fujisawa) had the vision to motorise the world and introduce the best technology (die casting, 12 volt electrics, enclosed chains etc.) to achieve that aim. The result was motorcycles that would start, run, work at night and not piss oil everywhere. The British motorcycle industry was shackled to the past.

  • Fred Z

    “… other Japanese innovations such as quality …”

    The idea of “quality” as an innovation in the mind of a Brit is very unintentionally funny, but says it all.

  • bobby b

    “The idea of “quality” as an innovation . . . “


    Au contraire
    . Go read David Halberstam’s The Reckoning. “Quality” was an incredible innovation, one that won the American market for Japanese manufacturers. Until they perfected it, no one was even measuring it.

  • Au contraire. Go read David Halberstam’s The Reckoning. “Quality” was an incredible innovation, one that won the American market for Japanese manufacturers. Until they perfected it, no one was even measuring it.

    While the Japanese may have seized the US market by providing quality motorcycles, I would argue that the quality achieved was a US export in the first place. It was people like Walter A. Shewhart and W. Edwards Deming who brought the “science of quality” to Japan (especially in relation to production line manufacturing) in the form of SPC (Statistical Process Control) and such methodical approaches as continual improvement.

    Deming was originally brought to Japan by General Douglas MacArthur during the post-war occupation period to conduct a census, but his expertise in the work of Shewhart’s SPC methods and his own expertise was transformative at a very early stage for Japanese post-war manufacturing.

  • Regional

    Lucas Bros, the Princes of Darkness.

  • Seth Roentgen

    Honda achieved quality by publicly testing his products to destruction at the IoM TT races. When the spark plugs and the chains failed he replaced them with European products. Back in Japan, he sent them off to his suppliers and challenged them: “beat this”.

    The suppliers obliged, which is why we now use NGK plugs and Denso electrics. Miller has gone the way of Triumph, BSA and Norton. I mourn none of them.

  • The suppliers obliged, which is why we now use NGK plugs and Denso electrics. Miller has gone the way of Triumph, BSA and Norton. I mourn none of them.

    I’m not sure about that. Their original design and engineering were good, but they became sloppy and ended up taking their customers for granted.

    The Japanese aren’t great inventors, but they have become great innovators and manufacturers.

    The real question is whether they can maintain this in the long term. Thirty years ago, I would have argued that this was certain to happen, but now I doubt it very much.

    Although the Japanese are technologically sophisticated their society is very resistant to change and this has led to decades of stagnation and a moribund economy.

    I can’t see this changing anytime soon.

  • Roué le Jour

    Short version: Britain had a socialist coup after the war, and commies don’t inovate.

  • Stonyground

    I find it interesting that the Triumph Trident and BSA Rocket Three, which were both based on the 1937 speed twin were able to dominate production racing during the seventies.

    “Miller has gone the way of Triumph, BSA and Norton. I mourn none of them.”

    Triumph are still mass producing motorcycles and the modern ones are very good. There is also a modern version of the Norton Commando but I think that it is only occasionally that they get around to making any. Also Triumph do a similar retro style bike for about half the price.

  • Andrew Duffin

    lucklucky, there’s nothing unexplainable about it. After the war Britain became socialist and the unions were given free rein to wreck the place, which they nearly did. Remember the “winter of discontent”? Maggie arrived just in time. For anyone who was in Britain in the 70’s, the only thing unexplainable is that we survived long enough to change things and recover.

  • llamas

    On the motorcycle thing –

    Stonyground wrote:

    “I find it interesting that the Triumph Trident and BSA Rocket Three, which were both based on the 1937 speed twin were able to dominate production racing during the seventies.”

    Huh? I was production racing in the 1970s, and I do not recall the domination of which you speak – certainly not at the clubman level. Production racing was completely dominated by Japanese 2-strokes (Kawasaki 500 and 750 triples, Yamaha ‘Elsies’, Suzuki twins and triples) and Japanese 4-strokes (Honda CB’s, Kawasaki, Katanas and so forth). And of course, actual racing machinery was exclusively Japanese-powered – the innovations were in frames and aerodynamics, but all the motors came from Japan. The only place you’d see competitive Brit machinery was in the sidecars, and even they were transitioning swiftly to big Japanese motors like the Yamaha 750, Kawasaki 1000 four, and so on to car engines.

    One area which has not been touched on in the debate about what happened to the UK motorcycle industry is quite simple – Suspension. The Japanese entered the market from day 1 with motorcycles with really good suspension (for the era) which made them comfortable to ride and easy to handle. The Brits lumbered along through the ’60s with half-assed, bodged-together compromises that “squeaked and leaked” and which often handled in the most alarming ways. Girders and plungers, ‘sprung hubs’ and 100 other cobbled-together ways to try and keep building the same old crap in the same old ways.

    Another area that is missed is the skilled marketing of the Japanese in the matter of getting riders onto their first motorcycle. There was a quirk in the UK laws which allowed 16-year-olds to drive mopeds up to 50cc. The Japanese read the laws with great care and came out with ‘mopeds’ which were, to all intents and purposes, 50cc two-stroke versions of their larger models – the absolutely-seminal model being the Yamaha FS1E, which could reach 45 mph with a following breeze and which had all the features and qualities of its larger brothers. The British makers disdained this market area as being beneath their dignity, with the result that a whole generation of new riders was exposed to only Japanese products. And when it came time to step up to a larger bike at age 17 (250cc on L-plates) there weren’t any British products to choose from there, either. I know – I was there, I went through this cycle, when it came time to step up to a full-sized, full-powered motorcycle, I never even considered a British product to spend my hard-earned money on. I bought my first full-sized motorcycle in 1976, it was a Honda, and I own it to this day – still drive it to town on sunny days.

    Seth Roentgen’s description is maybe a little over-the-top, but he captures the matter well. Why pay over the odds for a 40-year-old design that leaked and which (in the immortal words of the Norton Commando owner’s manual) you had to turn over with the kick-starter a few times before taking a shot at an ‘electric’ start – when you could by a Japanese product which was faster, handled better, started at the touch of a button, cost less, and looked great into the bargain? The day the first Honda CB750 arrived in the UK was the end of the British motorcycle industry – it just took another 10 years to die.

    llater,

    llamas

  • llamas

    @Bobby B – Mmmm.

    I have 2 Ducatis now. I promised myself one when Paul Smart won at Imola in 1972 on the original bevel-drive 750SS Desmo, and it only took me 40-odd years to fulfil my promise. One of mine is a Desmo 750SS – unfortunately, not a 1972 model 🙁

    They may not be the fastest, they may not be the cheapest, but they have a style and a brio that is umatched anyplace else, at any price. The current Brit makers, by contrast, are simply different versions of the cookie-cutter designs that the Japanese now produce. Make Mine Bologna.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Bod

    I remember my 1977 Honda 400-4 with genuine misty-eyed nostalgia.

    Not the biggest, the baddest, or the best, but it was my first.

  • Fred Z

    Speaking of British quality, does anyone know of a supplier for a fuel injection system to replace the Stromberg 150CD monsters on my 1965 Alpine? Preferably combined with a replacement for the Lucas distributor.

    I have given up trying to keep the thing authentic. Too much like self flagellation.

    My Honda CBF1000 is never so cruel to me.

  • bobby b

    “Deming was originally brought to Japan by General Douglas MacArthur . . . “

    He was brought to Japan, where his teachings on quality were eagerly absorbed and put into practice in a way the USA manufacturers never managed. He was (is) considered the father of Japan’s manufacturing revolution. It was only on his return from Japan that he gained a large following here.

    “Why pay over the odds for a 40-year-old design that leaked . . . .”

    Of course, that’s Harley’s entire appeal, as far as I can tell. 😆

    I had one of those Commandos. Replaced plugs every 200 miles, added a quart of oil every 100, but the girls thought it was cool. Not sure why.

    “Triumph are still mass producing motorcycles . . . “

    Triumph went bankrupt back in the eighties. The licenses were bought up by a new owner, who then went to Japan and made an intensive study of their manufacturing methods before re-starting up Triumph. To the extent that Triumph does well, they owe it to the Japanese methods.

  • Hedgehog

    @llamas: Ahhh, the unmistakable sound of the Ducati twin. The rattling of the dry clutch at idle. The linear power delivery.

    Best bikes in the world, indeed. Mine sits in the garage. I don’t ride anymore, after a bad accident years ago, but I don’t have the heart to sell it. I’m in negotiations with my wife to be allowed to bring it into the house as artwork.

  • llamas

    @ Bobby B – I actually knew Dr Deming slightly, through my father, who did QC and statistical analysis for Philips. When you’re making lightbulbs on a continuous ribbon machine, it’s best to have all your quality ducks in a row.

    What a wonderful man. Reminded me in some ways of Milton Friedman. And it seemed like every time I took my parents to or from DTW in the late 1980s, we’d meet Dr Deming coming the other way in the concourse, and they would have Big Greeting. He always had one or two very-attractive female assistants with him – not that I noticed.

    I once went around the Irish Republic on the back of a Commando. Isolastic, my aching ass.

    Harley-Davidson – a machine for making oil stains and noise from gasoline, without any of that nasty intervening power or torque.

    @Bod – mine is a ’76 F2. Finest mid-range motorcycle of the 1970s, bar none. I actually preferred it to the 550, which was 1 click too much of everything for the frame design. But the 400 was perfect. Ask me about my cam chain . . . . .

    Happy days . . .

    llater,

    llamas

  • Hedgehog

    @ llamas – Thank you.

    *brings out pad, makes note – “Need 14 ft. ceiling in living room”*

  • Bod

    @llamas … ask *ME* about the head gasket that leaked about a thimble-full of oil a month from day one.

    Or don’t – because that’s all there is to the story. Ran up about 17,000 miles on that bike over 4 years, doing nothing more than putting appropriate liquids in it when it needed them and routine servicing.

  • llamas

    Bod – they all ‘perspired’ from the head gasket. The outboard oil galleries just ran too close to the edge of the gasket. Mine has 44,000 on it and the head gasket has always been oily – never wet, never leaking, just – oily. Don’t care. A Triumph leaks more oil overnight than this has ever leaked in its whole life.

    Hedgehog – we had a 1962 Triumph Tiger Cub hillclimb bike mounted on the wall in my study for about 10 years. mrs llamas loved it, as long as I did the dusting. But then we redecorated, and I sold it. Last seen in the window of a St Louis, MO Triumph dealership. If anyone’s seen it lately, I’d love to know where it is – black and white, polished alloy tank, number 14 on the front, name ‘Josephine’ on the back of the seat.

    llater,

    llamas

  • As a yank in Cali the motorcycle was my ticket to freedom. Ain’t no tube here. My first three were all Japanese – Honda, Kawasaki (yikes!) and a tamer Kawasaki. Getting older I saw Harley get its act together and make a solid cruiser so I bought one (but that Kawasaki Vulcan came in close). The HD is over materialed, simplistic, and solid. After 19 years it’s as solid as the day is long and the only oil leak I had is when the seal on an oil filter went. So much smoke… . I don’t know about the latest HD’s with their electronic fuel control and other witch doctor parts (saying this as I upgrade the ignition control chip ROM on my Honda…).

    I have plenty of acquaintances who ride, and more than few are the Harley fanboy type – pan heads, shovel heads, and hard tail types. History and vintage are fine but I don’t want to ride ’em, at least not for long.

    What I have noticed in my admittedly limited experienced is that Japanese bikes are quality until they are done – then everything fall apart like the old poem “The Deacon’s Masterpiece” AKA The One Horse Shay. Harley’s run forever and are easy to fix – simple is not always a bad thing. The Italian bikes are crazy, fast, and never reach their wear-out point because they crash and burn somewhere or become an aging rider’s garage art. The German bikes are solid and run well (I have a soft-spot for the old BMW 650 boxer) but when they go, oh man, you are going to pay a lot. The Brit bikes around my area are usually owned by pretentious hipsters so I have no idea how well they fare.

    I still would give my eye teeth to ride that Norton Classic or Commander with the Wankel engine they built in eighties (which Wikipedia says was 1987, but I remember them in 1981).

  • lucklucky

    lucklucky, there’s nothing unexplainable about it. After the war Britain became socialist and the unions were given free rein to wreck the place, which they nearly did. Remember the “winter of discontent”? Maggie arrived just in time. For anyone who was in Britain in the 70’s, the only thing unexplainable is that we survived long enough to change things and recover.

    That too but i don’t think that captures everything besides that is also a result of a culture. You might as well say that Nazis wrecked Germany. Or the Imperialist Japanese.

  • bobby b

    “we had a 1962 Triumph Tiger Cub hillclimb bike mounted on the wall in my study for about 10 years”

    Too funny. I had my ’70 Montesa Cota hung from a ceiling beam for a few years right out of school, until my future wife complained that it was too redneck.

  • bobby b

    “What I have noticed in my admittedly limited experienced is that Japanese bikes are quality until they are done . . . “

    Yeah, but they’re never done. I bought a 1981 Honda GL1100 new, have ridden it constantly since then, and, aside from wearable parts, haven’t replaced anything. Starts with a touch, pulls forever, leaks nothing, and gets all sorts of admiration at the truck stops.

  • bobby b

    “I actually knew Dr Deming slightly . . . “

    I always ranked him as another Norman Borlaug – unknown to most people, but responsible for the betterment of millions of lives. Statistical quality control just isn’t one of those rockstar fields, I guess.

  • Seth Roentgen

    @Bod @llamas.

    Honda 400/4. Oh yes. Mine was a bit of a basket case when I bought it. The electric start wouldn’t engage and one of the plug holes had stripped threads. Fixing that up was easy enough. After that, endless joy.

    It did have one bad habit. Sometimes on beautiful spring mornings it would take me right past work and up into the hills and bendy bits to the east of Perth. I was never able to cure it of that. Still miss that bike. And my CB250 K2. Sigh.

  • the other rob

    And when it came time to step up to a larger bike at age 17 (250cc on L-plates) there weren’t any British products to choose from there, either.

    Wasn’t the Norton Jubilee a 250cc machine?

  • llamas

    Why, yes it was – but it went out of production in the mid-60s. I think I’m right to say that the last British 250cc models were the BSA B15/Triumph TR25 and IIRC they barely made it into the 1970s. And they were crappy rides! Single cylinder, low power, typical British electrics and reliability, and typical British build quality. Millions stayed away – including Me.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Bod

    Dating myself here, I don’t remember any of the kids/young people who were in my cohort riding anything other than Honda mopeds, 250’s and a few of us with the 400/4. A fair number of Yamaha FS1Es, a very few Kawasakis, maybe.

    The only thing from Europe were Vespas and Puch Maxi. Oh, and one richie-rich kid who had a BMW 100 RS.

    Nothing British at all, not even as beaters or hand-me-downs.