Autocar of the day was vehemently opposed to the new car tax, which was ushered in with the justification that the money was needed to maintain the road network, and replaced previous convoluted taxation methods that went before with a single method of cash-generation.
Britain had just emerged from World War One, during which the roads had fallen into a bad state of repair. The Ministry of Transport Committee calculated that it needed to raise £7m in taxes to maintain the roads and enable a substantial measure of new road construction and improvement.
How curious is it that £7m is also the figure that the current government believes will be saved by abolishing tax discs?
But the way the country was using motor vehicles was also changing. Autocar’s editorial leader column from 17 April 1920, shortly before the chancellor’s budget, highlighted motoring’s shift from pleasure activity to public necessity: “Motor car taxation, while cars were merely what may be termed toys of the wealthy, was excusable, in that motor transport in that particular form rendered no substantial service to the community.
“But now that motor transport has become a vital necessity, we plead for the freedom of the ordinary use of motor vehicles from the strangling effects of restrictive taxation. To tax all sorts and conditions of motor vehicles will be a deadly blow to the natural development of this modern form of locomotion in its most publicly useful aspects.”
Further articles debated the effect the new tax might have on the British car industry as a whole. With the cost of the tax linked to engine displacement, Autocar posited that British car makers would be discouraged to build large-engined vehicles of the type that were popular in many foreign countries.
Autocar’s readers were similarly disgruntled. In the issue of 25 December 1920, Percy C Beardwood was worried that motorists would abandon cars, to the detriment of traders: “To my mind, the new taxation will only provide further jobs for bureaucracy without increasing the country’s revenue. A ruined industry does not as a rule contribute much to the income tax.”
Where the tax disc should be displayed in the car was another subject of lengthy debate. “If we must parade our licence in future, surely we should be allowed to have some voice as to where it should be fixed,” wrote one anonymous reader.
Enterprising car accessory companies such as Beckett, Laycock and Watkinson Ltd of Acton Lane, north London, offered for sixpence the ‘Beclawat’ weatherproof tax disc holder, which could be fixed to a car “by any man who can use a screwdriver”.
Will the abolition of the tax disc prompt such impassioned debate?