Britain's new 72-mile-long London-Birmingham Motorway was opened, November 2, by Ernest Marples, the new Minister of Transport, at a point two miles south of Luton, Bedfordshire, where work on the motorway was inaugurated 19 months ago by the former Minister, Harold Watkinson.
Britain's new 72-mile-long London-Birmingham Motorway was opened, November 2, by Ernest Marples, the new Minister of Transport, at a point two miles south of Luton, Bedfordshire, where work on the motorway was inaugurated 19 months ago by the former Minister, Harold Watkinson. It is the first long-distance motorway yet built in Britain.
As police removed barriers, enthusiastic motorists crowded on to the motorway eager to test out the new road, where far higher speeds than on the ordinary roads can be maintained. In the first hour some 3,000 vehicles used the motorway, but afterwards the volume of traffic thinned out to 1,500 an hour. By the evening, 13,000 vehicles had used the motorway, and there had been over 100 breakdown calls to the Automobile Association centre. Petrol shortage, overheating and tyre trouble were the chief causes of breakdowns, but one car had more serious trouble - its engine dropped out. On the A5 - road relieved by the motorway - traffic fell to half its normal volume. People crowded on to bridges over the motorway - known as M1 - to watch British motoring history being made, and overhead flew spotter aircraft, aiding the road patrols.
Among the motorway's first users were high-speed London-Birmingham coaches. Cruising 75 m.p.h. they proved it was possible to halve the time taken by coaches travelling between the two cities, doing the journey in 2 hours 40 minutes. This is comparable with the time taken by trains, but coach fares are 50% cheaper than those on the Railway. One of the coaches had a front-wheel puncture when travelling at 60 m.p.h., but the driver safely brought the vehicle on to the verge at the side of the roadway.
Drivers on the motorway during the first hour - rejoicing in the long, uncongested stretches of road and free of the worry of oncoming traffic on the two one-way carriageways - raced their cars flat out, and afterwards Mr. Marples, said he was appalled at the speed of some of the cars he had seen. He said it might be necessary to introduce maximum speed limits, as have been done in the United States.