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War Economy

The First Rationed Item – Motor Spirits

The First Rationed Item – Motor Spirits

Imports of motor spirits had been a record in 1938, but so had motor vehicle registrations. In fact the number of motor vehicles registered had been increasing so fast that, though motor spirits imports were again a record in 1939, there was a very substantial fall in imports per registered motor vehicle. Consequently, stocks of motor spirits held at the outbreak of war were unsatisfactory. In the circumstances, it is not surprising that New Zealand resorted to petrol rationing from the first week of war, and, thereafter, fluctuations in the supply position were met mainly by changes in the ration allowed to private motor-car owners. The reduction in the ration to private motorists was, at times, most severe.1

By way of contrast, Australia did not introduce petrol rationing until October 1940. Even then, in deference to considerable public opposition to rationing, there was comparatively little reduction in the amount used by private motorists in Australia until April 1941.

1 See also Chapter 15.

page 118

Motor-car tyres were in short supply throughout the war and essential users had first call on them.1 The tyre position for the private motorist would have been much more difficult had a better supply of petrol been available to enable him to indulge in a larger amount of running. As it was, the private motorist took his chance for any tyres which were left over from essential uses, and in the latter stages of the war the less fortunate were forced to use considerable ingenuity in patching up old tyres. Some motorists were even forced off the road through inability to obtain tyre replacements, but most were able to carry on with the limited running the rationed petrol allowed them.

A small proportion of private motorists installed producer gas plants on their cars. Others eked out their petrol ration with mixtures containing such unlikely fluids as kerosene and turpentine, but most allowed their pleasure running to be regulated by the petrol ration.

Essential users were kept supplied with petrol, but had to accept rationalisation of the transport industry to conserve precious supplies.

Chart 26 compares imports of motor spirits with stocks held at the outbreak of war.

chart of motor spirits statistics

Chart 26

1 See also p. 139 and Chapters 15 and 17.