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60 years of the M1: how we covered the opening of the UK's first motorway



“Second, one never makes a turn. The accent is on filtering, and the ramps join and leave the main carriageways at a gentle angle. They should be entered at speed, and braking (while leaving) and acceleration (while joining) should be done on the main carriageway every time it reaches a flyover-access junction, though drivers will be well advised – particularly in these early months – to be prepared for inexperienced drivers who may brake unnecessarily before filtering away, or who may filter in while travelling much too slowly. Diagram B shows how traffic joins the Motorway by the same filter ramp, regardless of the previous approach direction.”

Of course, in 1959, there were no sat-navs, so a sharp memory was paramount if you didn’t want to miss your junction and have to keep on driving in the wrong direction until the next flyover. Autocar advised drivers to “memorize before they start the road number of the flyover at which they must filter out. For a driver who misses his filter ramp there is no stopping, reversing or turning round: he must press on to the next flyover, filter out, go round the roundabout, filter back on the other carriageway, and return to the one he has missed.” Drivers also needed to check they had enough petrol for their journey before joining the motorway – for, when the M1 first opened, petrol stations serving it had not yet been built – as well as keeping a close eye on their tyre pressures, which were crucial given the relatively high speeds cars would be travelling on the newly-built road.

Despite this close focus on educating drivers, Autocar was upbeat about the motorway’s prospects.

“The table below gives an idea of the gains and losses of distance and time when the Motorway is used between key points. The times given are pessimistic because an average speed of 50 miles an hour has been taken as the mean speed for cars on the Motorway; in fact they are likely to be higher, and it is probable, judging by Continental motorway experience, that many drivers will regularly take little more than an hour to cover the 69 miles.

“More important than the saving in time will be the reductions in accidents, vehicle wear, fuel consumption and nervous energy on the part of the drivers. With modern vehicles, sustained cruising at a reasonable speed is far less wearing on all components than normal stop-start driving on all-purpose roads.”

We concluded: “The benefit of the Motorway will not be appreciated in full until the northern section from Crick to Doncaster is built. Work is in hand on the bridges for that road already, but the carriageways are awaiting the final planning authorisation. We trust that Mr Marples will make this one of his most urgent responsibilities.”

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