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1956: Motorists panic as petrol rations loom

VIDEO : "Exercise restraint" advised and London petrol crisis footage

The government has issued further details of its plans for rationing petrol from next month.

The rationing period is expected to last for four months, from 17 December to 17 April, and will be controlled through books of coupons.

Petrol has been in short supply since the President of Egypt, Gamal Abdul Nasser, took over the running of the Suez Canal four months ago.

Supplies of fuel from the Middle East have been blocked ever since, causing fuel shortages throughout Europe.

Aubrey Jones, Minister of Fuel and Power, told journalists that businesses will be allowed an extra 100 miles a month in petrol, in addition to the 200 miles a month issued to normal car users.

Farmers, religious ministers, and essential local authority workers will be allowed 600 miles a month.

A third group, including doctors, midwives, disabled drivers and veterinary surgeons will be allowed whatever petrol they need.

Mr Jones asked all petrol stations to restrict daily sales between now and the start of rationing on 17 December, so that supplies can be spread throughout the month.

Panic buying

But panic buying is already causing havoc throughout the country, following the government's decision to cut petrol supplies by 10%.

Many garages closed altogether at the weekend, and many have already introduced their own form of rationing, allowing customers only one or two gallons each.

The owner of a garage in Denham, Buckinghamshire, said, "We are almost afraid to serve our regular customers.

"When motorists saw a car being filled they stopped and waited. In five minutes we had a queue of 50 cars waiting, and had to turn them all away."

Car industry hit

The fuel shortages have also hit the motor car industry.

Vauxhall Motors and the Ford Motor Company have announced reductions in the number of passenger cars to be built. Staff at both companies have been told they will have to work a four-day week.

Oil companies have also been warning of price rises due to the loss of revenue from petrol sales.

In Context
The pre-rationing rush on petrol continued, and by the time official rationing came in, roads were deserted and garages closed across the country.

Petrol was reported to be practically unobtainable in central London, with traffic in the capital down by two-thirds.

There was an outcry as petrol prices rose sharply to about six shillings a gallon - the equivalent of about 4.50 today. By comparison, a gallon of petrol in 2004 cost about 3.87.

Petrol rationing was just one of the side-effects of the Suez Crisis which involved Britain, France, Egypt, Israel, the USSR and the USA.


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