NTERESTING FACT: when the Apple iPhone was launched in 2007, Twitter users were tweeting 5000 times a day. By 2010, that had grown exponentially to 50 million. Now it’s 500 million – nearly 6000 tweets per second.
On the other hand, the TV licensing authority recently revealed there were still 7161 black-and-white TV licences issued this year, more than 50
years after the BBC first introduced colour TV in the UK (for the vividly green 1967 Wimbledon tennis tournament, in fact). The TV agency is confident it’s not just people dodging the higher cost of colour; apparently there are still 7000 people who prefer to watch snooker in black and white.

So, while it’s true the speed at which we’re adopting new technologies is getting faster, that doesn’t make the future predictable. The big question for us, we few, we band of brothers, we car enthusiasts, is this: how sudden will the autonomous electric-car revolution be? Or: how long have we got before the fun stops?

Some are pushing for it to happen sooner rather than later: a report by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee recently suggested that the government’s plan to ban conventional petrol and diesel by 2040 was ‘vague and unambitious’. The committee suggested this should be brought forward to 2032, just 13 years away. Of course, they’re only talking new-car sales – they don’t mean every existing fossil fuel car will be taken off the road, thank God. I own a 2012 Subaru Forester diesel which I’m planning on running into the ground some time in 2075, with over 600,000 miles on the clock.

But it’s unpredictable, isn’t it? If the take-up of electric cars accelerates and consequently petrol stations start to close down, could there be a tipping point in a decade’s time? Will the revolution turn out to be a pyroclastic flow of hot gases, scorching down the volcano like the iPhone? Or will it be tepid water, dribbling out of a leaky hot-water bottle, like black-and-white telly? These two metaphors cling to me in the small hours, keeping me awake.

Whichever way it goes, I’m sure of one thing: in 20 years’ time, people will be staggered that we didn’t ease our way into this. No tapering, no gradual phasing – we’re potentially a decade away from an absolute cut-off, yet you can still buy a 6.5-litre Ferrari Superfast? And an Mercedes-AMG GLS with a 5.5 twin-turbo V8? Or a 6.75-litre V12 Rolls-Royce?

Has no one suggested simply limiting engine size?
Think about it: if the option is an 8.0-litre, quad-turbocharged W16 Bugatti today, but sterile battery power tomorrow, can’t we find a middle way? Why not limit all cars to 1.5 litres now, and keep petrol alive for another 30 years? And no, I haven’t plucked that size out of thin air: I drove the BMW i8 Roadster recently, the brilliant hybrid that combines battery power with a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine. I absolutely love this car, and it’s proof that 1.5 litres is all you actually need. It’s fast, it’s exciting to drive, it looks like a spaceship, and it makes an amazing noise: a fruity three-pot growl overlaid with a kind of vvwwwooeooooooorrrrp warp-speed sound. Or maybe it’s a kind of ssccchhhwwwuuuuuurrrrrrpppp. Or nnyyyyywwwwwwwwwaaarp. Anyway, it sounds good.

Limiting every manufacturer to 1.5 litres now would encourage creativity and diversity. BMW has its triple, Fiat could builds twins, Ferrari could build a V12. Back in 1964-65, when Formula 1 was limited to 1.5 litres, John Surtees and Lorenzo Bandini drove the Ferrari 1512 with a 1489cc flat-12 that revved to 12,000rpm. Imagine that in a 488! Bugatti could even build a 1.5-litre W16 if it wanted to. Pistons the size of doll’s-house teacups. Imagine.

But most important of all, introducing a 1.5-litre cap now might extend the lives of our beloved petrol engines – with all their music and soul – for just a little longer, thus staving off the dreaded day when all cars sound like this: *silence*.

The outstanding BMW i8 shows there’s nothing to fear from small-capacity engines. Come on, let’s downsize, and try to dribble on a bit longer.


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