From the Past  5

This is a series in five parts of articles recalling the years
 when our 'Sevens' were on the roads.

In Part 5
WW11 Petrol Rationing;  War Emergency Regulations.


WW II Petrol Rationing

Nowadays, with the ease of visiting a petrol station, we take the unlimited supply of fuel for granted and all we whinge about is the price/litre and the amount of tax passed to the Government.  But 70 years ago the purchase of petrol was rather different due to petrol rationing from 1939 until 1950 when drivers had to apply for petrol coupons.

Our ‘Sevens’ were on the road at that time and our oldest members were probably buying petrol during the years of rationing.  I can remember my Grandfather handing over his coupons to purchase petrol when he took me out during my school holidays in 1948/52 as he went about his work and I have the remains of one of his ration books for 1949/50.

In the summer of 1938 the main suppliers at that time, amongst them Anglo-American, National Benzole, Shell Mex and British Petroleum, with the Government’s approval, formed the Petroleum Board, a voluntary body set up to consider the problems of petroleum distribution which would arise in the event of war.

With the onset of war the Government’s priority was to ensure that there would be sufficient fuel for military purposes and essential public services.  Given that much of our food and non-food products, particularly crude oil, were imported by sea and, therefore, open to enemy action shortages were to be expected and contingency arrangements had to be made before the problem occurred.

When WWII was declared the Government introduced petrol supply control under the "Pooled Petrol Regulations" to be implemented by the "Petroleum (Pool) Board".  The Board came into being on the 3 September 1939 and became an executive body working under Government direction.  Each company’s fuel assets, working capital and manpower in the UK was pooled, and each supplier received remuneration, and depreciation, on the assets contributed at agreed rates; whilst the prices, quantity and quality of petroleum products came under Government control.  The competitive marketing between the suppliers was stopped and products were supplied by each company in proportion to their pre-war deliveries.  All fuels, except lubricants, were sold under a Pool description, the selling price of each Pool product was subject to Government control.  Hence, we have the term ‘Pool Petrol’ which had an approx 74 octane rating.  

Petrol Coupon 2To obtain a ration book, with coupons for 6 months, a driver had to apply by presenting the car registration book at a Post Office which transacted Road Fund Licences, or the Local Taxation Office of the County Council or County Borough Council.  

As well as paying for the petrol, the quantity that you were allowed to purchase was governed by the coupons that you were entitled to.  Coupons were obtainable from 16 September 1939 and rationing started on 22 September with the allocation depending upon your occupation and if you had to use your car for work.  Each car was allocated coupons for the purchase of between four and ten gallons of Pool (Standard) petrol per month at 1/6d per gallon, depending upon hp (RAC).   

The basic allowance for a car up to 7hp was 4 units per month, for 8hp to 9hp the allowance was 5 units; a unit being 1 gallon.  There was an extra entitlement for those on leave from military duty, private hire, and other occupations such as Drs, farmers and transport volunteers.  Genuine commercial travellers with a 7hp car enjoyed an extra allocation of 13 units giving a monthly allowance for 680 miles, about 40mpg, and larger cars pro-rata.  Coupons could not be carried over to the next month and so drivers attempted to store petrol in various containers, some still having the 2 gal motor spirit cans from the 1920s.  It was only to be expected that petrol siphoning was soon on the increase as well as a thriving black market.

Few working men could afford a car, but with rationing more people walked to work, bicycle sales increased, and cars were seldom used during the hours of darkness due to the blackout and the greater danger of accidents.  To conserve stocks some bus services stopped soon after the evening rush-hour and many routes were cut on Sundays with trams and trolleybuses similarly affected as the supply of electricity and gas was also rationed but rail services were not restricted.  

Fortunately milk, bread and coal were delivered by horse-drawn carts and the brewers’ drays drawn by magnificent shires, and were all familiar until well into the 1950s.  

Petrol rationing remained until May 1950 but it was not until February 1953 that branded petrol was once again available on competition returned to the market free of restrictions.

I was there and aware of the situation at the time but too young to know the details so I have searched several websites for information only to find much discrepancy in the detail, so any errors, small or otherwise, are beyond my control!  


This article, written by Doug Castle, originally appeared in CA7C Seven Focus in July 2014 pp16-17.


War Emergency Regulations

War Regs 1



Apart from petrol rationing many of the basic provisions affecting motoring were modified to comply with war-time conditions.   Whilst many people did take their cars off the road those who did, or had to, use their cars had to comply with additional regulations.  The Government could make or change regulations at anytime under the enabling legislation. 

A brief summary of the regulations was set out in the ‘The Autocar Handbook, October 1940’ published by Iliffe & Sons, Ltd., London, which was kindly provided by Sid Breedon of Perth, WA. who enjoys our website. 





War Regs 2


War Regs 3

War Regs 4

War Regs 5

War Regs 6

War Regs 7

War Regs 8

War Regs 9

War Regs 9a

See also:

In Part 1
 Advertising in Magazines Manufacturer's advertisements;
 Promotional Films Austin Motor Company Brochures; Technical Advice;

In Part 2
 Spares;  Servicing and repairs at Austin Dealerships; 
Feature Articles;  Maps and Atlases; 
Touring and holidays; 

In Part 3
 Complimentary Magazines:  Specific motoring advertisements; 
   Motoring accessories;
'Sunday afternoon' accessories.

In Part 4
 Classified Advertisement;  The Thirties Era - Cars in Context;
A Matter of Worth;  Notes about motoring in 1947