Advances in car security steal the show: Martin Whitfield samples the fantasy and fear of modern motoring at Earls Court

DOWNSTAIRS at the London Motor Show is open-road motoring. An unreal world of shiny cars, loud pop music and videos of deserted mountain byways, fast race tracks and doormen at luxury hotels busy opening the doors of modest saloons. Not a traffic jam, congested motorway or a lurking car thief in sight.

A showplace of glossy motoring imagery where six 140 mph-plus sports cars are launched and the glamour of power and speed are promoted above concerns for safety and economy.

In the upstairs gallery, the reality of modern motoring pokes its nose in. Breakdown assistance, anti-hijack devices, cheaper insurance and the booming business of car security.

The main manufacturers boast their car security systems are getting smarter in response to pressure from an expected 700,000 car thefts this year.

Ford has introduced a 'smart' ignition key without which the car will not work and other companies are following suit.

Upstairs, Brian Melia, manager of the Barrier Deadlock System, a Liverpool-based car security company, offers to break into most cars within 30 seconds and professes to have little faith in electronics.

He prefers a mechanical bolt through the gear mechanism in a unit welded to the vehicle.

'We are in the front line. We recover 50 or 60 stolen vehicles a month and most of the cars have got some form of security system on them,' he said.

Even 'carjacking', the latest threat, is catered for. The potential hijacker of a car fitted with a pounds 60 TE1 immobiliser faces grinding to a halt 700 yards down the road. Its South African inventor, Stan Kivell, chose 700 yards to cope with the 'gun factor distance' after which most armed hijackers would not be able to use their weapons.

London Motor Show, Earls Court Exhibition Centre, 12-31 October. Admission pounds 7.50 adult, pounds 4 children & OAP.

Fear over sales, page 35