20 December 2013

Jeremy Clarkson on: car interiors

Jeremy wants a car covered in graph paper. With an interior of Liberty fabrics. Will it happen? Will it hell...


Jeremy Clarkson
Car image

I have a friend who is a vicar's son. He works in the City, and is more genteel and proper than a Home Counties bridge foursome. Naturally, he drives a 1968 Bentley Corniche... which he has decided to wrap.

Of course, the news caused a spot of light choking because, obviously, you only wrap your car if you worship at the temple of Wayne and Coleen. It is like floodlighting your house or wearing red trousers. It is a disgusting thing to do... except for one small thing. Wrapping is an extremely good idea.

When it comes to colours, carmakers are about as adventurous as a west London property developer. It's all oatmeal this and beige that. I think of all the work that has gone into the new Range Rover and then I weep when I see the lamentably pitiable range of colours in which it can be supplied. All of them are about as dreary as being dead.

And it's the same story with the new Golf GTI. It's a hot hatchback, for heaven's sake. It should be vibrant and wild. Not the colour of a Scottish sky.

Of course, we only have ourselves to blame. Because, when we buy a new car, we are always tempted to go for something a bit unusual but then, at the last minute, we always tick the box marked Fog Grey. Because we are worried that a bright and zesty car will be worth less in two years' time than something straight and conventional. This is undoubtedly true.

Well, with wrapping, your worries are over. Because you get to drive around in a pearl- yellow car and then, when the time comes to sell, you peel off the all-over vest, and, hey presto, it's a highly desirable grey again. Not only that, but the original paintwork will have been protected from lime sap and bird droppings and all of the other stuff that usually causes resale misery.

A lot of people mock the show-off antics of the rich young Arabs who come to London every year with their wrapped exotica, but I don't. After years of living in a world which is as interesting and as vibrant as living in James May's bottom drawer, it's refreshing to see cars in interesting colours. I saw a velvet Ferrari parked on Sloane Street the other day and I just thought, "Yes. Why would you not do that?" Then a pink Rolls-Royce Phantom slithered by and I thought that looked pretty good too.

I would like a car wrapped in green fur. Though, that said, I've just looked out of the window and it's raining. Which would make the fur a bit heavy. So now I'm thinking about moleskin. I would love a moleskin car, in a deep, rich red, the colour of Burgundy. Or maybe it could be wrapped in graph paper so that it looks like those old BMW CSL Art Cars from the mid-Seventies. Who wouldn't want a graph-paper car?!?!

But, of course, while it's extremely easy to make merry with the Fablon and a hairdryer on the car's exterior, there's not a whole hill of things you can do to liven up the interior. No matter how much Blue Peter-style sticky-backed plastic you have to hand.

Which brings me neatly to the Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe that I recently drove across southern France. Because it had what is unquestionably the finest interior ever fitted to any car, ever, in all of automotive history.

We know all about the grand masters who create the woodwork at Rolls-Royce's factory in Sussex, and we've heard, over and over, how they use 45kg of paint on each car, and how the seats are made from Scandinavian cattle, because there are no barbed-wire fences in the frozen north on which the bull can nick his hide. It has to be a bull, by the way, because cows get pregnant which causes stretch marks.

So we know that the interior is jolly well made by craftsmen who care. But the interior on the Phantom that I drove was rather more than that. Because it was white. All white. The seats were white. The dash was white. The dials were white. It was like sitting inside Elton John's piano. And it made me wonder... why don't other carmakers ever go down this route?

Yes, of course, there is Pagani, who makes interiors that are genuinely interesting, if a little difficult to actually use. And Lamborghini is not averse to offering customers seats finished in bright orange leather. But everyone else? No.

Every single car comes with innards that are as fascinating as a pair of M&S briefs. Where's the Agent Provocateur thinking; the devil may care, sod-it attitude to conventions and norms?

And I don't mean the layout. Peugeot may think it's been very funky and clever, fitting dials that you look at over the top of the steering wheel. But to achieve this effect, the wheel is mounted so low down that if you had a head-on crash, the airbag would probably burst your testes.

Then we have Citroen, who are past masters at idiosyncratic interior design. In the CX, they mounted the stereo vertically, between the seats where the cassette receptacle would fill with ash, crumbs and bits of Double Decker chocolate bars until it didn't work any more. Then they mounted the indicator switch on the instrument binnacle. Lovely. Except that it didn't self-cancel.

Today, they're still at it, fitting the C5 with a vast range of attractively laid-out buttons. Unfortunately, there are so many, they really have struggled to find them all jobs. I think each radio station has its own knob. Certainly, that's true of Radio 1.

And herein lies the issue. Carmakers - and I'd include Ferrari in this, with its stupid multi- purpose steering wheel - think that we want a whole new command and control system. But we don't. We want the indicators on stalks, the dials in a binnacle, electric window switches in the doors and the satnav screen in the middle of the car so it can be read by passengers as well. We like this convention because it's tried and it's tested, and it works.

What I would like, though, is some proper alternative thinking with design. A better range of colours and a bigger choice of materials for the seats, because, when you think about it, leather's a bit limiting. And a bit DFS as well, if I'm honest.

Yes, you get the occasional fast hatch which comes with lime-green inserts on the dash or red seatbelts. But these things are a bit childish. Bright flashes work just fine on a washbag or a funky new razor. But in a car? Where you spend many hours of your life? No.

Look at all the fabrics available in a furniture shop, or Liberty. Look at all the different dining- room tables you can buy. Look at the limitless range of colours you can paint the inside of your house. And you start to wonder why your car's innards are always, always, always grey.

Tags: jeremy clarkson



We make a trip to the north-eastern end of the country to meet a real Jeep, in one that keeps it real from the current crop