Clarkson on: decorating your car
As a man who embraces his feminine side at all times, I am partial to a bit of interior design. I don’t much enjoy shopping for clothes, or food, but I am happy to while away many hours in the Conran Shop looking at cushions. I also like glossy magazines which cover the subject of dried flowers.
Many people are baffled by the sheer range of colours available from paint companies such as Farrow & Ball. But not me. I like a tester tin, and can spend many joy-filled weeks finding just the right shade of cornflower blue for a tricky little bit of wall in the hall.
Many years ago, Will Young came on Top Gear, and we talked at length about the problem of finding the right sort of slate for a small London garden. Having discovered we shared an interest in stuff like this, we said we should do a design programme together, and many thought we were joking. I wasn’t, though. I’d love to be Carol Smillie, and Will could be that other woman who advertises sofas.
Anyway, here’s the thing. There are literally billions of ways you can decorate your house. You can be like James and team comfy old armchairs in gnarled brown leather with beige carpets, beige walls and a brown piano. Or you can be like Hammond and have lots of button-backed velour.
You can change the look and feel of a room with the addition of one striking painting, or one vase. Or, in Hammond’s case, with a huge US flag and a Fifties American jukebox. You can have any colour you want and any fabric. You can have stone, or slate or marble. And when it comes to wood, you can choose from mahogany, oak and teak. I dream of leather flooring and furniture made from holly. Big windows and some bright cushions to give sparkle. But I also like higgledy-piggledy book cases and old desks piled high with stuff.
And you can have it all. There are hundreds of shops, hundreds of alternatives, hundreds of ways you can stamp your personality on each and every corner of your house.
Sadly, however, none of this is possible in your car. You can have grey leather with black plastic or black leather with grey plastic. Some carmakers now do brown leather. This is thought to be very adventurous. But, in the big scheme of things, it’s about as adventurous as popping to your local corner shop for some milk.
I have much wider horizons, which is why my big old Mercedes Grosser is currently in a small Surrey workshop being retrimmed.
I haven’t driven the big old bruiser for a long time, partly because it’s big, and partly because it’s old and I have the sort of job where I need to arrive on time… and not in the back of an AA truck. Mostly, though, I haven’t driven it because, truth be told, it’s a bit like driving around in James May’s underpants. Everything’s a bit baggy and dog-eared. The driver’s seat has collapsed, the leather in the front doesn’t match the leather in the back, there are one or two cigarette burns and the aftermarket centre console looks like something I might have made in the school carpentry shop.
I started out thinking that maybe I could just get the driver’s seat repaired, but then I read in the Daily Mail that I was very well paid, so I thought: “Hang on. That means I could use the Grosser to combine my passion for interior design and cars.”
Mostly, though, I haven’t driven my Mercedes because, truth be told, it’s a bit like driving around in James May’s underpants. Everything’s a bit baggy and dog-eared
I could have carbon-fibre racing bucket seats trimmed in orange leather. I could have cushions and the sort of shagpile carpet Richard likes so much. I could go bonkers.
The man at the retrimming shop did his very best to keep a straight face as I gesticulated wildly while explaining my big ideas. But I could tell he was hurting.
It transpires there’s a problem. In the cosy, cliquey world of classic-car restoration, quality is important. All of the well-known players compete to do a better job than the next guy. But, more important than craftsmanship, is authenticity. Orange buckets in a ’69 Grosser? It’s a no-no.
Why? I live in a Georgian house, but that doesn’t mean I have to live like a Georgian, burning servants to stay warm and being racist. James May lives in a terraced house in a working-class district of London, but that doesn’t mean he must have a tin bath by the fire. And Hammond lives in a castle, but he doesn’t clomp around in armour. As far as I know.
Obviously, you could get someone to put orange Corbeaus in an old Merc, but, to find such a bod, you’d probably have to go to Saudi Arabia. Or Wilmslow. And I couldn’t be bothered.
So we agreed to use the original fixtures and fittings and go for a retrim. And, again, there was a problem. Because the tan leather I liked was from a Bentley catalogue. And the bottle-green carpets I liked were from Aston Martin. This is also a no-no.
The only options from Mercedes would have transformed my interior from looking like some of James May’s old underpants into looking like some of James May’s new underpants. And I didn’t want to spend any time in a pair of those, either, so I put my foot down. And we’re going with a non-original-equipment spec. We’re going to blend the best of Bentley with the best of Aston, and I really can’t see what’s wrong with that.
Certainly, if someone does come up to me on the street and point out, adenoidally, that the leather is the wrong colour for a 1969 Mercedes, I shall hurry away as quickly as possible. Because people like that tend to have bad body odour.
No. I shall end up with a green car that has green carpets and tan leather seats. It will look and smell superb, and I shall be very proud.
The only real problem is the radio. All of the modern options are designed for young men in small Renaults. They are very fiddly and offer you a range of facilities that make no sense at all. Which is why I’ve selected a unit that looks like an old Radiomobile – five big buttons – but, behind the scenes, it’s mostly an amp for my iPod.
The quote for all this? You don’t want to know. But having consulted the Mail’s trusty online web service, it seems I can pay.
The only trouble is that there should be cheaper options. DFS should get in on this, with summer sales and zero per cent finance. Peter Jones should do a range of carpets for your car at a price that won’t be beaten. And the out-of-town superstore should be selling zebra-skin steering wheels. For a tenner.
Many of us spend more time in our cars than we do in our houses. And the Philip Greens of this world haven’t noticed the possibilities. You have now, though… so get off your backside and get cracking.