James and confused
If I were 65 and newly retired, I would now be on my way to a Honda or Toyota dealership to buy a dependable saloon car in a sober colour. That’d see me out.
However, I’ve just turned a mere 45, and although I can sense, and see in the mirror, that melancholy old age is now more of a reality than joyous youth, and even though a hard-backed road atlas, a shoe horn and, soon, some glasses now feature in my life, I’m not quite ready for the reaper’s automotive ante-room. And this leads to a bit of a conundrum.
You see, rather like the bloke bracing himself for the Accord diesel, I’ve worked quite hard over the last few years, saved a bit, tempered extravagance and so on. I’m not saying I’m rich, but I have done quite a bit of extra-curricular stuff over the past 24 months and I haven’t really spent any of the money. So I could buy a new car, and a pretty nice one at that.
What’s more, I can’t help noticing that the motor trade is so desperate to shift stuff these days that buying a car way beyond your actual means is remarkably – dangerously – easy. Put it this way: I could safely buy something like a new Jaguar XF. Add man maths to the equation (and no one does this better than a car salesman) and an astonishing range of stuff becomes available.
In fact, I’ve worked out that about 95 per cent of the metal featured on the bog-roll pages in the back of Top Gear magazine is potentially within reach. I have to ignore anything by Rolls-Royce, the bigger Bentleys, the Ferrari 599 and the Zonda, but beyond that there’s around three-quarters of an inch of stuff I could be driving. So let’s play fantasy new car shopping dare.
First, some rules. Just one, in fact, which is Clarkson’s. He always says that if there is one doubt you have about a car, then it’s not right, and although I disagree with him as a matter of policy, I’m going to stick with him on this one. So that dismisses the Alfa Spider, because it just isn’t quite quick enough to 60. The Ferrari F430 must also go, because I don’t think I could ever spend £130,000 on something wired up that far south of Stuttgart. Can’t have a Gallardo either, because the argument with knucklehead over the colour scheme would just be too tiresome.
“A lot of the Audis are very impressive, but in the end I find them a bit pompous”
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Aston Martin? I like ’em, but the DBS is too serious, the DB9 is too claustrophobic and the V8 is tainted by my memories of the N24 version. Apart from anything else, the car that really floats my boat in this bracket is the 911, but Hammond’s got one of those, so it’s unacceptable.
A lot of the Audis are very impressive, but in the end I find them a bit pompous. The Bentley GT has a funny face. Most BMWs are a bit too executive for my tastes, although the Z4 Coupe is worth a look. No, too hard. The M3 is brilliant, but it has a carbon-fibre roof. Hmmm. This is more difficult than I thought.
The sections Cadillac to Caterham, Chevrolet to Chrysler, Chrysler to Citroen and Citroen to Daihatsu are a bit of a wasteland, really. Caterhams are a bit like Stringfellows – good fun, but you don’t want to run into anyone you know. I love the Citroen C6, but imagine trying to explain that? The Copen is a great idea, but it looks like a shoe. Soon I arrive carless at Ford, where I’d have an S-Max, but only if I had something to put in it. About three-quarters of an S-Max would be totally wasted on me.
Anything diesel or that could be even vaguely misconstrued as an off-roader, an MPV, a lifestyle vehicle or a pick-up is obviously out. So is anything American. Mercedes-Benz are too shiny these days, and I’m not confident of being able to pronounce Mitsubishi. Hammond has ordered a Morgan, Nobles aren’t made of metal, and I’m not fully sure what a Perodua is. I like the Renault Kangoo, but it makes me think of France.
And so it goes on. I realise that this all sounds a bit petulant, but it isn’t meant to. There are hundreds of cars here that I admire or would recommend to my mum or friends, but when it comes to cars that genuinely fill me with unqualified carnal lust of a sort I experienced as a teenager – cars that I stop and look at when they drive past or the brochures for which I might keep by my bed – the list is depressingly short. It’s the Maserati GT and, for some reason, the Volvo V70 estate.
And people keep asking me why I’m driving a Fiat Panda...