James May

The truth card

The whole truth

As I’m sure regular readers will know, Richard Hammond and I once invented a game called Airport Shopping Dare.

In case you’re not familiar with it, this is how it works: Richard Hammond (for example) will be looking at sunglasses in Heathrow Terminal Four. I wait until he tries on a really idiotic pair that make him look like a school matron on holiday, and then say something like, “Hmm, yes, those somehow suit the shape of your face” in such a compassionate and caring way that he buys them.

The instant the transaction is completed, I am free to say, “Hammond, those sunglasses make you look like a cock.”

An hour later, he wreaks revenge by convincing me that I look cool in a really shiny leather coat. So I buy it and then can’t understand why he keeps whistling the Minder theme tune at me.

It’s a great game, but it can get out of hand. Last year, the rules were relaxed to include the car showroom and a new player, Jeremy Clarkson. It didn’t take much to convince him that he wanted, and looked good in, a Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder. He didn’t, and didn’t really, so now he’s sold it and no longer trusts me.

And so we arrive at a problem. Big C has now decided that what his life lacks is a Mercedes SL65, and for once I agree with him. This, in case you don’t know, is the twin-turbo V12 AMG-prepared version of the iconic German roadster, and is ludicrously overpowered, ludicrously overpriced, and possibly a teeny weeny bit vulgar. It’s very ‘him’, rather like Hammond’s boots, which I think came from Gatwick.

Other motoring journalists are fond of pointing out that the lesser 55 version is a much wiser buy. It has the same top speed, is only 0.4 of a second slower to 60, looks almost exactly the same, is better to drive and costs over £50,000 less.

It’s often the way, isn’t it? There are any number of cars of which it might reasonably be said that the best model sits just below the top of the range, and it’s as true of the Fiat Panda as it is of the Pagani Zonda.

“Here is a man who uses the word “power” in the way the rest of us use "the"” 

But while that’s all very well in the normal world, in the very public world of Being Jeremy Clarkson, it just doesn’t wash. Here is a man who uses the word ‘power’ in the way the rest of us use ‘the’, and who has forged an ironic niche for himself in obscuring his own on-screen presence with his own tyre smoke.

To you, I would wholly recommend the SL55. But what would we make of the great man if he were seen driving a car that we all knew as not the most powerful example of its type? He might appear reasonable, cautious, possessed of restraint or capable of good judgement, in which case we may as well have carried on with William Woolard.

Imagine if you saw that Jeremy Clarkson off the telly coming towards you in a Merc SL. You’d think ‘There goes Jeremy Clarkson in an SL. That’ll be the 65.’ Then imagine your disappointment when, in the mirror, you read the damning legend GMA 55LS. It would be a bit like discovering that Patrick Moore doesn’t own a telescope.

I’ve pointed this out to him, but we’ve played Car Dealership Shopping Dare once before, and now he doesn’t believe me. He thinks I’m just trying to make him buy an SL65 so that I can laugh at him and write a column about how he bought the wrong car. But I’m not. This time, I really do think he should have one.

Only today – and I can’t think what’s come over him – he pointed out that one-year-old SL65s have plummeted in value because of the credit crunch, rising fuel prices and the nervousness surrounding big, over-powered cars for knuckle-headed exhibitionists totally out of touch with the harsh economic and social realities of the times. His reasoning is that if he buys one at all, it should be a used one.

Again, this would send out the wrong message, not least because it would suggest that Clarkson is in touch with the harsh social and economic realities of the times. He is, as I have impressed upon him, an ambassador not just for Top Gear, for motoring, for liberty and for optimism, but for Jeremy Clarkson too. Driving a used Mercedes to save money will make him look weak-minded. Where would it end? Diesel.

For once, I am concerned about my friend and colleague; I hope you are too, and will exhort him at every opportunity to buy a new SL65 AMG. He owes it to us to do the decent thing, and the thing he secretly wants to do anyway.

Most importantly of all, though, I want him to be happy.



James May, Column, Jeremy Clarkson, Mercedes-Benz

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