James May

James May

James vs the fashion industry

The problem with a lot of women's fashion is that it's the work of gay men and designed to look good on adolescent boys.

A while back, and for reasons I now can't imagine, I went shopping with a woman I know well. She'd seen a dress she liked in a magazine, and wanted to try it on. When she did, she started crying because she thought she looked fat and lumpy in it.

But then she would, I pointed out, because she's a woman, with breasts and hips and buttocks, and these hadn't been catered for in a design aimed at someone who looked like two parallel lines from any angle. We decided that fashion is for fools and went for a cheeseburger instead.

I don't imagine any regular TopGear viewers will be in the slightest bit surprised if I admit to knowing the square root of diddly squat about fashion. Even so, I find it hard not to be swayed by this stuff. Before I was on the telly, I never really bought any clothes, or at least not until the ones I was wearing turned to a puff of vapour when I sneezed. Now I feel obliged to buy some trendy shirts but, to be honest, I look no better in them than I do in my 25-year-old green and blue jumper, which I'm wearing now. Fashion is a waste of money that could be better spent on, say, maintaining your car.

This leads me to a debate I've had with Clarkson, with whom I am required to disagree for contractual reasons, but do anyway, except on the subject of Sandwich Spread. Clarkson believes in the built-in obsolescence of some cars, but I don't.

It just doesn't make sense to me. Let's say Nissan decided to allow significant bits of its cars to wear out after 10 years. That would be fine if there were only Nissans in the world and you were forced to buy another one, but if the same bits of a Toyota lasted 12 years, then Nissan would be ruined.

It makes sense to build a car as well as possible. Even if you're not going to keep it that long, you will find it easier to sell on if it still works. In any case, the reputation of car makers is forged in the second-hand market, not the new one, which is why Jag suffered in the Eighties but Mercedes did quite well.

"A car goes the way of an old shirt. Nothing wrong with it, it’s only that the style is a bit last Wednesday”

So why are so many cars thrown away after a decade or so? Obviously they become worthless, because they're oversupplied, but my jumper is worthless, and it's still stopping my unsightly nipples from showing, so that's no excuse.

Some people argue a car becomes ‘uneconomical to repair', but that's complete nonsense. Aeroplanes can easily last for 50 years, with careful maintenance. I've been on boats over 100 years old, and they still functioned as boats perfectly well. The cheapest new car costs around £6,500, and for that you could pretty much rebuild one you already have. Buying a new car cannot possibly be the cheap option.

Of course, new cars work better than old ones even when both are working perfectly. Drive a 25-year-old car, and you will be amazed at how useless some really basic stuff is - windscreen wipers, headlights, heaters. But these things are quite easily upgraded, and no old car I've ever driven has failed to go round a corner or go backwards into a parking space. I have two old cars, and I've been known to drive around all over the place in them, just as I might in a new one.

Most people, after all, are happy with an old house. You might put in new wiring, new heating and new windows, but there's never any suggestion that a house from 1650 should be demolished just because the wattle and daub is looking a bit shabby here and there. Yet we struggle to make a car last for more than 10 or 15 years.

The reason, I'm afraid, is largely fashion. My Panda will end up in the bin of automotive history because I or some subsequent owner will become bored with it and not bother to look after it. A car goes the way of an old shirt you use for doing DIY or the gardening. Nothing really wrong with the shirt, if we're honest, it's only that the colour or the style of the collar is a bit last Wednesday. That's not so bad for something from the rag trade, but with something as precious as a car it seems criminal.

I've been thinking about changing my Boxster. Nothing wrong with it, I just fancy something else. When it goes, it will have begun the rapidly steepening descent to the scrapyard, and for no good reason. By the time I'm really old, I may well have been through dozens of cars. But why?

Bet I'll still be wearing this jumper.

 

James May, Column

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