Clarkson on: car interiors
Kate Gompertz is a friend of mine. And the reason she’s a friend of mine is that she does not mince her words. If she finds someone’s new hairstyle ridiculous, she will say so. If she doesn’t like the look of your baby, she won’t say it has nice hair, or lovely clothes. She’ll just say it’s ugly.
Anyway, despite all this, I offered to give her a lift to a party. I arrived on time, with a driver, in a large Audi S8. I was dressed correctly, in black tie, with black shoes. My hair was cut. I had even had a shave. Kate would be stumped, I thought. I was wrong. We hadn’t even got out of her drive before she piped up from the back. “What an absolutely ghastly car,” she said.
Now, I’m sorry, but no one has ever described the inside of an Audi S8 as ‘ghastly’. It’s a symphony of subtle lighting, with door handles that blend beautifully into the dash in an elegant, but forceful curve. And at night, the myriad twinkling red lights put you in mind of the straights that separate Hong Kong from Kowloon at dusk. It is, in fact, a magnificent interior. So, what was her problem?
“Well, it’s all grey,” she explained. Do you know what? She had a point. It is all grey. It’s as grey as the inside of a photocopier salesman’s shoe. It’s as grey as the colour chart in a Dell factory. It’s as grey as John Major’s underpants on a misty Scottish morning.
And so once again, I think it’s time for us all to question every single aspect of what we see as the norm in car interior design.
There is not one single thing in the Audi S8, or indeed any large car, that I would have in my house. Do I have grey leather furniture? No, of course I don’t, because I have better things to do than traipse around DFS negotiating Ee-Zee-finance deals.
Do I have any furniture made from polished wood veneer? No, and nor have I felt inclined to line even a small part of my walls with fake carbon fibre.
When you do this; when you compare everything in your house with everything in your car, you start to realise that, actually, everything in your car is shit.
Who says that sporty models must look like the marketing director of Lynx aftershave’s squash racquet? Who says that men’s wash bags are the starting point for anything? And why do you want the seats to be made out of leather when the only people who have leather furniture in their houses are riff-raff?
Not that long ago, on our telly show, I attemptedto demonstrate all of this by ripping everything from the inside of a Mercedes S-Class and replacing it with stuff that you might actually find in your house.
I levelled off the floor with a layer of cement and then added some nice York stone flags. I then plastered the inside of the doors, and fitted a wood burning stove in the back, instead of a heater. Finally, I replaced three of the seats with some lovely wheel-backed kitchen chairs, and one with a cosy little wingback that I found in a flea market in the Cotswolds.
Of course, m’colleagues, May and Hammond, ridiculed my efforts saying that the flooring had added 4.2 tons to the car’s weight and, as a result, it got from 0 to 60 in 32.5 seconds.
They were also disappointed to note that I hadn’t actually fastened any of the seats in place. Or any of the furniture. So when they went round a corner, everything – them included – fell over. Some of the logs from the stove also fell out, I admit, slightly burning May, who made an awful fuss.
"Small wonder so many children choose to vomit when in the back of a car. There’s nothing else to do"
Behind their mocking, however, I had made a serious point. That it really was possible to make a car interior nice. So nice, that, for once, you won’t care about taking half-a-minute to reach 60 or a lack of ability in corners. What’s the rush to get home? You’re already there!
Even at a simple level, could someone explain why cars have carpets. They get dirty and damp, and then they smell. So you are obliged to fit floor mats, which removes the point of having carpets in the first place.
There are many alternatives, some of which weigh even less than York stone. What about sisal matting, for example? Or a nice Bokhara rug? Or, if you fancy something modern, it is now possible to buy tiles which are made from two pieces of foot-square clear plastic. In the middle of the sandwich is a splotch of ink – blue, red, purple, green: take your pick – which oozes about as you tread on it. It’s fantastic and would look great in, say, an Audi TT.
And seats? Why not fit those circular Seventies jobbies that were much favoured by girlfriends of Jason King? Then there is my biggest bug bear of them all. Plainly the people who design car interiors are so massively homosexual, they have no concept of the idea of ‘children’, and therefore absolutely no clue how ‘children’ like to pass the time. Small wonder so many of them choose to vomit when in the back of a car. There’s nothing else to do.
We remove their ability to play with the electric window switches with an override button in the front, and if we fit a DVD player, we’re told we’re spoiling them and that they’ll grow up to be drug addicts. Right, well, how’s this for an idea. Turn the back of the car into a ball pit. Not only will this keep them amused for hours, but also, in a crash they will be completely safe, cushioned from the impact by a sea of brightly coloured plastic.
And then there are the doors and the back of the front seats. Does all this have to be lined with leather or could it be finished in blackboard material? Or whiteboard? Or whatever you’re supposed to call it these days?
That way, they could run amok writing slogans about one another, and drawing penises, and you won’t care, because it’ll all rub off.
At the other end of the scale of human evolution, we have old people. If you regularly transport your mother, or perhaps run elderly people to and from a whist drive, why not have super-absorbent seats, and drainage channels, which dispose of their effluent through the floor of the car? Team this with some flock wallpaper and they’d be very happy.
There is no reason why you, as the customer, should not be able to choose precisely what sort of interior you want when buying the car. Children-friendly, Anne Hathaway, or wipe down. Or you could have something tasteful and cottagey in the front and whizzy and kid-like in the back.
Maybe this is difficult to engineer on a production line, but there is no reason why some of the nation’s hard-pressed interior designers should not set themselves up in business offering an aftermarket service. It must be wearisome doing houses and office blocks all day, choosing stones and fountains and talking endless crap to IT consultants about feng shui. So break out the ideas for a ball pit and I’ll have our Volvo XC90 round at your place in a flash.
Either that or maybe we could encourage car firms to employ at least one person in their interior design departments who has a little bit of taste, and a little bit of heterosexuality.