Clarkson on: petrolheads
My Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder is many things. It is a beautiful piece of design. It is a snarling beast. It is an exquisite piece of engineering. And it is covered in dead leaves. But most of all, it is a magnet for twats.
I cannot remember the last journey I made where, at some point, the rear view mirror didn’t fill with some oik in a Nova, desperately trying to operate the steering wheel with one hand and a camera phone with the other.
Last night, on the way to London, I was assaulted by someone in an early M3 who thought that by driving one inch from my rear end, he’d provoke me into some kind of race. What would be the point? I’d lose my licence. He’d lose his dignity and then, probably, he’d lose his legs in a huge and messy fireball.
Sometimes though, I have no choice but to floor it. On the A34 near Newbury, I was being trailed by a 5.0-litre Mercedes full of morons. You know the type. Half a ton of “product” in their hair, idiotic Oakley sunglasses, short-sleeved white shirts, big tie knots and fewer brain cells than you’d find in a lobster pot.
The driver was so hopeless and so dangerous that I slowed right down, but this made him drive even worse. So I speeded up. But the problem is that to leave a 5.0-litre Mercedes behind, you have to be doing 165. That’s fine for a Gallardo, but with the best will in the world, you can’t do 165 on the A34. On a Tuesday afternoon.
It’s never-ending, this. I trail a column of rats like the Pied Piper wherever I go. But that’s not my complaint. My complaint is that all of these people have one thing in common: you wouldn’t want them in your house. More than that, I wouldn’t want them in my address book. I don’t even want them in my sight.
The trouble is that the people I’m talking about here have come out from the gentlemen’s lavatories and declared themselves to be genuine gearheads, people who, if you cut them, would bleed super unleaded and Castrol R. And they’re all horrible. I can think of no worse group, apart from the freemasons.
And here’s my beef: with their silly haircuts and their nasty complexions, and their fondness for wearing track suits, they give the whole world of motoring a bad name. They make ‘liking cars’ uncool.
When I sit down at a dinner party, I can always see the colour drain from the faces of those around me as they imagine I’m going to talk torque and carve race tracks in my gravy all night long. They all think I’m going to be a woollier, fatter version of Ron Dennis.
When they meet a chef, or a painter or an author, they have some common ground because they cook, they have paintings and they read books. But when they see me coming, they think they have to say something interesting about cars. And as far as they’re concerned, cars cannot be interesting. They are just a dangerous and disgusting diversion for twats and show-offs. The only time they ever see them is whizzing round and round in circles on a Sunday afternoon. And that’s less interesting than an afternoon doing pre-flight checks with James May.
James is a classic case in point. He can talk at you for a considerable length about complex maths, radio etiquette, World War One poetry and cats. But when anyone sees him coming, they think he’s going to talk about track rod ends, and they run before he has a chance to do a handbrake turn on their hydrangeas.
Just today, I had lunch with Uma Thurman. Let me say that again, slightly differently. JUST TODAY, I HAD LUNCH WITH UMA THURMAN. And I was going well. I wasn’t too nervous. I didn’t stutter. I kept my dribbling to a minimum. And I didn’t ask her if she’d really pulled Daryl Hannah’s eye out, or if it was made up.
"James can talk at you for a considerable length about complex maths, radio etiquette, World War One poetry and cats"
I think I even made her laugh a couple of times. But then, one of the other people at the table told her that I hosted a car show, and immediately the lights went out in her eyes. She had visions of me, in a track suit, driving a crappy old M3 at 270mph and talking of nothing else but camshafts and piston fizz. Moments later, she was gone.
And it’s all your fault, Darren.
The problem is that at the moment, petrolheads fall into two distinct groups. There are those who like cars because they are an outward symbol that life is treating them well. We see a lot of this in Cheshire. In the Golden Triangle between Prestbury, Alderley Edge and Wilmslow, they park their Lexi and their Bentleys at the bottom of the drive (so they can be seen from the road) and walk to the house.
Then you have Darren, who likes cars for their ability to do extremely high speeds in extremely inappropriate parts of town. He thinks that by doing a handbrake turn in Acacia Avenue, all the local girls will want to catch some of his venereal diseases.
I know of no one who likes cars solely because of their design, no one who loves cars purely for how they look. This would be fine. This would be cool because it would be like enjoying the clothes you see on a catwalk.
I know of no one who truly loves cars for the freedom they bring or the views they afford. And no, please do not introduce at this point, people who love old crocks and classics. By rumbling around in an old Ghost or a Napier, what they’re demonstrating is not a love for cars but a love for the past. Every single person with a classic car would like to see policemen clipping hoodies round the ear, and a return of National Service. All this has to stop. Luckily, I have a plan.
In the early days of homosexuality, there was much prejudice and tittering. So those campaigning for more equality took it upon themselves to bring famous faces out of the closet, to say, “Look everyone. George Michael and Peter Mandelson are homosexuals. So you at the back stop sniggering, and accept that a bit of botty sex is fine.”
It worked well, and I think we should do the same. We should out the people who are interested in cars but daren’t say so for fear their neighbours will call the police.
Rowan Atkinson is one. And Nick Mason is another. Then you have Michael Gambon, Joanna Lumley, Steve Coogan, Chris Evans, and yes, even Rory Bremner.
All of you. Put down your copies of Autocar. Stop Sky-Plussing TG to watch in the middle of the night when everyone’s in bed. Come out of the garage and tell the world you don’t have to be an alpha male to like an Alfa Romeo. Because, with a bit of luck and a fair wind, we can convince everyone that liking cars does not demonstrate you have a pornographic hard drive and a wardrobe full of track suits.
Hopefully then, the next person who delves into the trumpet of my Lambo will be a bit less gormless and a bit more like Uma Thurman.
This article was first published in December 2007.