Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson

Clarkson on: the Corvette

So, underachiever, how do you feel today? Let me guess; you got up, went to work, flirted with the secretaries, came home and watched telly. Now, Newsnight is on and you're reading this, yawning and wondering why you've got nipples.

It's OK, I do pretty much the same sort of thing most days and that's why I know Hoot Gibson will gall you as much as he galled me.

Here is an all-American dude with Paul Newman eyes who learned his art in Vietnam, flying F4 Phantoms and shooting down MiGs which may, or may not, have been piloted by top flight Russians.

He was so adept at blowing things out of the sky, they sent him to the Top Gun Academy where he became a better instructor than Kelly McGillis. And after that he found himself stationed at Pax River, flying all the new, experimental fast jets.

When his Navy flying career was over, instead of a desk, the services gave him a Space Shuttle - something he's used to visit space on no fewer than five occasions.

So what then does Mr All American Hero choose to drive when he's back on Texan earth, and restricted to 55mph? A Viper? A Jag? A Bimmer?

Er, no. Mr Gibson has a Toyota Camry, finished in aubergine with a matching interior. I pointed out that this was a terrible car and he agreed but said it was, at least, reliable - "something that's important to me".

OK, I can understand that, but in The Right Stuff - the best book in the world, incidentally - Tom Wolfe says all the early test pilots and astronauts hurtled into town in Corvettes - the first American sportscar.

Why, I suggested, do you not have one of those? "Because", he said, "it is a piece of junk."

Whoa there, boy. Mr Pumping Pecs calling his auto equivalent "junk"? This needed exploring and so, two days later, in Nevada, I hired myself an egg-yellow convertible with a slushmatic box.

I slithered elegantly into the vibrantly shiny cockpit, the 5.7-litre V8 burbled into life and the sleek nose edged its way onto Las Vegas Boulevard. I felt good. The Corvette is dangerously handsome and my views on US V8s are well documented. The steering was quick, the stereo was sound and I began to suspect Hoot should stick to sounding off about planes.

But then I ran over a piece of chewing gum. Jesus H Christ, did you know the 'Vette has no suspension travel at all? The wheels are connected directly to your buttocks.

"OK, I’ll let you in on a secret. The Corvette is a slow motor car which does not handle at all"

I suspected that there was something wrong with it and then, that night, it broke down altogether. But the red replacement was just as bad.

OK, I'll let you in on a secret. The Corvette is a slow motor car which does not handle at all.

Because there's no suspension to absorb the roll the car just slides, which must be why it has traction control. But this comes in so viciously and so early that I decided to turn it off and... whoops eek and wahay, guys and gals, we're going backwards. It was fun right up to the moment when I saw the guard rail approaching.

Here's another secret. Anti-lock brakes don't work when you're going sideways. But it was OK - I ground to a halt with a good five inches to spare. I was doing that post-trauma bit where you breathe out and lower your shoulders by five yards when an officer of the law arrived.

The guy knew his cars and pretty quickly, conversation turned to the Corvette that had nearly killed me.

"You know the big problem with the 'Vette?" he said. "It's the worst goddamn car in the whole world."

He hadn't actually seen my spin but said he wouldn't even think of writing out a ticket for speeding because he knows just how easy it is to lose control of Detroit's biggest balls-up.

"Goddamn 'Vette spins so easy, you can park one outside a store and when you come out, it'll be facing the other way," he added.

As he climbed back into his cruiser, he gave me some advice. "Tonight, leave the roof down and the keys in. With luck, someone'll steal it."

I've always liked the Corvette and once toyed with the idea of buying one. But I'm better now.

It's simple, really. The Americans are good at Space Shuttles. And we're good at cars.


Jeremy Clarkson, Column

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