Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson

Clarkson on: coupes

There is no argument more guaranteed to make my eyes swell up and my teeth move about than the one which says you pay more for a coupe and get less space.

About a hundred years ago, when I was 19, I bought a Scirocco GLi and spent the next two years with my hands in my pockets in a desperate bid not to punch the next person who explained, through tortured adenoids, that I'd paid a £1,000 premium for what, after all, was just a Golf GTi.

Aaaaaaargh. That's like telling someone who's just paid £22 million for a Van Gogh masterpiece that underneath all the paint, it's only canvas. And that he may as well have bought something for £1 from the church fayre.

If I were to tell you that a Bang and Olufsen home cinema system is basically Phillips kit in a sleek box, would it make you want one less?

Genetically speaking, those men who crop up on Wife Swap every week, with their tattoos and their penchant for lying on the sofa are almost completely identical to Henry Kissinger. More than that. They're almost completely identical to Skippy the bush kangaroo.

But it's the little touch, the final flourish, that makes all the difference. And so it was with the VW Scirocco. Yes. I could have bought a Golf GTi and saved my £1,000 but then I would have had less sex.

Eventually, the Scirocco was replaced with a BMW 3.0 CSL which gave way to a Honda CRX which was kicked back on to the forecourt by an Alfa Romeo GTV6. So as you can see, I've always had a soft spot for coupes.

Why? Because the designers only had to worry about boot space or rear headroom in the same way they worried about their biro running out of ink, or Tenerife falling into the sea and creating a tidal wave. Subliminally, in other words.

What mattered most of all was design that verged on being art. With a house, the three most important features are location, location and location. With coupes, it's style, style and style.

Why do you think that the Audi TT sells in such vast numbers? For a lot less money you could have a Skoda Octavia, which is basically the same car, but it's one that you could drive without fear of being thrown backwards into the Armco every time you twitched the wheel on an autobahn. But you do like those air vents, don't you? And rightly so.

There's another reason, though, why it has been such a hit. There wasn't really any competition. Nissan abandoned the 200SX, VW dropped the Corrado, Vauxhall ditched the Calibra, Fiat tucked their coupe away as soon as the man who designed it upped sticks and left for BMW, William Hague bought a Ford Cougar and in doing so gave it the kiss of death as surely as Gareth Cheeseman had done for the Probe, and Honda gave up selling its Prelude to old ladies in Lancashire.

The disease spread far and wide. The Puma came and went. A serious pity, given the girly Ka's still here - they're the same thing underneath, and the Puma was as hilariously entertaining on the road and easy on the pay cheque as they come. BMW dropped the 6-Series and made a 3-Series coupe, which only looked different to the saloon when viewed from a helicopter, and all the Rover 200 coupes (or Tomcats, as the boisterous Brum engineers nicknamed them) hit trees.

Now, though, the coupe is coming back with a vengeance. We've got the new BMW 6-Series waiting in the wings and I for one hope it stays there. If this were a house, it'd be that one in the middle of the M62. I've seen more style on a Surrey patio.

"The Puma was as hilariously entertaining on the road and easy on the pay cheque as they come"

Then there's that Mercedes-Benz SLK in a Wilbur suit, and the Chrysler Crossfire, which looks like a dog doing a shit. You know - that arched back thing pooches do when they're squeezing one out.

And let's not forget the Mazda RX-8. Now this is one of the best-handling cars I have ever driven and I just love telling friends of my mother that it has a Wankel rotary engine. But the styling's chintzier than a pair of council house curtains.

It rather looks like they had a ‘design' suggestion box at the factory and decided to adopt everyone's idea. So as a result it's a two-door four door, with the boot of a saloon, the front of a Humber, gills and some triangles. And this from the same company that brought us one of the most heavenly looking creations of all time, the last RX-7.

Finally, there's the Nissan 350Z. Now this is more like it. In many ways, it reminds me of the old De Tomaso Mangusta - muscular, beefy, solid. Not prepared to back down from an argument. You don't want to spill its pint, that's for sure.

On looks alone, this is the easy choice, but typically, the best looking is the least desirable to own. It is one of the most tiring cars I've ever driven. If I were to pop into town in one, I'd need to check into a hotel for a lie down. After a drive in the 350Z from Sheffield to London earlier in the year, I had such a bad headache that I considered chopping it off. In the end I ate so many paracetamol pills, I grew a second penis.

So what would I buy if I were in the market for a coupe now? Well there's the Toyota Celica T-Sport I suppose, which is a laugh a minute with its mad-arsed million valve, rev-happy engine. But even that seems a bit girly somehow, and then there's the good old Alfa GTV which used to be agonisingly pretty, but since its recent collagen injection now looks like Leslie Ash.

The Peugeot 406 is not to be forgotten, especially in metallic pale green. But do you know what? I think I'd go for the Hyundai Coupe.

Some criticise it for looking too like the Ferrari 456, but isn't that like being criticised for painting like Turner. Driving an £18,000 car that looks like it cost 10 times as much cannot, even in the warped imagination of the most cynical observer, be anything but a good thing.

This article was first published in December 2003.

 

Jeremy Clarkson, Column

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