Clarkson on: domestic bliss
Hundreds and hundreds of years ago, Top Gear used to employ a man called Tiffany Dell. Tiffany used to drive very fast, especially when he came to a corner, and judged cars solely on their ability to slide whenever they went past a camera.
Then one day Tiffany needed to buy a car with his own money. Naturally, he was drawn to machines like the Porsche 911, but Mrs Dell said no. Mrs Dell explained that they had many children and would need something large and high.
And so it was that Tiffany found himself in the real world, worrying about baby seats, how easy it is to operate a door handle when you have a screaming child in the other arm, and whether the boot was big enough for all three pushchairs. Good handling, he found, simply made Jack's juice beaker fall over.
Oh how I laughed. I laughed and laughed for years. I kept on laughing even after Tiffany had been transported to a motoring programme that he can't watch at home, and to a magazine that likes the Vectra. In fact, I laughed until last weekend when suddenly the same thing happened to me. Mrs Clarkson slammed my fingers in the fridge door of life and showed me that pretty well everything I'd ever said about cars was rubbish.
She needed a new car to replace her BMW Z1. It's starting to feel its age and she wants something a bit friskier, a bit more like the Caterham I made her sell last year.
Obviously, you can forget the SLK and the MR2 and the MX-5 because they're built as only cars. They're built to be fun... up to a point. They're kind of like the headmaster at a progressive secondary school, or a community police constable. I like a laugh as much as the next man but occasionally, the laughing has to stop.
Well Mrs Clarkson doesn't want the laughing to stop. This is a mother of three, remember, who took her Caterham to Morocco one year and Sicily the next. Sleet? Pah. The hood's for homosexuals. She wanted, as she put it, a toy car, a car that hasn't grown up. She wanted another Caterham.
"Well you can't have one," I said, "because you cannot fit anything into the boot and you can't fit your husband into the driving seat."
So last weekend the choice came down to a TVR Tamora or a Lotus Elise. "Simple," I said. "It has to be the Lotus." "Why?" she asked. "Well," I spluttered, "the Lotus is sushi and the TVR is a meat pie. The Elise is a better engineered car, which thanks to its extruded aluminium construction, is better able to switch between power oversteer and neutrality. The TVR, on the other hand, is brute force and ignorance. A sort of box girder bridge, if you will, with windscreen wipers."
"She wanted, as she put it, a toy car, a car that hasn't grown up. She wanted another Caterham"
"Furthermore," I said, "you can't reach the pedals in a TVR and you're not strong enough to fasten the roof struts. Plus, you're a girl."
This, when translated, means the TVR is £36,000 and the Lotus is £26,000.
She was not convinced and spent the entire weekend pretending to make her mind up, but knowing full well from the moment they arrived which was going to win.
Except, of course, this was not a normal twin test. She is not a motoring journalist, making a decision then going home in next week's hatchback. There was no winner or loser. This was for real. And these are her conclusions...She liked the fact that neither came with a driver aid or an air bag, which implies that they trust the driver. And she liked the fact that both are about as British as it's possible to be without being Elton John.
To help her along, I came home from a drive in the Lotus and declared it to be perfect. This is definitely the one to go for, I told her. And every single motoring journalist would agree. Tiffany certainly does.
But it seems we're wrong. After the Caterham, she says, the Elise is just too civilised, too slow, too heavy, too tardy in its responses. For an everyday car it would be fine, she says, but for taking out because the sun's shining and you fancy a trip to the shops, or the Sudan, it's too boring.
The TVR is similarly civilised, she says, and when was the last time you heard a motoring journalist call either of these cars ‘too civilised'?
However, apparently the TVR makes up for the carpets and the stereo by being really, properly loud and really, properly fast. On a track the Lotus might be the more balanced, but she doesn't go to track days so she doesn't care. She just wants something which turns a trip to the gym into an event.
Certainly, the Tamora obliged yesterday by coming out of one roundabout between here and Oxford completely sideways. "I loved it," declared Mrs C, which is amazing really, when I remind you that she can't reach the pedals properly.
I tried to explain that in identical circumstances, the Elise would've remained planted to the road, but it was no good. Being planted to the road, contrary to what I may have told you over the years, is a bad thing. It's dull.
So, it looks like we're going to buy a Tamora. I've tried to extol the virtues of a Chimaera, which is a bit cheaper, but this, it seems, is not pretty enough. And frankly, I'm better off admitting defeat now before she gets designs on a £50,000 Tuscan.
And anyway, it's not so bad. I end up at Top Gear with a TVR. Tiffany ends up at Autocar with an M-Class Mercedes.
STOP PRESS: I was forgetting, my wife is a woman. She has changed her mind. For reasons I don't understand, she is getting the Lotus.