Clarkson on: England
More news from Rover on the 75 front. With 8,000 sold, it's outperforming the Alfa 156 here in the UK while, over in Italy, it's been voted the ‘most beautiful car in the world'.
Furthermore, a bunch of Middle Eastern motoring observers have voted it their car of the year. So, there we are then. It's brilliant.
Well, sorry to be the one who relieves himself all over the bonfire, but I'm not convinced. I don't care how many LCD read-outs they put on the dashboard or whether the K-series power plant is an engineering masterpiece, the Rover name still smacks of post-war austerity; as a result, the 75 is a sort of wheeled Werther's Original.
And then there's that advertisement where the new 25 is seen driving round a roulette wheel. What's that all about? It should have Dr Finlay behind the wheel, not some bird in a silk nightie.
And I don't see how the situation will ever get better, not so long as BMW remain at the helm. It's a bit like Manchester United buying Liverpool FC and telling them: "Be good... but not as good as us." The best Rover can hope to achieve is second place and that's why they are about to post losses of around £600 million. A sum described in City circles as ‘a lot'.
Then there's Marks & Spencer who, like Rover, have a middle-aged, middle-England appeal and who are also about to announce some catastrophic results. And meanwhile, we have a £758 million dome that no-one wants to visit, a river of fire that didn't happen, a big wheel which broke and a flame of hope - which was designed to burn all year in Birmingham, but fizzled out after five days.
In Brazil, some of our football players lost an important game of football and I understand that our cricketers, too, failed to do well in South Africa. So, all in all, it's not been a good start to the third millennium for the Mr Smiths and Mr Robinsons of the world.
Some, of course, would say that this is predictable, that we should accept the fact that these days England is just a 44 dial code, .uk on the Web, the 51st state of America and the 13th member of the EU. They would argue that the empire is gone, along with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and that we are nothing more than a two-bit island race in a global village.
I, however, am proud of being English, in a passive, now-that-you-mention-it sort of way. I like the fact it's always 57 degrees and drizzling because this means we spend more time at work and less on the beach. And this, in turn, makes us richer.
"I like the fact it’s always 57 degrees and drizzling because this means we spend more time at work and less on the beach"
I mean, look at France. Yes, they won the World Cup and yes, they came damn close to taking the ultimate rugby crown, too, but so what? Their idea of a luxury car is a Peugeot 406 and their students have to get jobs in London since there are none in Paris.
And Germany? Think how delighted they must have been when they bought Rover, how they'd put one over on Tommy. But now it turns out their longest-serving Chancellor was corrupt and their little acquisition is costing them £600 million a year.
Sure, I'm no great fan of phoney Tony, but then he's Scottish. As is his Chancellor, his Lord Chancellor, the Chief Secretary of the Treasury, his Foreign Secretary and the new bloke at Transport. Then there's Prescott who's Welsh and most of the rest are homosexual. England's contribution to the cabinet is Mo Mowlem and she's the best of the lot, by far.
And then there's Richard Curtis, Marco Pierre White and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson. There's Notting Hill and The Full Monty. I even had some British wine the other night and it was bloody good.
But best of all, there's Jaguar. My old XJR has just gone back after two years and 20,000 totally trouble-free miles. No, really, in all that time not a single thing went wrong, whereas life with my Toyota Land Cruiser is a non-stop return trip to the dealers.
I've looked at all the alternatives. There's a Jeep Grand Cherokee outside my house right now but it's too jiggly. The Mitsubishi Shogun is too brash and the Merc M-class is just too Guildford. Which means that, some time this year, we shall get either a Discovery or a Range Rover because they're still the best 4x4s by far.
And what about sports cars? I know the new Boxster is a fine-handling machine that now goes as quickly as its badge would suggest, and I'm aware that six-cylinder SLKs are about to burst out of the pipeline. But, come on, neither of these is a match for the sheer brutality you get from a TVR. These things are so aggressive that they could almost be Scottish.
But if they're out of your price range, then it's off to Mazda for an MX-5, a car that wouldn't be half as good if it were not for the Lotus Elan.
And anyway, we do still have an empire. It is a small island in the Pacific Ocean and last time I looked, the population was 8,000. And all of them, curiously, have Rover 75s.