Clarkson on: Extreme Machines
My new Extreme Machines series begins its six-week run on BBC2 about now and although there's an accompanying magazine, video and musical bog-roll holder, I thought I'd use this page to make some important pronouncements.
The Ferrari F50 is dull. The Dodge Viper is a Thomas Hardy novel on wheels. And, as far as I'm concerned, even the McLaren F1 is nothing more than a gateway to the Land of Nod because for the past year I've been exposed to a range of machinery that is untinged with the mundane.
When Gordon Murray designed the F1, he was forced by law to fit headlamps and a horn. He needed to ensure that it met various environmental regulations and that it would last for 20 years. You see, the F1 is only a car, a device to convey some people and their luggage from A to B. And I know of a farmer in Yorkshire who uses his McLaren for daily trips, down his rutted drive, to the pub.
Now take the racing snowmobile. It is unburdened with a need to be reliable or safe. It needs no seatbelts and no one will care very much if it runs on nitric acid. Its purpose is as pure as the driven snow on which it runs. It has just one job - to entertain.
And it's the same story with a one-man hovercraft. You can buy a new one for £10,000 and, I swear to God, no car on earth can provide so much fun because in a car you know where you're going, but in a hovercraft, you don't. You can turn the handlebars and lean till your face is peeled off, but it will just head for whatever it was that scared you in the first place.
It's much the same with an airboat. The V8 engine powers an aeroplane propeller with such enormous force that you can actually drive one down the road. But I don't recommend it because you have no say in your direction of travel. And no brakes.
People talk about it being hard to stop a supertanker but, having driven the biggest example of the breed, let me tell you this is nonsense. The Jahre Viking is 50 feet longer than the Empire State Building but can get from its 14-knot cruising speed to a dead halt in just five miles.
"The Riva Aquarama speedboat is powered by two V8s which sound like God farting"
No way could you do that with an airboat. But which of the 30 or so machines that I tried was best? Well with 37 million horsepower on tap, the Space Shuttle was the fastest but for some reason NASA wouldn't let me have a go. The USAF, on the other hand, was a lot more co-operative and handed me the controls of a Mach 2.2 F15E. Which was nice.
And I shall forever be in Steve Curtis' debt for letting me take the wheel on the maiden voyage of his new Class One offshore powerboat. We did 150mph in a 5mph speed limit which must be a record.
Oh, sorry, Steve Curtis is Britain's leading Class One throttleman and has won the World Championship twice. But you won't have heard of him because you were too busy watching Glamorgan play Lancashire.
Strangely though, 150mph in the Solent was beaten for thrills by 70mph in a quarry in New Zealand. The people who gave us bungee jumping have now invented jet sprinting, where you race a V8-powered soap dish.
I have to say though, that, all things considered, second slot goes to the Apache helicopter gunship - simply because I want to fly one down Oxford Street on Christmas Eve. No reason; I just do.
But my favourite big boys' toy of all is the Riva Aquarama speedboat. It's made of wood, it can barely crack 50mph and it was designed 32 years ago - but it is the most beautiful piece of sculpture in man's entire history.
It is also made with the sort of care I shall demand from the eye surgeon who operates on my daughter next week. And it is powered by two V8s which sound like God farting. Sure, an Aquarama costs £250,000 - 20 times more than any other speedboat - but when you see it, you'll know why. And you'll know why the list of people who had one for those wild nights in the South of France reads like the guest list at a Monegasque royal wedding - Peter Sellers, Roger Vadim, Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren, King Hussein, Ferrucio Lamborghini, Richard Burton.
Give me the choice between a Riva Aquarama and a Ferrari 355 and I'd take the boat. This might have something to do with the fact I already have a 355. Or it might not.