Clarkson on: greed
As the '80s drew to a close, Britain was gripped by a recession which would see car sales fall from 2.2 million a year to just over 1.5 million. Hundreds of thousands lost their jobs. Factories closed. House prices plummeted. So did hemlines. It was all horrid.
Throughout those dark and gloomy days, gurus told us that the glorious times of easy credit, greed and avarice were over and that in the '90s we would all be busy gathering wood for pensioners and helping to set up community service projects. Cars would have catalytic converters and airbags.
Films where everyone got shot would be replaced by films where women wandered around meadows in beekeeper hats, making daisy chains and falling in love with gallant and good men on eco-friendly white horses. It sounded like the horses.
It sounded like the worst nightmare I could possibly imagine and it all looked like coming true when, in Terminator 2, Arnie refused to kill anyone.
But, thankfully, the British recession has ended and those old values are back on line. Girls who had been forced into long and tedious skirts now insist on huge slits up to their ladies' areas, estate agents are selling houses in Chelsea for £25 million, the stock market is up above the ionosphere. Greed is good. And greed is back. Phew.
And nowhere is this phenomenon more apparent than in cardom. At the Motor Show, I talked with thousands of visitors and not one asked about safety, or economy, or value for money. They wanted to talk power.
"The safety lobby must now realise that Gordon Gekko is back in the driving seat"
In ten days no-one suggested that the new Golf Estate was a good car because of the space in the back for meals on wheels deliveries. No-one talked about how BMW's recycling programme might conserve the earth's resources.
No-one noticed that there wasn't a single electric car in Earls Court, but the aisles were full to overflowing with people lying on the floor having paddy fits because the McLaren F1 was an absentee. When they came round, they talked about the Aston Martin Vantage, the seven-litre, twin-supercharged Lister Storm, and the Lamborghini Diablo VT. Suggest that we should rip out all the cats, fit six downdraught Webers and prime them with five-star fuel and they wet themselves. And so did I.
Outside, ladies in Puffas and corduroy trouserwear handed out leaflets demanding that cars be banned from city centres. If they could have had a pound for every time someone told them to get back to Greenham, they could have afforded nicer leaflets, and a Learjet to drop them from.
Inside, you couldn't get near the TVR stand. All the other manufacturers with their airbags and their safety videos and their girls in ankle-length skirts were watching tumbleweed blow by, while the boys from Blackpool had to fight off the crowds with sticks. Their Cerbera no doubt meets the letter of the environmental law but as regards the spirit it's a V8-sized joke, a five-litre two-fingered salute to the world's whales and all who love them.
The safety lobby with their meat-free fridges and their green-tinted specs had their 15 minutes of fame in '91, but they must now realise that Gordon Gekko is back in the driving seat, with his foot flat down in a tyre-squealing slide back to 1986.
And even though the insurance companies are doing their best to ensure we can't afford cars that will squeal tyres, we, like all clever capitalists, still have an answer.
We are buying more and more off-road cars so that we can drive through the countryside. Literally.