Clarkson on: limos
By the time you read this, my career as a chat show host will be winding down and, once again, I will have to get back into the front of a car.
Filming for Top Gear is very much hand to mouth. We have an idea for an item, get the car and meet up at some Godforsaken Little Chef in some Godforsaken town at some Godforsaken hour so that we can point cameras at the damn thing for two days.
Obviously, the presenter drives to the location, spends all day driving and then drives home again at night. We get letters from people who say they do 50,000 miles a year to which we say: "Pah. We do that every day."
But in chat show land, things are rather different. You don't drive at all. They expect you to be either very tired or very pissed so, consequently, you are driven everywhere.
Don't worry, though. You can take the motoring journalism out of the programmes, but not out of the man and, for the past few months, I have been making notes, trying to find which cars are good and which cars are bad for the chap whose motor comes with a man.
You should be in no doubt that the Mercedes S-class is best. Quite apart from the A-level fawning that this leviathan inspires in the hotel flunky and maître d, it really is the most magisterial car in which to recline. With the passenger seat pulled forward, you can stretch out in the back and have no fear about being sick. Even if you chose to read the small print under the house ads in Country Life, while doing the Network Q rally, you would be spared the embarrassment of a stomachular reversal.
However, despite what Quentin may say, S-class Mercs are neither cheap to buy nor cheap to run. Sure, an early example with stratospheric miles is £15,000 but don't expect the electric seats to work. And an S-class without its toys is as useless as a Marl-boro salesman at an ASH convention.
"Amazingly, the best car I've found for sumptuous sub-S-class rear-seat travel is the Fiat Ulysse"
You might think that the E-class would be a better bet, but in the back it is cramped and blessed with a spine-tingling ride. And you can forget all about a Jaguar unless you have double-jointed bones.
A surprisingly good car is the Vauxhall Carlton. It has lots of electronic gizmos, and leather which isn't too ‘Man at MFI', but of course there is a downside. Pull up outside somewhere swanky and the doorman won't flinch. Doormen do not, ever, open the door of a Vauxhall.
So you have to do it yourself, which makes passers-by think you're climbing out of a mini cab. And that kind of ruins the effect. Like wearing a Rolex that was made in Hong Kong. Or worse, a Rolex that was made in Switzerland. Quentin.
So what of the BMW 7-Series then? Well, it's just awful. I don't doubt for a minute that the rear suspension is able to keep those back tyres upright as they take the Aden-au Bridge on the Nürburgring but, for crying out loud you hopeless Ger-man losers, this is a big saloon. If I want to feel like I'm sit-ting on a road drill, I'll become a navvy.
And you can wipe that smile of your face, man who did the Peugeot 605. I'm not surprised half the French government takes mistresses. When they see what sort of car that will take them to meetings, they'd screw a bab-oon if it meant they could get fired.
Amazingly, the best car I've found for sumptuous sub-S-class rear-seat travel is the Fiat Ulysse, especially if it has tinted windows. I came out of TV Centre last week to find Dale Win-ton climbing into his soft-top Jag XK8, but were the crowds bothered?
Oh no, they were far more interested in who could be in the van with the blacked-out glass.
Sorry, people, but it was me, pulling that little lever so the backrest reclined and falling into a deep, dreamless sleep. Because I was in the middle of the car, between the axles, the ride was sublime and because I had my own fully adjustable tailored seat, I was a man at peace.
For sure, a Fiat is not especially nice to drive and you certainly wouldn't want to put children in those back seats, unless they weren't yours of course, but as a chauffeur-driven limo, it is my number one.
I have simple tastes, as you can see, which is a good thing because straight after Christmas, I'm back to four-in-the-morning starts in the latest Godforsaken Lantra from those dog-eaters at Hyundai.