Clarkson on: the BMW M5
Some time between the seventh and eighth grappa, Tiff climbed back into his chair and announced that he wanted to buy a BMW M5.
At first, we thought he was a little more tired and emotional than usual but his arguments seemed rational. "Its engine is so good and I love its looks and it feels so right and you can pick one up for £15,000 or so," he said, before falling off his chair again.
Mr Editor Blick and I didn't notice though, because we were deep in conspiratorial mutterings. We've got to stop him. We've got to demonstrate that the supercharged Jaguar is better.
The next day, Count Quentula was out parking cars for his village fête when I called with the news. "Tiff wants a Bee Em," I said.
"Oh Christ," said Quentin. "The poor deluded fool. I'd better let him have a go in my S-Class."
And therein lies the problem. At this level in the market, people have nailed their colours to the mast and almost nothing will shake them loose. Tiff likes BMWs. Quentin likes Mercs. And I like Jags.
When I start banging on about my XJR, Tiff will look up from his 24th grappa and ask if I'd like another gin and tonic. "And how are the Masons these days?" When Tiff is in mid-soliloquy about the smoothness of a BMW six, Quentin will interrupt to ask if he's run over any old ladies yet.
And when the Count tells us about the unburstability of a 500, Tiff and I wonder how we managed to miss his 50th birthday.
With cars like this it doesn't matter what they look like, or how fast they go, or whether they do 12 or 200 miles to the gallon. It's an image thing, pure and simple.
The data is confused, but some figures suggest that up to 90 per cent of Britain's executives never change marques. If they start out in business with a C-Class, they are in Merc's web and there is no escape.
During the late '70s and early '80s, a great many bosses did the unthinkable and deserted Jaguar's leaking ship. But the big cat was in their soul and now the cars are made properly again, many are coming back to the fold.
"It has room in the back for a small tennis tournament and yet it handles with an aplomb that leaves you breathless"
This, of course, means that if BMW wants to maintain its healthy market share, the new 5-Series only needs to be as good as the old one. Tiff will want one no matter what. Thus, as one magazine has called the new boy "close to perfect", you could accuse the Hun of overkill.
Certainly I can't remember driving any other car which does quite so many things quite so well. The £30,000 528 I tested was truly fast and yet eerily efficient. It has room in the back for a small tennis tournament and yet it handles with an aplomb that leaves you breathless.
Then there are the details, the best of which is the interior lighting. You get the usual red instruments which BMW says provides a restful get-you-home environment, and I'd have to agree.
But in the new 5-Series they've gone further because next to the mirror are two tiny red spotlights, providing a stylish red glow around the centre console. It gives the whole dash an exquisite 3D effect and, in addition, you can find your phone and fags.
For the Tiffs of this world, for all BMW drivers, this car is better than close to perfect. It's a solid 10. If it had been crap you'd have loved it but it's brilliant so I daresay you'll want to spend your evenings in the garage with it and a bucket of KY jelly.
Me? I couldn't wait to see the back of it. And Quentin is hardly jumping up and down, clutching his privates, as he waits for a go. Dynamically, it is superior to anything for the same sort of money made by Jaguar or Mercedes. But we don't care.
When I overtake someone in the Jag, you can feel the warmth of approval. People point and coo; they're talking about how good it looks and how quality is better these days. Middle England wants a Jag.
Now try the same overtaking manoeuvre in a 528 and feel the hate. There goes another pushy yuppie, hoping to hit a tree before his ticker gives out. Gaps that open for Jag man are closed when you're in a BMW. People don't like them.
I tried this argument on Tiff but got nowhere. "Look," he said, pouring another grappa. "You can go faster in a BMW than you can in a Jag or a Merc." And then he fell off his chair again.