Clarkson on: his other half
This article was first published in July 2000.
You may already know that I am running my fifth Jaguar. Except I'm not. Yesterday, it was put on to the back of a trailer and taken back to the factory so that engineers may determine why it is stuck in Park and why the computer has decided it's a goose. Or a cabbage.
Certainly, it's forgotten it's supposed to be the engine's silicon heart and managed, in a nanosecond of savagery, to destroy every single function in the car. Even the speedo didn't work.
It's a shame for two reasons. Firstly, it's the only time in three years that a Jag has let me down and secondly, it means I'm forced to using the mistress.
The Jaguar, I see as a wife. It is racy at night when no-one's looking, intelligent in company and yet in a traffic jam, it's happy to sit there sewing name tags on the children's jumpers.
Whereas the Ferrari is fantastic at swinging from the chandelier with red suspenders on, but it's not exactly an ideal companion when the painters are in and there's nothing on the telly. It would have no clue what to do with an iron, and consequently I only ever use it for high days and holidays. In the last four years, it's only done 6,000 miles.
The thing is, though, that this week I've had to use it. And after a couple of runs to London and quick trips to Lincolnshire and Farnborough, something has occurred to me. It is not a mistress at all. It is, in fact, the most reliable car I have ever owned.
Fair enough, the battery does have a habit of going flat, but only after the car has sat in its bedroom, powering its own burglar alarm, for a couple of months. And yes, the targa roof does squeak, but that's my fault for buying a GTS. It should have been the GTB.
The thing is, though, that mechanically, it's up there with a wind-up radio. Every August it goes to a dealership in Egham where they top up the oil, change the plugs and peel away all the dirt I've accumulated over 12 months, and then it comes back again.
On its third birthday, I admit, they had to remove the engine in order to change the belts. But while this was expensive, it was also routine. You're told about it when you buy the car and that's why you see so many 2.9-year-old 355s in the secondhand columns.
Also, it gets noticeably out of tune. It isn't as fast just before a service as it is just afterwards. And the throttle pedal gets sticky if it isn't greased regularly.
But you can offset this against tyre wear. My car has been thrashed round Castle Combe a couple of times. It went to the Nürburgring to show that upstart Skyline a thing or two and Tiff has donutted it around an airfield. And still the Bridgestones are legal.
It just goes to show that with a well sorted chassis, the tyres grip rather than slide. And so they don't wear so fast.
"Every time I see Quentin, he rabbits on and on about how I must sell soon because prices are plummeting"
Excluding the price of fuel, but including insurance, I would say the 355 costs less than £1,200 a year to run, and that's pretty good value.
Then we get to the thorny question of depreciation. Every time I see [former TG presenter] Quentin Wilson, he rabbits on and on about how I must sell soon because prices are plummeting, but that's the difference between him and me. He sees a car as an entry on his company's balance sheet. I see it as a family pet, and you don't put down the dog the first time it sneezes. Besides, what would I buy instead? I am adamant, and I now have a selection of racing drivers on my side, that the 360 is just too twitchy, which means I'd have to buy another 355. So, Quentin, go f*** yourself. I don't care that it's only worth £70,000 and that a £20,000 loss is unacceptable in just four years - I don't want to sell it.
And I especially don't want to sell it after last night. Coming back from Hampshire up the A34, I lumbered up the Ridgeway behind a truck at 40mph, cursing our need to have fresh fruit in the supermarkets every morning.
But then, he pulled over and as I crested the brow, all of England was laid before me, a patchwork of yellow and green turned orange by the setting sun.
Best of all, though, I could see the road snaking off into the distance and there wasn't a thing on it. Nothing.
So I'm sorry, but I whacked it into second, floored it and just kept right on going until I was flat-out in sixth.
At this kind of speed, the Ferrari 355 becomes so much more than a collection of parts made by the lowest bidder. It becomes alive. The suspension automatically flicks into a hard setting, the wheel darts this way and that and you can't hear the roof squeaking above the tremendous howl of a 40-valve V8 at 7,000rpm.
Sorry, Quentin, but if you think I'd part-exchange a moment like that for the silence and solidity of a Lexus just because it holds its value well, you're way, way wide of the mark.
Back at home, I turned for a moment before walking though the front door and there it was, smeared in dirt and ticking gently as the engine cooled. And I wondered what life would be like if the Jag never came back, if I were forced to spend the rest of my days with the mistress. Not so bad, I reckon. Not so bad at all.