Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson

Clarkson on: niche cars

Well it's been a lovely, long hot summer and frankly, right now is a good time to be British. The economy is booming. House prices are back where they belong and unemployment is at its lowest levels since 1981.

By pulling all the right faces and not actually doing anything seems to be popular and even when his fat sidekick, John Prescott, made some silly noises about two-car families, they were drowned out by reports that half-a-million people had bought a new set of wheels in August.

The trouble is, of course, that columns like this thrive on bad news. I need to stand on a rake or fall in a vat of sheep excrement for there to be something to write about each month. Good news, frankly, is dull.

I haven't even had the privilege of driving any spectacularly awful cars in recent weeks. There was the Toyota Corolla, of course, which is motorised mud but it's not ‘bad' by any means. And the same goes for Saab's 9-5 on which you light the blue touchpaper and then hang around - nothing at all exciting will happen. In a world of ceremonial fireworks, this new Swede is a damp sparkler.

And anyway, this dreary twosome are more than outweighed by some of the most exciting stuff we've seen in years. There's the Puma, of course, and the new 911. But what can I say about that? It's very reliable? Whoa Jezza - incisive stuff.

In the spring we were treated to an onslaught of new convertibles like the SLK and the Boxster and now they're tickling our erogenous zones again with a welter of coupes. Alfa has announced that it will be importing the 220bhp, six-speed three-litre GTV, but it'll find life tough out there as it competes with the Mercedes CLK, the Peugeot 406 and of course, that rocketship Volvo C70.

"I need to stand on a rake or fall in a vat of sheep excrement for there to be something to write about each month"

The next big deal will be the advent of the serious niche car. There's the Land Rover Freelander of course - a car that's making our nanny almost moist with anticipation. Then there's the BMW Z3 coupe, the VW Beetle and the Audi TT. I'm starting to swell just thinking about them.

Obviously, what's happening here is that platform sharing is starting to pay dividends. If you can bolt any body onto any chassis, you can make new cars more quickly and cheaply than ever before. In the past Ford could never have given us a Ka, a Fiesta and a Puma, but seeing as they're basically the same, nowadays, they can.

And this means more choice for you and I which makes the game of picking your ideal five-car garage harder than ever before.

Obviously, I'm a fifth of the way there because already I have a 355. But in La-La Land, it would be a Berlinetta, and not a GTS. This would leave space for my convertible to be a big fat barge of a car - and that leads me straight to the door of the Mercedes SL.

Also, now that I've started to shoot anything that moves, I'll need a four-wheel-drive, and much as I respect the Land Cruiser and the Grand Cherokee, I'd have to have a Range Rover. It would come in new ‘Autobiography' trim where you get to select whatever colour and interior appointments take your fancy. I'd demand wood from that 2,000 year-old tree in California - just to annoy the Americans - and then I'd fit TV screens in the back of the front headrests.

These will be visible to following traffic to make for all sorts of fun as I drive up and down the motorway with Debbie Does Dallas on the video.

As far as an everyday car is concerned, I'd have the new Jaguar XJR V8 for all the reasons I outlined last month, which leaves me with the need for a family estate car.

I've considered, obviously, the Volvo V70 T5 and its V8 rival from BMW. The Mercedes 300E is a contender too but I've decided the kids should walk, and that dogs don't really need to go on outings.

My final car would be one of the 100 Nissan Skylines. I don't care that it got trounced in our Nurburgring feature last month or that it failed to do well in this month's handling test.

We need cars like this because, pretty soon, will stop pulling faces and let Fatty Prescott loose. Time is running out. Winter is almost upon us. For God's sake, get out there and live.


Jeremy Clarkson, Column

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