Clarkson on: beating the budget
If you are willing to believe that Leonardo da Vinci painted secret codes in The Last Supper, indicating that some bird is directly descended from the baby Jesus, then I'm sure you'll agree there was something a bit fishy about the cancellation of the Cheltenham festival this year.
Every year, the tweedy turn up and brave whatever the elements have to throw at them. But this year, a government-trained health and safety hit squad arrived and announced that, due to the high winds, the marquees were unsafe and, as a result, everything would have to be closed down.
And in case anyone was thinking of complaining, some orange-haired old bat got to her feet in the House of Lords and said the inclement weather was all down to climate change. No it wasn't. We've had high winds in March since the dawn of time. It's got nothing to do with climate change at all.
The problem was simple. Just a day earlier, a respected body had concluded that last summer's floods which drowned a million horrible sofas across the land was not due to global warming.
And this was not good news for Alistair Darling who was preparing his budget. He'd realised that his predecessor, Gordon Brown, had not saved a penny from the times of plenty and had even sold the country's entire gold reserves when the market was at rock bottom, so he hit on the brilliant idea of increasing green taxes to pay for Brown's uselessness. He just needed a climate catastrophe to make it all plausible, and, hey presto, the tents in Cheltenham were suddenly declared unsafe.
God, he must think we're thick. "Yes, Mr Darling, Sir. Of course we understand that the world will somehow be saved if we give you a thousand pounds." Except it isn't a thousand pounds. If you have a car, it's much, much more.
There was much speculation, in the run-up to the budget whether Darling would up the price of petrol, increase the cost of a tax disc or go for road pricing. In fact, he's gone for all three.
Later this year, petrol will go up by two pence a litre and then, for that little extra something, it'll go up by another halfpenny shortly thereafter.
What's more, he signalled that he is in favour of road pricing, so that soon you will be expected to pay as much as £1 a mile for driving on busy roads, early in the morning or late in the afternoon - i.e. when you are going to and from work.
Then, and here's the killer, anyone who buys what he calls a high-polluting car will face a first-year increase in road tax. Now you might think this only affects rap artists with supercharged Hummers, but no, the tax disc for a normal Ford Mondeo, as driven by Darling, will be £550. The bill for, say a Gallardo, will rocket to nigh on a grand. That's not taxation. That's rape.
"There's no point shouting, because soon, the annual tax bill for a commuter in a Mondeo will be £10k"
Darling tried to smooth this over by saying that people in cars which produce less than 100 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre will be exempt from road tax altogether. So you reckon you're safe in your Renault Modus? Well, reckon again, because even the Toyota Pious is clobbered. In fact, with the exception of the terrible Volkswagen Blue Motion, the only cars which get a zero rating are electric. And you haven't got one of those, because you're not a twat.
Plainly, we are living in idiotic times. Seriously. Basing a system of tax on how much carbon dioxide you produce is fine at the moment, because many people live on fair trade food made from mashed-up copies of The Guardian, and use fart-filled, low-energy light bulbs. But soon, when all the fuss has died down, it's going to look as outdated as William III's window-tax. You might as well tax us on how many words we say.
But there's no point shouting, because soon, the annual tax bill for a commuter in a Mondeo will be £10k a year. Which you pay out of a taxed income...
You might envisage then a return to Edwardian times, with the rich on the road and you in the workhouse, coughing up blood from a disgusting disease you caught from your horse.
Don't worry though, because there is a way round the problem. I can't help you with petrol prices. I suspect, however, the oil-producing nations will do that when they wake up one day and wonder why their export is being used to prop up Western economies. Nor can I do much about the road pricing, short of designing a stealth car.
However, I can help you with the preposterous road tax, because you see, it's not just Blue Motions and G-Wizes that are exempt. There's a third way... you buy a car registered before 1973.
Now, I realise if you are eight years old, 1973 seems like the 13th century. You probably imagine that cars back then were mostly used for ploughing.
Not so. If you buy a car from 1973, you could have a Lambo Countach, or a Ferrari 512 B/B. And back then, Porsche was making something called the 911 which, so far as I can tell, is almost exactly the same as the 911 you can buy today.
What I'd do for sheer perverse pleasure is buy a '73 Range Rover. I can think of nothing quite so glorious as pulling up alongside some silly sod in a Toyota Pious, who's paid £250 for his tax, while I, with my huge 3.5-litre V8, have paid bugger all.
Of course, there are going to be a few problems with cars from back then. A Mk3 Cortina, for example - even the excellent 2000E - did not come with electric seats, satnav, power steering, aircon, electric door mirrors or, come to think ofit any door mirrors at all. It wasn't that fast either.
But I happen to know it's very easy to replace the Ford four with a big V8. And still Darling won't be able to help himself to any of your money.
And this is what I'm thinking. The car must have been registered before 1973, but what, exactly, constitutes 'a car'. If, for instance, you were to buy a Cortina, why stop at the engine? You could also change the rear axle, the engine, most of the body panels, and all of the interior to make it look, feel and go like a modern car. And yet it would still have the original log book. Which means, technically, it would still be a pre-'73 car. And therefore exempt from the badger's grubby mitts.
And so, having established that we must all now buy cars from before 1973, it's my job, as the oldest man on the Top Gear team, to steer you in the right direction.
Obviously, there were some good Jags from this period. The pretty Series Two fits the time frame nicely, and I can especially recommend the XJ12. Not only is its 5.3-litre engine extremely thirsty and wasteful, but it was built by Communists, so it will be badly finished and prone to a great deal of smoking. This'll infuriate the greens enormously.
As you may know, I've gone for the Mercedes 600 Grosser, which is a behemoth. Fabulously unenvironmental and, should I choose to run over a politician one day, extremely dangerous. But, hey. Darling has forced me into it. So if he gets splattered by my chromed front end, it's his fault.
Unfortunately, the Grosser is very rare, which is why I would steer you in the direction of Britain's Mustang. The Ford Capri. I'm minded to suggest the RS2600, but this had fuel injection, which smacks of efficiency. Better to go for the later RS3100, which had twin choke carbs. What's more, with a bit of tuning and a four-valve head,it could be tuned to produce a tax-free 435bhp.
Who says you don't get sensible consumer advice from Top Gear any more?