Clarkson on: used Rollers
Several years ago, someone called Quentin Willson went on television and explained that it was possible to buy a serviceable Rolls-Royce for as little as £6,000. I remember it well. I remember it so well in fact, that I recall thinking for a femto-second that we must have one.
Think. If nothing else, the Rolls-Royce is a tough and imperious old bird which would demolish anything that dared to get in its way. So that would make it a safe place to put our children on the school run.
But since the children in question are not called Ahmed, this was a ridiculous idea. So, as this mysterious figure, with hair that seemed to be receding one moment and growing back again the next, rabbited on about how to buy Rolls-Royce gearboxes for 28p, I started to throw things at the screen.
Shut up, I wailed. I have no interest in what you're saying. For six grand I'd rather have a frontal lobotomy, which is actually what you'd need to even think about putting a Rolls-Royce on the drive. These cars are button-backed sofas for the sort of irretrievably vulgar people who see uPVC as a worthwhile and sensible addition to a period house.
There's more too. The Roller he was waffling on about - the Shadow - has exactly the same styling as a Lada. It does! Straight bonnet, straight windows, straight roof, straight boot. The only waviness you find in a car of this type is on the over-carpets that its previous owner had put in the footwell.
And then there's the engine, that 6.7-litre V8 which, according to the people who made it, provides ‘adequate' levels of power. Adequate for what, though? Put your foot down to exploit a gap in the traffic and the last thought on your mind was ‘Oh, that's adequate'. Quite the reverse, in fact. You tended to think ‘Oh s**t. It's broken'. And don't for one minute believe that these cars are even remotely quiet. Oh, they're quiet compared with the noise molten lava makes when it's just landed after a thousand-foot fall on a sea of Icelandic ice. They're quiet compared with the sound you'd get from Brian Blessed if he were being gang-raped by 42 Tunisian market traders.
But don't fall for that guff about only being able to hear the clock ticking at 100mph. The car wouldn't do 100 anyway, and even if it could, the only clock you'd be able to hear was Big Ben.
"Don’t fall for that guff about only being able to hear the clock ticking at 100mph"
However, the other day, that idiot AA Gill who does restaurant reviews and O-level essays about starvation in Africa for The Sunday Times called me and said he wanted to buy a brown Roller. Now this is the bloke who bought a TVR despite having no clue what it was. It could have been an egg whisk, or a wood-burning stove for all he knew. And when it did turn up, and turned out to be a car, he asked the salesman why it had two speedometers. "It's a rev counter, you buffoon."
Still, since he gets me into good restaurants, it was the least I could do to help him with a car. I therefore called Damon Hill who's got mates in the trade, put the two in touch and now AA has his brown, 1978 Shadow II.
It cost £10,000 and for that he's got gold badging and a gold spirit of ecstasy. Every single thing works, even the little lights that illuminate the vanity mirrors in the back, and it's only done 68,000 miles. Well, I'm sure it hasn't really. I'm sure it's been clocked, but the V5 doesn't lie and it's only had one owner.
Yes, it's still noisy, slow and stupidly cramped in the back, but you have to admit that for this kind of money, it is a lot of car... except for one thing. This business about style and taste.
Well, it turns out that, once again, the start of a fashion has passed me by. It seems that John Diamond, the journalist who recently died of cancer, had bought a Roller as a sort of ‘what the hell' final gesture and that this one thing had made the old dowager cool.
And it's true. I've noticed that every Roller in town is now being driven by Nick Hornby/Guy Ritchie types - shaved heads, 40-odd, all in black and with a pair of Bono glasses to get them past security at the Met bar.
The old Roller has become the car of choice for the sort of people we saw in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Youngish, bright, on-the-edge urbanites. Check out the area around Charlotte Street where all the ad men hang and it's choc full of choc-brown Rollers.
Amazing, isn't it? VW brought out the Beetle, and Chrysler the PT Cruiser, to try and win the hearts of precisely this sort of person and both have failed spectacularly. Jim Davidson, for instance, has a PT and the only people I ever see in Beetles are school teachers.
Whoever would have guessed it? Quentin Willson was not only ahead of his hair, but ahead of the times too. I should have bought that Roller when he told me too, because prices will soon be shooting through the roof.
It's no good thinking that any similar car from this period will do, because it won't. Forget Stag, Aston or old Rover because the '70s roller is perfect for the dawn of Mr Blair's bright new century.
All the animals are equal. But some are more equal than others.
Want to comment on this?
I'm still embarrassed that my country makes the PT Cruiser.