Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson on: modern cars

When I was 11, I had a record collection which included albums such as Who’s Next, Led Zep IV, Fragile, Hunky Dory, Meddle and, yes (he said proudly), something by the Carpenters. So, a wide and varied selection I’m sure you’ll agree.

Not to my grandfather, it wasn’t. As far as he could tell, it all sounded exactly the same. ‘Rainy Days and Mondays’ was completely indistinguishable from ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’. ‘South Side of the Sky’ was, note for note, identical to ‘Black Dog’. It was all just “modern music”.

So, as my twelfth birthday approached, he bought me an album of West Country folksy banjo music. I can see his thought process clearly. Jeremy likes modern music. This is modern. He will, therefore, like it. 

Well I didn’t. And getting my face to say I was pleased with my birthday present was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Outwardly, I was making mmm noises and saying I’d listen to it later. Inwardly, however, I was screaming. “You could have bought me The Yes Album. I would have liked that. But you’ve spent your money instead on a bunch of wannabe Wurzels.” 

It’s strange, isn’t it? In the whole of 1971, fewer than 700 rock albums were released, so it would surely be safe to assume that as I had an interest in rock, I’d like all of them. But I didn’t.

It’s much the same story with those who like literature. It’s no good saying “Ah. Great aunt Susan is very interested in reading, so I shall buy her this new spy thriller by Dean Koontz.”

We certainly see it with religion. People invent imaginary friends and then have actual shooting wars with those whose imaginary friends are slightly different.

You’d imagine that there can’t possibly be differences between those who operate in the narrow band of fishing. That when it comes to pulling a bream out of a river and then throwing it back again, there can’t possibly be factions. Go on, then. I dare you. Buy a trout tickler a fly and see how far you get.

Or if you really want to see the face I had to present to my grandfather in 1971, buy someone who’s interested in the theatre a couple of tickets to see a schmaltzy musical. 

We see exactly the same problem in the world of motoring. When someone says they like cars, it doesn’t mean they like all cars and everything associated with them. So no. You may not go out and buy them a nice pair of MG driving gloves. 

Last weekend while filming an item for the next series of Top Gear, I dropped in at Castle Combe racetrack which was playing host to an event called Japfest. It was enormous. Fifteen thousand people had descended on this quiet corner of Hammond County in their Evos and their Subarus and their hunkered-down Supras. 

As an event, it was tremendous. I saw more crashes on the track in one day than I’ve seen in all my life. I had a lovely burger. And I’ll be honest: the quality of the drifting was top notch. If this is your kind of thing, well, good luck to ya, fella; help yourself, and have a slap on the back from me. But modified Japanese cars with flames up the side aren’t really my thing. I dunno. Maybe it’s because I don’t have enough tattoos.

The next day, I went to another classic car event which was a bit different. Held in a field just up the road from Castle Combe, it was also for people who like cars but it was a bit more Pimm’s and tweed. Hosted by veteran car collector Nick Mason and his flying chum Vic Norman, guests could wander about in the sunshine looking at a collection of Sixties Ferraris, some old Bentleys and the odd XK120. 

It was all too lovely for words, and I had the loveliest time talking to Nick’s guests, who were lovely and interesting. But the cars? Again. Not really my bag. I wish those who like this kind of stuff all the very best. You get priapic over a 250 GTO’s pedigree. I… er… what do I get priapic over? It’s a good question.

On the very same weekend that I was at Japfest and Nick Mason’s right crowd without the crowding, the whole Formula One circus had arrived in Europe for the first time this year and set up shop in Spain. So was I wandering about with an ear glued to the radio, desperate to see who was on pole and how Lewis was getting on? I’m afraid not. I’ll happily watch a grand prix if I’m at home on a lazy Sunday afternoon. But I’m not going to go out of my way to see how far Pastor Maldonado got this time without crashing into someone.

Other cars I’m not interested in are mid-range hatchbacks or any so-called crossovers.I’m not that bothered about big saloons either, or anything made by Hyundai or Seat. Or Peugeot. 

I quite like looking at cars that were around in my youth. I’m partial to a BMW 3.0 CSL and would pause awhile to look at an NSU Ro80. I’m always happy to see a Lancia as well, especially a Fulvia or an Integrale. But I wouldn’t want to own any of them. Because there’d be no iPod connectivity or aircon. And, more importantly, no guarantee that I’d get to where I was going.

Supercars? Nope. Been there. Done that. Convertibles? Yes, but I’m too old. I’m bored with the AMG thing now they’ve gone all quiet. And while I still admire a Ferrari, I can’t actually put my hand up and say I’d have one. Not since May did.

I like small sports cars. I like small hatches. I like the V8 Bentley Continental and at this point you are almost certainly sitting there wondering how on earth I can say I like cars when the only cars I actually like are the Mazda MX-5, the VW Up and the Bentley Continental. But only if it’s a V8.

Well, I’ll tell you. My love of cars has become narrowed over the years to the feeling I get when the sun is shining and I’m driving quickly in something that has about 500 horsepower and suspension that’s been set up by a company that knows what it’s doing. I like the feel of the cornering. And the buzz of the acceleration. And I like to be air-conditioned when all this is happening. And it’s impossible to get these sensations from anything or anywhere else.

In short, I like cars but only if they are brilliant and new and reliable and comfortable and I can plug my iPod into the sound system and listen to Who’s Next. There are very, very few which meet all of my requirements but... well, let me put it this way, for my next birthday, I think I’d be very happy with a BMW M4.

Jeremy Clarkson, Column, BMW, M4

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