Clarkson on: personalisation
You join me in Southern Spain where the women are orange and the men are wanted for questioning. Sadly though, I am not down here to roast an egg on my stomach or to make sex with a young lady. I'm here to make my annual DVD which means I'm at the Ascari race track just outside Ronda.
Built as a plaything by a Dutchman, it curls and swoops for five kilometres, and is very excellent in every way. I especially like the pool in which you can cool off after a hot lap. And the waitresses in the bar. And the weather. But most of all, I like the cars we have down here.
Let me make you a bit jealous. Right now, parked outside the pit garage where I'm writing, there is a Murciélago SV, a Gallardo 560, a Jaguar XKR drophead, a Lotus Evora, which is doing its best to put me off by sounding its alarm for no reason every few minutes, a BMW M3, a Vauxhall VXR8 Bathurst, an Aston Martin V12 Vantage, a Ford Focus RS and an Audi R8 V10. All of them are full of fuel. All of them are ready to go. The track is empty. I'm the only driver here. And I have a big pot of keys sitting right in front of me. It's like a bag of sweeties, only better.
Which one would you most like to drive round the track? For me, it'd be the Aston. It's what F1 drivers call pointy and what I call a twitchy little bastard. The short wheelbase and wide track combine to make it extremely precise but extremely waggly tailed if you forget what you're doing for a moment. Fun though. More fun even than the bonkers Vauxhall with the Aussie soundtrack.
Here's the thing though. For the daily commute from my hotel in Ronda to the track, and for nights out in Romford by the Sea, or Marbella as I believe the Spanish insist on calling it, I have been using the Jaaaaaag.
Partly, of course, this is because I like the slightly tatty, down-on-his-luck charm of the whole Jag thing. I'm talking about the sort of person who never has a problem with the bank or the leasing company - just a ‘misunderstanding'. The sort of person who has a huge house with a swimming pool one minute, but is crashing on your sofa the next because of a ‘small problem' with the tax people. Jag people are nice. They're funny. They're mannered. Let's not forget that Arthur Daley always raised his hat to a lady.
The other reason why I use the XKR all the time is because it is just so damn good looking. Maybe, just maybe, the windscreen is a tad too vertical and perhaps the headlights have a whiff of Hyundai, a sense perhaps that they're trying too hard. But worrying about this sort of thing is like worrying about Cindy Crawford's mole.
As a driver's car, of course, it is beaten in all the disciplines by almost all the cars here. The Lambos are more grippy, the Audi is more predictable, the Vantage is way faster and you can be more of a hooligan in either the Vauxhall or the Ford. But if you were looking for one car that combined all these things: grip, power and handling, then you would be using the Jag as well. It can even do hooliganism if you get the nose to turn in and give it a bootful.
Large chunks of my being want to buy an XKR. I absolutely love it. Especially the canvas hood, which makes you realise how ungainly the metal alternatives are. Vandalism? Yes, but not when I come to power, because anyone who messes with another man's wheels will be set on fire. In front of their families.
"Large chunks of my being want to buy a Jaguar XKR. I absolutley love it. It is an excellent, five-star car. Except for one small thing. It was designed for you. Not me"
All in all then, an excellent, five-star, brilliant car. Except for one small thing. It was designed for you. Not me.
You would like the touch-screen control system. I don't. You would like the choice of four screen savers. I think that's silly. You would like the seats. I'm not sure. And so it goes on.
Happily, of course, I've had an idea. In the same way that Lloyd Grossman has tailored a sauce to suit his own requirements, I'd like to offer my services to Jag to design a special Lloyd Grossman version of the XKR. Only we couldn't call it the Lloyd Grossman because that would be stupid. And we couldn't call it the Jeremy Clarkson either because Jeremy is the stupidest name in the world. And Clarkson is a bit dreary. In fact, I haven't thought of a name yet.
But I have thought of everything else. First of all, the seats. They are extremely comfortable and the range of adjustments guarantees everyone can find a driving position to suit. But they are ugly. The squab is too long. And the backrest too short. In my edition, they would be replaced with Recaros.
In the back, there would be some changes as well. I know that Jag couldn't sell the old XK in America when it was a two-seater and that when they squeezed a bench in there, success followed. But this is because Americans are stupid and couldn't see that the bench was not big enough to seat any life form apart, perhaps, from amoeba.
In my Lloyd Grossman version, the seat would be replaced by a lighter, carpeted bench. It would have chromed rails on it too, so that luggage didn't make scuff marks.
Colour? It would be the metallic olive green that you used to be able to specify on a Range Rover until they unwisely removed it from the spec sheets. You want blue? Tough. Black? Nope. Brown? Have you thought about a Peugeot?
Other things? I'd fit the new dials that don't exist except in cyberspace from the Range Rover, and all the bongs telling me to shut the door or stop reversing or put my seatbelt on would be removed and inserted in Gordon Brown's bottom.
Then there's the exhaust. I know that the sound made by all modern sports cars is fake. Acoustic tuning is now very much part of a car's design process. There are valves and chambers and God knows what else to ensure that after 3,000rpm, when the EU's noise abatement people have packed up their microphones and gone home, the quiet hum becomes a gigantic bellow.
The trouble is that in the Jag the noise that results really does sound fake. It's a lovely crackle, but what I'm looking for on my special edition is an elephantine bellow, with a mournful howl at the top and, on the overrun, a derisory Lambo-style snort. It's as though the whole car is saying "Pah. What have you lifted off for?".
You may be thinking then, that with body hugging seats, a louder exhaust and the smaller alcantara steering wheel I've forgotten to mention till now, I'm looking for more sportiness. Not so. The new 5.0-litre supercharged V8 is perfect. I'd leave it alone. Same with the automatic gearbox. But I would address the ride comfort.
Jag has proved it knows what it's doing on this score. The XFR manages to handle like a greased supermodel, but feel as soft as a prolapsed stomach on even the most Belgian cobble. The XKR does not. It's too firm and that's wrong for someone who's 49 and three-quarters.
I want my car to look sporty, feel sporty and sound sporty. I want to know it can slide, but most of all I want it to glide.
None of the changes I've talked about here require much effort on Jag's part. The architecture and major components would be unchanged but the result would be a car designed for me. And strangely, I bet you'd like it more than the one they've designed for you.