Richard Hammond

Richard Hammond

Dirty pretty thing

I’ve got a new car. And I’ve decided to use it as an opportunity to cure myself of a strangely fashionable – but ultimately destructive – habit.

After months of waiting and a few sleepless nights, I picked up my Morgan Aeromax from the factory, drove it home and nearly fainted with the thrill of it. Hand-built by craftsmen, finished in a steely grey that shows off every curve and sweep of that outrageous shape, drawn by young Matt Humphries and built by Morgan in smoothly sculpted aluminium – it’s beautiful.

I love the technology: the super-formed aluminium body panels are made the same way as jet engine nacelles with millimetre precision, and the bonded aluminium chassis is so stiff the car can run on solid-jointed suspension, without the need for sloppy rubber bushes.

I love the tradition: the hand-built, ash frame that supports the body panels, the hand-stitching on the interior, the fact that it was built by blokes who know how to do things other than push buttons and moan about their lunch break hours.

I love the rarity; there will only ever be 100 of them, scattered across the world.

I can’t stop looking at it, driving it and thinking about it. But one thing I am not going to do is clean it. This is not some sort of style statement, like those people who deliberately hoon about in an expensive but unkempt car because they think it’s cool. Neither is it because I fear the Morgan will melt if I put water on it. I’m not going to clean it because I am in the process of curing myself.

“I hit rock bottom. My habit reached the point at which I got into the hard stuff – Swiss car wax”

In an age when it has become fashionable to bear the burden of a few OCDs, I have succumbed to the fashion and added one to my own list of foibles and weaknesses. I’m not an avid hand-washer, towel- straightener or cutlery-aligner. Unlike James May, I don’t lose sleep if I spot that the bezel on someone else’s watch is out of alignment. No, my OCD concerns washing cars.

I have on several occasions, admitted to enjoying sloshing a sponge about on my favoured motor. I’ve spoken about the value of spending a bit of quality time with your car when you can spot little problems at their earliest stage and establish a bond between you and the hunk of metal on which you’ve blown a substantial chunk of your income. And what’s wrong with that? Nothing. But that’s how it starts; a capful of shampoo in a bucket one day leads to evenings spent massaging exotic unguents into the silken curves of your joy the next. 

And the commercial world does little to dissuade us. Strolling round Halfords, the head of the obsessive is turned by racks and racks of bottles boasting miraculous properties with which to enhance our cars. I’ve bought body polish, dash polish, seat polish and tyre polish. I’ve bought special rags with silicon in them, anti-static cloths, wheel brushes and chamois leathers made from the flanks of goats who were happy to die for the work to which their flayed hide would be put.

I hit rock bottom. As my habit worsened to the point at which, had I pursued a different addiction I might have been found slumped in the stairwell opposite a crack den, I got into the really hard stuff. Through contacts, I bought a quantity of a specially imported Swiss car wax that you apply with your bare hands.

The Priory couldn’t help. And there are no self-help books devoted to ridding yourself of this particular addiction. I am going cold turkey. I could, probably, manage a sort of wind down, just banning myself from the top shelf of the garage with its cargo of special Swiss waxes and leather treatments to start with and gradually weaning myself off even the more humdrum stuff. But I’m going to do it the hard way.

The Aeromax has arrived, it has been in my life for several weeks, and I have not succumbed yet. Its flowing lines are coated with road grime, the inner wheel arches are besmirched with mud, the wheels caked with brake dust. And already, I am feeling the change – I am starting to enjoy myself. It’s a dirty pleasure, a forbidden, filthy secret. Splashing through the winter weather with the Aeromax, caring not about the grime is liberating and strangely intoxicating.

This phase won’t last. Soon I shall reach for the buckets, the bottles and the cloths and, finally, after waiting so long, I’ll delve into the nooks and crannies of the Aeromax to make it clean. But this will not be an addict giving into his compulsion. It will be about reaching the next stage. Right now, we are flirting, measuring each other up. When I plunge my hand into the bucket to pull out the sponge, it will be the consummation of our relationship and the beginning of our lives together. See, I’m getting better already. 

 

Richard Hammond, Column

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