Richard Hammond

Richard Hammond

Richard on the joys of fiscal restriction

At the risk of getting stuck down the cul-de-sac into which James May blundered when he asked the viewing millions about that ‘fizzing sensation at the root of your penis you get when you drive certain cars' (only to discover that no one else had ever experienced a fizzing sensation at or near the root of their penis as a result of driving any car), I would like to ask about a particular moment that will, I'm sure, be familiar to the career car-fancier.

It's that poignant, soulful, guilt-ridden moment of ecstasy when you look at the form, lift the pen, look again at the form and lower the pen to the dotted line, knowing that you will review these few seconds with regret and shame but that you will be doing so from behind the wheel of the best car you could possibly push the bank to buy for you.

It's the finance moment, that split second when, in a whirl of automotive lust and fire, you agree to loan terms that would bail out Greece, in order to take the keys of the one car on the forecourt you knew you couldn't possibly afford but absolutely had to have.

‘My Cavalier SRi was an ex-Police pursuit car. It was white with graphite bumpers, and had a stereo with a removable fascia’

I'll go further and confess that I have, in the past, even justified the catastrophic financial ramifications of the deal by reasoning that such a car, be it ancient Opel Manta or sagging Cavalier SRi, would boost my self-esteem and give me an altogether happier outlook on life which, as a freelance radio presenter, could only be to the benefit of my career prospects and, ultimately, more than pay for itself.

Of course, it never did. It ruined me, and by my mid-20s, still paying off loans for cars long since waved off to the scrapheap, my only form of transport for a year or two was a bicycle. And a purple one at that. I spent 10 solid years paying off a three-year loan for a beautiful Honda NSR 125R that had stolen my heart in a bike shop at a time when a tin of beans was a luxury. And yet, I would contest that I was, at the time, better off than an oil sheikh choosing the colour of his next Bugatti Veyron.

And the founding principle of this remarkable and new theory of mine? Limits and restrictions.

My Cavalier SRi was an ex-Police pursuit car. It had not, let's be honest, enjoyed a relaxed existence, having endured 10 years of being caned about Lancashire's motorways and A-roads by excited coppers in pursuit of hooligans in stolen hot hatches. But it was white with graphite bumpers and a thin red coach line running round it.

It had a stereo with a removable fascia and alloy wheels, and it would, I was sure, turn me into such a confident and sharp presenter at BBC Radio Lancashire that I would one day look back on the purchase of the SRi as the single most influential moment in my broadcasting career and therefore the best investment I could possibly make.

It wasn't, of course; it devoured front tyres with a hunger that left me unable to sate my own at the supermarket, and finally died somewhere in the Trough of Bowland. But not before someone had stolen the stereo. And the removable fascia which I hadn't, obviously, removed. All of which left me feeling quite sad. I didn't learn anything, of course, and replaced it with a Graphite Black Scirocco that was utterly and completely wonderful. Until the big end bearings let go on the A49.



But I would contest - and here comes the theory - that I saw greater sadness written across the face of a very, very wealthy young man once, when filming in a far-flung part of the world. He was watching me and the crew battling to film in 52°. The camera assistant was lying in the back of a car on a drip with heat exhaustion. We were taking the piss out of the soundman for going a silly colour. And the rich kid looked on with a face devoid of all hope, all life and all energy.

He could, if he chose, be passed a mobile phone and ring up to order a gold-plated Bugatti Veyron, and it would be there before we had filmed our next link. But all his mates had them anyway, so what would be the point? What car could he buy, in fact, that would impress them in any way or, more importantly, give him even the faintest trace of James May's elusive cock-root fizz?

Nothing, I would say. What he needed was a smaller chequebook and a piece of paper confirming that if he handed over 90 per cent of his earnings he might just pick up the keys to a 1985 Cavalier SRi with a red stripe round it and alloy wheels. And find a bunch of mates who were impressed by it and filled with admiration for his wonderful new thing and would enjoy it with him. Until it exploded.

Of course, this could all be utter b*******, but I rather think it's better if we choose to believe that it is not.

Richard Hammond, Column

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