Richard Hammond

Richard Hammond

Richard’s new rinse

I've written before about my obsession with car washing and my battle to beat it. And so it won't come as a surprise, perhaps, that like an ex-alcoholic returning to the bottle, I have weakened and turned back to the bucket. And once again, it has threatened to ruin my life. It's not the shame of it, the laughter of my friends or the hours spent alone in the cold, cleaning alloys, that hurts me now. It's what I found while I was doing it.

I should be better equipped to fight this cruel addiction. It's not like it runs in my family. I've never seen my dad reach for the Turtle Wax, and both my grandfathers were well able to cope with life without falling prey to the seductive call of the chamois. My dad's dad loved cars, but, having spent the war in bomb disposal, tended rather to concentrate on things in life more important than having a spotless boot-lid.

My mum's dad came from the motor industry and, far from being a car-cleaning addict, was pretty much teetotal in that respect. He would stand on our drive, watching our neighbour cleaning his Vauxhall Viva for the second time that week and tell him that he would rot the sills out if he kept at it like that. Sure enough, a few months later, that same neighbour was to be found on his hands and knees, scraping away the rusted remains of his Viva's sills before welding new ones in place.

And yet still, with this experience lodged in my mind and Grandad's words echoing in my ears, I dragged my Ferrari 550 out of the shed, took my best red bucket to the sink, and set off to enjoy an hour of pleasure with the Fezza and a sponge.

I massaged, caressed and stroked every curve with the sponge, before brandishing the jet wash and clearing the car of suds. I tenderly soaked the chamois and wiped the surface drops from the Ferrari's flanks. It had been a trying week, heavy with disappointment, and I sighed at the thought of it as I worked.

I have long held an ambition to buy a car that my grandfather would have built. He was a coach-builder at the legendary Mulliners, and I have often dreamed of owning an early coach-built Bentley, a Continental, using it to take the family on picnics and marvelling at the fact that Grandad might have made the actual wooden joints in the frame hidden beneath the car's proud, noble shape. And that week, I had finally gone some way into investigating the possibility of doing just that. I spoke to my mother and got the dates of Grandad's employment at Mulliners, so that I could work out the cars to search for. 

"I have long held an ambition to buy a car that my grandfather would have built. He was a coach-builder at Mulliners"

He was there from the late Twenties through to the Fifties. My uncle could remember him talking about the cars he was building. They were the Standard Eight saloon and the Triumph Mayflower. Possibly the ugliest, most underpowered things ever to wear a car badge. It turned out that he had been working at the Birmingham coach-builders named Mulliner, and it was at the London company of the same name that worked on Rollers and Bentleys.

I did some more research. It seems that at one time, the world was pretty much filled with coach-building Mulliners. They can all be traced back to a Northamptonshire family of Mulliners who first made bodies for the Royal Mail coaches in the 1790s. From there, a branch was founded in Liverpool and another in Birmingham. The Northampton and Liverpool Mulliners got together and formed a factory in London. It was this factory that was bought by Rolls in 1959 to create an alliance that has since become legendary for producing some of the most beautiful, expensive and glamorous cars the world has ever seen.

Meanwhile, the Birmingham Mulliners were busy turning out canvas-bodied Austins and then Standards and Triumphs until, during the war, they made troop carriers and gliders. In a moment of unforgivable snobbery, I turned from the idea in disgust.

Recalling the week's sadness, I sighed again and bent to wipe away the last drops of water from the Fezza's red sills. And there I found it, the thing that has ruined my month and caused me sleepless nights. It was a patch of... corrosion. The paint is bubbled and flaking over the rough surface of the metal underneath. The sill is rotting. And somewhere up there, my grandfather laughed like a drain as the stuck-up little twerp, his grandson, has learned his lesson. So, Standards and Triumphs are not good enough? Keep it up like that, and one day the sills will rot out. So, change of plan. I might look for a nice, tidy, little Standard Eight saloon and never, ever clean it.


Richard Hammond, Column

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