Magazine article The Spectator

Second-Hand Gang

Magazine article The Spectator

Second-Hand Gang

Article excerpt

'I know, ' Boris mumbled to me in the voting lobby late one night, 'write a piece for us on a motor car.' He ruffled his hair and grinned, 'Any car will do.' Before I could answer he continued, 'Good, excellent!' One more ruffle of the hair, 'Gosh, look, do you know what we're voting on tonight?' But I had already turned away, my mind on test-driving some smart new car at The Spectator's expense.

A week later I sat down to figure out what car to test-drive. I closed my eyes and a BMW Z4 swam into sight; next came a Ferrari, red of course. That's when the Riviera filled the sloping windscreen, the corniche beneath my wheels, tyres screeching, I could almost smell the sea and feel the warm wind on my face -- all was as it should be. I glanced to my left, a blonde reclined in the passenger seat -- 'a blonde'.

I sighed and I turned away, a satisfied smile on my face. A blonde? I turned back and to my horror Boris Johnson was staring back, grinning, his hair ruffling in the wind under a ludicrous bandana. I awoke with a jolt.

I flipped through some motoring magazines. What new car would be of interest to a Spectator reader? Perhaps I should testdrive a new Audi or a Mercedes estate or the new BMW. No, I thought. The Spectator is a great British institution, the car ought to be British. But then I remembered Tony Blair's dance of death during the election as he sought to string out Rover's demise beyond the election. Ford?

No, I thought: aren't they manufactured all over the world and assembled here? This, I began to realise, was going to be tough.

Was there a British car? In desperation, I turned to Classic Car and spotted an article on Aston Martins, the DB2, the MK111, DBS 4, 5, 6, 7, 9 and a Volante, top down of course. What pure heaven, and they are wonderfully British. Surely what every selfrespecting Spectator reader drives.

Then I looked out of the window. In front of the house sat a sun-faded, cherry-red, Pregistered Saab, complete with a few dents and scratches. It had over 70,000 miles on the clock and the internal trim was a dirty grey cloth (velour, I think they call it), you know, the kind that gives you an electric shock if you slide out of your seat and then touch the door handle too quickly. Reality struck when I remembered that the Saab was the car I drove. Worse, I also realised that, try as I might, I didn't know anyone who owned a new car. I mean a smart brand-new car, bought from the showroom.

Everyone of my age with children seems to drive a second-hand car. It may not be as old or as battered as mine but second-hand nonetheless. When buying a car, brake horsepower isn't an issue for them; the important thing is: does it brake at all? And when you are haggling over price, colour is way down the pecking order of requirements -- why else would someone buy a cherry-red car? No, out there in Spectatorland I am sure life is different from Top Gear. Out there, the inside of a car is a parallel universe. It's where your family gathers to eat, sleep and settle scores violently, while re-upholstering it in dog hairs, curledup sandwich crusts, used crisp packets and sweetie wrappers.

It all starts with the buying experience.

No cappuccino, as you sit contemplating which gleaming car to test-drive in an airconditioned showroom. Instead, it's out on the street as you listen to a fast-flowing stream of unique but incredible information about the car on sale. …

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