Read Motorworld Online

Authors: Jeremy Clarkson

Tags: #Motorworld (Television program), #Automobile driving, #Voyages and travels, #Transportation / Automotive / General, #Automobiles, #Automobile travel, #Humor / General, #Automobile drivers, #Travel / Essays & Travelogues, #Travel / General

Motorworld (2 page)

BOOK: Motorworld
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When we were over there making the BBC series
Motorworld
we drove through a selection of hilltop villages with quite a convoy. Up front, I led the way in a Ferrari 355. Behind was the director in his Bugatti EB 110 and bringing up the rear was the producer in a piece of purple haze, a dollop of rolling thunder they call the Lamborghini Diablo.

To see one of these cars in a lifetime is a special thing, but to find all three in a village is like coming home from work to find Halley’s Comet sitting by the fire. The Ferrari brought people out of their houses, the Bugatti got them cheering and the Lamborghini caused more than a few to faint.

In England, if you took a convoy like that through a village, the parish councillors would storm off down to the scout hut where plans would be drawn up for a bypass and 6-foot-high speed bumps on the High Street.

But I shall take to my grave the sight of a small boy in Italy. He couldn’t have been more than six and he was beside himself with excitement – he didn’t know whether to point or to tug at his mother’s dress and, if he did point, which car should he point at?

We stopped there for a drink and the town just ground to a halt. They came out of the school, out of the shops and out of their houses and they wanted to see the engines, the interiors, the suspension. And when we left, they wanted to see six black lines right down the main street.

Sadly though, because the Bugatti had four-wheel drive, they only got four.

That said, the Bugatti had disappeared from view first. It’s an interesting car this; mainly because someone, somewhere, sat down and said, ‘I know. Let’s give it twelve cylinders, sixty valves, four camshafts and two turbochargers.’ And then someone else must have said, ‘No, let’s not be homosexual about this. Let’s give it four turbos.’

It’s the fastest Italian car but it’s not the loudest – that accolade rests with the Diablo, which really is a 5.7-litre vibrator, a truck and a chest of drawers with a rocket motor. If you want a wild ride, this is where you queue.

But if you want the best car in the world, you must have the Ferrari, which is by far and away the nicest car I will ever drive. I love the way it looks, I love its engine and I love, most of all, everything it stands for. Ferrari, in my book, is a pagan god, a steel deity, sex on wheels. And that 355 represents automotive perfection.

Ordinarily, when the rear end of a car starts to slide, I undo my seat belt and get in the back, but in the 355, you just dial in a touch of opposite lock and then marvel as the car simply sorts itself out.

In an instant, you’re back on the power, willing that 40-valve, 3.5-litre V8 onwards, slamming the gear lever
through its chromed gate and glancing occasionally at the simple white-on-black rev counter. This car has the delicacy of a quail’s egg dipped in celery salt and the power of a chicken chilli jalfrezi.

But that’s only half the story. I could derive as much pleasure from putting this car in my sitting room and just looking at it as I could from driving it every day. And never mind that it sounds better than Puccini and can outrun a Tornado jet.

That’s not it.

This is a car that was made by people who love cars, and it shows.

They don’t love cars in Germany or Japan or even America. Car manufacturers there strive to get each of the component parts right, to make the product fulfil the dictionary definition of a car as closely as is possible. But passion is not part of the equation.

You could probably drive a big BMW round a racetrack faster than a Ferrari 355 and the BMW engineers would be pleased. ‘Our car is faster than their car,’ they would say as they put on their checked jackets and stroked their pointy beards.

They would be so busy congratulating themselves that they’d miss the point. The man in the Bee Em will feel like he’s just had a bath, and the man in the Ferrari will feel like he’s just had sex with Claudia Schiffer and Elle Macpherson. At the same time.

That’s because a Ferrari has soul and a BMW does not. A BMW is an engineering masterpiece but a Ferrari is so much more than that.

Look at the fuel filler cap. It’s not simply a device to keep your petrol in the tank. It’s actually been styled. Then there’s the gear lever. It’s a work of art. Every component in a Ferrari has to do more than simply fulfil its function.

And it isn’t just Ferrari, either. Look at the 3-litre Alfa Romeo engine. This is fitted to their equivalent of a Ford Mondeo. If it weren’t for some pretty stupid taxation laws over there, this is the engine that would power Mr Fertiliser Salesman to his next meeting.

Now, elsewhere in the world, an engine is simply a collection of bits, nailed rather inelegantly together. I love cars but engines bore me even more than double chemistry did on a Saturday morning. Engines are simply there to make cars move. The end.

Er… not quite. I haven’t a clue what makes the Alfa V6 different but here is a power unit that’s pure opera. While every motor in the world sounds like someone singing in the bath, this is the full Pavarotti.

When the rev counter climbs past 5500 rpm, conversation in the cockpit just stops. People who would rather have their legs amputated than talk about cars will actually ask what on earth is under the bonnet – the London Symphony Orchestra or the Berlin Philharmonic? One girl asked me to stop revving the engine so high because she kept sticking to the seat.

Then there’s the styling. At the end of the eighties, all cars were beginning to look not just similar but absolutely identical. Car companies were employing designers from all over the world in their styling centres and national identity was going out of the window. The same set of
parameters were being fed into the same computers all over the world and the same answers were coming back.

And the investment became so high that car companies began to counsel ordinary people for their opinions. If you’re going to spend a billion dollars on a new car, you want to make absolutely sure it will sell, so you drag people off the street and show them the various design options.

And, ten times out of ten, these dreadful people in their cardigans and their sandals will opt for the least imaginative.

Italy saved the day, first of all with the Punto which, initially, looked like something from Iceland, it was so radical. But now, a few years down the line, we can see it for what it is: a truly neat piece of design. And then there was the Fiat Coupé and, more recently, the wonderfully wild Alfa Romeo 145.

Cars like these have put Italian styling houses back on the map, which is a good thing because no one can create a car quite like them.

This is perhaps because Italy has a monopoly on style. I don’t care how many times Jeff Banks tells me that this year, London or New York, or even Paris, has taken over the mantle and become fashion torchbearer, I
know
the world fashion capital is Milan.

In England on a hot day, women are happy to walk around with their bra straps showing. In Paris, they don’t shave their armpits. And you just can’t mention Germany and style in the same book, let alone the same sentence.

It’s the same story in America, too, where the Farrah Fawcett hairdo of 1975 still reigns supreme.

In Italy, even the policemenists look like they’ve just come off a catwalk. One I found, standing on a rostrum in the middle of a Roman square, was immaculate, as was his routine. Each wave of the hand, each toot of the whistle and each twist of the body was Pans People perfect. Never mind that the traffic was completely ignoring him, he looked good, and that’s what mattered. Looking good in Italy is even more important than looking where you’re going.

Which is why I made a special effort to ensure my linen jacket was especially crumpled on my visit to Turin. The supercars may hail from Modena, and Alfa is up in Milan but, historically, Italy’s coach-builders clustered around the big boy – Fiat – Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili Torino.

And as they sat there, waiting for Agnelli to commission this or that, or maybe a customer to want something a little different, they were surrounded by the best art in the world. Show me someone who says there are more beautiful buildings than those in Italy, or more beautiful art, or clothes, and I’ll show you someone who’s never been there.

When you’re surrounded by such magnificence, it’s bound to rub off. And that’s why, when a car manufacturer wants something really special, he picks up the phone and calls one of three men: Giorgio Guigaro, Sergio Pininfarina or Nuccio Bertone.

Let me list a few of their past credits so you get the picture. The Mark One VW Golf and its coupé sister, the Scirocco. The Lexus Coupé. Every single Ferrari.
The Isuzu Piazza. The Peugeot 205. The Peugeot 504 convertible. The Alfa 164. The Peugeot 605. All the recent Maseratis, the Fiat Coupé, the Opel Manta… how long have you got?

And on top of this, the chaps roll up at various motor shows from time to time with ‘concept cars’ which then influence all the world’s other designers. It is not unreasonable to say that 80 per cent of all cars on the road in the world today were designed in, or influenced by, Turin.

Turin is to car design what Melton Mowbray is to pork pies. I put this to Mr Guigaro. He said, ‘Er… I think Turin is to cars what Silicon Valley is to computers.’

I didn’t catch what Mr Pininfarina said because you don’t listen when you’re in the presence of greatness, and believe me he is great. He designed the 355. That makes him God in my eyes.

And there’s a priest in Maranello who might agree with this. Don Erio Belloi is the spiritual leader in the village where Ferraris are made and where the race team is based.

On a Sunday, when the scarlet cars are out doing battle somewhere, this place is like a scene from
The Omega Man
, only Charlton Heston is at home watching the Grand Prix as well.

I wanted to interview Erio badly about the town’s obsession with Ferrari, because I thought he’d moan a little bit about how the Formula One calendar clashed with his services.

The first indication that this might not be the exact tack of the interview came when he said we could meet at any time on Sunday except when the Grand Prix was on. And
the second came when I was shown into his study. Instead of bibles, the bookshelves were groaning under the weight of Ferrari memorabilia, and the walls were plastered with technical drawings of the 456, pictures of Enzo – to whom he administered the last rites – and Gilles Villeneuve, his favourite driver.

Did he, I asked when the race finished, ever think unsaintly thoughts about other teams in the Grand Prix circus. ‘Yes,’ he replied a bit too quickly. ‘It is bad to think if someone else dies [Ferrari] will win, but there is a bit of that.’

That’s what you’re dealing with in Italy when it comes to Ferrari. They don’t have a Queen or a Princess Diana. They don’t have cricket. They haven’t had an empire for 2500 years. But they don’t care because they’ve got Ferrari.

Here is the only team to have won Le Mans and the Formula One World Championship in the same year. And not just once either, but three times. Here is the only team in the world that makes its own engines and its own chassis. Here is the team which has won more Grand Prix than anyone else.

Italy has always been at the top of the sport, even before Ferrari came along in 1947. There was Maserati and, right up to the late fifties, Alfa Romeo too. In one year, Alfa were so dominant that their driver pulled into the pits on the last lap to get his car polished. Then it would look smart as it crossed the line.

If Michael Shoemaker did that today, Murray Walker would have a duck fit.

But do you know where all these old racing cars have
ended up? Well it certainly isn’t Italy. If you want to find the best racing Alfas of yesteryear or the great GT Ferraris from the sixties, look in Switzerland or Britain or Japan.

This is because they became so valuable no one would ever dare to take them out on the road. Largely, they sit in hermetically sealed museums, roped off and assaulted with air conditioning. Many will never turn a wheel again.

And that, to an Italian, is just incomprehensible.

Cuba

The Caribbean: an arc of diamonds in a jewel-encrusted sea. Palm trees. Ice-white beaches. White-hot sun. And the gentle strains of Bob Marley to accompany your multicoloured, multi-cultural early-evening drink. From Trinidad in the south to Cancún in the north, it’s pretty much the same story, only the authors are different. Some of the islands were shaped by the British, some by the Dutch and others by the Spanish and French.

But then there’s Cuba, whose most recent history was penned by Lenin. The colonial gloss is gone, or lost in the smoke from burning civilian planes which the Cuban air force has just shot down. Cuba could be one of the world’s most sought-after holiday destinations. But thanks to Castro, it’s beaten into 184th place by Filey.

Let me explain by reviewing a restaurant in Havana. Called
The 1830
, it’s an elegant seafront property where a maître d’ from 1955 bows an effusive welcome and clicks his fingers, indicating that a hitherto unseen minion should park your car.

Another click and another bowing minion, starched tea towel draped over his left arm, ushers you into one of the four dining rooms, each of which offers a fine view of the Gulf of Mexico.

The tablecloths are white linen and the glassware is
heavily leaded crystal. In 1955, this would have been one of the country’s top eateries where you would have rubbed shoulders with Ernest Hemingway and Frank Sinatra.

Today, it is still one of the city’s finest eateries but that’s like saying the Mahindra Jeep is one of India’s finest cars.

The first indication that all was not well came when we examined the fixtures and fittings more closely. The wood in the door frames was held together with worms and everything looked as though it had last seen a lick of paint in 1958. Which is probably about right. It turned out too that the glass was not leaded. It was heavy because of all the dirt on it.

Then there were the menus which talked of wild and exotic dishes, but none seemed to be available which is why I asked for spaghetti bolognese to start, followed by chicken and fresh vegetables.

BOOK: Motorworld
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