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Nick Mason's Column: The Enthusiast

  • Nick Mason July 2010 - 0
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On the legendary Jaguar D-type...

Since I understand this is a Jaguar issue, it might make a change to actually say something relevant to the marque rather than wandering off on my own lonely path.

As a kid in the ’50s I had followed Jaguar’s Le Mans triumphs, and my dad had a great 3.4 Mk2 around the time they were dominating saloon car racing in the early ’60s. And I was as stunned as anyone when the E-type first star-burst onto the streets of the UK. I can still remember wondering who those people were who actually bought and used these magical cars.  

It’s mildly embarrassing, but I rather loitered into Jaguar ownership, starting somewhat late (in the early ’70s) and very much at the top by buying a D-type that I didn’t really want. There is a lesson here about shopping. Sometimes things do rather fall into one’s lap – well, that’s what I told the Crown Court over that shoplifting charge – but I bought the car because I thought a GTO owner might be more likely to do a car swap with the D. Luckily they didn’t, and I still have the car 35 years on. I love it dearly, although the offer could still stand on a swap…

And on the subject of great cars and what makes one, I recently received a missive from a young man agonising over a particular supercar. He wrote to tell me that last summer he and a friend had taken a new Alfa Romeo 8C and a Ferrari through Europe for a week or so. Obviously, indulging in this sort of trip at the height of a recession indicates that they must be a pair of louche hedge fund managers, and such behaviour should see them shot, but let us ignore that for the moment.

He explained that, although the Alfa is not as quick as the Ferrari and doesn’t go round corners as well, and the gearchange is slow, it does make a great noise and the crowd was always around the 8C. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but there was something he liked about the car and should he buy one?

Frankly, the answer can only be described as fairly obvious.

No-one in their right mind buys a supercar to explore the limits of its performance. That would be exceedingly dangerous, rather frightening and could well cost not only a licence but a couple of years behind the wrong sort of bars. The people who really put supercars through their paces are works drivers at the factory, who then deliver a car capable of lapping the test circuit quicker than a Formula 1 racer but incapable of negotiating a roundabout in the UK due to a combination of left-hand drive and minimal rear vision. The big red bus wins every time.

Oh, and of course there is one other group to mention, the owner’s kids, who, egged on by their mates (and possibly cheap wine and Class A drugs), end up on the web, having managed to reduce the motor to the original number of component parts but in a different configuration. Mind you, it does make good YouTube viewing, and makes a rare car just that bit rarer.

No, as all real experts know, supercars are specifically designed for appalling show-offs, and that’s why they like them but can’t admit it. Supercars are designed to look cool, impress girls and ideally turn friends green with envy at the same time.

Admittedly, there’s also the possibility of a quick earn by selling the car on quickly, but this may upset the manufacturer or distributor who’s been kind enough to allocate you a car in the first place, and worst of all you might be perceived as a car dealer, in which case you lose… horribly. Even the Inland Revenue hates car dealers and taxes them savagely.

But enough of that. The first fixtures of the Grand Prix season provided great racing thanks to the wet weather, and it’s official that the Royal Yachting Association will be taking over from FISA in 2011. At a more modest level, the VSCC had its opening Spring Silverstone race meeting, and although I sadly have no tales of success from my own endeavours the most heartening element was the number of yellow squares with black crosses on the rear of the cars, denoting novice racing drivers out on the circuit.

In some cases we are now onto third- or possibly even fourth-generation family owners. I know in one race I was hotly pursued, or perhaps even overtaken, by the grandson of someone I raced against some time ago. There’s no doubt that standards are slipping and the young have no respect for their elders.

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