As I write, the staff of Top Gear magazine are working on a bumper summer issue in which they claim to have identified 100 sexy cars and to have arrived at the absolute sexiest car of all time.
It’s quite a project, and one I have been party to. Unfortunately, though, I am unable to tell you the winner because the issue will not come out until several days after this newspaper is printed, and I’ve been expressly forbidden to tell anyone. All I can reveal at this stage is that they’ve got it wrong.
For a perfect taste of la vie en rose, the Jaguar XJ-S can’t be beaten,
writes James May.
The sexiest car in the world – this week at least – is the Jaguar XJ-S convertible. The reasons for this are complex and inextricably bound up with sociological development and the mysterious machinations of the fickle wheels of fashion; yet at the same time there is a fairly simple explanation: I’ve just bought one.
A bit of background is needed here. Next month I am making a six-part television series about – of all things – French wine, a subject about which I know nothing.
Fortunately for the viewers, I will be in the company of Oz Clarke. You will know him as the man from the BBC’s Food and Drink show, the one who would hold a glass of robust Burgundy up to the light and say things like “Hmmm. Fruit” instead of just drinking it.
I will be spending a whole month motoring around the mediaeval part of Europe while this bloke attempts to reveal the mysteries of viniculture by talking endlessly about the chalk the grapes grow in and the inclination of a vineyard slope in relation to the path of the setting sun, or something like that. In all honesty I expect to die of thirst.
But in many ways the arrangement is a good thing, since I knew from the start I could leave Oz to concentrate on the colour (red) and the bouquet (sort of winey) of the vintages and devote my own energies to the choice of car. It’s a road trip through France: not exactly pioneering stuff, so it should have been easy.
And yet… I quickly dismissed anything corny like a Citroën 2CV or DS, because that would be a bit like setting off in a stripey jersey and a string of onions.
Anything obviously brand new and borrowed from a manufacturer was also off, because that would just make me a ligger. Also struck off were the Triumph TR6 (boot too small) and my own Porsche (too German).
At one point, I thought of buying a Rolls-Royce Corniche, just to inflame the scaffold-building socialist passions of the French peasantry. But no. I really was a bit stumped.
Salvation came from a boy called Neil, a researcher on the programme. Like most TV researchers, he is about 20, stays up clubbing all night, talks in a mixture of English and Afro-Caribbean patois, and does whatever else it is that young people do nowadays.
I admit I didn’t really understand most of his answer, but among it I recognised the words “cool”, “wicked”, and – and this one surprised me – “pukka”.
I knew immediately he was right.
I’d been waiting for the XJ-S to come of age, and realised that the great day had arrived. Here was someone who enjoyed the same chronological relationship with the XJ-S as I had with the E-type; that is, born around the same time. He now felt about the XJ-S the way I had felt about its predecessor when I was his age.
All of a sudden, the XJ-S looks absolutely right. For three decades, it was dismissed as the ugly bastard offspring of the dark days of the British motor industry, relegated to the kitchen during a party. But now it’s smouldering gorgeously on a sofa in the conservatory. It’s irresistible.
And because the XJ-S now looks right, the E-type – to which it was regarded as an unworthy successor – is beginning to look all wrong. I know this will be unpalatable to a lot of people, but that’s the way it is.
The E-type is too roundy at the ends. It has louvres. The seats are too mean, the steering wheel too thin, the instruments and switches too scattered, and the rear lamps too small.
The wheels of the early ones are ridiculously inset, like they are at the back of a Renault 4 or at both ends of a Commer camper van.
When you lift the bonnet, half of the car comes away in your hand. It’s the work of people who had neither the courage nor vision to incorporate elements of gothic architecture and Art Deco light fittings into car design. The E-type is now just a crusty old sports car. The E-type is rubbish.
Sorry, but it had to happen one day. Vive la XJ-S!
To be continued…