Vic Darkwood on 'The Gentleman’s Guide to Motoring'
It’s so easy to do. You slump down in front of the box on a Sunday night in the process of digesting a surfeit of roast chicken, and before you know it you have accidentally bumbled into a tawdry edition of Top Gear and, robbed of the willpower to change channels by the soporific effects of gastric juices, you actually watch it.
Before long you might easily come to the conclusion that appreciation of the motor car is the exclusive preserve of robustly blokey individuals – middle-aged men dressed in blouson leather jackets and denim trousers, waxing lyrical over trivia such as horsepower, petrol consumption and nought-to-sixty-isms.
But before you allow yourself to become alienated by the witterings of ‘petrol heads’, it is reassuring to know that they don’t have a monopoly on motor vehicles. A fellow blessed with an independence of mind, poetry in his soul and vim in his trousers, namely ‘a gentleman’, also has strong opinions on the subject.
Unlike those who sully themselves with vulgar notions of turbo-charging and fuel-injection, the gentleman only has three questions: How does she look? Does she go some? And what in the devil’s name should I wear?
To the first of these questions the answer should of course be, as stylish as hell. Any gentleman worth his salt would rather sell his eye teeth than consider being seen in a vehicle of post-1973 construction (1973 being when the art of car design effectively died).
With access to unlimited funds, the only possible choice for a gentleman driver would be a 1938 Hispano-Suiza H6C Saoutchik Xenia Coupé, a car so preposterously stylish that PG Wodehouse selected it as the car of choice of the Emsworth family in his tales of Blandings Castle.
Such a car is designed to be driven around in rather than to actually drive yourself, but for those of more modest means, all is not lost. Don’t give a second glance to dull and dreary budget modern cars, but go instead for a trusty Morris Minor or a brisk Triumph Vitesse.
To the second question, the gent pays but fleeting regard. A gentleman motorist only requires two speeds: a ‘moderate tootle’ for when he wishes to be seen about town or a ‘fair old lick’ when he needs to get from A to B as fast as is humanly possible. Anything more technical and a gent’s eyes are apt to glaze over.
To the third of his queries, the gentleman motorist will obviously lavish a great deal of time and attention. Buying a new car should be seen as an excuse to acquire an entirely new wardrobe and range of accessories. These will vary based on the design and vintage of your vehicle – for those with open topped models, gauntlet gloves, goggles and tweeds are de rigueur.
A particularly pressing concern of the gent will be his need to keep his pipe alight when travelling in an open topped car. A solution to this vexing problem was invented by Alfred Dunhill, the patron saint of motoring accessories, in 1905 – namely the Windshield Pipe. These days it is only possible to purchase the original article at great expense, but surely it is time its manufacture was resumed.
So next time you inadvertently stumble upon depressingly laddish Sunday night TV, don’t assume that cars aren’t for you. Brash Clarksonite car-culture might be a crashing bore, but that does not mean that the aesthetics and practice of motoring cannot be approached from a very different angle.
Vic Darkwood is the author of The Gentleman’s Guide to Motoring (AA Publishing, £9.99), out now