Spent yesterday afternoon in a hot and crowded aircraft hangar watching some TV filming taking place. For some reason, my SD1 was chosen for filming on BBC’s Top Gear programme, and I felt obliged to let them use the car. Well, it would be rude not to. Not to make a big deal about the thing seemed to be the best plan of action, and up to this point, I had managed to keep pretty quiet about the whole Top Gear thing.
However, like all good plans, it came undone…
Like all car enthusiasts, I have my heroes. Many of mine tend to originate from the motoring press, as I have been an avid reader of the magazines since the age of eight. I should really blame my junior school teacher – Mr Gittins – for that. He saw I had a talent for identifying cars and thought it would be good to feed my passion (affliction?) by bringing in his old issues of WHAT CAR? magazine. Being an eight-year-old meant that I had a voracious appetite for all new information, and I must have read each issue from cover to cover and absorb everything within. Even today, I can still recite list prices, engine specs and test dates of just about any car from 1978-1980. Sad, but true.
Anyway. Heroes. I soon outgrew WHAT CAR? and moved onto the harder stuff: CAR, Motor and Autocar became my magazines of choice, and as these were more character-driven publications, I soon found myself following the trials and tribulations of the various regular contributors. I think my earliest journo-hero was undoubtedly George Bishop. Even in my tender years, I revelled in his tales of times gone by: boozy product launches and entertaining car descriptions allied with his passion for a money-pit Lancia Gamma. The joy of Bishop was that he could really tell a tale, and each new issue of CAR was greatly enhanced thanks to his column.
As the 1980s progressed, journalism changed for the better. The character driven format pioneered by CAR was imitated by weekly rivals, which led to a rash of columns – some good, some less so – allowing us to get more of an insight into the minds of the guys who drove the cars. Two names appeared around this time which fall into the hero category: Russell Bulgin and Richard Bremner.
Bulgin was an absolutely riveting writer. The
effect of his writing was this: no matter how
mundane the subject, he could take it and
pump 10,000 volts into it.
Bulgin was an absolutely riveting writer. The effect of his writing was this: no matter how mundane the subject, he could take it and pump 10,000 volts into it. First qualifying at a wet and washed out Imola in April..? a piece of cake: Bulgin would make it entertaining. His car tests were equally amusing and incisive, and I’ll never forget his experiences with the Metro based Midas long term car. In 1988, he moved to CAR and was given the monthly column he so richly deserved, and in his time he touched on some off-the-wall subjects: the tactility of Japanese switches and the coolness of running a fan club about the Marina were two that instantly come to mind. He was the first motoring journo (I think) that enthused about the Playstation game Gran Turismo in print. And in his usual style, it was a brilliant descriptive piece. Sadly, he succumbed to cancer a few years back. One of life’s regrets for me is that I only met him once.
Bremner, I’ll gloss over to spare his embarassment (assuming he reads this), other than to say that his Testarossa to the Sahara story, which appeared in CAR in 1995 is probably my favourite ever magazine article. It rates as highly as Mel Nicholls’ “Convoy!”
The 1990s saw another great columnist join CAR magazine: James May. An unashamed patriot, James May had (and still has) the uncanny ability of making me laugh out loud, simply through the quality of his writing. Trust me, to produce funny copy on tap as he did takes prodigious talent. I will never forget his exploits when practicing for his motorcycle licence. If anyone here watches Top Gear and likes May’s delivery, just imagine his sitting astride a Honda C90 “step through” revving it up in order to make it go rin-bin-bin. Trust me, it was funny when he wrote it. Anyway, he soon became another of my heroes…
When he joined Top Gear for the second series, I was delighted. With James May, we finally got our foil for JC. And – sure as eggs are eggs, in the first programme he appeared in, he gave as good as he got. How refreshing. Not that the first series wasn’t good… it’s just that Hammond and Clarkson weren’t supported enough by that third bloke (can anyone remember him?) who used to give out used car advice (which, I am sure was borrowed from that week’s Autocar).
So, yesterday, thanks to my car’s appearance on Top Gear, I met one of my heroes. After the show recording had finished, I was getting into the SD1 to take it home, and James May came up to me. “Would you mind if I had a little drive…?” he asked. Would I mind? How could I refuse. Sadly, I was slightly in awe of the man, so mumbled something incomprehensible to him as I handed over my keys. I watched him drive onto the Top Gear test track and it was Richard Porter who summed things up perfectly: “Even when he is driving a car, he looks stately”. Indeed.
So my SD1 has now been driven by two of my heroes: Spen King and James May. There was no way I was going to be able to keep that under wraps. Who’s next for the SD1 treatment, I wonder?
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.