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Hopeless romantic

20 August 2008

12:00 AM

20 August 2008

12:00 AM

Some at least of the 71 vehicles I’ve owned (68 if tractors don’t count) are probably best excused by a weakness for romantic impracticality. It was never inherent impracticality that attracted me but something else about them — rarity, unusual histories or locations, coincidence, the appeal of rescue. Hence the Daimler Conquest Century convertible, the Austin Gypsy fire engine, the Majestic Major mayoral limousine and the clump of stinging nettles in Oxfordshire marketed as a Series One Land-Rover. Recently there have been signs that the condition afflicts me still.

The week began with a tour of the Rolls Royce factory at Goodwood, West Sussex. Nicholas Grimshaw’s design is an inspiration, quiet, clean and airy, with imaginative use of natural light and camouflaged by eight acres of living roof comprised of thousands of sedum plants. The factory produced 1,010 cars last year, with prices starting at around a quarter of a million — rather more than all my 71 added together. The astute and congenial party I was with could probably have bought a brace each without too much hardship, but for me the experience scored pretty highly in the romantic impracticality stakes because it left me yearning more than I’m earning. It’ll doubtless score yet higher when I drive one next month.

But then to go from Goodwood to the other end of the (still) United Kingdom and motor 500 miles through northern Scotland in the new Bentley Brooklands coupé upped the romantic ante even more.

This nimble 2.7 tonne Leviathan was reviewed on its Italian launch (Spectator, 19 April) and re-acquaintance did nothing to dim first impressions. It remains one of the best-looking, best-performing and most satisfying cars to drive on the planet. And since they’re making only 550 its gratifyingly high emissions (465g/km) will do nothing whatever to hasten our planet’s demise. Admittedly, the fact that all but a handful are spoken for makes it rather difficult to buy one, but it still might be worth ringing Crewe if you’ve upwards of £230,000 burning a hole in your pocket.

If you are too late, however, take comfort: there are niggles. As noted at the launch, there should be some way of closing the boot without dirtying your wallet-hand. Also, the throttle-mapping of this iteration of the wonderful 49-year-old 6.75 V8 seems to differ from that in other models. In the Arnage saloon, for example, the same engine gives you the famous Bentley tidal wave of torque from about 1rpm upwards, but the Brooklands — despite 0–60mph in 5 seconds, 184mph, 1750rpm at 70mph — is relatively (sic) gentle up to about 1500rpm when it can suddenly kick down and take you by surprise. This is not to say that power delivery cannot be evenly achieved, but you have to take care. I don’t recall that at the launch, so it could be this particular test car (in which Autocar noted the same feature). Anyway, you can easily avoid it by going into Speed mode or using the gearbox’s manual tiptronic function. Autocar didn’t like its forward-up, back-down configuration, but it felt right to me.

Thirdly, the reclining rear seats are superbly comfortable with ample leg and head room, but ingress and egress is delayed by the all too sedate movement of the front seats. When it’s raining — as occasionally happens in Scotland — passengers get wet waiting to get in or you get wet waiting until ladies in skirts are ready to emerge modestly.


But the car does everything else you want. It proceeds with a rare combination of authority and agility, sure-footed through the Highland bends, steering precise and not too light, suspension firm but well-mannered. One driver, qualified to make the comparison, said he had felt nothing like it since taking the controls of a Hawker Hunter. Lucky man.

And yet, when the urge for romantic impracticality bites, even a limited edition Bentley is not quite enough. What else could explain my telephone conversation during the same week with a 1949 Jowett Javelin in Shetland?

Introduced in 1946 with an 80mph 1486cc flat four, these aerodynamic saloons were highly regarded despite manufacturing problems with the early engines and gearboxes. They won their class at Le Mans and should have secured the future of the idio-syncratic, Bradford-based company, but Lazard Brothers pulled the plug in 1954. Since then the owners’ club, the oldest in Britain, has kept a dedicated band of followers on the road. The car in question has had its engine rebuilt (though a small oil leak needs attention), its burgundy leather seats re-upholstered and its black body professionally resprayed. Asking price is £4,000, carriage paid to Aberdeen. Buying unseen without having driven one counts, I reckon, as romantically impractical; going to Shetland just to see if you like it, even more so. I wish I could say, Reader, I bought it — but I haven’t, yet. Anyone tempted should ring 01595 810398.

On board S/Y Bushido

Finally a gold medal for Greece, for cheating. Fifteen of our men and women have joined the pantheon of cheaters, the latest our 400-metres hurdles gold medal winner in Athens, Fani Halkia. It’s a disgrace but the athletes are not solely to blame. Ever since the Soviet Union began using the stuff that makes women grow moustaches for their shot putters, early in the Sixties, the athletes have been pawns of governments. What’s a dumb young person supposed to do when their trainer tells him or her to inject a substance which will turn them into winners? Report them to higher-ups who have given the order in the first place?

I’ve just celebrated yet another birthday, which I need like the proverbial hole in the cranium, and at 72 I am fed up with our pampered youth, but fair is fair. All the cheats were taught to cheat early and then some. I only hope that Jamaica does not turn out to win a Nobel Prize for masking agents, but cruising to a 100-metres win in 9.6 seconds has detective Taki on the scent. So far, so cynical. The Jamaicans will point out that they’ve had 36 visits from the anti-doping team and that Usain Bolt himself has been tested at least six times since he got to China. Who knows? They may well be clean — unlike the Greeks.

Peking was once a beautiful city which has been turned into a hideous mass of skyscrapers by the ruling gang of capitomunists. The Potemkin performance of that little girl singing ‘Ode to the Motherland’ was typical. The voice was right, the teeth were not, but the combination worked. Maybe Chen Qigang, the music director, should also be disqualified, like the 15 Greeks. The only way to stop the cheating is to declare it legal, or ban each and every country whose athletes use an illegal substance for, say, two Olympic Games. That’s two paid-for trips, stays in 5-star hotels, and endless parties with the de rigueur hookers following. Not many officials would like to see themselves excluded from these bonanzas, so cheating would at least be curtailed. Needless to say, all athletes and their trainers should be banned for life once caught.

When the Chinese got caught with their hands in the Chinese cookie jar over the fake singing, they answered quite correctly. ‘Doesn’t this happen in Hollywood daily?’ they asked reporters. Quite right. Ugly girls do not make big splashes in Tinseltown, or at least they did not in my day. Now ugly people seem to be the stars of TV reality shows, which illustrates that the Chinese have a very long way to go to catch up with the West. In fact the Chinese are so backward, they actually try to put their best tooth forward, so to speak, and hide a little girl with bad front teeth in favour of one whose perfect gnashers hide a falsetto voice. Just think back to Singing in the Rain, the great musical of the Fifties, when the delightful Debbie Reynolds did the real singing for Jean Hagen behind a curtain. The Chinese are back in the Fifti
es, whereas we are into reality freak shows. I sure hope the East does not try to catch up; it’s bad enough they ruined their cities trying to look like us.

And speaking of empty-headed ways of spending money in order to seduce rubes, I wonder if those poor souls who were evicted from their houses, which were then reduced to rubble by the authorities, will get some compensation. Elbowing aside the poor in order to present a rich face to a lot of free-loaders is hardly an Olympic ideal. But that’s what took place in Peking, and I spell it the old way because it’s my right to do so. Razzmatazz has replaced the simplicity of old Greece and of the Olympics. I hate it and it’s the last time I will write about it. Unless I’m still around in 2012, when London makes a total fool of itself in order to please fat and corrupt officialdom. Poor Boris. If he wants to make a statement he should accept Bushido for the duration and cruise the Greek isles while a lot of cheaters compete in chemistry in London.

Once upon a time we honoured the past, like the Japanese still do. I fly a Japanese imperial battle flag on my main mast, and at times people approach the boat and ask if the boat is Japanese-owned. Then they ask the reason why I fly such a flag. Depending on the manner of the inquiry, whether it’s polite or aggressive, the crew or myself answer them. Bushido, after all, is the soul of Japan, the code of the Samurai, the way of the warrior, everything the modern Olympics are not, hence some rude exchanges. The Yasukuni shrine is referred to as a shrine to war criminals by Western hack know-nothings. Yet the places where Roosevelt and Truman are buried are not excoriated each and every time someone pays their respects to the two warmongers. Soldiers are like athletes, pawns in the grubby hands of politicians and other greedheads, weird, misbegotten perverts who drag countries to war by using flacks such as the neocon cabal in Washington DC (Kristol, Frum, Perle and others too disgusting to mention in the elegant pages of the Speccie).

I’ve had one of the best summers ever because the boat and the crew were perfect, and now it’s time to resume martial arts in the Alps as I plan to defend my world title for the last time next year in Budapest. In person, I hope.


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