The case for driverless cars

I can’t remember the name of the comedian, but he had a wonderful ambition, one which will sadly now never be realised. He wanted to interview Neil Armstrong for an hour on live television without mentioning the moon landings once. I wish he’d succeeded. In fact Armstrong might have leapt at the opportunity to pontificate about baseball or gardening, rather than the Apollo missions. It must be maddening when every conversation with a stranger turns to one brief event in your life: rather like being in the Eagles and knowing that, in a two-hour concert, 90 per cent of the crowd is only there for ‘Hotel California’. Following in this

Road rage: the great motorist rebellion has begun

Since Boris Johnson quit as an MP last month, Labour has been confident about winning the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election. Yet not so confident that Danny Beales, the party’s candidate, felt he could get through the campaign without lambasting Sadiq Khan’s plans to expand London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) to cover the capital. ‘It’s not the right time to extend Ulez to outer London,’ he told a hustings a fortnight ago. ‘It’s just not.’ It is hard for motorists not to wonder whether there is a campaign to ease them out of their vehicles From the end of next month, anyone driving a non-compliant vehicle – which in

The £160,000 Maserati that’s the last of its kind

There were a couple of moments where this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed might’ve been a little dicey. Day three of the four-day extravaganza, on Saturday, was cancelled due to 50mph winds. That may not sound all that alarming, but the ‘central feature’ at the Festival of Speed amounted to nearly 100 tonnes of steel sculpture soaring eight storeys over Goodwood House – seat of the Duke of Richmond since the 17th century – with typically several thousand petrolheads picnicking below. It also included six valuable Porsches hovering just below the clouds, and with the public told to stay away there was still every chance His Grace might suffer a

How to avoid paying parking tickets

My year of motoring tourism didn’t begin auspiciously. Early on the morning of New Year’s Eve, in downtown Dieppe, I looked out of the window of our rented apartment with its magnificent view of the Église Saint-Jacques, painted by the likes of Pissarro and Sickert, and noticed that our car had disappeared.  What followed over the next three hours was a journey of discovery – of the government offices and gendarmeries of the historic maritime town (on foot, in the rain), by which process I was eventually informed that my car was now residing in a secure pound on an industrial estate some five kilometres out of town.  I tried to

The ‘noise cameras’ silencing the supercar show-offs

As a motorcyclist, I’m used to hearing complaints about loud exhausts. Plenty of bikers revel in the roar of their motor – after all, a powerful engine is one of the main appeals of motorbiking. But for anyone living near a busy road, the sound of revving can be thoroughly stressful. Most people who spend time in towns or cities will have jumped at the distinctive noise of a tailpipe backfire, a couple of short explosive bursts that can sound like gunshots, or the drone of a clearly illegal exhaust note. The idea that someone has modified their car or motorbike to give the rest of us a fright is

Could you love an electric campervan?

The Volkswagen ID Buzz is a pretty car, though so innocent-seeming you would forgive it anything. It succeeds the equally pretty T2 campervan, the Betty Boop of 1950s vehicles. The T2 was so convincing – cars, like everything, vary in charisma – it is one of the most famous vehicles in the world, so much so that I can’t think of one without seeing Don Draper’s face. Iconic is a stupid word, but the T2 was iconic, and in testament you will pay £20,000 for the bones of one, though you shouldn’t. I should have waited for Exeter and topped up at Bristol, as the delivery driver counselled, but I

The case against Ulez – by a cyclist

Whether you’re more afraid of the forces of order or the forces of chaos is generally a matter of disposition. A natural anti-authoritarian who despises being told what to do – especially when told to do something stupid – I’m more horrified by excesses of order. Granted, my greater fear of the state may simply betray that I’ve largely lived in an orderly western world, and after a few dog-eat-dog nights of mayhem and carnage I might change my tune. Nevertheless, during the Covid lockdowns, for example, I was less distressed by the odd neighbour who dared to invite a friend to tea than by most Britons’ blind, bovine compliance

How to bag the best spot in the supermarket car park

Our local Sainsbury’s, though admirable in every other way, has a slightly inflated estimate of the disabled population of Seven-oaks, with all the plum parking spaces near the entrance reserved for blue badge holders. Every time I drive in, a voice from my inner bastard says: ‘Jeez, if it weren’t for all these bloody disabled spaces, I’d be able to park right next to the door.’ This of course is rubbish, because if those spaces were not designated as disabled, other people would have parked in them first. It is a perfect example of asymmetry of perception. In fact, next time you go shopping, it might pay to adopt the

London’s car drivers are being bullied

Any historic London footage inevitably features cars busily rounding Hyde Park Corner and shooting off up Park Lane, against the background of sky-scraping hotels and thriving offices. Have you seen the same bit of London now? It’s a giant car park, brought to a standstill by an administration with seemingly little idea how to promote a thriving capital. The city’s best-known thoroughfare has been reduced from three lanes to just one open for traffic northbound, one for bicycles (used sparingly in rush hour) and one for buses, usually empty. That’s just one lane for normal traffic, used by Londoners simply trying to get from A to B via one of

Carmageddon: the electric vehicle boondoggle

A couple of years ago I thought seriously about buying an electric car. Not a hybrid, but the full monty. There was one in particular I liked the look of and I even contacted a dealership to ask whether they’d accept my diesel-powered VW Touran in part-exchange. The answer was yes, but it was still eye-wateringly expensive. Was it worth it? I tried to persuade myself it would be, given the savings on fuel costs, the waiving of the congestion charge, etc. Boy, am I glad I dodged that bullet. Scarcely a day passes without a new horror story about electric vehicles in the press. Over the past week alone,

Ghost story: the dark side of Rolls-Royce

Some years ago, I was despatched to Las Vegas to learn how to be a chauffeur. The Wynn hotel had purchased a fleet of Rolls-Royces, and their Aloysius Parkers were being taught how to drive the Rolls-Royce way – i.e. a cut above your Lincoln Town Car etiquette. ‘The umbrella can be used both defensively and offensively,’ I recall Rolls-Royce’s Andi McCann saying, as if he’d walked off the set of Kingsman. Andi is the personal driver to Rolls’s CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös and the company’s lead trainer. I learned many things on his white-glove course, starting with how umbrellas, housed inside each door, can be used to protect from paparazzi

A beautiful monster: the Aston Martin Vantage reviewed

The new Aston Martin Vantage is shorter and hotter than the DB11: a smaller, truer sportscar, though slightly less elegant. ‘Gentlemanly’ is what the copywriter calls the DB11, but this is a ‘hunter’ and ‘predatory’. Ferraris, meanwhile, are a little too hot for me – though I accept that they are sublime, if Ferraris are your thing – and the Toyota Supra, which I love – even shorter, even hotter, much cheaper – doesn’t make quite the same impression on the A30. People (I mean men over 40) love Aston Martins. They view them as an expression of British pride, and coo over them like babies, by roaring past, overtaking,

Is the Purosangue SUV a real Ferrari?

I recently spent a long weekend in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, driving a fast car, eating tortellini alla panna twice a day and rifling through Luciano Pavarotti’s DVD library. The tenor’s house, outside Modena, has been converted into a museum filled with his many shiny awards and Hermès scarves, framed photos with Bono and Mandela and, yes, his unrivalled collection of Police Academy movies. I also visited Modena’s sprawling San Cataldo cemetery to see the imposing family tomb of one Enzo Anselmo Giuseppe Maria Ferrari, 1898-1988. I listened carefully. It was peaceful. Apart from birdsong, not a whisper. There was no whirring, no drilling, no vibration or rumbling from

Style on a plate: Bentley’s Flying Spur Hybrid reviewed

Britain makes the world’s best luxury cars: we got there early, as we did with the Industrial Revolution, which is why our infrastructure is fraying, though our cars aren’t. You can argue about Rolls-Royce vs Bentley, and both be right, though the late Queen chose a Bentley for the state limousine and a Jaguar Land Rover for the state hearse in Royal Claret. (It was little discussed, for reasons of taste, but it was a very beautiful hearse. The claret was right.) Perhaps a Rolls-Royce is too elitist though; with minimal specification, it could be made to look like a crown. Here is the Bentley Flying Spur Mulliner: the Bentley

Can the Ineos Grenadier rival the Land Rover?

When Land Rover finally axed its ‘old’ Defender in 2016 and promised to replace it with something better, traditionalists shed tears as readily as their beloved old-school Landys dripped oil. And the arrival of the ‘new’ Defender in early 2020 did nothing to help: ‘too expensive’, said some; ‘too complicated’, said others. ‘Too precious’, they moaned. ‘Not a real Defender’, they concluded. Oddly, it seemed, such people really did want to carry on driving a car based on a 70-year-old design that was bereft of safety features, as aerodynamic as a breeze block, as draughty as a shed, rusted readily underneath and with the turning circle of a tanker. But

Extreme E: how motor racing turned green

Prior to kick-off, Fifa declared the World Cup in Qatar to be ‘a fully carbon-neutral event’, triggering enough spluttering, snorting and involuntary cackles to feed an entire wind farm. Seven giant brand-new stadiums, open-air air-conditioning in the desert, goodness knows how many long-haul flights in and out, and an armada of cruise ships to store the Wags. Righto, Mr Infantino. The Fifa president is the poster boy of talking tripe – the Comical Ali of sports-washing. Football is losing the climate fight like Costa Rica lost against Spain (7-0). Instead, the world’s most eco-friendly sport is motor racing. I’m serious. Let me introduce you to Extreme E. Extreme E, or

Why I’m giving electric cars a second chance

In April 2021 I wrote a piece for The Spectator which became the most-read article I have ever had published here. It began with the words: ‘I bought an electric car and wish I hadn’t.’ It was the story of my ill-judged decision to get a Hyundai Kona Electric. I had hoped to use it to virtue-signal, but it turned into the car from hell. Many readers were kind enough to laugh at my self-deprecating jokes. I’ve always had a soft spot for gadgets. When electric cars started to become available in 2018, I ordered the Kona because it seemed to have a reasonable range of around 400km. It was

Why thieves are after your number plates

My day had started as it always does, with a near 40-mile round trip to school, then an hour’s walk in the pretty country park close to our home near Nottingham. As usual, I parked in the small car park and exchanged ‘good mornings’ and ‘beautiful weather, isn’t it?’ with the familiar faces I see most days – dog walkers, joggers and mums herding their kids to the village school. There was nothing out of the ordinary about my walk, which covers an undulating route on a track alongside the canal, through a small wood and past fields of sheep. Until I returned to my car, that is.  Straight away

Meet the Bristol Tyre Extinguishers

If the world really does face a climate emergency, what ought you, personally, be doing about it? Should you, as increasing numbers of young people are doing, roam the streets at night letting down the tyres of SUVs? The fast-growing movement that calls itself the ‘Tyre Extinguishers’ thinks this is an effective approach, and has targeted thousands of SUVs in cities around the world. My home town of Bristol – always quick to espouse a green cause – has seen at least 200 SUVs ‘extinguished’ in recent weeks. Though they claim to be leaderless, the Extinguishers have a Twitter account where you can keep up-to-date with their latest ‘hits’, and

Yours for £45,000, the car that drove Margaret Thatcher into history

‘A new girl drops in at the palace,’ announced the London Evening News on the front page of its ‘election special’ of 4 May 1979. The accompanying image showed a beaming Margaret Thatcher (pre-implant teeth in evidence) waving from the rear seat of a ministerial car, on her way to meet the Queen and receive her official invitation to form a new administration. Another ‘new girl’ (or boy?) might be dropping in at the palace soon – but if he or she wants to do it in the same car, it will cost them. The P5B Rover saloon that drove the Iron Lady into the history books as the first