Monday 5 December 2016

What secrets can my car tell you about me?

Gleaming $8m Maybach, or €1k patched up old banger - it's just a matter of priorities, writes Victoria Mary Clarke

Victoria Mary Clarke

Published 27/11/2016 | 02:30

YOU’D NEED A BIG WRENCH: Victoria Mary Clarke is very attached to her beautiful old banger. Photo: David Conachy
YOU’D NEED A BIG WRENCH: Victoria Mary Clarke is very attached to her beautiful old banger. Photo: David Conachy

My friends and family have been on at me to buy a new car. They think my car is embarrassing, and some of them would rather walk than be driven in it, which shocks me.

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I actually overheard one small boy asking his mother why I drive an old banger if I am a famous celebrity who has been on The Late Late Show.

Of course I am thrilled that small children think I am a famous celebrity. But I am concerned that they don't like my car, and that they think it is shameful. I am not sure if it says something about me, or something about them.

I do like my car. It is a dark green 1995 Mercedes with four doors and a certain amount of gaffer tape, which keeps the bumper in place. Don't ask me what model it is, I haven't a clue. What I know is that it only cost me €1,000 from a nice man in Tallaght nearly 10 years ago, it has wide, well sprung seats, it's a smooth, comfortable ride, it never breaks down, and it was obviously well made and expensive in its day. Like myself.

In the week that I have been pressurised to reconsider my car, we have witnessed Jeremy Clarkson and his old gang from Top Gear making the most expensive and the most talked about advertisement for flash cars that the world has ever seen. It is the opening sequence of their new show The Grand Tour, and it features Irish band The Hothouse Flowers in a California desert in the sunshine with lots of happy, shiny people and some very expensive shots of planes flying in formation. The message of the opening sequence is clear, as Clarkson travels from rainy London and car hell to sunny California and car heaven. You get in the flash car, and you get freedom, fun and sunshine, and you can drive as fast as you like. If you don't get in the flash car, you get dreary rain and probably traffic jams.

In this same week I also noticed that one of the most expensive cars on the market, the new Jaguar XKSS 9, (a re-creation of Steve McQueen's 1957 D-type) costs a million pounds but cannot even be driven on the road because it does not satisfy safety and emission standards. That seems impractical to me, but people probably don't buy a car like that just to get to the supermarket.

Jay Z owns a car which cost $8m. It's a Maybach Excelero and is so far out of my reality that I've never heard of it. Clearly I'm not as rich and famous as Jay Z, or Simon Cowell (whose Bugatti Veyron cost $1.7m). But it appears I have chosen to position myself at the other end of the car spectrum to those guys.

When I think about what message Simon and Jay Z are sending to the world with their choice of car, it seems clear. 'This machine cost a lot, it is an extension of me, and I am ridiculously rich, and I want you to know it.' Whether they also intend to suggest taste and discernment, I don't know.

You don't need to be rich to buy a show-off car. I met a guy whose job is pushing wheelchairs at Heathrow Airport. He drives a brand new BMW and explained to me that he doesn't have a girlfriend because he works so much overtime to pay off the loan. Which proves that your choice of car reflects your priorities as much as your income.

Why, in that case do I drive a car that I would have to pay someone to scrap? What am I trying to communicate?

I have role models, I think we all do. Chief among mine is Marina Guinness who is one of the most generous and considerate but also charismatic and classy women I know. She always drives a beat-up banger (don't ask me what make) which makes my car look fancy, and she often tells me how smart my car is. She doesn't need to prove that she is admirable, and if she had Jay Z's money she would most likely give it to a homeless charity.

I long to be more like Marina, so perhaps my car is trying to say I am not materialistic, not interested in status, not flashy or shallow? Or that I am too cool and too confident to care about what people think of my car? Or am I trying to say that I am holier, purer, and superior because I don't need a fancy car? Am I perhaps an inverted snob?

A few years ago, I was invited to test-drive a new Aston Martin. It was an astonishing experience. The car was so responsive that I barely had to touch the pedals and off it went, it felt like the car was determined to do what it was made for no matter what the speed limit was. People stared at me, beeped their horns at me and got out of my way. I felt superior, distinctive, rich, classy, sexy and significant. It was so nice that I seriously considered how long it might take to save up for one.

I have role models who drive bangers, but I also have role models who care about cars. Some of the people who hate my car are kind, generous, considerate, beautiful people, so having a preference for expensive cars does not make you bad any more than having a cheap car makes you good.

And if I am truly honest, if I were seriously cool, I would be more concerned about having a car that is environmentally friendly, which my old Mercedes most certainly isn't.

So I may be on the lookout for a reasonably priced electric car.

Sunday Independent

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