WHAT WOULD Clarkson have made of Jaguar’s rather theatrical launch this week of the BMW 3-series-rivalling XE? As the be-jeansed one chose not to watch the live stream – or at least, not to tweet about it – one can only speculate.
Clarkson was not at the XE event in person, either; his days of flying around the world “drinking fine wines and eating swan” at the marketing men’s expense are behind him. Why? The following quotes help explain, and give a fairly amusing glimpse behind the curtain of a new car launch event.
At least, it’s a caricatured portrait of a car launch: swan is served so much less frequently these days.
“Motoring journalism is truly one of the world’s great jobs. Twice a week, every week, one of the car companies will pour you into the first-class seat of a chartered aircraft that will then whisper you on a cushion of champagne and goose liver to Nice. Or Miami, or Kyoto, or Cape Town…
“It was great but I spent so much time flying round the world, wiping swan fat from round my chops with the silken underpants of Vietnamese virgins, that in my first year of motoring journalism I earned £2,100. In the second year that fell slightly, to £1,900…
“Nobody, with the possible exception of Michael Jackson’s children, enjoy such a gulf between earnings and lifestyle.”
March 2003 (subscription required)
“[The Vauxhall Vectra] is so boring that I came back from the launch in Barcelona with a whizzo idea. I’d start the column this morning by saying: ‘I’ve driven the new Vauxhall Vectra, and this is what I thought of it.’ And then I’d leave the rest of the space blank.”
“My day and night at the Goodwood Festival of Speed: a fight; a drinkathon; the Pretenders; two supermodels; a McLaren Mercedes and five minutes discussing some Fifties stock cars with Her Majesty’s carpenter. You don’t get half of this at Henley or Wimbledon or the Chelsea Flower Show. I loved it but it wasn’t until I was half way up the A34 that I realised I’d forgotten something. I hadn’t watched a single car go up the hill in a blaze of noise and tortured rubber.”
“I don’t go on press junkets any more. I would like to say it’s because they are a complete waste of time. Every time you breathe in, it’s to ingest some over-sauced fish, and every time you breathe out, some corporate suit is there with a smile and a firm handshake.”
“And then we have the Cayenne, the big off-roader. This has the nose of a 911 and the rest of it looks as if it’s melted. I suppose the trouble is that when you are a small company, and you can afford to launch a new car only every 300 years, you can’t really employ a big styling division full of bright young things in polo neck jumpers and thin glasses. Because most of the time they’d have nothing to do. Except apply for a job with General Motors.”
“Later this summer, Ferrari is celebrating its 50th birthday in Rome with a party that will make Elton’s half-century look like an old people’s whist drive. They say that Rome will be brought to a standstill by 10,000 Ferraris and that even the Pope will be there. The Pope, for Christ’s sake. The Pope is going to a car firm’s birthday party.”
“The XK has been around for many years now. It’s so old, in fact, that it appears in many cave paintings… So Jag had a problem. How do you sell a car that’s been around for ages? Jaguar’s accountants will have said to the engineers, “Here’s 30p. Can you use it to spruce the old car up a bit?” That wasn’t enough to do anything to the engine, but it was enough to add a few rather garish winglets and spoilers and so on. And that’s not fooling anyone.”
“Engineers never lie, my arse. They’re hardly likely to spend the best part of eight years working on a new car and then present it to the press as ‘a bit of a duffer’. When I was at the launch of the Escort a few years ago, I never heard anyone on the podium say that it ‘handles like a dog’. Not once did the people at McLaren say the F1 was ‘a bit pricey’.”
“Imagine how hard it must be to think of a car name that works in any language, and which, all over the world, conjures up the right image. Ford, for heaven’s sake has models named after sizzling girlie mags: Fiesta, Escort and so on … Fiat’s ’70s hatchback became known in Britain as the Strada because the original name, Ritmo, was shared with an American sanitary towel – fancy driving around in a Fiat Tampax? Citroën came a cropper too with its Visa Diesel, which it tried to sell here as the VD.”
“I was at the international launch of the new VW Beetle. Ordinarily, I like to ask at least one idiotic question at a serious press event like this and I had it ready: did Dr Piech, steely-eyed head of VW, think Hitler would have liked the new car? It was a great question; one of my best yet, but I ran out of nerve at the last minute.”