Yesterday Jeremy Clarkson turned 60, though you might be forgiven for assuming the birthday celebrations were a little muted for two reasons: for one, he’s under lockdown like the rest of us; and two, he’s been left with a Vauxhall Corsa on his driveway.
A couple of weeks ago, Clarkson gave Sunday Times Driving readers a potted history of Lamborghini in his review of the monstrous Aventador SVJ.
This week, he gives us his thoughts on a rather more run-of-the-mill car maker — Vauxhall. It’s a logo that has never sparked positive feelings in The Grand Tour presenter. In fact, the Corsa he was given to review this week, he says, provoked in him only “Eeyorish Gloom”. Because, to Clarkson, Vauxhalls evoke melancholy of Winnie-the-Pooh proportions, he’s never been too kind about the company.
And this week is no different. Jumping in by calling Vauxhalls “automotive wallpaper paste”, the writer proceeds to provide the reason for his viciousness towards the brand. “Cars must have a sense of place,” he says, but Vauxhall lacks clarity in this department. It was part of General Motors, which makes it American, but the only thing he can think of that’s “less American than a diesel-powered Astra is Stalin’s moustache”.
Vauxhall is the sister company to Opel, so does that make it German? No, because it is now part of the PSA group, which also comprises Peugeot and Citroën, which should make it French. But as the Corsa is made in Spain, it’s not.
Some would say that makes well-travelled, or international, but for our columnist it just makes the Corsa “Eurotrash”.
Clarkson also doesn’t like the people who drive Vauxhalls. Which is likely to win him a few enemies considering last month 8.4% of new cars registered came with a griffin badge.
Clarkson can’t shake the impression that Vauxhall is like a person who, no matter how hard they try, just isn’t part of the cool gang. It’s never really quite pulled off the swagger of some of its competitors.
Clarkson reveals that, “Behind the scenes, James May, Richard Hammond and I have always agreed that the single funniest thing in motoring is the concept of a ‘fast Vauxhall’. It displays such a monumental lack of ambition. It’s like buying a really expensive piece of jewellery — from the market.”
And so, having recently tested the Aventador SVJ, Bentley Flying Spur and Porsche Macan Turbo, it appears that fate has struck a rather cruel blow to make it a a Corsa that was on test when the coronavirus lockdown was announced.
But that means that he’s had more than enough time to get to know it, and maybe even put his past qualms aside. So, he “Went for an essential drive to do key work” and surprised himself by finding that he rather liked it.
Having last week tested the Renault Clio, another supermini, there’s the opportunity for some direct comparisons. The Renault is comfier, Clarkson says, but the Corsa is “peppier and more eager”. He likes the 1.2-litre engine, which despite it’s small size, “doesn’t half crack along.”
His only real complaint was with what he found to be over-eager brakes. “I only had to look at the pedal and the damn thing stood on its nose like it was in a cartoon,” he complains.
And in fact, he claims not to be jealous of the other journalists who have been left more exciting cars at this time, because, “The herbert from the Welsh Pig Breeder’s Gazette who does have the Bentley and the motoring writer from Cosmopolitan who’s got the Lamborghini can’t drive them, either.”
But because he lives on a farm, the Corsa has been a lifeline for the bored 18-year old daughter of Lisa Hogan, his girlfriend. The teenager has been finding any excuse to run it up and down his lengthy driveway, and that wouldn’t be possible if he’d had a twin-turbo Porsche or a £391,000 Lamborghini on loan.
“She will certainly be the first person in human history to say that her only true happiness for a long time was a brown 1.2-litre Vauxhall Corsa.”
And, Clarkson says, because the Corsa makes her happy, it makes him happy.
To read Jeremy Clarkson’s thoughts on the Corsa, and Vauxhall more generally, head to The Sunday Times website.