Posted on June 1, 2009 by Number Plates
It was late, dark, cold and pouring down. But even though I was soaking wet, I simply couldn’t get into the car you see photographed this morning. My wife was screaming at me, saying the rain was ruining her hair and making her dress see-through and would I please stop being so stupid and just unlock the damn doors. But I couldn’t because it would have been just too embarrassing.
Had I been at the annual general meeting of the Ray Winstone Appreciation Society, then things would have been fine. I would have been proud of the car’s gigantism, and its black bonnet stripes and its flared wheelarches and its own-brand badge. But I was outside the New Theatre in Oxford, and Oxford theatre crowds, with their mad hair and their cycling helmets and their hairy sports jackets, really don’t take kindly to cars like this. Or the people who drive them. Especially as it sported the numberplate DE51RED.
Frankly, ATW4T would have been less blushingly awful. So I stood there pretending it wasn’t mine until they’d all wobbled off on their stupid foldaway bicycles.
Things were a bit quiet on the way home, and they remained that way until, with just two miles to go, the engine coughed. I thought at first I’d fluffed a gearchange. But then it coughed again. And then it ran out of fuel. And it didn’t matter how much I pointed defensively at the gauge, which showed I had a quarter of a tank left; the facts were these. It was the middle of the night. It was the middle of nowhere. And the raindrops were now as big as rabbits.
So the Vauxhall VXR8 Bathurst S did not get off to a good start. It had made me very wet, then it had made me very angry and now it was in the process of making me very divorced. So what is it, then, this tattooed bouncer with a neck like a birthday cake and, you suspect, a pickaxe handle down its trousers?
Well, in short it’s the result of an Australian civil war. In Oz, everyone is either a supporter of Holden, part of General Motors, or a supporter of Ford. Oh sure, there are solicitors and accountants who will claim they are above such nonsense, but when pressed they will say: “Of course, I’m a GM man by birth and I would never allow a Ford onto my drive because” — and at this point they start to get a bit red in the face — “they are all raving poofters and” — by this stage they will be banging the table — “I hate them. I would gladly lay down my life and the lives of my children for Holden and I will kill anyone with a hammer if they disagree.”
At the Bathurst race from which this limited-edition Vauxhall takes its name, there are pitched battles between gangs of Ford and GM fans. Proper bike-chains-and-flamethrower, Hell’s Angel-type stuff. And the only time they ever came together was when a chap called Jim Richards won in a Nissan Skyline. Such was the torrent of catcalls as he climbed onto the podium, he leant into the microphone and called the entire crowd “a pack of arseholes”.
That’s the background from which this big Vauxhall comes. A rough, partisan sink estate, where there are no women and even the spiders are frightened. It’s a car deliberately built to be uncouth. To stick its face into anything Ford might do by way of response. It’s designed to keep those bike chains whirling.
Strangely, however, it’s not actually Australian. It’s built there but it was engineered by a Scotchman called Tom Walkinshaw. So since he’s a neighbour I thought I’d go to see how on earth such a quiet, reserved chap could possibly have come up with something so … wilfully ocker.
It’s easy to find his house. You go left at Alex James’s agreeable cheesery, straight on past David Cameron’s delightful wisteria, right by Ben Kingsley’s lovely gable ends and through the dry-stone walls that mark the entrance. But I didn’t want to go past all those places — and people — in a car with stripes and DE51RED written on the back. So I stayed at home.
The next day I was due for lunch at a friend’s house. And I decided that since he lives down a long private drive, it would be okay to turn up in what was essentially a bull-necked version of Crocodile Dundee. But, for no reason, the battery was flat and it wouldn’t start. So I went in a Range Rover. As did everyone else.
Eventually, though, when it was dark and the nation was asleep, I did sneak out to see what on earth this car was like. And I found after a very short space of time it was like being in 1978. There is no refinement at all.When you dip the clutch pedal to change gear, you can feel and hear the entire driveline moving around.
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