How to Choose a Car
The car, perhaps more than any other consumer item, provides
confirmation of the suspicion that human beings are
essentially tribal creatures. From the middle classes' Mercs,
BMWs and Audis, through to the Range Rovers and Ferraris of
Premiership footballers, choice of vehicle seems to be the
primary means through which people project to the outside
world a desired image of themselves, and, by association,
the social group to which they belong or wish to belong.
Even those who take a resolutely functionalist approach to
their cars (it's just a means of getting from A to B) find
that they have unwittingly formed and become fully paid-up
members of the functionalist group; otherwise known as Kia
and Chevrolet (née Daewoo)
drivers. Your choice of car associates you with a tribe even
if that tribe is one that wishes to have no associations.
The trick when choosing a car, then, is to avoid the models,
and in some cases entire marques, that are associated with
negative groups. This is no easy task, however, so, together
with our advice in The List
and Future Classics,
we have compiled a short guide to make this process as
painless as possible:
1) Rarity is key
As a general first principle, the rarer a car the better.
Rarity helps to prevent a vehicle falling into the wrong
hands ('wrong' in this case meaning professional
footballers, professional footballers' wives, the general
nouveau riches, tabloid celebrities and other such
There are exceptions to this rule, though - Maybachs for
instance - which we will deal with below.
2) Investigate the ownership profile
No-one wants to invest a sizeable amount of money in a car,
only to find that fellow owners include Roy Chubby Brown,
Wayne Rooney or Robert Mugabe. Ensure that you have
performed a thorough search on the marque and model's
ownership profile before taking the plunge.
3) Classics are (sometimes) better
Classic cars can fulfil the dual criteria of being rare,
due to their age, and more aesthetically pleasing than
contemporary cars, due in part to the fact that they are not
subject to the generally uglifying effects of modern safety
Remember to apply the criterion list in 2) first, though;
Triumph TR5s, for example, are relatively rare, but
ownership of one will almost certainly associate you with
the kind of man who: a) spends large periods of time in a
shed; b) makes regular visits to autojumbles to purchase
discontinued carburettor parts; c) has a beard; and d) uses
his bath as a storage area for his spare engine.
4) Fitness for purpose
Be honest with the the type of usage of the car that you
expect to make. A Land Rover Defender is cool when used in
the country, and for occasional trips into town, but one
that remains spotless whilst spending its days chugging
along the Kings Road is not. Ditto supercars in London, hot
hatches in the Cote D'Azur and Maybachs and luxury SUVs, well...
5) Inconvenience matters
Flick through any of the more worthy motoring magazines
(step forward What Car) and you'll find pages of information
concerning the mind- numbing issues of space and
practicality. Whilst a five star report for such areas might
entice Tony Blair's mythical 'Mondeo Man' to purchase a
particular car, we should base our choices on the exact
opposite; that is to say, the more inconvenient the car, the
cooler it is.
You may not be feeling particularly cool when you struggle
through the narrow aperture between sill and roof on a Lotus
Exige, or catch a reflection in a shop window of yourself in
a full face helmet whilst driving an Ariel Atom, but content
yourself with the fact that you won't be driving something
that is also owned by a footballer's wife or a Z list
celebrity. Inconvenience, discomfort and a small amount of
ridicule are all prices worth paying for this.
6) Some marques are never cool
Like manufactured pop bands that try to convince the
public that they really are 'alternative', some marques can
never be cool, no matter how hard they try. Top of this list Maybach, whose expensively pointless creations
look like the sort of thing that Hitler might have chosen
for his staff car if he were Fuhrer today. Others include
Skoda (a cut price 'people's car), Seat (a Spanish 'people's
car'), and Cadillac (an old people's car).
Poor bhp/ton ratings and wheelbarrow-like handling are
both things that should be studiously avoided. There are
exceptions, of course: the Land Rover Defender has the same
sort of straight line urge and cornering ability as a local
vicar cycling to church in his cassock, but it is forgiven
because it is so capable off road.
8) And finally...colour
Context matters here - a Lancia Delta Integrale Evo looks
brilliant in bright yellow; an AMG Mercedes doesn't.