The List






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 (ne 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 undesirables).

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 regulations.

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... anywhere, really.

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).

7) Performance

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.