Nick Foulkes on how the wheels came off his posh-car fetish and why his dream ride is now a Moke
MAYBE IT IS to do with getting older but, mirabile dictu, my compulsion to drive an expensive car appears to have been lifted off me. It is an affliction that seems to have evaporated without my noticing, and I really don’t know how it happened.
Even before I held a driving licence I owned a mildly preposterous car: a 1968 Mercedes 280SE, a stately barge of a vehicle that was eloquently expressive of the engineering might of West Germany at the height of its Wirtschaftswunder years. It was a fabulous car with a black Bakelite steering wheel that seemed to have been yanked off a cruise ship, stacked headlamps and an Olympic-sized sunroof; it was the kind of thing you might imagine driving to the coronation of Emperor Bokassa I of Central Africa in 1977.
Later I went to test-drive the then new convertible Rolls-Royce in Palm Springs. It was a Damascene moment. Much like Mr Toad, who, pushed off the road in his brightly painted gypsy caravan by an early motorist, emerges from the wreckage of his Romany dream in thrall to the vision of speed that was the horseless carriage, I left the celebrated desert resort with a burning desire to get behind the wheel of my own Crewe-built behemoth.
In the end I found myself buying a barely used late model Bentley Turbo R. It was a wonderful vehicle, black with parchment leather seats; when I activated the remote locking system at night the whole thing lit up with a warm glow resembling nothing so much as Chatsworth or Castle Howard at Christmas.
I grew to love that car, or I am sure I would have grown to love it had I not, after ten days of proud ownership, ploughed into the side of a coach. The Turbo R has a lofty disdain for the rain: its windscreen wipers are as big and useful as a pair of cocktail sticks and if there is a touch of moisture on the road it handles rather less well than a grand piano on ice. Clearly when they designed this car, Bentley’s market research had revealed that owners of Bentleys know better than to take their Turbo Rs out in the wet.
Alas, I must have skipped that page in the driver’s manual, and so I found myself performing graceful, almost balletic 360° twirls as I bounced alongside a coach on the way into Heathrow Airport one rainy afternoon in 2001.
Undaunted, I clambered from the twisted, gently steaming remains of the car as the just-mangled metal settled into its newly acquired form and dialled Jack Barclay to ask if they could find me another one. They did, and it was a beauty: triple black. I even bought a fitted black shearling rug for the boot. The thing about a Bentley Turbo R is that it gets through brakes rather rapidly — however, the concomitant effect of being light on the foot is that while you may save on brakes, you will hit things: walls, taxis and on one occasion a deer in the park belonging to a friend at whose stately home I was staying.
Eventually I had to call it a day. I always like to be ahead of the trend and I got my own credit crunch in a little before 2005; for a while I had a couple of long-term loans from the nice people at Jaguar and continued to run the family Grand Cherokee. We still have the Cherokee, but those loan Jaguars have been replaced by a Pashley bicycle, which has the same sort of commanding driving position that I enjoyed in the Bentley, albeit without the prairie-like bonnet and the rug-lined boot. Moreover, I have started to take a real pride in the Cherokee.
As anyone who visits London during the ‘Season’ knows, the streets are clogged with the latest Rolls-Royces and Lamborghinis and appallingly pimped luxury cars of all hues. Amid such an automotive cacophony, the antique Cherokee is a unique voice, with its temperamental locking system, its peripatetic seat adjustment mechanism, and its chic, craquelured wing mirrors that demonstrate a commendable independence of action.
I don’t think one really ever gets a Bentley out of one’s system. All it takes is a test drive of the new Continental GT, such as the one I took in Oman last year and I can relapse into a fortnight of car envy — until the costs of insuring, fuelling and then crashing this sort of car scare me back on to the Brooks saddle of the Pashley.
These days my sights are set a little lower. When the sun makes its brief appearances, I find myself quite fancying the idea of a Mini Moke, the utility vehicle that likes to think it is a golf cart. They were all the rage in the 1960s and are quite sought after now; so much, in fact, that a really ‘sorted’ (as I believe they say at my local branch of Arthur Daley) Moke can cost as much as a high-mileage early-model Bentley Turbo…
Illustration by Sonia Hensler