Whether you’re looking to buy your first motor or blow the budget on a top-of-the-range sports car, Graham Scott will steer you in the right direction
By Graham Scott
When asked what car might best suit a gentleman, many might assume a chauffeur-driven classic Rolls-Royce to be the most obvious choice. However, the reality is that a mud-splattered, dog-hairdecorated, ancient 4×4 or estate is the preferred—and much loved—vehicle.
One landed gentleman of my acquaintance has a filthy Subaru Legacy Outback, inside which his two Rhodesian ridgebacks have made such short work of chewing the seat’s headrests that they look as if they’ve been savaged by a shark. Similarly, the Harrow-educated racing driver Richard Attwood drives an Audi A8 and, for years, he used to turn up to the smartest events in his Peugeot 405 estate, which had more than 400,000 miles on the clock.
COUNTRY LIFE once asserted that a gentleman might drive ‘an ageing Land Rover, a trusty Volvo or an old MG’. However, footballers are fond of the Bentley Continental GT, quite a few royals have Audis and bespoke Range Rover specialists such as Overfinch try to downplay that they have customers called Wayne and Coleen. All is not what it seems.
So how does a chap choose the right vehicle for the right stage of his life? Well, let me be your navigator. However, before we jump into the hardware, let’s not forget the software. Whatever the vehicle, a gentleman drives with consideration and with brio not bravado.
Your first car
It makes sense to start small and then build up by beginning with a BMW Mini or one of the trio of VWs—the up!, Polo or Golf—but we’re going for the Fiat Panda 4×4. It’s a quirky and uncommon city car on stilts, so whether you’re in town or on muddy country lanes, the competent 4×4 system gets you there safe and sound.
The 0.9-litre two-cylinder TwinAir model works surprisingly well and is reasonably fuel and emission-efficient. If buying new, there are plenty of spec options, both inside and out.
New, the Panda 4×4 TwinAir retails at about £14,575, but residuals slide, so a fiveyear-old Cross (a more 4×4 version) would be about £6,000.
For your first job
Time to assert your personality now, as a job brings status and more freedom. Some might go for something sporty and stylish such as a CLIO Renaultsport or Fiat 500 Abarth, although others might want the solidity of a Volkswagen Golf, so let’s combine those two requirements in the Volkswagen Golf R32.
The new Golf R, with its powerful 2.0-litre turbocharged engine and 4WD, is a suitable successor and the company has just announced an estate version. But the R32—the 240bhp, AWD, 3.2-litre V6 Golf sold in Mk4 and Mk5 models—is the daddy. With searing performance, handling and spec, with power from tickover to the 6,750rpm redline, the R32 looks almost ‘normal’, although the details and thrilling exhaust give it away.
A wolf in sheep’s clothing, this is a gentleman’s racer, not a boy racer. From £8,000 to £11,000 for a 2006–2008 version.
For a growing family
The responsibilities and compromises are mounting up. You need flexible space, for children and, of course, dogs, but you also want some style. What do you need—perhaps an older Range Rover, a new, second-generation Volvo XC90 or an Audi Q7? On balance, I’d go for the Audi RS6 Avant (estate).
Essentially, it’s a family car that can handle children, luggage and dogs in any configuration, with 4WD, adjustable ride height and 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 producing well over 500bhp. Superb handling, fearsome performance and brilliant eight-speed auto meet a wonderful interior, the ability to waft along (important in a gentleman’s conveyance) and a discreet rarity value.
Prices start at about £75,000 and the Audi configurator allows you to fully customise the car to your taste and budget.
For when the children have left home
Now the birds have flown the nest, your car is no longer required to be a wipe-clean taxi service. It’s your time again and a Land Rover is a great choice for whatever you want to do next, especially because most models have a handy split tailgate to sit on when picnicking at a point-to-point.
However, we’re going for something more selfish and condensed. No, not a Harley-Davidson, but the Mercedes-AMG SLK 55. There’s ample room for two in this luxurious, classy interior, under a quick-folding hard-top. Under the bonnet lies a 5.5-litre V8, ensuring there’s more than 400bhp on tap, which means you can go incredibly quickly without appearing to be trying at all. Sharp handling, great build and restrained enhancements make this a perfect vehicle for the recently liberated.
Prices from about £55,000.
For when money is no object
You’ve made it, success on your terms, with more than adequate compensation. Now, what to buy? At this stage of your life, the choices are wider, but they depend on you now, what you want or, in reality, what you can physically handle. Do you want real luxury you can sink into or do you want refined power and performance?
For example, a Maserati GranTurismo (priced from about £80,000) or a Bugatti Veyron (just out of production, but about £1.4 million for the 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse) might fit the bill, but we’re going to buy British. The bellwether, the pinnacle, of the classic-car market has to be the E-type Jaguar (above). That long bonnet, those graceful, iconic lines, the straight-six engine: it really is a classic.
There are many badly restored versions out there, but we’d go for the 4.2-litre coupé. It’s less expensive than the earlier 3.8, but is easier to own and drive. A properly restored version, say 1965–7 vintage, will be between £105,000 and £110,000.
For the ultimate lap of luxury, opt for the Rolls-Royce Ghost EWB (below), the more compact version of the Phantom. The latest iteration has even better ride, an even more opulent interior and ample power from the twin-turbo V12 engine.
Priced from about £230,000, this is the Rolls-Royce for drivers as much as chauffeurs.