Motoring: Me & my motor: The naughty boy racer at 68: Judge Pickles is car-crazy - and a Chevrolet Corvette is his latest love. In the first of a new series, Matthew Gwyther goes for a ride

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JUDGE JAMES PICKLES is being a naughty boy again, this time in his car. We are strapped into the judge's 5.7-litre Chevrolet Corvette and storming down a dual carriageway outside his home town of Halifax at 92mph. 'Just look at that,' says His Honour, pointing at the dashboard. 'Ninety-two and only 2,300 rpm. It's not turning over fast at all.' We are passed by a Porsche 911 Turbo and Pickles's nostrils flare, although he declines to take up the gauntlet and put his foot down in pursuit. 'Don't like Porsches,' he snorts. 'Got the engine at the wrong end.'

Judge Pickles bought his Corvette last September, just in time to enjoy the last of the West Yorkshire summer with the roof down. 'I'd always fancied a big engine,' he offers by way of explanation for the absurd- looking brute. 'I was considering a Pontiac Fiero but was advised they aren't very robust. The Corvette is well-made but not that expensive compared to other sports cars.'

After paying pounds 12,000, the 300bhp monster with 22,000 miles on the clock was his. 'I sat inside and I felt I was in another dimension - ABS, leather electric seats, 0-60 in 5.2 seconds. There are some technical aspects I haven't fathomed yet.' What he has fathomed - with the aid of

a fuel consumption meter on the

dashboard - is that his new set of wheels sometimes returns less than 10 miles to the gallon. 'It is environmentally friendly, though,' he explains in defence of his flight of fancy. 'It's got a catalytic converter and I'll be doing only 5,000 miles a year in it.' Somehow he has persuaded his insurance company to cover him for a mere pounds 500 a year.

The Corvette has been in continuous production since 1953, during which time there have been no fewer than six major redesigns, not to mention annual tweaking. It is claimed to be the most popular true two-seater sports car ever, and the millionth Corvette rolled off the line in Bowling Green, Kentucky last year.

The judge's little white Corvette is an LT1 and strictly a two-seater. It sits on some of the widest tyres you will ever see off a Formula One racing track, and Pickles is in for a shock when he pulls into Kwik-Fit for a new set - the bill will be around pounds 800. (Re-moulds are not thought to be available.) The Corvette's ride is bone-jarring even over smooth surfaces, so while on the move Pickles's preferred soundtrack is Greek dance music to keep out road noise.

It is a surprise to come across an unreconstituted boy racer only two years short of his three score and ten, but then Pickles has always gone out of his way to prove his individuality. He has been convicted twice for speeding during his career. He was once caught doing 94-96mph and fined pounds 40. 'It would be pounds 700 if it happened today,' he says, referring to the new rules about means-testing fines. There are, it seems, no special measures taken against judges who misbehave in this way on the road. 'Anyone can be done for speeding,' he says. 'If you kept on getting caught, or if you started behaving like that Blandford man, then someone would have a word with you.'

Had Judge Pickles been tough on car crime during his years on the bench? (This, remember, is a man who once gave a girl seven days for contempt for refusing to give evidence against a man charged with assaulting her.) 'If it was death by reckless driving, I sent people straight to prison,' he says. 'I was also rather hard on people who took other people's cars.

'Cars represent a high proportion of someone's property and their theft causes an awful lot of inconvenience. There are so many louts about these days - uneducated and badly brought-up. We're not tough enough on them.'

With such a fondness for use of the right foot, it is not surprising that Pickles also has a few ideas about changing Britain's speed limits. 'Seventy miles an hour is rather slow, really. But if you raised it to eighty, then everyone would go around at ninety. But my car will safely do a hundred. No problem. Steady as a rock - it has racing-car suspension. But seventy is about right for a clapped out twenty-year- old Mini.' Differential speed limits - there's one for the police to get their minds around. Pickles is not short of advice. His principal source of income since his retirement from the bench has been as a newspaper columnist, first for the Sun and now for the Sport. He has also completed a novel which has yet to find a publisher. 'It's a rather sexy and satirical thing about judges and how they carry on,' he says. This is clearly designed to force himself even further up the nose of the legal establishment than he managed to get when he was actually sitting.

Pickles is car-crazy. In various lock-ups he has collected: a Lamborghini Espada, a Winnebago camper (with a 3-litre V6 engine, 'very heavy on the petrol'), a Jag-

uar XK120 replica (currently for sale), a go-kart (which he has been forced to stop racing round the garden after his neighbours complained about the unmuffled exhaust), a dented Fiesta XR2i (to do the shopping) and the thunderous Corvette in which he and his wife drive to their cottage in Wales at weekends. The first set of Pickles wheels, back in 1952, was a pre-war Hillman Minx: 'It cost more than it did new, and I was poor at the time. They made cars so much better in those days - with proper, thick metal.'

Since his Minx, Pickles has been through dozens of vehicles - including a Ford Popular, a Honda S800, three Fiat X19s (he was done for speeding in these), an original Lotus Elan kit-car (it leaked and constantly overheated in traffic) and a Mazda MX5 which he had custom turbocharged ('That really went. It was chuckable, as well'). To go with the souped-up MX5 he splashed out on an American air force flying jacket, helmet and goggles.

What was the origin of Judge Pickles's passion? 'They're a man's thing, cars,' he says. 'Women aren't interested on the whole.' He has, in the past, described cars somewhat unoriginally as 'penile extensions'. But, ageism aside, what is a 68-year- old doing spending so much time extending his penis? 'Well, I suppose I'm reaching the end of my spirited motoring,' he admits. (He has a bit of a struggle extricating himself from the Corvette's low-slung seats in his flying jacket.)

So, is the Corvette one last defiant fling? 'Maybe.' I wouldn't bet on it.

Pickles is a conscientious consumer of car magazines and has been reading up on the Dodge Viper. The last word in American muscle cars, the Viper takes the Corvette concept a few stages further: 8.0-litre engine, 400bhp and 0-60mph in 4.5 seconds. If the judge acquires one of these, then the West Yorkshire police are going to be busy.

The largest Corvette dealership in Europe is run by a former architect from Snodland in Kent. Tom Falconer has run Claremont since 1977, and sells about 30 cars a year at prices ranging from pounds 6,000 up to about pounds 30,000. 'Corvettes are for people who have money and are financially in control,' Falconer says. 'Porsches are for people who have money and are financially out of control.'

Falconer imports only new cars from the United States. 'There the Corvette makes a very different statement about its driver,' he says. 'It broadcasts that he is single and available in the way that the E-type Jaguar used to do here. It is the ultimate bachelor car.'

Despite this, Tom Falconer is not surprised by men of Pickles's advanced years driving around in his throbbing machines. Mr Falconer senior, an architect who is now 76, has been behind the wheel of a Corvette for the last five years. 'You don't provide your dad with a car that

will let him down,' Falconer says. 'Corvettes go on forever and are

extremely reliable.'-

(Photograph omitted)

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