The importance, or not, of our Nigel's spin-offs: He may look like a walking billboard, but can Nigel Mansell really boost a product's sales, or popularise a trend? Jonathan Glancey does some research

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Indy Lifestyle Online
'NIGEL MANSELL? No doubt about it,' says the Renault showroom manager. 'Sales are on the up, particularly for the 16-valve Renault 19. That's our fastest standard production car: 132mph, 0-60 in eight seconds - it's giving the Golf and Peugeot GTi's a hard time and we've had more inquiries than usual this week. Mansell's changed our image quite a bit. Renault used to be seen as a solid family make, but now we've got some very fast cars that owe quite a bit of their development to technology learnt out there with Nigel on the race track. Renault UK hasn't been affected by the recession. Two years ago we had about a 3 per cent share of the UK market; this year it looks like being 5 per cent'.

But surely it is the new models such as the Clio and the clever advertising campaigns focusing on a fantasy French way of life, rather than the heroics of the Grand Prix circuit, that have pushed this smart supermini into the British market?

Renault's press office answers: 'What Mansell's success at Silverstone and elsewhere does is get people into the showrooms; Renault is on more people's shopping list in Britain than ever before. They don't buy the 165mph A610 Alpine-Renault, our fastest car, it's true - we expect to sell only 100 of these this year - but, the Mansell victories prove just how reliable the new generation of hi-tech Renault engines is; Mansell's engines have been magnificent.'

Can the millions of pounds Renault pumps into the Williams Formula One racing team (total budget, about pounds 30m) be said to be cost effective? Don't people buy Renaults because they like the idea of a French car and the dream of that perfect French holiday in Dordogne or Provence? Nigel Mansell hardly conjures up this image. 'You mean Mansell and the the British Grand Prix versus chic campaigns? The advertising guys could argue that point with you all summer.'

A swift half of lager

The barman at Henry J Beans, on the King's Road, Chelsea, and no stranger to the tastes of sporting crowds (Chelsea FC is not far away), says: 'They'll drink whatever's fashionable, whatever's advertised most. Becks is a big seller because everyone knows the name and because it's a decent brew; Mexican beer with a slice of lime has been going down well this summer.' What about Labatt's, as advertised by Mansell? 'It's a name not everyone knows.' Two barmen in Soho thought the same. Labatt's is on the way. If Mansell becomes world champion this season, perhaps they will be supping Labatt's the length and breadth of his Hereford and Worcester.

Jasons, yes. Nigels, no

Has there been a sudden surge of new-born Nigels this week? Are Midlands' mums and dads rushing down to the register offices to name their offspring after the hero of Silverstone, whose name is embroidered on the belt of his racing suit? 'Not yet,' says the lady in a Worcester register office (Mansell was born in Upton upon Severn, near Tewkesbury); 'it's a bit too early to say; we've had our fair share of Kylies and Jasons, like everyone else. I heard of one Andre after Wimbledon, but no Nigels as of yet.'

The 'Births' column in the Times, where traditionally one might have expected one or two Nigels, eschews the name this week; middle-class boys appear to be called Benjamin, Benedict or Callum; the Independent offers Tom and Andrew, but nary a Nigel.

Nigel has never been the prettiest of names, but Mansell's parents must have had an inkling of their son's future: the name is derived from the Irish Niul or Niardh, meaning 'champion'. Nigel is clearly living up to his name.

Firing up the Canon image

Canon sells photocopiers and cameras. No one pretends Mansell's win at Silverstone will bring instant sales of office equipment, but cameras are often bought on a whim and are always out in force at Grand Prix race meetings. The man at Dixons says: 'Cameras definitely do sell when personalities give them a boost, as David Bailey has for Olympus. Canon isn't a cheap brand - it's not exactly your disposable camera - so people think long and hard before buying one. But if Mansell was to appear in ads shooting a Canon, I'm sure sales would go up.'

The flying flag

Mansell, as British as the Cox's Orange Pippins grown in the orchards around Upton upon Severn, sports a Union Jack on the right knee of his Sparco flame-retardant jumpsuit. Last week he carried the flag in the cockpit of his Williams-Renault on his lap of honour at Silverstone. British fans swarmed on to the track to fan Nigel with hundreds of Union Jacks as their hero crossed the chequered flag with a swarm of 200mph cars still on his tail. One flag waver was, he said, happy to be knocked down (but, thankfully, uninjured) by Mansell's car.

The invasion of the race track and the sheer number of Union Jacks at Silverstone last week suggested that the great British yob had discovered Grand Prix. 'The numbers were certainly up on last year, by about 20,000,' says a spokesman for the RAC Motor Sports Association. 'But, look, I'm no pyschologist and can't really say whether Grand Prix is attracting the football crowd.'

'What's new is that this year a section of the crowd was unable to wait two or three minutes after the last car had crossed the flag. They were a bit more excited than usual and it's not something we expected. We don't expect anything like it to happen again until next year's British Grand Prix, so we have time to think of a solution.' We don't want to rush in and put barriers up. Barriers on a motor-racing circuit are there to keep the cars away from the crowd, and not the other way round.'

Mansell's victory at Silverstone undoubtedly encouraged an outburst of chauvinistic behaviour last week. Is the British Grand Prix destined to go the way of football? 'It's happened in cricket, tennis and even in golf this summer,' says the RAC man, adding: 'The yobs will go when Nigel falls, which, of course, is what none of us wants.'

That wind-in-the-hair feeling

Moustaches come in pairs, like trousers and pyjamas, but Nigel sports a single bushy moustache, 'a grammatical error, as it were, on his upper lip', says a connoisseur of male grooming.

Mansell's singular moustache is not in the tradition of great British moustaches - walrus, Piccadilly weeper, Dundrearie - but the kind you expect to see dripping with froth under a flat cap and over a pint of locally brewed ale. Which is more or less Mansell's no-nonsense, local-lad-made-good image. Graham Hill was the last of the old school of 'wizard prang' racing drivers to wear moustaches; his spivvy, pencil-thin versions suited his dedicated 'amateur' style of racing as exactly as Mansell's singular and solid moustache reflects the younger driver's steely and highly professional approach to winning. The Mansell moustache seems unlikely, however, to catch on.

The obscure smell of success

'Do you stock Pizazz?' The girl in Boots stares. 'Wha?' 'Pizazz. It's the scent Nigel Mansell wears on his stomach; the Cologne Activ Sport by Parfums Lafort.'

'Oh, Pizarze,' she says, brightening. 'Does he wear that? It's for women, by Rochas. We don't stock it, only the big branches of Boots and department stores.' 'Is it posh?' 'I thinks it's about pounds 17.95, so it's in the middle, really.' The girl at Harrods says: 'Sorry, sir, never heard of it.'

(Photograph omitted)

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