Chamois vs Crewe's missile

John Simister swaps his Imp-ish Singer for a 300-horsepower mobile mansion

Imagine. A weekend with a Rolls-Royce, and a brand-new one at that. A weekend in a Silver Spur, a car that costs almost exactly the same as our last house, which we sold two years ago for pounds 139,942. A weekend of fantasy and social experimentation.

I drive many different cars in the course of writing road test reports, but I'm not blase yet. However, I wouldn't really want to own a Silver Spur. A Ferrari 456GT is more my line, should the ownership opportunity arise. But I'm fairly confident it won't, so the only car that I own will remain my ancient but shiny Singer Chamois. But my Chamois, a sort of Hillman Imp Ghia, can still stand proud in the face of all this larger- than-life splendour, because it, too, has polished walnut veneer on its dashboard and doors, and lots of sparkly chrome bits. And it's just as perversely British, even if it is half the size and a third of the weight.

Besides, it's a chore inching the Rolls-Royce up my drive, which has high, stone-walled banks on either side, an awkward bend a third of the way up, and a tight turning area behind my back door. I've just brought the car back from Rolls-Royce's Crewe factory, where the latest changes to the range of hand-built motor cars - they're always "motor cars" at Crewe - have been detailed to me. In essence, the deal is body-colour bumpers, new interior colour schemes and a wider range of options. Radical updates are not Crewe's style; after all, the current Rolls-Royce shape has been around only since 1981. (New models are on the way, though.)

Back at home, I'm soon caught up in a 17-point turn, so that when I next go out, I can go forwards. To go backwards would be to risk wearing away too many layers of that lustrous paintwork.

It's not so much the vastness that's the problem, more the squareness of the car. It gets in the way of the walls. Still, the air-conditioning keeps me cool. There's even some condensation forming on the giant chrome air vents, whose output is varied between Force One and Force 10 by pulling or pushing knobs like chrome organ stops.

Finally, it is parked. A Rolls-Royce, in my drive. Has my house just expanded? Is that a stone portico I see, and a ha-ha in the distance? No, but the Spur undoubtedly belongs. For a couple of days, at least.

That was Friday. Today is Saturday, and we're driving down, wife, daughter and I, to Brighton to see some friends who are staying at the Grand Hotel. In the boot is a picnic hamper or two, folding chairs and a table, but there's less space in there than you'd expect in a car so vast.

The vastness has a magnificent effect on the motorways, though. The Motor Car towers above every other, like a whale in a sea of plankton, and just the sight of that plated prow is enough to have the plebeians scuttling out of the way in due deference.

Nowhere to park on the Grand forecourt? Such a snag is of no importance to the Rolls-Royce owner-driver, or to a non-owner-driver like me. You simply stop, and smile at the doorman. He then engages you in polite conversation (the matter of the Rolls-Royce's retail price is, I'm sorry to say, broached early on) while showing pleasure at the beneficial effect the motor car is having on the hotel's ambience. It compensates for the scaffolding, which has not been showing the Grand in its grandest light.

Passengers installed in the leather chairs, with their toes buried in lambswool rugs, the Spur's "beverage holders" holding beverages, we waft off into the South Downs in search of a picnic venue. I daren't do more than waft, because while the Silver Spur is unexpectedly fast (it has a gently turbocharged 6,750cc V8 engine with 300bhp and a pulling power approaching that of one of Eddie Stobart*s finest), it does not like to be rushed if there's a corner involved. If I get too carried away, my charges heave around and the sense of occasion gives way to a sense of sickness. So it's a gentle drive to a country-park-type place, where we park among rusting Cavaliers and time-expired Sierras.

Do we feel just a tiny bit embarrassed? Yes, but we have to brazen it out. After all, I can't go running to the owners of the other cars and say, "Yes, I know it's a bit extravagant, but actually it isn't mine. You see, I write about cars, and I've borrowed this one, and ..."

Then a strange truth dawns. No one minds the Rolls-Royce. In fact, people like to see it, to admire it; there are no curled lips of envy, no mouthed obscenities. A Rolls-Royce is still seen by most folk as a beautiful and fine thing. To consider it naff is not a popular view outside the realms of champagne socialism.

I muse on this later, as I fill up the vast petrol tank and cause the cashier to telephone the credit card company because I've burst the card transaction limit. Is this a less jealous society than I thought? Or is it that I look so unlikely to be a Rolls-Royce owner that no one takes the idea seriously? A chap could get a severe crisis of confidence if he pursued this line of thought too vigorously.

Back to the Grand, goodbye to our friends, and another conversation and financial appraisal from the doorman. Then it's the motorway homewards, cocooned in cool opulence while ordinary folk swelter in the summer heat, and finally another 17-point turn to within inches of the rose bushes. Well, I've rather enjoyed the Rolls-Royce experience, and so has Mrs Simister. Miss Simister (aged 10), however, is a good deal more blase than her father. "I was a bit disappointed with the Rolls-Royce," says she. "It hasn't got enough gadgets." It has, however, got more gadgets than a Singer Chamois.

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