As a motoring writer, the best car (in some ways) that I drove was also the worst. When I used to have a column in a monthly car magazine, the editor managed to get me a long-term test car, a huge Lexus LS 430 that was mine for a whole year. The only requirement was that I produce 500 bland words about it a month, updates on the progress of my ownership.
I'm sure you've seen the type of thing many times. My reports were supposed to be factual, business-like bulletins. It was emphasised to me that there was no way that I would be able to write any of my usual mad stuff. I thought this would be no problem but, from the start, I had incredible trouble composing these short pieces. I spent a huge amount of time on them, turning down all kinds of other lucrative work such as writing screenplays, novels and epic poems celebrating the life of the President of Syria trying to grind out even one of them. The first ones I submitted were so bad that they were actually knocked back by my editor, making me feel like I was at school again. They had to be rewritten, resentfully, by others on the magazine.
It might have been easier if I'd liked the car so I could write lots of happy, laudatory things about it - but it really wasn't the sort of motor that I would have chosen for myself. To my mind, the Lexus lacked any sort of personality. The interior was a bit dull and plasticky, more suited to the American market, and the exterior styling seemed to be a tribute to the mid-Nineties, those fabulous Major years. Also I felt a bit guilty because my Alfa, which I'd only just bought, was sitting abandoned in a parking lot on Clerkenwell Road while I was carrying on with this Japanese floozy.
On the other hand I didn't feel I could be rude about the thing. This was partly because the editor was excited that he'd managed to get it for me and made me aware that it was a big honour for a columnist to have a long-termer, and also because when the manufacturer has handed a car over for a year I think I felt a subconscious reluctance to criticise the vehicle. This highlights the perils of getting free stuff. It strikes me that celebrities have their souls corrupted because they become addicted to getting everything for nothing - cars, clothes, jewellery, holidays. They want it all without paying for it. But if you accept these gifts then the person who gave it to you owns you. If you did a modern Faustus, Mephisto would wear a little black dress and work for a PR company. Recently, I got Christina Aguilera to perform at my 52nd birthday party by giving her a year's subscription to Practical Classic, a bag of party balloons and a box of different coloured pencils. Now I own her ass!
My only hope in writing my boring reports was that some faults might develop with the vehicle so I could tell the readers about them but, since the car was a Lexus, nothing went wrong with it, ever. Finally, when I was in Spain a minor fault developed. A warning light came on saying the filter of the air-conditioner was blocked. I don't think the Guardia Civil Trafico had ever seen a man dance a happy jig on the hard shoulder because something was wrong with his car. I took the Lexus to a Toyota dealer in Granada, hoping they'd find even more problems. While they examined it, we asked if there was a café nearby and were directed to a Volkswagen dealer on the other side of Avenida Andalusia with a fully functioning bar inside complete with beer taps, spirits, hams hanging from the ceiling and stand-up comedy upstairs on a Friday night. On our return, the car was running perfectly. I nearly cried with frustration.
After that I was considering driving into a wall deliberately, so I could do a report on the damage, when I heard that Lexus/Toyota were worrying about why their car was getting such weird reports. So after nine months they took the Lexus off me and gave it to a staffer.Reuse content