Most Londoners hate the 'supercar season' - but for the spotters, it's petrol heaven

The annual parade of gaudy foreign supercars in central London has infuriated local residents, but at least it has the backing of teenage enthusiasts. Adam Lusher joins them
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Indy Lifestyle Online

They were ready. They had studied the targets' routines: where they would be, at what times. Thanks to a spotter outside a Knightsbridge hotel, they knew that the subjects were en route. So when the £1m Pagani Huayra and hulking Mercedes 6x6 swept around the corner outside Harrods, they were perfectly poised to leap into the road and hose the two supercars down with their cameras.

Such cars, the high-powered playthings of Middle Eastern billionaires, have infuriated the residents of Knightsbridge and provoked legal counter-measures by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC). But one group, its numbers seemingly growing exponentially, loves them. They are the spotters: mostly male teenagers, and what one commentator called "the Xbox demographic". And they all carried cameras, obeying the unwritten rule: "Pictures – or it didn't happen."

In the time it took the drivers to wave to a passing Bugatti Veyron and park (on double yellows), the gaggle of about five dedicated observers had swelled to a crowd of at least 30. They stood, bowed and kneeled, photographing the cars from every conceivable angle.

Aaron Doughty, 17, of Welling, south-east London, admired the "artistic detail", the exquisitely-crafted wheel nuts of the 6x6. "It's mind-blowing," he said, "To see such rare cars together. And the passing Veyron: £2.5m worth of cars on one street corner…"

Nor was he surprised that the crowd had gathered so quickly. Some spotters can take one look at a supercar and reel off its unique vehicle identification number. And with such dedication, it's easy to develop a network of fellow spotters who will alert you to a car's presence, or indeed follow a particularly prized specimen from the hotel on its short journey to Harrods.

Supercar spotters will study the Instagram accounts of the owners, working out which vehicles will visit during the summer 'supercar season' (when the billionaires and their cars escape the desert heat by decamping to London). Spot a newly arrived supercar, be the first to post a picture on Instagram, and social media kudos is yours. But just seeing these beasts in their "natural habitat" – being driven, on a road, not at a show stand – was thrill enough.

"It's like a dream," said Will Tooley, 16, whose current vehicle is a bicycle. "You see something to aim for, something you would love to drive." Will had travelled from Nottingham for the day, a round trip of four hours – impressive, until you heard about guys flying in from America.But now the dream is threatened. RBKC has suggested putting a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) on most of Knightsbridge, making it a criminal offence to rev engines, accelerate rapidly, race or perform stunts.

The residents of Knightsbridge may have rejoiced, but the spotters despaired. The anger-inducing noise, they claimed, is caused not by Middle Eastern billionaires in supercars, but by British boy racers in BMWs. The only people who might be scared away by the new regulations, they said, would be the innocent super-rich, with all their money and all their cars. The attention given to genuine supercars, insisted Tim Burton, 27, a spotting pioneer, had attracted wannabes: "Brits in sports cars that aren't very exclusive – BMWs, tuned-up cars with flame-thrower kits and other stupid stuff on them."

Unlike the attention-seeking "poseurs", he added, "the guys with real money and real cars don't care about revving and making noise. If they want to do that, they can afford to fly their car to another country, rent a race track and pay the world's best F1 driver to coach them...The car is just a means of getting from A to B. It's simply a case of 'If we're going to be driving, we'd rather do it in a £1 million Bugatti than something generic.' Funny world, isn't it?"

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Spot checks: enthusiasts come to London from all over the UK to take photos (Micha Theiner)

The chauffeur of the 6x6, and the accompanying security guy, two south London lads calling themselves "TheDriver84" and "The Wolf of Knightsbridge" tried to persuade passing architect Stuart Haden, 72, of their boss'sgood manners. He was, they insisted, a man of quiet class. He wanted them to "drive elegant". But, said Haden, "I have actually seen the drivers making the noise. And they look Arabic."

"TheDriver84" and "The Wolf" did, at least, have some luck in persuading The Independent that the Saudi owner never actually stepped inside his £500,000 Mercedes 6x6. ("It's just for the entourage," they said, as if anything else would be silly.) And yes, he did pay the parking tickets which, according to awestruck spotters, he collected on a daily basis. And most nights the cars got a crowd of at least 100.

The spotting, it seems, is getting bigger and bigger. When Tim Burton posted his first online supercar video in 2010, he was one of five regulars. Now, he said, just those spotting in London number "many hundreds". While that first 2010 video – of a Ferrari 458 Italia and Lamborghini LP670-4 Superveloce – got 10,000 views, Mr Burton's "Shmee 150" YouTube channel will now get 300,000 views a day. Which might suggest that if Kensington and Chelsea councillors do impose the suggested PSPO, they will make a lot of spotters unhappy. Not that Mr Haden seemed too worried. "I've just signed a petition about this," he said.

And so, the fragile habitat of supercar and spotter remains threatened. But for now, Aaron Doughty had got the selfie of his reflection in the Pagani's wing mirror. The night was young, there were hopes of a Ferrari LaFerrari. "This," he said, camera poised, "is a good night."

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