Let's start right in the heart of the capital. It's the lunch hour and you fancy shopping for cars, so you might be disappointed to discover just a handful of showrooms. That's because rents are high, display space limited, and even dealers feel the pinch, unless of course they operate at the high profit, luxury end of the market. Mayfair has plenty of glass and marble palaces with the legendary Jack Barclay in Berkeley Square as the prime site, always full of sumptuous Rolls-Royces and Bentleys. The imposing commissionaire is there to put off those who want to go beyond the window shopping and drooling stage.
Next door is a less imposing Citroen dealership, although the status quo is re-established towards Piccadilly in Berkeley Street, where Stratstone's huge Jaguar, Range Rover and Aston Martin showroom dominates the area.
Opposite the Ritz is Saab's prime West End site and next door is Mercedes-Benz's export division, should you wish to take one abroad.
Around the corner on Park
Lane there are Mercedes, BMW and Toyota dealerships. No wonder McLaren, purveyors of the half-million-pound-plus supercar, decided to establish a showroom here to flog the F1. Hardly surprising that the Sultan of Brunei, car collector and head of state, bought The Dorchester situated in the centre of this upmarket car park.
Those with more modest means can slip into Soho and visit Stratstone's pocket-sized Rover showroom in Poland Street, currently containing a couple of Mini Coopers - the ultimate town car.
There are more gilt-edged outfits in Knightsbridge. Bugatti has recently opened a Lotus showroom packed full of exotica, including Maserati and Ferrari, as well as the odd Bugatti in Cheval Place. Porters, just off the Cromwell Road in Kensington, has plenty of true vintage and veteran stock, as do nearby auctioneers Coys of Kensington in Queen's Gate Mews, who also retail similar cars. Another Mews inhabitant, Gregor Fisken, has a cache of Thirties' Bentleys and Sixties' Aston Martins.
It is fascinating how certain areas of London attract pockets of specialists. In Wimbledon there is an outbreak of 'hot-hatch' showrooms, like GTI on the Broadway, with a huge line-up of Peugeots, Golfs and other small fast cars. A few yards down the road is Renault dealer Radbourne Racing, with a long racing tradition, and not far away on the Kingston Road, both Independent Motors and Wimbledon Carriage Company have even more sports cars.
Alfa Romeo has colonised London. Owners Fiat have opened a new car showroom in Baker Street and renowned specialists, like nearby Lombarda and Ramponi Rockwell, have dozens of used Alfas to choose from. Stray south to Charles Ivey in Richmond, or north to Kingsbury specialist Alfa II. More Alfa dealers are buried in deepest south London making the capital easily the best place in Britain to buy a new or used Alfa.
For serious shopping trips go west. At White City there is the trade centre with hundreds of fresh off-the-fleet, tired-looking but low-priced, used cars, from ex-rep Mondeos to ex-MD BMWs. If that isn't enough, get back on the Westway and call in at the Car Supermarket in Acton, a big blue building full of even more ex-company cars. It doesn't stop there because half a mile up the road is Venture Value, another large lot of ex-lease cars. Renault London's headquarters is just a few yards away and is the biggest new and used showroom of its type. Sandwiched between all of these is Former Glory, which always has a gorgeous selection of MG roadsters to tempt passers-by.
From there you could slip past Hanger Lane and down to the Chiswick roundabout, stopping at Warwick Wright - the largest Peugeot
dealer in the UK - and contrast its stock with the Chequered Flag which has the modern-day equivalent of the MG, the Mazda MX5.
Going north out of London on the Edgware Road, beyond the Euston flyover, there are several general used-car lots. Crossing the North Circular Road and on to Colindale opens up the dealership prairies. You can graze amongst Toyota, Jaguar, Volvo, Vauxhall, Volkswagen, Renault, Ford and many other common cars, or stop off at Libramotive, which sells that most uniquely British of cars, the Morgan.
Should you wander east, then apart from pockets of used-car lots in Hackney and Bethnal Green, it is interesting to see several conspicuously opulent showrooms erected, presumably, expectation of a Docklands-based motoring boom: Lancaster's heavily-fortified Mercedes and Porsche showroom on the Mile End Road and nearby Land Rover Citygate Bow are hard to miss. However, the real jewel in the east is the Romford Road. Six miles of used-car nirvana.
Of course, the usual Ford, Nissan and Vauxhall showrooms are all there - 70 or so showrooms and forecourts full of used cars that stretch the six miles from Stafford to Romford. Amongst the thousands of cars there you will undoubtedly find exactly what you want. It just takes time to sift through all the bangers and salesman's waffle before uncovering a bargain. I have yet to find a better area in London for the committed tyre-kicker.
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