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Why size really matters

Big engines make for happier motoring. Tax smaller company cars off the roads, says Jonathan Glancey
Last month, Sir John Egan, chairman of British Airports Authority, spoke on the future of transport in 21st-century London. Facts and figures at his fingertips, Sir John put the boot into the car, attacking this monstrous form of selfish urban locomotion. The tax 'em, ban 'em brigade was suitably encouraged. Yet when the debate was over and the crowds dispersed, Sir John was swept away in a gleaming new, chauffeur-driven 4.0-litre Jaguar Sovereign. Sir John must be finding it hard to escape his past as the former chairman of Jaguar, makers of big-engined luxury cars.

Sir John's choice of transport was particularly odd, because he was all but siding on every point in the debate with new Labour's transport policy,whose key feature is a big tax on cars with big engines.

I, however, share Sir John's quandary. Not only did I have a swanky, air-conditioned Jag of my own parked around the corner, but I have been a shameless fan of the lithe mechanical cats from Coventry since I first saw a brand new 3.8-litre Mk2 saloon purring out of a garage showroom the summer before I started school. I believe that the 3.8-litre Jaguar twin-cam XK and the Jaguar V12 are two of the finest petrol engines ever built. I have driven, and even raced, many thousands of miles behind both over the past 15 years and have nothing but praise for their bravura engineering. I also happen to believe that big engines, whether a loafing American V8 or a fast-spinning BMW V12, make for better and happier motoring.

Before I am taken for some familiar of Steven Norris or an ecological terrorist, let me say, in politically correct mitigation, that I also burn up shoe-leather rather than Dunlop rubber in city streets, take public transport whenever appropriate, ride bicycles in fits and spurts and thrill, as I did when a teenager, to day-long continental train journeys.

I am a committee member of the new "London on Foot" campaign but also the proud owner of a second-hand Jaguar V12 Sovereign - 12 cylinders, 5.3 litres, 300 brake-horsepower, lashings of walnut and leather and a 37cwt body of sensually sculpted steel.

Of course the car, unbridled, is a monster . There is, however, every reason to lower road tax on cars like my own V12 Jag, while raising it on the nasty little sub-2000cc executive buzz-boxes that scream past me at 100mph-plus on the fast lane of motorways, driven almost exclusively by inadequate males (yes, I know what they say about men who drive cars, like Jaguars, with long bonnets) in the death throes of terminal road rage.

Give a car a small engine, a big body, a dangling Hugo Boss suit and a bootload of fish-paste samples, and its driver will thrash the thing within a square inch of its mechanical life.

The company car is a menace and should be taxed to the point of extinction. Are tough, no-nonsense business executives incapable of buying their own cars? Are there no trains? It is time to clear our roads of cars in the 1300-2000cc business-class bracket, thus reducing at a stroke the national energy bill and putting an end to road rage.

The rest of us, cocooned in Jaguars and other big-hearted cars will purr along newly liberated highways and byways, content merely to caress our throttles and, in general, drive like gents of the old school. After all, when did you last see a big-engined car being driven maniacally? And, who could possibly get hot under the collar in a car like a V12 Jaguar, in which the volume of the radio does not need to be turned up as road speed increases?

Cars with small engines encourage drivers to thrash their overstressed mounts. To get a move on they must fuse accelerators to the floor, encouraging their cheap and cheerless tin boxes to scream in mechanical pain. Driven in this unforgiving manner, the small-engined car develops a surprisingly dipsomaniacal thirst while emitting torrents of noxious fumes.

Inside - because small-engined cars are nearly always kitted out with nasty-to-touch, vile-smelling and ugly plastics, and fabrics adapted from high street branches of building societies - drivers and passengers are offered no soothing distraction from the racket raging under the bonnet. For this alone - aesthetic torture - the superfluous company car should be taxed until its fan-belt squeals.

The danger is that those ignorant of the virtues of Bentleys and Jaguars, Deusenbergs and Hispano-Suizas will also tax these gentle giants off the road. If that day ever comes, I would still pay to visit a gallery (on foot, of course) displaying their magnificent engines, with Sir John Egan as knowledgeable company. No amount of horsepower, however, could drag me to a show of engines gouged from the likes of stressed-out Mondeos and Vectras.