Fast cars and naked women

Are in this article, but I've made it sound more exciting than it is

4y ago

Coming up on The Grand Tour: I drive the new Honda NSX. But here now, on Drivetribe, something that isn’t in the film: I drive the original NSX.

A bit of ancient history first. I started working on car magazines in 1990, as a sub-editor on Autocar. I was later fired. But one week we had the new and incredibly exciting NSX in for test, and one evening I was allowed to take it home.

This car, it was touted at the time, would be as exotic as the then Ferrari rival (the 348, not regarded as one of Fezza’s better efforts) but over a third cheaper, and as reliable and easy to drive as a Civic. At the time, ‘reliability’ in Italian exotica was still something of a nebulous concept, and they had a reputation for being hard work. The gearbox wouldn’t work properly until its oil had warmed up, for example.

But none of this meant anything to me. Firstly, I was a sub, not a road tester, so I was pretty low down the class system for driving the cars, although I had tried a Civic. I was also only 27. And I’d never driven a mid-engined car before, not even a Fiat X1/9, nor anything so rare and valuable.

I drove around in it pretty much all night, and I loved it. I was so mesmerised I didn’t even think to go and pick up my then girlfriend in it. I just drove around England in a youthful stupor of disbelief.

It really was pretty easy to drive, and when I was allowed a day in a Mondial some months later, I was amazed at how much ‘management’ it seemed to need. The Honda really did knock over many of the assumptions about supercar ownership.

'It was like stumbling across an album I'd loved as a student'

Soichiro May

Many things happened, I was fired from lots of other magazines, I drove and even owned innumerable mid-engined cars, and then found myself in 2016 with the new NSX. But there, at our track, was also a perfectly preserved original, brought along for illustrative purposes. Well, I had to have a go in that. It was like stumbling across an album I’d loved as a student.

It was crap. It didn’t help that it was an automatic, because even a Japanese automatic from the early 90s changes gear with the conviction of me at the edge of a high diving board. It was also cumbersome, rolly polly, heavy and dull in the steering, and quite unbelievably slow. Driving the new NSX was as undemanding and pleasurable as balancing a pencil on your fingertip. The old one was like carrying a suitcase.

You wouldn't use this washing machine, would you?

You wouldn't use this washing machine, would you?

Should have known, of course. Never meet your heroes, especially not those from formative periods of your life. It’s why I never want to meet Derek Griffiths or Brian Cant. By the age of 27, I was fully formed in that I had two testicles, my voice had broken and I shaved, but I was woefully incomplete as a car enthusiast. That’s why the NSX made such a huge and memorable impression on me in 1990. It lived in my mind like the vision of Catherine Anderson when I saw her naked in 1984. But I haven’t seen her since.

This is at the root of my growing inner conflict about old cars. Car history is fascinating, because it’s about so much more than cars. It’s about society, humanity, our dreams and misplaced conceits, global power struggles, and our often comedic vision of how we thought the future would be. Car styling is similarly fascinating, because it’s an important part of the history of art and design.

But you don’t want to drive old cars. They’re just not very good. If they were, they’d still be making them.

Credits: Getty Images

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Comments (124)

  • What about slow cars and naked woman?

      3 years ago
  • Interesting viewpoint. Are all old cars poor to drive? I don't know. I haven't recently driven any of the cars I drove when young. I did buy a 308 in 2005 and I must say it was poor crap. I probably wasn't prepared for the fact that it was from a different time and drove like it.

      3 years ago
  • You see it's not about the car it's about what they mean to you. I am from India and there weren't any great cars then or there are now in my country. when I was little I sat in a mahindra Jeep the same car you featured in your worst car ever top gear special and I was amused, excited and in awe of the thing, it was then when I first learnt that if you open the bonnet you can see the engine, my absolute first experience. some time back I got the chance to drive one, this one was not so old and it was rubbish. It started by making a dangling wire in contact with the steering rack essentially hot wiring it and it was horrible to drive. I was as disappointed as a man could be. after some time though, I realized maybe it's not the car that's changed so much, I mean it's still as crap as before. maybe I have changed from a non expecting anything kid into a man who expects too much of things, so much that it may ruin some experiences one can have if he is not too rigid and set in his own ways. I disagree with you on this, I think one must always meet thier hero's if they can, it can clear many things up and offer a renewed perspective on things. sorry for the long comment. hope it was not too boring.

      3 years ago
    • Kudos to you, Mr. Yadav, for a comment both thoughtful and profound. I'm with you. Meet your heroes. Drive the cars you drove 40 years ago, and learn to understand what has changed in yourself and in your expectations. At 25 I was more capable...

      Read more
        3 years ago
  • Naked women...shaved balls...young age of 27

    ...It's a trap, isn't it?

      3 years ago
  • I'm just confused as to why James would come over all unnecessary at the sight of a naked author of romantic novelettes from thev1980's. On second thoughts, I think I've just answered my own conundrum.

    (Of course, he may have meant Gillian Anderson - THAT I could completely understand.)

      3 years ago