I KNOW NOTHING YET EVERYTHING ABOUT ENGINES
After thirty years in the car business, I have a rudimentary grasp of how an engine works. It mixes fuel and air together and then there’s a spark and then you set off.
Unless it’s a diesel engine of course in which case, there is no spark. The fuel and air combust on their own. That seems unnatural to me, as though Satan may be involved in some way. Perhaps he is.
Now, you’d imagine that because my knowledge of how an engine works is so basic, I have no ability to tell whether they’re any good or not.
Well yes. But then I have only a basic grasp of cooking and yet I can tell when a pork chop is delicious and when it’s rancid and covered in a thin layer of the chef’s vomit. And somehow, I can do the same thing with engines…..
I like to think that I always choose the cars I buy for their looks. You could offer me a car which costs £2.75 and which could go round a hairpin bend at 400mph while using no fuel at all but if it wasn’t pretty, I’d say “no thanks”.
And yet, if you look back at the cars I’ve owned, the common thread is not the styling. It’s that all of them had notably brilliant engines.
It all started with the Ford Cortina 1600E which had a lovely, revvy crossflow unit and then there was a Scirocco GLi which used the notoriously excellent 1588cc unit from the Golf GTi. And then there was a BMW 3.0 CSL which had a creamy straight six and an Alfa Romeo GTV6 which never worked.
But if it had worked, I’d have been able to enjoy its 2.5-litre V6, which made what – and I’ll take no argument on this – is unquestionably the best noise ever heard on the whole planet. And it will never be beaten unless someone can convince Scarlett Johansson to call me up and say in a sort of purr, “Look. I’m here with Kristin Scott Thomas and we were wondering if you could pop over”.
After the Alfa, I had a Honda CRX which was a silly little car really. But it had that startling 1500CC V-TEC engine which revved like it was being oiled by the Virgin Mary’s breast milk.
And then there was the Ferrari 355 which introduced the world to active exhausts, and sounds as a result like God having an enormous orgasm. And then, I switched to Mercedes when they started using that colossal, fire and brimstone V8.
Today, I have a Golf GTi which is a tremendous car. But I wake every morning thinking “I have got to get one of those Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglios". Partly because it’s an Alfa, partly because it’s not too showy, partly because our producer has a M3 and the Alfa’s better but mostly because of its incredible turbo-in-the-V engine.
It’s odd that I subliminally choose a car based on something I don’t understand. But look at it this way. I can’t paint but I can recognise the difference between Turner’s magnificent Rain Steam and Speed, and one of Prince Charles’ hilarious watercolours.