this was on the windsandbreezes.org. Of all the things I’ve ever written, it’s the closest to my heart.
The very first glossy magazines to come into my life were bought by my younger brother, aged 13 at the time. He coughed up some of his precious holiday money in a motorway rest stop somewhere in England when he was about 13 years old, and spent the rest of the holiday drooling over the contents of Car and Fast Lane. They were really glossy, and, by his standards, somewhat pricy. But they were worth it for the value he got out of them during the course of that holiday.
I can’t remember what was on the front of Car, except it was probably red. There seemed to be some unwritten rule at the time that if you wanted your car on the front of Car, it had to be painted red. That wasn’t so important. What was in Fast Lane was much, much juicier. They had a comparison between a Mercedes AMG and a BMW Alpina in the days when Mercedes didn’t more or less own AMG, and when BMW didn’t more or less own Alpina.
The fact that there were companies out there who tuned up already high powered automobiles was news to me, and, although he wouldn’t ever admit it, to my brother also. But that didn’t matter so much. What mattered is that my life of peace was over. I was compelled to read the comparison test and make a decision on which was better, the Mercedes AMG – also known as a Hammer – and the BMW Alpina.
I remember that the Mercedes was painted a very dark grey metallic – almost black, and I remember that the BMW was a brooding muted silver. I remember that every single thing that AMG and Alpina could muscle up was muscled up. I wouldn’t swear to it, but I think AMG packed 100bhp more into the Merc than Alpina managed to force into the BMW. As a dutiful older sister, out for a little bit of peace to go and listen to French radio which we could somehow pick up in the car in the south of England, I duly read the comparison test and with all the authority of a fifteen year old girl who couldn’t drive, I pronounced that the Hammer was what I deemed to be the better car, and should the opportunity present itself, I would be more than happy to have one. I can’t remember how much it cost, but put it this way, I would have been saving my pocket money for a long time.
For the first and probably only time, my brother and I agreed. He was equally of the opinion that the dark menacing car with the three pointed star on the front, and the understated AMG logo on the rear was certainly a car he wouldn’t mind driving either.
Now that he had discovered glossy motor magazines though, he had to keep buying them. He didn’t know anyone else around who might even be remotedly interested, so he coerced me into reading them. He selected cars he thought might be suitable for me. When the Renault Clio first arrived on the scene, he earmarked it as the car I should be driving. I’m not sure he meant the Renault Clio Williams which was the only one I ever wanted (apart from the red metallic one that used to be park down the street from where I lived in Paris for a while. That was a nice one).
I used to infuriate the living daylights out of him, by judging cars by their appearance. All the engine statistics and speed tests in the world didn’t matter a whit to me. If the car didn’t look good, I didn’t want it. Most BMWs failed my style test at the time.
It was thanks to him that I discovered the next car I truly wanted. It was a Mercedes 190E Evolution II. I couldn’t be bothered with the mere Evo I, of course, it had to be the Evo II with the big huge batmobile wing on the back. There weren’t a lot of them built – it was one of the first cars that Mercedes built for the Germany Touring Car championship, the early DTM. It was an amazing looking car. I wanted one of them, in black preferably. He was impressed. He’d been recommending souped up Golfs and Fiestas to me at this point.
It was also thanks to him that I won even more kudos for being a Class A Superweirdo at school, because a) I knew who Ayrton Senna was, and b) I had a crush on Alain Prost. How anyone could have a crush on Alain Prost – even one prone to crushes on weird moody broody French men such as myself – remains a mystery. I’m not sure it was the money because even then I didn’t realise just how much money there was in Formula 1. I loved the politics. My brother loved the politics. And in 1989, both Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost were driving for McLaren and there was plenty of politics. Predictably, my brother routed for Ayrton Senna. Like I said, we didn’t agree on much.
He used to buy something called Performance Car – Fast Lane had, I think, at this stage disappeared, and it was on the back page of Performance Car that we discovered the unsung genius that was Jeremy Clarkson. Clarkson is rather passé now, somewhat predictable, and, writing for both the Sunday Times and the Sun, somewhat part of the establishment. But in the late 80s early 90s, there was nothing quite like his column at the back of Performance Car, where engine stats counted for nothing, and irreverance for everything. There were fist-fights over Performance Car.
I never knew what was on the inside of Marie Claire or Cosmo, but every multi test that appeared in Car or Performance Car I was obliged to read, and voice an opinion. I seemed to constantly wind up in debates about the relative merits of Formula 1 drivers and teams. My brother never really had any allegiance to a particular team, and he teased me unmercifully about my devotion to McLaren. Later, he picked up on Michael Schumacher before almost anyone else around me had noticed him and he thought he was the best thing since sliced bread. Although he never quite forgave him for switching to Benetton after sort of signing a contract with Eddie Jordan, he became a massive fan of the German. He was very deeply shocked by Ayrton Senna’s death. That I knew about any of these events, I owe to him. The hours I spent deciding whether I preferred the Lamborghini Countach to some Ferrari or other (it’s easy to see which one I chose), I owe to him.
My brother died some weeks after Ayrton Senna crashed at Imola, and he never got to see Michael Schumacher crowned world champion at the end of the year. I sometimes wonder how he would have felt about the way the championship ended that year between Schumacher and Damon Hill.
Sometime afterwards, when we were clearing through his room – always like a bomb hit it – underneath the piles of single socks and rugby shirts, and a pile of Alistair McLean and Sven Hassel books which were falling asunder, we found two rather aged and well read no-longer very glossy motor magazines. On the front of one was a red car, and on the front of the other, a silver BMW and a dark grey souped up Merc.