Back in the mid-Noughties the coat-maker Burberry shook off its rather soggy reputation for frumpy rainwear and reinvented itself as a cutting-edge fashion brand. Before long it had become a fashionista favourite, gracing the pages of Vogue and the delectable chassis of supermodels such as Kate Moss.
And then, disaster. The brand became a victim of its own success. It began acquiring the wrong sort of customer. Within months the famous Burberry check went from being the preserve of A-listers to the universal calling-card of the so-called chav. From footballers to fans to hangers-on and general wannabes, anyone who wasn’t anyone began decking themselves out in entry-level accessories (caps, belts, key-rings). The brand’s reputation plummeted. All too quickly Burberry went from being the epitome of Cool Britannia to something as tacky and tarnished as a rusty old Ford Cortina.
Since then, Burberry has successfully worked its way back to the top of fashion’s greasy pole. But it is a reminder of how the profile of even the most stylish of luxury accoutrements can suffer by association with the wrong sort of money. (I am sure, for example, that the makers of Philip Green’s new £300 million yacht are not entirely overjoyed with their product’s current publicity.)
Something not entirely dissimilar has happened to the supercar. It has lately become the go-to purchase for every half-baked reality TV star, overpaid sports personality, posturing rap brat and spoilt, cretinous issue of super-rich parents.
The first thing any footballer does on signing their first big contract is rush out and buy a ‘Lambo’ (pronounced: ‘Laeeymbow’). Meanwhile, summer in the capital is now known as ‘supercar season’, as migrating Middle Eastern squillionaires double-park their sequin-encrusted Aventadors, Ferraris, Mercedes, McLarens and suchlike outside Harrods.
What’s the difference between a porcupine and a supercar? Easy: in a supercar, the pricks are on the inside.
The more expensive the car, the more stupid and arrogant its owner. At least this would seem to be true in the case of the Essex driver of a brand-new-McLaren 650S Spider who, just minutes after taking delivery of his £215,000 vehicle in May, celebrated with a bottle of champagne before driving it into a tree. The tragedy is that these sorts of cars, and the McLaren in particular, represent the pinnacle of motoring engineering. They deserve to be owned and driven by people with a genuine passion, not some pumped-up popinjay or bird-brained daddy’s boy only interested in jerking off at junctions.
|Engine||3.8 litre Twin Turbo V8|
|Performance||0-62mph: 3 seconds|
|Road tax band||M|
With this in mind, it was with a degree of trepidation that I took charge of my own McLaren Spider 650S. With 650bhp and 500lb ft of torque, it can do 0-60 in less than three seconds and has a top speed of 204 mph. Closer to a jet than a land-based vehicle, I’d say — a notion reinforced by the gull-wing doors and frankly bone–shattering roar produced by the ignition. I set off, expecting a thoroughly obnoxious ride.
In fact, the 650S is, if not exactly a pussycat, then a very well trained beast. You really would have to be a moron to screw up in this car: it is so beautifully calibrated, so skilfully tuned that it could turn even the most doddery driver into a veritable Jackie Stewart. I have never experienced anything that handles so well or bends so readily to my will. Around town you can drive it with your little finger, so responsive is the steering.
On the open road it moves as though glued to the Tarmac by some mysterious forcefield, gliding from lane to lane with the ease and precision of an Olympic gymnast. The cornering too is superlative, mainly because it does all the work for you with its unique rear-wheel braking system.
Like many cars in this bracket, there is an-automatic default option and a manual paddle option. There are also three driver modes — normal, sport and track (the latter illegal on public roads) — and a tantalising button marked ‘launch’, which, as it turns out, does exactly what it says on the tin.
This is a car that deserves total respect. The only drawback, as far as I can see, is that it has rather silly-shaped headlamps — a bit too Knight Rider for my-liking. Otherwise it is a very serious piece of kit, and not something that should be wasted on poseurs or novices. If I were McLaren I would seriously consider introducing a vetting system for potential drivers to minimise the risk of champagne-swilling idiots wrapping it around trees. Perhaps an IQ test and a minimum age requirement. Or better still, a generous discount for careful lady drivers…