Politicians who love cars


I only know one politician and we were chums long before he felt the call of his party. He is, at least as I write in this election week, the member for Wyre Forest, his name is Mark Garnier and he is one of suspiciously few politicians happy to confess to a genuine interest in cars. And he really is interested: he used to race single seaters, has done long distance rallies in an old Healey across Europe, his father was former Autocar editor Peter Garnier and among his godparents can count Jack Sears.

Politically, cars are a dirty subject. No matter that in 2013 we exported to over 100 countries all bar 250,000 of the 1.5 million that were built here, or that the UK industry generates revenues of nearly £60 billion and employs over 730,000 people. Despite no indigenous industry to speak of save tiny sports car manufacturers, more cars are built here than in France, which has Renault, Citroën and Peugeot.

Unlike many of his peers, Ari Vatanen was a driver before he became a politician

But even Prescott is down to his last Jag thanks to his desire to be seen to be putting an environmentally friendly foot forward. There is the All Party Parliamentary Historic Vehicles Group, but it comprises just four of Westminster’s 650 MPs and last posted news on its website over a year ago.

There are exceptions. Was there ever a better reason for resigning a ministerial post than that of Lord Drayson, who quit to focus on racing at Le Mans? Sir Greg Knight, chairman of the aforementioned parliamentary car club, is clearly a committed enthusiast too, who owns a Cord, an Allard and a Jensen and is a non-executive director of H&H Auctions.

Elsewhere there is of course former MEP Ari Vatanen, who needs no further introduction here, while France has François Fillon, who was born in Le Mans, lives in Le Mans, has taken part in a support race at Le Mans and attends the Le Mans 24 hours every year, so his credentials are probably fairly unimpeachable. The same goes for 12-time Grand Prix winner turned Argentine senator Carlos Reutemann.

There are, I am sure, many others I have failed to mention and I look forward to you telling me about them, but to me at least there is but one politician who rises head, shoulders, knees and feet above the rest not for his simple love of cars, but what can clearly be seen as an obsession for them. Blessed with the resources to fund and the literary skills to communicate his passion, among those who have held public office, Alan Clark must be, if nothing else, surely the most interesting person ever to held forth on the subject of cars.

Lord Drayson (also main image) won the ALMS round at Road America in 2010 with Jonny Cocker

Perhaps above all he adored British automotive engineering at its finest, hence the vast number of Bentleys, Rolls-Royces and Jaguars that floated in and out of his life. He drove them huge distances believing cars were not chattels to be pored over like art, but devices designed to job. He loathed those whom he thought needlessly precious about their cars and had he lived to see it would have laughed long and loud at the photograph in his automotive autobiography Back Fire of his two vast Rottweilers snoozing on the flimsy aluminium bonnet of his gorgeous C-type Jaguar.

Nor was he any kind of car snob. Whether he was talking about doing the Alpine Rally in a Rolls Ghost or using a 2CV-based Citroën Mehari as ‘mobile wheelbarrow’ collecting compost around the grounds of Saltwood castle, what he liked most was fitness for purpose in a car, which is perhaps why his daily driver for years was a Porsche 911, surely the most qualified sporting car in this regard ever created.

Alan Clark was not everyone’s cup of tea, nor did he love all cars unconditionally (he was, for instance, no fan of Ferraris), but I find charming the fact he owned and loved equally everything from a VW Beetle in barn-find condition bodily but with a Porsche engine, to the Maharajah of Jaipur’s Rolls-Royce Phantom III. As his son James puts it in the foreword of Back Fire, ‘Outside the family, I truly believe, cars were my father’s greatest love’, a sentiment with which I concur entirely.

Reutemann became a popular candidate for the Argentine presidency. He declined to run

And so to the election. We are actually on the brink of potentially hugely exciting times for British marques, even if they have overseas owners. Land Rover continues to race ahead while Jaguar appears finally to have both the strategy and resources to make good on years of under-performance. Whether you like the idea or not, Bentley’s business is about to be transformed by the introduction of an SUV as in time will those of both Rolls-Royce and Aston Martin which announced last week an additional £200 million of investment from its share holders.

And on current form, some time in the next parliament, Britain will make more cars in a single year than at any other time in its history, a staggering achievement when you consider just how big the industry was in the 1970s and how total was its collapse thereafter.

I just hope that whether it is Dave or Ed, and whatever unholy alliances need to be made to form a government, that they recognise this fact and do all they can to support an all too rare success story in British manufacturing.


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