Gavin Green on Boris Johnson, car journalist
Boris Johnson is the UK’s first ex-motoring journalist prime minister. The Right Honourable Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, and First Lord of the Treasury, wrote a car column for the men’s magazine GQ. He also expressed an interest in presenting Top Gear, after Clarkson punched a producer.
I hope Boris makes a better PM than he did a car writer, where his stories tended to mix sex, technical inaccuracies and verbal flamboyance – and were invariably late. ‘It was as though the whole county of Hampshire was lying back and opening her well-bred legs to be ravished by the Italian stallion.’ That was Boris on the Ferrari F430.
GQ editor Dylan Jones said Boris’s column was probably the most costly in the magazine’s history, owing to the parking tickets and other fines. A biographer, Andrew Gimson, noted that Boris wasn’t just bad at writing about cars. He was also terrible at driving them.
Now Boris may be our first motoring writer PM, but he’s far from the first senior politician with a keen interest in cars. Ex-deputy PM John Prescott famously liked Jaguars so much that he had two (an XJ saloon and an XJS) and former chancellor Philip Hammond is also apparently a Jaguar fan. The honourable leftover of the 19th century, Jacob Rees-Mogg, owns a new Range Rover (and very probably a Victorian horse-drawn Phaeton). Former Tory party leader Iain Duncan Smith drives a Morgan Plus 4.
Alan Clark is the only other senior UK politician I know of who wrote about cars. Clark was a fabulous writer (he died in 1999) and his Diaries was surely the juiciest book on UK politics of the ’90s. Like Boris, he was part Casanova and part classicist. He wrote for motoring magazines after coming down from Oxford in the early ’50s. Forty years later, I helped recruit him to write for our sister title Classic Cars.
When we met for lunch he turned up in a filthy burgundy red Bentley Continental S, the more powerful version of the mid-’90s Continental R. This was an old-school Bentley coupe powered by the muscular pushrod V8 from the Turbo R tuned for 400bhp. He called it Big Red. Most of Clark’s cars had names. He told me his favourites included a Jaguar XK120, an old corrugated-bodied Citroën 2CV (‘Looks like a crumpled packet of Gitanes’), a Bentley R-Type Continental from the 1950s, a Rolls-Royce Silver
Ghost and a Jaguar SS100 that he’d owned since his student days.
Big Red had black alloys that, along with the rest of the car, looked like they’d never been cleaned. This endeared Clark to me immediately. He liked his cars shabby and well used. He drove that Bentley everywhere.
Going further back, Boris’s hero Winston Churchill was a war reporter and Nobel prize-winning author, but never wrote about cars to my knowledge. He did get a Land Rover for his 80th birthday, and his interest in land transport included championing the development of the first tank, known as Little Willie, introduced in 1915.
King Alfonso XIII of Spain was a fan of Hispano Suizas – one of the finest cars of the early 20th century – and Lenin drove a Rolls-Royce. Prince Charles has an Aston Martin DB6 MkII Volante, his 21st birthday present from his mother, which now runs on biofuel. Trump has that ludicrous Cadillac One – custom built on a GMC truck platform and known as The Beast – and Kim Jong-un has a Mercedes S600. Ex-French PM François Fillon races classic sports cars and ex-UK science minister Paul Drayson has competed twice at Le Mans. Respect.
Meanwhile Hitler was a non-driver but also a motoring enthusiast. He opened the first autobahn, asked Ferdinand Porsche to design a car for the people, and opened the 1938 Berlin Motor Show.
He also bankrolled the dominant pre-war Mercedes and Auto Union GP teams. The Hitler flunky who oversaw the Nazi-backed teams, Korpsführer Adolf Hühnlein, delivered his race reports to the Führer by telegram. He was very probably the first politician to double as an F1 reporter.
Ex-editor Gavin Green is one of the world’s leading car commentators. He likes his politicians like he likes his cars – fit for purpose