They say that, against all expectations, after the age of about fifty you actually get happier, and that much of this happiness is tied in with the merciful death of your dreams. Once over the hill — and I can vouch for this — you feel unrealistic visions that have guided you your whole life simply exit the stage, albeit with a few well-aimed parting kicks. You don’t lament their passing — young people may want an emotional switchback, but in maturity (well, relative maturity) you’ll happily (well, relatively happily) swap it for solid ground under your feet and a little stability of mind. Hope, thankfully, doesn’t always spring eternal. After your first half-century, it’s more like the stubborn dripping of a wonky tap.
You’ll never own the Georgian mansion in the Home Counties, the pay rise of destiny probably isn’t coming, and Rachel Weisz is already married to Daniel Craig
One of the fantasies that has gone pop recently is owning a sports car. This has been on my bucket since about the age of seven. Sean Connery’s Aston Martin DB5, Purdey’s drophead MGB in The New Avengers, Roger Moore’s Lotus Esprit in The Spy Who Loved Me: I collected nearly all of these in matchbox form as a child and wanted to own at least one of them when I grew up. Oh, for the open road, the roar of the engine, the needles on those dials which suddenly spring to pulsing life when you turn on the ignition.
Later, as I hit adolescence, there were the Brat Pack films of the 1980s where the late-teen characters often drove convertibles, as though you couldn’t really be fully, gloriously young without one. In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the classic 1961 Ferrari California Spyder he and his friends manage to trash is essentially the film’s fourth character. The same goes for Andrew McCarthy’s Chevrolet Corvette C1 in Less Than Zero. Both films would be gutted without these four-wheeled stars at their center. Ferris Bueller would spend his day off waiting for taxis to arrive. Less Than Zero would definitely be less than zero.
But in fact, my interest in luxury cars began even earlier. My grandfather was a self-made man, big in fertilizer, and had a succession of Daimlers to match. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting in his Daimler Sovereign’s squashy leather interior — faintly scented with aromatic pipe-smoke — marveling at the walnut dashboard and funny automatic gearstick, so different, so much nicer than my father’s Volvo. It was while taking the Daimler in for a service that my grandfather died of a massive heart attack, aged seventy-six. Perhaps there are worse ways to go.
As I get older, all these cars seemed to have merged in my fantasies — the latest to have caught my attention is a Jaguar XK8. Produced from 1996 to 2006, it has a similar interior to grandpa’s Daimler, and a V8 engine to match anything driven by James Bond. It was the coupe version I lusted after, not the soft-top. Convertibles are so public and the gods would surely punish me for showing off so shamelessly. The coupe is still quite something — as gorgeous as an old Porsche, it can be picked up surprisingly cheap second-hand, and the late Tara Palmer-Tomkinson — surely among the most beguiling women of our times — anointed the XK8 as her ideal motor. A slightly naffer man than me might well have snaffled one already and named it “Tara” in her memory.
But I knew I would almost certainly never have the nerve to get “Tara.” Such a car must be earned, and earned morally, not just financially: it should be a reward to yourself for something marvelous you’ve achieved. I’d done little thus far to deserve an XK8, and nowadays you’d need a C02- offsetting gold card to flash at fist-shaking environmentalists as well.
And, I wondered, would I love the Jaguar just a little bit too much? There was a danger I might turn into a Swiss Toni figure, waxing it compulsively and telling fresh-faced acolytes that driving one was “like making lerv to a beautiful woman.” Would I end up buying one of those air fresheners shaped like a fir tree, swinging gonadically from my rear-view mirror? Such cars, I feel, should be scented with half-smoked Monte Cristos and Floris Santal, not synthetic pine.
“You only live twice,” goes the Bond song, “One life for yourself, and one for your dreams,” and by the age of fifty, you mostly know the difference. You’ll never own the Georgian mansion in the Home Counties, the pay rise of destiny probably isn’t coming, and Rachel Weisz is already married to Daniel Craig. But there is a little itchy part of you that still hankers after something opulent and enviable, at the top of its class. You want that walnut dashboard and to feel that V8 engine roar into life at your touch, perhaps want it even more as your own energies fail. “If not me then who?” whispers a voice inside. “If not now, then when? Isn’t time running out?”
The trouble is, in some ways it already has. You’re more cautious and prudent at fifty and you see ahead — to huge insurance bills, credit-siphoning visits to the gas pump, and the usual realization that no material thing makes much difference to life as it actually feels. You dream less because you know your dreams aren’t reality in waiting. They’re simply the alternative existence of someone you are not.
So the usual formula applies. You want: a 1967 E-Type. You’d settle for: a ten-year-old Volvo. You get: a 1990s Ford Fiesta, bought from a local granny for its low mileage and the fact it’s never been driven over thirty miles per hour. As for that Jaguar, it’ll just have to go into the very large file marked “Wonderful things that never happened.” Perhaps I’d just have crashed the bastard anyway.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.