In fact many believe that ‘me Grale’ is cleaned and polished before and after, and sometimes during, every outing (there is some basis in fact in this), and that a prerequisite to me ever getting it out of its garage is an in-depth study of the long-range weather forecast and an up-to-date status report from the National Winged-Insect Research Institute (only partially true).
Given this background, you’ll understand that very, very few people are allowed to drive the car other than myself. John Day, who services my car, is one, and…errr….that’s about it. Notionally, the Memsahib is on the insurance, but that was simply a ruse on my behalf to stop her thinking the car’s purchase was an entirely self-indulgent move…
And so it was that, with a sense mild disbelief (‘mild’ in the sense that a Vodka Red Bull is a mild pick-me-up), I put the phone down on the chap from the BBC, having agreed to lend my integrale to Messrs Clarkson and Hammond for a few days so that they could do a feature on Lancias!
Clarkson and Hammond, many of you will have noticed, have something of a ‘reputation’ when it comes to car care, and despite words of reassurance from the programme’s researcher and the faxed arrival of insurance forms from the BBC, as the day approached I couldn’t help harbouring the kind of mixed feelings known to parents who packed off their children for weekend sleepovers at Neverland – albeit in my case without the compensating prospect of a multi-million dollar payout if it all went horribly wrong.
These feelings of ‘Gawd, what have I done’ continued when the car was taken away. Due to the BBC running to some predictably tight schedules, the only time the car could be collected was at a time when I was not going to be at home. So there was nothing for it, I decided to take it out of its garage, leave it parked somewhere where someone (anyone) with a trailer could get access to it, and leave the keys with an elderly neighbour (I know: even now as I re-read this, I find it all hard to believe myself!).
Returning home later that day, there was a big integrale-shaped hole where the car had been, but my neighbour did at least come out to meet me brandishing a Delivery Acceptance, and telling me that the car had left on the back of ‘the biggest transporter you have ever seen in your life!’
My nagging doubt as to whether or not this was such a great idea was further heightened when I studied the delivery acceptance closer: Car – Lancia Integrale (ok, so if we’re being picky it should be a lower-case ‘i’, but ‘Check’); Colour – Red (Check); Owner – Me (Check); Recipient – BBC Top Gear (Check); Delivery To – Walter’s Arena Rally Special Stage, West Glamorgan (WTF?? Say that again? Rally Special Stage???)
“If that car is thrashed round a gravel Special Stage and comes back with so much as a scratch, I will personally come round and hold the Director General in a headlock until either he stops breathing or the BBC pays to have it put right!”…..is precisely the sort of thing I should have said if I was bigger and braver, but instead, after a polite enquiry, I was assured that the Special Stage was purely going to be used as a photo location but the driving itself would be confined to the public road.
And so it was, after four nervous days of fortunately excellent weather (and minimal winged-insect activity), that the Grale was delivered back. My neighbour was right: the transporter was enormous and would not have looked out of place in the F1 paddock, and all it had inside was my car!
The car itself was covered in a healthy layer of Welsh dust (I guess even had they had a go at cleaning it, my OCD would still have obliged me to clean it myself), but after close inspection (and I mean close) it was evident that it was entirely undamaged. It had however, in the words of Basil Fawlty, been given ‘a damn good thrashing’, as evidenced by the thick layer of brake dust that now coated the front wheels (spotless four days previously), and the fact that 10 gallons of fuel that had been consumed in a little over 100 miles (nobody buys an integrale for its fuel economy, but ‘normal’ driving should return around 20-25 mpg!).
Suction cup marks adorned the windows where cameras had been, cast-off Velcro patches gripped the carpet in the footwells where recording equipment had been secured, and as evidence of its two famous former inhabitants, there was a Clarkson-sized bootprint on the driver’s floormat, whilst the driver’s seat had adopted ‘the Hamster position’ and had been left so far forward that I couldn’t get behind the wheel.
Despite all this, the Grale itself was fine. In fact, better than fine. Having been taken back to its rallying roots and been given a good seeing to, it now sat there with an extra sparkle in its headlights (“Don’t you look at me like that. I know what you’ve been up to…”)
So was it worth it? Well as I write this, I have no idea what the finished outcome will be. The programme airs on Sunday (Series 14, Episode 3), but initial indications from the programme’s researcher are that The Chaps liked the car.
However, one very noticeable fact is the extent to which the car has gone up in my children’s estimation. As you probably know, Top Gear is h-u-g-e amongst school-kids, and for my ten-year-old son, the playground bragging rights that go with “My Daddy’s car is on Top Gear” can only be compared to the kudos I would have if I wandered into the office on a Monday morning and announced to my male colleagues that I’d spent the weekend bedding all of Girls Aloud…with the obvious exception of the minging one, of course. Suddenly, The Old Man’s car is kool (with a lower-case ‘k’)!
Cleaned up and now gagging for more (the integrale, not me), I then took the car up to Curborough a fortnight later for the annual Club LanciaSport gathering, where, as you can see from the photos, it strutted its stuff with its usual aplomb.
Such a fantastic automobile. I can’t believe that more of you haven’t cottoned on and got yourself one yet…
UPDATE: Just back from watching the studio recording of Top Gear. I think it’s fair to say they found the car very much to their liking….!
FURTHER UPDATE: And here, for those who missed it, is the finished article, courtesy of YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4z6OBngHlU
[PS Thanks for photos go to Lawrence Clift (www.lawrencecliftphotography.co.uk), Nick Lukey (www.nslphotographics.com), and Hugh Pimblett (age 10…)]