Swellboy on… clapped-out cars

A mink cape provides cold comfort, and inspiration, on wintry jaunts into the West End

Image: Brijesh Patel

The other day, someone slammed intothe back of the ancestral Jeep Grand Cherokee that has been in my family sincethe last century. As an heirloom, I was hoping to pass it on to my children,not least because then they would have the problem of dealing with itsidiosyncrasies. I have been unable to get rid of it because it works and hasreached an age at which the novelty of ownership has worn off, so I am lessbothered about the occasional nick in the bodywork – or the massive dent in theback that looks like a comic-book superhero has given it a whack with his fist.

I did go through a phase of havingflash cars that I cared about, but they took a terrible financial toll,crashing into things and running up monumental servicing bills. They alsooccupied so much of my already limited headspace that I am in no hurry to haveone back in my life. The worrying thing is that, even though I know it would becourting ruin, I can quite see myself behind the wheel of an early-NoughtiesContinental R from Bentley, or a hard-top Corniche from the mid 1970s, or aCamargue, or a Lamborghini Espada. You will notice that I am unduly fond oftwo-door grands routiers – ludicrous given that I spend most of my time on thetwo wheels of my Pashley bicycle. It is like cigars: I am always tempted toignite a Sancho Panza Sancho or a Double Corona when I only have time for aPetit Robusto.

Anyway, the spectre of re-enteringthe car market appeared after the smash, not so much because the damage tothe bodywork is cataclysmic (although there is the inconvenience of notbeing able to open the boot, but I can live with that), rather that the heatinghas packed up. To be fair, I don’t think that this was anything to do with the pick-uptruck that wrote itself off on contact with the back of my Jeep, as it was already on itsway out. But in any case, the arrival of winter in Shepherd’s Bush hasrendered driving into the West End a little like travelling in a fridge, and Ihave to think very carefully about the weather before venturing out of town.Factor in the wind chill that occurs when I leave the windows wound down sothat I am able enjoy a Havana en route, and preparation for a car journey beginsto mirror an expedition undertaken by Ernest Shackleton – with, I hope, less disastrousresults.


The other day I was in a hurry toget somewhere and did not have time to get the blankets, portable gas stove andthermos flask together. Instead, I grabbed the nearest thing that came to hand,which happened to be a mink cape I had bought from Jim the fur man inPortobello. It is a handsome vintage garment but even I had to concede thatthere were only limited possibilities for its use – or so I thought. As ithappened, it was more or less perfect for the drive into central London,notwithstanding the fact that I had to have the air conditioning on so that the windowsdid not steam up.

So it would seem that the only wayI can overcome the lack of heating is by seeing it as a style opportunityrather than a mechanical deficiency, which, of course, is my favourite method offacing almost any obstacle life puts in front of me. Rather like the characterin The Moonstone who finds the answer to life’s questions and problemsin Robinson Crusoe, if I look hard enough into the history of men’sapparel, a solution (or at least an enjoyable bit of clobber) will presentitself.

My icy drive put me in mind of aDunhill Motorities catalogue from the Edwardian era that advertised a coat ofSiberian wolfskin “built from the most carefully matched skins, unequalled forweather-defying qualities. Most distinguished in appearance and luxuriouslywarm and comfortable.” I put the call in to Dunhill from the car, and the nexttime I bump into Johann Rupert I will suggest that he puts this garment backinto production pretty swiftly… provided I do not succumb to hypothermia on theroads before then.