Dear Santa: It's me (again). I know you didn’t have time to get to my place last year, so here’s my new list of the 12 Cars of Christmas. If you can bring them all, that would be great. See what you can do.
1. Porsche 911 GT3
As you know, I have some issues with the way things have gone with the 911. When I worked on Porsches back in the 1970s, the 911 was light and simple. Now it is an overweight status symbol, loaded with stuff that the corporate-bonus crowd insists on. (Who wants power seats in a sports car?) But I love the new 911 anyway – that shape still stirs my soul. And the GT3 is the hardest-edged 911 you can get without a turbo (I prefer the sound and feel of the naturally-aspirated motor). It’s a bit of a drag that you can’t get a manual transmission. But I’m not going to kick it out from under the tree.
2. Morgan Plus 4
The Morgan is hand-built, with techniques that would be familiar to the medieval craftsmen who pounded out armour for the Knights of the Round Table. The body panels are shaped with wooden mallets over sand-filled leather bags, and carpenters build part of the frame out of ash timbers. In the cockpit, you can close your eyes and imagine that it’s the spring of 1940, and that you’re gliding into a green landing field in a Hawker Hurricane after shooting down a Messerschmitt 109.
3. Lotus Evora GT
I have a Lotus Evora S, so you’re going to wonder why I want another. This one-off modified GT Edition is just like mine, but with a few strategic changes – vented fenders that improve brake cooling, and a bigger rear spoiler. These are small improvements, but it’s the little things that count.
4. 1965 VW Beetle
As a former VW mechanic and Beetle owner, I know the faults of the People’s Car all too well – they include inadequate power, dodgy handling, weak brakes and a heating system that can turn the cabin into a rolling gas chamber. Never mind all that. The Beetle is one of the most charismatic cars ever built, and the 1965 model is a classic, with sloped headlights and a painted metal dash.
5. Citroën 2CV
This is another slow car. What can I say? Living in Europe during my impressionable years left me with a lifelong love for the ultra-quirky 2CV. The car was designed for the needs of French peasant farmers after the Second World War – the 2CV is cheap to run, easy to fix, and can handle potholes thanks to its soft, long-travel suspension. The body looks like it was made from corrugated roofing panels, and the shifter juts out of the dash like a misplaced umbrella handle. Automotive writer L.J.K. Setright once described the 2CV as “the most intelligent application of minimalism ever to succeed as a car.”
6. Mercedes GL 350 BlueTEC Diesel
I’m not an SUV fan, but the GL has attributes that I love – like a diesel engine and the ability to haul a load without apparent effort. I’m a glider pilot who has to occasionally pull an eight-meter long trailer with a German sailplane inside, (like when I end up in a farmer's field after the lift dies during a flight) so these qualities come in handy.
7. Intermeccanica Speedster
The Intermeccanica is a Canadian-made replica of the classic Porsche 356 Speedster, a.k.a. the Bathtub (James Dean had one in the 1950s). Unlike an original Speedster, the Intermeccanica isn’t a priceless objet d’art that you’d be afraid to drive. And you can get the Intermeccanica Speedster with disc brakes and a six-cylinder Porsche 911 motor instead of the wimpy drums and glorified Beetle engine that the original came with.
8. Caterham Seven CSR
This is the much-improved descendant of Colin Chapman’s legendary Lotus 7. The Caterham has 260 horsepower, which doesn’t sound impressive until you consider that it weighs less than half as much as a Porsche Boxster, giving it a power-to-weight ratio similar to a racing motorcycle. I love the Caterham for its raw purity – the roof is a glorified pup tent, and there’s nowhere to store anything larger than a pack of gum, but on a twisting road, the CSR is the Holy Grail.
9. McLaren 12C
McLaren has a new car out this year (the P1), but I’d still like a 12C, which I consider a Just Right car. The 12C achieves a rare balance – it looks fast and aggressive, but unlike so many supercars, it isn’t an over-scooped, over-styled codpiece aimed at drivers who spend their money on hair implants and Viagra.
10. 1959 Mercedes 300
The 300 isn’t particularly important in historic terms, but it’s special to me, because it reminds me of a man I loved as a little boy – Colonel Roger Schjelderup, a decorated Second World War officer and a good friend of my father. The Colonel had a Mercedes similar to the 300 back in the early 1960s when our families lived in West Africa, and I have never forgotten the great rides we took. Schjelderup’s sons and I watched in amazement as the Mercedes’ speedometer rose upwards as we accelerated down back roads in the Ghanaian countryside. We may have hit 100 once, but it was a long time ago, so I can’t be sure. The details don’t matter. The spirit does. The Colonel was a tall, quiet man who carried German shrapnel in his body and never talked about what he’d done to win his medals. When I ride in a vintage Mercedes, a spell is cast over me – I remember how safe I felt in the Colonel’s Mercedes, and that he was the coolest guy I ever met.
11. Toyota Sienna
I am the only guy in North America who actually loves minivans. There’s nothing better for long trips with friends, and they’re excellent for the activities I enjoy – I can throw my bicycle, cooler and parachute in the back and head out to my glider club for a day of flying. And when I’m done, I can slip around town unnoticed. Why wouldn’t you love a car like that?
12. Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Although I don’t do it often, I like driving off road. And when you want to ford a stream or claw your way up a steep, rutted trail, it’s hard to beat the Jeep Rubicon. With its utilitarian shape, removable doors and flip-down windshield, the Jeep begs to be taken out in the dirt. I want mine to have the heavy-duty, locking Dana axles and a snorkel air intake (in case I want to cross a deeper-than-usual stream). I know it’s impractical, but so what? By the time Santa’s done, I’ll have 11 other cars. (Or so I hope.) Happy Holidays.