You might imagine that new car launches are one long round of posh hotels, exotic locations and exciting roads. Some of them are.
I’ve driven a Bentley Continental GT Speed round a race circuit covered in rutted ice so slippery it was hard to stand up. Before letting me have a go the test driver said: ‘I’m going to turn off the traction control and floor it.’ He did, which was quite exciting.
I’ve been to Spain, Portugal and Nice, driven electric Smart cars round Monaco and ultra rare, ultra valuable 1930s Mercedes classics through the streets of Los Angeles.
The most recent launch was the Mazda 2 in charming but less exotic Salcombe, Devon, with a gaggle of writers including fellow ‘WeBuy’ columnist Sue Baker. We flew from Biggin Hill in an executive jet whose compact interior felt like the inside of a leather line toothpaste tube, and stayed at a delightful boutique hotel overlooking Salcombe Bay. The car was nice, and getting paid to experience it in these surroundings was no pain at all, but some events have been less congenial.
Way back in the 1990s I was invited to the launch of a small Japanese panel van, that was making its European debut at the Brussels Commercial Vehicle Show, which was just about as exciting as it sounds. The thing was hidden under what appeared to be a large white bed sheet, which was whipped away to reveal a small, innocuous white van. This was a very blokey gathering, and the chaps from the van and lorry press seemed like a nice bunch. That night we ate in a small restaurant that had a stage in a far corner. As the main course arrived so did the entertainment, in the form of a very down at heel drag act involving two cross looking middle aged blokes in fishnets and ill fitting blonde wigs. For what seemed like hours they mimed badly to tinny recordings of Marilyn Monroe singing. As my eyes double-glazed and time slowed, the pair adjusted their wigs and mouthed uncertainly to Marelene Dietrich. ‘This one’s good,’ said a bearded, butch lorry correspondent. ‘I saw them do it when we were here last year.’
Perhaps the strangest vehicle launch I’ve done involved a German coachbuilder that made hearses. We were collected from Stuttgart airport by the managing director, a thirty something thrusting corporate type who drove a hellishly powerful AMG Mercedes C Class estate. He used it to hurl us down an Autobahn at terrifying speed, as I cringed and hoped that I would not end up in one of his firm’s creations as a result.
I was part of a group comprising a mix of journalists and undertakers. One was a lugubriously funny bloke from Wales, who confided that he would be sad to see his old hearse go. ‘It’s based on a Ford Scorpio, and it’s got a Cosworth engine, so it’s quick,’ he said. ‘At the lights it can give the hot hatch boys a bit of a surprise.’
These days car launches are pretty serious affairs, with some writers eschewing the hospitality to be the first to get their words online, but I did hear a story, which I hope is true, from an earlier, perhaps less serious age.
An elderly, and now sadly departed motoring journalist was staying with a carmaker at a posh Swedish hotel. He had a credit card shaped plastic room entry key, and late in the evening couldn’t make it work, so got the hotel receptionist to use a universal pass key to let him in to the room.
It was dark. Our hero stripped and climbed into bed with the businessman whose room it actually was, as the journalist had become confused about the floor his was on. The resultant commotion could be heard in the hotel’s reception, three floors below.
Image courtesy of http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bentley_Continental_GTC