Classic Cars Column
From this month onward we'll be publishing my column for Classic Cars magazine. Previous articles are now online at kidston.com under 'press'
Love it or hate it, snow has the ability to transform even a mundane landscape into something slightly theatrical. Movie makers love it as a backdrop. Can you imagine On Her Majesty's Secret Service or The Pink Panther without their Alpine scenes? Screenwriters don't have time for fitting chains by the side of the road or worrying about salt corrosion: their heroes whisk their glamorous companions- Diana Rigg or Claudia Cardinale both fit perfectly- over mountain passes from chic hotel to bearskin-trimmed chalet in one expertly controlled slide after another, and the less practical the mode of transport the better. Think Aston Martin DBS with skis on the roof and you get the picture.
There's something inherently cool- excuse the pun- about really beautiful cars in the snow. The reality is that very few owners are nonchalant enough to drive their pride and joy when freezing weather sets in, and for good reason. Wide tyres and race bred engines weren't meant to aid traction on the white stuff and it takes a small army of staff to clean them properly afterwards.
It's just as well that one famous jet-setter had a rather larger army to look after his four-wheeled toys- over 3,000 of them (that's just the cars- he had 300,000 troops) and didn't agonise about using them. Nobody did Alpine cool better than His Imperial Highness The Shah of Iran, who wintered at his Villa Suvretta retreat in St Moritz with an entourage large enough to run his country from the ski slopes. His transport of choice for Christmas 1971? The first Lamborghini Miura SVJ, delivered by test driver Bob Wallace with studded snow tyres made specially by Pirelli for Ferruccio's most VIP customer. One can only wonder what mere millionaires must have thought as HIH cruised past, straight-through exhausts reverberating across the wintry landscape and an escort of black Mercedes-mounted bodyguards following close behind...
Years ago we were asked by a client to sell an anonymous-looking 300SL Gullwing. Detective work unearthed the factory delivery card and a yellowing photograph of a young man with that same Gullwing outside the Palace Hotel in Gstaad on a sunny, snow covered day in the '50s. It had been delivered to him just months earlier at Harvard University. Urbane but perhaps mindful that his role as a spiritual leader dictated a slightly more low-key lifestyle than some of his contemporaries (relatively speaking), Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan was another leading light of the post-war jet set with an appreciation of beauty in its many forms and a penchant for fast cars. Hours after a telephone call to his nearby chateau on Lake Geneva, a chauffeur driven Audi RS2 pulled up, resplendent in black with the discreet green and red pinstripes of the Aga Khan's racehorses. A distinguished older gentleman emerged, impeccable in tweed and a crisp British accent. My wife volunteered to accompany him on a test drive in his old Gullwing and couldn't resist commenting: "You must have been very popular in this car with the girls at Harvard" which was met by a smile: "My dear..." he paused, "I didn't need the car."
Another favourite image is of legendary Italian film director Roberto Rossellini, dapper in flat cap, shades and windbreaker, alongside his dirt stained Ferrari 375MM berlinetta on a snow covered pass somewhere in the Alps. Cool. Or closer to home, a young Glen Kidston at the wheel of his new Bentley Speed Six coupe, "Impossibly long in the bonnet" according to The Autocar, on the 1930 Monte Carlo Rally. Cool? Hard to say: he skidded on snow and disappeared through a wall.