This week, we get serious. Spending £20k on an estate car (or £10k on a hot hatch) is the sort of thing which can be done with a mostly sensible head on. To entertain the idea of spending £50k on a Grand Tourer, you must fully engage heart. Because modern GTs are balanced on the precipice of complete and total redundancy. Lower the back seat on any halfway modern supermini and you will have unlocked a similar level of practicality. The same supermini would also transport you to a cabin in Ullapool at the same legally permitted speed with a not a lot more fuss. Proper GTs do not handle like sports cars. They don't tend to make good poster fodder either.
And yet the niche is a mortal lock. It has effectively been around forever and will remain with us for as long as there are great distances to drive and well-heeled people to do it. Stepping from an expensive whip unruffled on the far side of a continent is one of life's great pleasures. McLaren told us last year that the market for Grand Tourers is many times larger than the one for supercars - hence its understandable enthusiasm for entering the segment with a new model designed to meet a unique set of criteria.
The nature of the McLaren GT raises a good point: what exactly constitutes a Grand Tourer? For the sake of brevity, we're going to say that car needs to be front-engined (because it helps with packaging people and luggage) and that it needs to be objectively fit for the original purpose - i.e. substantial enough to convey two occupants to somewhere dramatically distant in great comfort with more than a rucksack between them. It also needs to be worthy of spending £50k on, which means that points will be given for exclusivity, reputation, opulence, brand appeal and, yes, powerrrrr. Ready? Go.
While now earning more respect than it previously did, I really believe the 1990s was a golden era for Ferrari road cars. Maybe it's just through being a child of the time; anything that's red and fast and loud is a lot more exciting when you're seven. Even so, 20-something years later, the line-up looks better than it ever did: the 355 is the arguably the prettiest mid-engined Ferrari ever, the 550 marked an imperious return to front-engined form, and the F50 is finally getting the recognition it deserves - firmly out of the F40's shadow.
Then there's the 456. The sort of classy and elegant GT that just wouldn't cut it in brash, needy 2020 - making it more desirable than ever. The wheels are small, the arch gap laughable and the interior remarkably plain. However, the fundamentals of a great GT never really change; that's what gives the recipe such ageless appeal - and what makes the 456 such a great candidate. There's more than ample power and torque from the mighty V12, driver engagement courtesy of the manual gearbox, beautiful materials throughout (look at the boot suitcase!) and - crucially - the sort of effortless, swaggering cool that comes from not trying too hard. Which, really, is a priceless attribute - so this has to be worth £45k of anyone's money.
It says much about the comparative value of the DB9 that my old man - not someone prone to daydreaming about expensive cars - innocently asked me about the Aston's definitive Grand Tourer not so long ago. I say definitive because the DB9 lives long in the memory; not just because Aston built the thing for more than ten years, but because it is so astonishingly, hand-bitingly good looking. Ask people to summon up an image of a modern Aston Martin in their heads, and I suspect most would describe the DB9 even if they could not name it. For my money, it's as timeless as any car designed in the last twenty years could credibly claim to be.
The fact that this timelessness is now available for middling money, and comes not only with the pomp and circumstance of an Aston Martin badge, but also the quixotic pleasure of a 470hp 5.9-litre V12 is, I'm sure, the reason Cackett senior was idly picturing it on the driveway. There's other things to recommend it, too: the DB9 was the first car built on Aston's all-new aluminium VH platform and the first model produced at the firm's new Gaydon site - both courtesy of Ford's investment.
True enough, the interior and gearbox will now seem a little behind the times, but the car's GT essence - think swept-back luxury and euphonic 12 cylinder soundtrack - is another feature unmarked by the passage of time. And best of all, £50k buys you a sublime example; in this case, a post-facelift, fully kitted example from Aston Martin Works (the firm's own heritage centre) with just 26k on the clock.
In 2010 I had the pleasure of doing a guest race for Bob Neville's RJN Motorsport at Thruxton. Bob's team was the first stepping stone for those that had won the PlayStation Gran Turismo challenge, and offered the first introduction to real racing. It was not a surprising choice to use the GT-R, out of all the cars I have driven it is the one that felt like I was playing a PlayStation in real life. Choosing something which is not unlike pressing some X and O buttons on a controller may seem bizarre for a 'best' feature, but there is another side to this car - cheat mode.
With a few more clicks (or holds in this instance) of buttons on the console, the GT-R comes alive. The virtual becomes so much more clunky, industrial, and raw - all accompanied by a whining V6 soundtrack. Very much like Gran Turismo on the PlayStation there are a multitude of upgrade options for the car if you're so inclined. The classifieds will turn up plenty of choice, so much so that it's sometimes hard to find an unfettered one in the colour of your choice. In my opinion, black is more subtle than the other colours in the range and sitting in those Recaro seats will make a long tour perfectly comfortable. You could also lose a chest of drawers in the boot.
That doesn't make it conventional choice for a GT buyer - but it will play the part, if you ask it to. And you've always got the cheat codes and those buttons to make it become something else entirely.
I had my first crush in 2000 - and fell in love, too. The crush never did like me back, and is now married with babies. Hey ho. The love? The love was the Porsche 928, and the fire of that passion probably burns brighter now than it ever has in the past 20 years. No, really - I adore them.
I was nine, maybe 10, and my nan said her neighbour's son had two Porsches - two Porsches! - which is presumably why he still lived in his teenage bedroom. It seemed a worthwhile sacrifice at the time. And they were both 928s, one acting as an organ donor for the other if memory serves. Anyway, he took me out in the functioning 928, little old Matthew who'd never experienced much more exciting than a 320i at this point, and that was that: my heart now belonged to the big V8 Porsche. The way it accelerated, even through long automatic ratios, the view down the vast prow when the lights popped up, the impeccable refinement at really very naughty speeds - it was just immense.
I never saw the guy, or his 928s, ever again. But it didn't matter - a seed was sown, one that continues to flourish to this day. I debate all too regularly whether I'd want an earlier, prettier car, or a more powerful, later one; I wonder if it would be really worth seeking out a manual over an auto; and could I really, honestly live with pasha upholstery? When I wrote about a 928 years ago, just £16k (!) would have bought a manual GTS; now £35k is needed for an auto equivalent with the same miles. Finally, it would seem the world is beginning to appreciate the 928 like I have for two decades; maybe, if I just moved back in with Mum, I could save up and buy one...
I made my choice while reminiscing about Le Mans '15 when Bentley Cambridge very kindly lent the sales team four brand-new PH liveried cars to scoot down in. From the Mulsanne, Spur, GTC and a GT Speed on offer, I opted for the GTC with a naively romanticised view of cruising happily through the French countryside, wind in my hair and V8 under my right foot. However very soon after exiting the tunnel I immediately regretted this choice as being a lighter skinned chap with a hair tint to match the 'Orange Flame' paintwork I didn't fair particularly well. I remember at one stage having to buy a wide brimmed straw hat at one of the many, many petrol stops the convoy took. (Obviously I could have just put the roof up, but who would do that?)
The inconvenience of third-degree burns aside, the rest of the journey was a deep pleasure, and left a lasting impression. No car has ever quite compared with the V8 noise and sub 5 second pull whilst exiting the Péage booths; nor repeated the impression of a big thing picking up speed so effortlessly. The quilted seats and Breitling clock mounted centrally on the dash were a continual reminder of the slightly over-the-top hand-finished luxury and the pure comfort level was extraordinary. I missed less the worry of having a bright orange £150k convertible parked on the road outside my then London flat; I remember after picking it up waking up and curtain twitching several times through the night to the sound of car alarms in a deep state of paranoia.
Handily now 5 years on my hair is a little more grey than orange, and we appear to be firmly locked into the UK climate for the time being, this rather nice 2011 equivalent seems like a great option. At what I estimate to be well under a third (dare I say quarter?) of the original list price, only one owner from new and a reassuringly comprehensive service history are all ticks for me. My former car was a mere V8 so this time with 4 bonus cylinders the fuel gauge will likely move quicker than the minute hand on the Breitling - but who cares? It's not my money and who doesn't want a W12 soundtrack on their grand tour?
I'll confess to being a bit of a Lexus fanboy thanks to only the LFA (obviously) RC F Track Pack and LC500. Because of its ties to the other two, the latter is my choice here; how could I not fall for an LFA-inspired design draped over a chassis wielding that naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8? It's intoxicating enough to help me overlook the mild ride issues an LC500 suffers from; most of which should become a distant memory once I'm across the Channel...
That atmospheric V8 is obviously the party piece here, a characterful motor that begs to be revved before sending its 457hp rearward. That 384lb ft of torque doesn't come in until 4,800rpm is telling; there isn't an elasticated powerband ready to surge you forward from any starting point, but rather something you - the fleshy thing behind the wheel - must meld with to experience. Same goes for the 10-speed auto, which requires your coordination to deliver its best performance.
Settle into a cruise and hundreds of miles in the cockpit of an LC500 will float by. But the way the Lexus demands your affection before unleashing its most spectacular traits on the right road is what makes it so easy to love. It'll burrow under your skin before you've even noticed. And there's nothing more GT than that.
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