• ryanstarkauthor

'Company Car' Day

The event was held at a secret location somewhere in the South of France. We were all blindfolded and thrown into the back of a Citroen panel van, such was the security. To this day I have no idea where we went.

As international playboy and erstwhile undercover agent, my face should not made public, so I allowed my friend and colleague Austen, a few snaps. He doesn’t get out much. I also allowed him to pay the €100 fine for parking on a crossing.

The weather was slightly overcast which was perfect for our sojourn. We were given a safety briefing, but as Johnny Foreigner only spoke French, I ignored it, as a good Englishman should. Austen however, flawlessly cosmopolitan, translated for me. Basically, l’homme said Thrash les tits off them and nes pas bring them back until ils sont broken.

Or something like that.

Aston Martin DB9

Of course, this is the favoured workhorse of the quintessentially English spy. To be fair it was a bit of an old man’s car, but then again I am a bit of an old man. Walnut and leather, thick pile and a little dated. And so was the car.

This particular model was fitted with port and starboard flame throwers, 9mm cannons behind the front bumper vents and the obligatory oil-slick pump in the boot. The latter was a little inconvenient as it meant the golf clubs wouldn’t fit, but hey. Oh, and only two beverage cup holders? Please, Aston Martin!

One particular issue I had was the provision of an ejector seat but no sunroof. As one does, I drove with my hands on the auto gear lever, flipping the cover up and down. I accidentally touched the button – just the once. I am told my passenger will make a full recovery, once he gets his prosthetic legs.

On the upside, the performance, if a little pedestrian, was sufficient to keep Heinrich from Berlin and his damn Deutsche Maschine behind, even without the use of the bucket of shiny spikey things released by a switch marked shiny spikey things.

Lamborghini Callardo

At last, thought I, a car with a little spirit. My ex-controller, Jolyon Baggie Bagshaw, compared it to a fine Italian lady. Smooth delicate lines, a fiery temperament, passionate, highly strung.

I saw things a little differently. Whilst undoubtedly a head-turner, it was angry and loud, mostly fake and plasticky and would eat up your hard-earned at a vast rate of knots. If you’re like me, you would only want to be inside one once. Mind you that describes most of the women your average spy meets.

It was certainly an experience, very edgy on the throttle, cornering on rails, yet somehow mad, bad and dangerous to know. Gear change response was measured in hours and shouts of domani, domani! It was also short on gadgets. Again only two beverage holders. Come on, Lamborghini! However, there was an espresso maker and gelato fridge. Weaponry was poor, consisting of a white handkerchief and an armour-plated glovebox to hide in. Instead of rocket launchers, it had a loud, fat man with his cardigan tied about his neck, who would jump onto the roof and gesticulate wildly at passing motorists.

As this was the Italian government issue model it had one forward gear and six reverse.

McLaren MP4

Unfortunately, I was unable to sample the delights of this most British of thoroughbreds. My alter-ego, Austen, in an act tantamount to treason, passed himself off as me and drove in my stead. Like my dry Martini, stirred not shaken, he was gone in a flash.

Of all the cars, he told me later on the Jetstream back, this one packed power and finesse. Immediately comfortable the moment one closed the dihedral door, one fell into the silence of the cockpit and felt at home…so he told me. The engine, deathly silent at idle roared like a rabid tiger at the slightest throttle. Awash with technology, the most noticeable was brake-steer, a process whereby the inside rear wheel is braked slightly on cornering to reduce understeer. Of all the cars, this was the easiest to manage on two wheels, having hit a conveniently placed ramp in a getaway. However, the cockpit was so quiet, one was unable to completely drown out the screaming of the passenger as he tugged at the door handles.

Naturally, there was a rotating number plate and machine guns behind the grille, not to mention a mustard gas dispenser next to the exhaust. There is also a flippy thing which rises automatically from the boot, in order to increase ground effect, or to operate the twin stinger rocket launchers. Failure to press the flippy thing button before operating the rocket launcher invalidates the warranty, apparently.

One negative, as Pierre LeFou, from Paris Branch pointed out. This car does not automatically become a submarine when driven into the harbour at 130kph. However, it does make a splendid artificial reef for the fishes which will lunch on his corpse for weeks.

And for once, the lack of adequate beverage holders was immaterial. Wo wants to drink with a smile this broad on one’s face? Way to go, McLaren!

And finally…

My apologies to the leggy blonde in the Bentley.

Yes, it quite clearly was her right of way, despite the red light and the gendarme frantically waving and, yes. Why put a mirror there if one is not expected to touch up one’s makeup whilst driving?

Yet still I do it.

Anyway, The Company is paying and expenses will run to a rather splendid bottle of Bollinger along with our booking at the seafront restaurant. It is a good job I still maintain a pied-à-terre near the harbour.

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