Cars of London – February 2016

Social media sites such as Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr are awash with content posted by enthusiastic car spotters who have a ready outlet for sharing what they have seen with fans around the world. Although this is just a hobby for most, there are well documented cases of where those who work hard at exploiting the available technologies can generate revenue from their passion. Substantial revenue in the case of the most successful, of whom Tim Burton better known as Shmee150 is perhaps the best known UK example. The trick, of course, is knowing where (and when) to look. As far as the UK goes, London is a pretty sure bet for seeing the sort of cars that most of us dream about, but know we are unlikely ever to be able to afford. I spend a lot of my working week in London, and have become almost blase to the steady stream of high end motors that you see on the streets: Porsche, Bentley, Aston-Martin, once the preserve of Motor Shows and a handful of rare sighting in the rest of the year are so common on the streets of Britain’s capital that you quickly lose count. But to see the really exclusive stuff, well just waiting for such a car to go past you on the street could entail a very long wait indeed. You need to go to the area where the owners of these cars live, park up and hang out. And that means the poshest post codes of the West End. So, faced with a rather grey Saturday afternoon in February, it was to the Park Lane area that’s reporters headed to see what could be spotted.



The first interesting car was to be found in the car park. This Bristol 411 looked like it has a fairly permanent residence here., as there was a fine layer of dust on the whole car. Leave a car long term in one of these car parks, and you would probably find that the car park charges exceed the value of the car! But at least you can keep you car in the dry. There was another interesting shape at the other end of the same floor of the car park with a fitted cover over it – it looked like a Bentley Mulsanne. The Bristol, of course, is far rarer.

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Starting at Hyde Park Corner, and meandering up Park Lane and in the streets to the east, there was plenty to see. If you want to see cars in action, then sticking to the main roads, such as Park Lane, is the best bet, but if that’s all you do, you would be missing out, as most of the cars are parked up. Just on the street. It is worth wandering around the maze of streets to the east of Park Lane to see just what can be found, as well as visiting the obvious spots such as the Dorchester Hotel, which has a small parking area right outside, beloved of those whose cars would struggle to get into the underground car park round the back. Here are the cars that attracted our attention during the afternoon.


595C Competizione

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Most numerous of all the supercars – and perhaps not surprisingly, as these are models that I see on a daily basis in London – were examples of Bentley’s Continental GT Coupe and the open topped GTC

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We also came across this rather distinctively hued current Flying Spur and a number of the previous generation model.

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The latest G10 version of the 7 series became available towards the end of 2015, but it is still a rare sighting on British roads. This Long Wheelbase one was parked up on one of the side streets

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We came across this i8 and i3 very near to the BMW Park Lane showroom, but in fact had seen plenty of i3 models scurrying around the streets of the area during the afternoon. That’s hardly a surprise, as this is prime i3 territory, where its range limitations would not be an issue and the exemption from congestion charging as well as the roominess in a compact package would be real benefits.

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The first Veyron that we encountered was parked up outside the Dorchester. It is a Grand Sport Vitesse Rembrandt Edition. First shown at the 2014 Geneva Show, the fourth of six  “Les Légendes de Bugatti” limited series models, the Rembrandt Bugatti edition was based on the Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse roadster, the 8 litre W16 engine in this car achieves an unparalleled torque of 1,500 Nm from 1,200 PS at 3,000–5,000 rpm, and can accelerate from 0–100 km in 2.6 seconds. With a maximum speed of 408.84 km/h with the roof down, the Vitesse is the fastest production roadster ever built. Following the Jean-Pierre Wimillie, Jean Bugatti and Meo Costantini editions that came before it, all of which were quickly sold, the Rembrandt Bugatti edition is distinguished by its two-tone brown and bronze colour scheme. The brightwork has a platinum finish, the wheels follow the same two-tone theme as the bodywork and the interior is upholstered in cognac leather and emblazoned with the elephant symbol throughout.  The model was named in honour of Rembrandt Bugatti, brother of company founder Ettore and one of the most important sculptors of the early 20th century. One of his most significant works is the sculpture of a dancing elephant. It decorates the radiator of the Bugatti Type 41 Royale and became the brand’s symbol. The art world views Rembrandt Bugatti as one of the most notable and artistically independent sculptors of the early 20th century. He became famous through his animal sculptures, and cast a large part of his work in bronze. The pieces are now on display in several collections and museums across the world. In the same way that Ettore saw automobile creation as an artistic process, Rembrandt Bugatti’s fame was based on his extraordinary artistic talent and his formidable manual abilities in manipulating surfaces. Just three of them were built, each with a list price of €2.18 million. Needless to say, even though, as I later found out, the car has been here for several days, there were plenty of people of all ages very excited to see it, especially when you spot what was alongside.

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The second Veyron of the day was on a side street, rather amusingly opposite a William Hill’s betting shop. As we stood admiring it, a young lad came up, and asked us if we had seen it on Instagram. He went on to say that it had been seen and photographed in this spot for at least three hours. He’d come down from Manchester and told us that he’d been down the previous weekend when the very distinctive Oakley-designed Veyron had been in town. We did not see that over the weekend (it apparently lives in Manchester), but we did see him later at the Dorchester and again at the ExCel the following day. On each occasion, he was recording a commentary to go with his pictures – vindicating my comments at the start of this report!

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Somehow I managed to walk past this Escalade without even spotting it. It was only when looking back on the street that I spotted it. The Escalade endured a brief period of popularity in the UK, usually finished in black, but the car is really too big for our streets and car parks. This is one of the second generation models that were sold between 2002 and 2006.

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We saw surprisingly few Ferrari models. I heard and then saw a 458 Italia accelerating away from the roundabout at Hyde Park Corner, but the only car we came across parked up was this  FF in a rather unusual colour.

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This Huracan came down this street a couple of times while we were looking at the Veyron in the background. The second time the driver paused by the Bugatti, so I am sure he returned simply for another look!

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Range Rover Sport

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4200 Spider

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Quattroporte V and VI

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This P1 was also at the Dorchester, parked next to the Veyron. Neither car had plates on the front, and on the back they had a California plate, and both the one on this and the Bugatti were the same “vanity” plate. Both cars had a windscreen sticker showing French (or perhaps Monegasque) insurance was in place.

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There is no doubting the fact that the S Class is the limo of choice, with numerous examples of the model parked up near the front door of several of the hotels, with chauffeur patiently waiting.

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In the line of hypercars in front of the Dorchester was an example of the latest Maybach, on Qatar plates.

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This previous generation C63 AMG pulled into the Dorchester as we were admiring the hypercars parked opposite the main entrance.

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Although there were nothing like the number of G Wagens here that we found in Dubai on’s recent trip there, but there were several that we came across parked up, all of them the top spec G63 AMG model.

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It was nice to see a McLaren SLR, almost the forgotten hypercar of recent times, eschewed in favour of Mercedes’ more recent top models, or the rivals. When new, this car generated a lot of excitement and seeing one was a highlight for any enthusiast.

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Rather different, but perhaps the most desirable of all the Mercedes we saw was this late model 280SL “Pagoda” which was parked up just off Oxford Street. Contrast the elegance of this Paul Bracq styled car with the over-fussy and frankly bling-y designs coming out of Stuttgart these days and you can see how Mercedes has changed its focus away from the traditional and very conservative buyer.

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Launched in 2010, the Aero Supersports was essentially a targa roofed version of the stunning limited edition AeroMax that had amazed everyone a few years earlier. with the two cars sharing the same bonded aluminium chassis and lower bodywork. Like the AeroMax, it was designed by Matt Humphries. He produced the Aeromax, while he was still a design student at Coventry, but once he graduated he was appointed as Morgan’s first head of design and  the Supersports was his first major project for the company. There is no doubting the success of the design. Undeniably a Morgan, but with a modern twist, this car can steal the attention away from just about any other car on the road, and the ability to turn heads continues when it is fired up (sadly not something we experienced on this occasion) with the noise that emanates from the side-exit exhaust system, generated by the bassy V8 soundtrack of the 367 bhp 4.8 litre BMW engine that is to be found under the bonnet. It has a bonded aluminium chassis and ‘superformed’ alloy body panels. Weighing just 1180kg, performance is on par with most supercars, despite what the looks might suggest. With a ZF six-speed gearbox, a 0-62 of 4.5sec is possible, as is an official figure of 23mpg. Modern Morgans have their dynamics underpinned by the company’s extensive – and successful – experience in GT racing; one of the Supersports roles was actually to homologate a more aerodynamically efficient body shape to help the competition effort. With this car, Morgan has pulled off a trick that many, far larger, organizations have failed at – successfully moving their brand up market. When the Aero 8 launched, it was £5000 less than the cheapest Porsche 911, but the Supersports had a price tag to match a Bentley Continental GT or Aston Martin. And Morgan had no trouble in selling every car that they could make.

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There were, of course, plenty of 911s to see out on the roads, but these two caught my eye, as recent 991 models, and versions – from the vast number of different ones which Porsche now offer – that are quite rare: a Cabrio and Turbo S

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No surprise to find a duo of Rolls Royce models parked up outside the Dorchester, with a UK plated Phantom and a Qatar registered Drophead.

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This Phantom was behind bars. It was in a street with massive locked gates and a huge number of bollards to prevent anyone trying to ram their way through. At the far end we could see armed guards standing in front of the building. Yes, the US Embassy.

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Whilst modern Rolls Royce models look suitably imposing, when you see earlier cars such as this Silver Shadow 2, they just look, well, small. And yet, when it was new, the Silver Shadow was considered a large car, oozing prestige and status. It is just a measure of how cars have grown in the past 20 – 30 years which is why this car does not stand out as it would have done when new in the late 1970s.

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Although super- and hypercars were what we had really come to see, no car enthusiast is going to ignore anything else rare or interesting. Whilst the latter might be stretching things a bit for this car, there is no doubting that it is now rare. Believe it or not, the Volvo 300 Series used to feature quite regularly in the Top 10  Best Sellers list, once Volvo had expanded the range from the original CVT-only under-engined 1400cc 3 door hatch to populate  a range of models with a choice of 3 or 5 door hatches and a neat 4 door saloon, and more powerful 1.7 and 2 litre engines. Although these cars were tough, just as you would expect from a Volvo, even a Dutch built one which started life as a DAF, they have all but vanished from our streets, so finding this one, a 1989 car and hence one of the last produced, was quite a surprise.

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Is this. A Taxi. Yes, no doubt coming to our streets in quantity at some future date. But right now, there are just three of these cars in the world, making it technically rarer than any of the hypercars depicted above. The cabbie spotted me taking a picture of this rather ungainly looking machine, wound down the window and offered me a brochure with a few details on this prototype. Purpose built by MetroCab, this is a Range-Extended Electric vehicle, which is powered by two 50 KW electric motors with a 1 litre petrol engine coupled with a generator which only charges the battery pack. The vehicle can also be charged by any mains outlet. Developed by Frazer Nash Research Ltd, this is a response to the requirement to make massive reductions in the pollution in our cities, where the diesel engines of current taxis are known to be a significant contributor. Quoted emissions for the MetroCab REE are <6.5 g/km of CO2. The vehicle has a quoted top speed of 80 mph (restricted) and can tackle gradients up to 1:3. It has to meet the other requirements of both the Cabbie and the licensing authorities, so it has a very tight turning circle, and full wheel chair access, whilst the driver will enjoy the fact that there is a multi-function touch screen display and infotainment system with hands free telephone connectivity, full air conditioning and a panoramic glass roof. Passengers – and there is a wide rear bench for 3, which is fore/aft adjustable, with 3 rear facing flip up seats – get a colour tv display. Air suspension means that the cab should offer a comfortable ride on our poorly surfaced streets.

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There are a number of dealers down the eastern side of Park Lane. It is clearly quite “normal” for people to go in just to look at, and drool over the cars, and take photos, as a sign in the entrance of the one respectfully asked that if people wish to enter simply to take pictures that they make a token donation to a nominated charity. However, late Saturday afternoon is not the time to try to do this, as you will find that most of them are closed. It was a case of window shopping only at Porsche and Aston Martin, but there were a couple of showrooms open, so we could not resist going in for a look.


First of these was MINI, who have a bright and welcoming showroom with space for 7 or 8 cars scattered around the split-level display area. I was half expecting to see a new MINI Convertible here, but the dealer staff said that it was not due on site until 4th March, so the newest model that they had was the second generation Clubman, which went on sale last autumn. Whether you like the looks of this model or not, there is no doubting the fact that the latest car is significantly bigger than its predecessor, which means that there is rather more space in it, especially for those who sit in the back, something which many will doubtless welcome. The rest of the car is very much MINI, with the stylised dashboard still a feature, but the improved ergonomics which came in first on the Hatch models, so that you can now actually read the speedometer at a glance!

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The showroom also contained examples of the Countryman and the latest 3 and 5 door Hatch models.

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A few yards away was the BMW Showroom, and this was also open. Catching our eye on entry was an M4 in a particularly bright shade of green. I doubt that many buyers will be brave enough to order one in this colour.

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Other M cars on display included an M5 and an M3

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There were two examples of the newly available  7 Series. Whilst the outside seems to have acquired superfluous chrome tinsel which seems at odds with its otherwise understated styling, there is n doubting the fact that the interior is well done. And that is true whether you are sitting in the driver’s seat or luxuriating in the expanse of the rear. There were an awful lot of buttons and switches in here, so it would take a lot longer than we had to try out all the features and toys that were on the car.

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More to my taste, actually, is the 6 Gran Coupe, and the one I drove a while back impressed me greatly, It is a large car, though, and whilst that was fine in the wide open spaces of California where I sampled it, I did recall how tight the the entrance had been to the car park, and how many back and forths I had done to slot my rather smaller Audi into a parking slot, so a car like this is perhaps not for everyday use in our cities. Oh. and of course, it does not come cheap.

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Actually, that comment, about cost, applied to pretty much everything that was on display. This 330d Touring xDrive looked smart, and had all the space in the back seats you would ever want. But it had a lot of options on it, meaning that this was easily a £50,000 car. Perhaps given where we were, this is not an issue, of course, but for most people, £50k is not something that you just sign on the dotted line for!

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A little more affordable is the 1 series, of course. On display was a 118i Hatch version of the car which received a mid-life facelift just under a year ago. I am not convinced that the visual changes made it look any better, and the car would seem to be quite spec sensitive, but even in the “better” versions, the UK press will tell you that it is not the clear class leader that they think is the case for its larger brothers and sisters. That does not seem to have stopped it from selling in quantity, though, and there are  plenty of these to be seen on our roads these days.

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A separate showroom area at the back had a couple of front wheel drive models, the latest  X1 and the 7 seater 2 Grand Tourer. The former does look better than its rather gawky predecessor

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Final car that was squeezed into the showroom, before we rounded a corner and found it packed with BMW bikes, was this X5. Large SUVs like this remain extremely popular among the residents of this area even though they are somewhat bulkier than its ideal for the narrow streets and under-sized parking spaces.

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BMW has a separate showroom for their electric cars.

Just as we had finished looking at the cars, and were poised to leave anyway , the staff very politely pointed out that they did really need to close, unless there was anything else that they could help us with. As we had plans for the early evening, it seemed that this was the cue to head back to my car, ready for Part 2 of the weekend’s activities. When we had been planning the weekend, the idea for the Saturday afternoon had included us strolling from Park Lane down to Knightsbridge, perhaps stopping off at HR Owen and then maybe even heading over to Joe Macari’s showroom to see some classics. That proved far too ambitious, as we filled all the available time just in the Park Lane area. And with sighting such as these, we were not unhappy with that.

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