Last month, I reviewed two people-carriers, an experience so lowering that I arranged to borrow a top-of-the range Ferrari in the aftermath, in the hope of restoring my faith in motoring and, frankly, life. But when I heard that the loan would clash with a weekend at the Guardian Hay Festival, the idea started to lose its appeal.
For if there is a vehicle more unsuited to a literary festival sponsored by a left-wing newspaper during the worst recession in living memory, I can't think of one. The Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano F1 is insanely loud, laughably expensive, ecologically devastating, and its ego is bigger than a roomful of Booker nominees. Clearly, taking it to Hay was going to be like waving a Free Palestine flag in Golders Green.
Still, anything is better than the train, and I took the Ferrari anyway, though when I drove into town I did so with the windows shut, the seat lowered, my face obscured by shades and the radio turned off.
But I needn't have worried. The inevitable reaction, when it came, was just as it was elsewhere: people cooed, took pictures, asked for the engine to be revved so they could hear an exhaust note more seductive than Mariella Frostrup's growl. There was no contempt.
Why not? Well, a number of theories spring to mind: 1, there isn't actually much of a crossover between literary types and eco-warriors (one of the festival's sponsors was Land Rover); 2, literary types are not necessarily immune to status symbols and bling; 3, writers are so self-loathing that at some level they envy and respect the hedge fund managers, entrepreneurs and footballers who might be able to afford such a car; 4, the Ferrari brand is so iconic that it rises above worldly concerns such as fuel consumption, price tags and global warming; 5, cars like this aren't going to be around for ever, so - as with, say, Alan Bennett - it's important to enjoy them while you can.
As it happens, I never came to a conclusion on the issue: during 36 hours, I went to one and a half events and talked to zero writers. Given a choice between roaring around the English countryside in the best car I've ever been allowed to drive and an hour in a hot tent listening to Joan Bakewell talk about her first novel, there was no competition. But if I were to hazard a guess, I suspect the main factor was 4, above. Disliking the 599 GTB for being brash and expensive would be like objecting to the Mona Lisa for its price tag. You'd be missing the point.
I'LL TAKE ONE ...
- Thunderous performance.
- Supermodel looks.
THANKS BUT NO THANKS ...
- You can't afford it.
Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano F1: £202,679
Engine: V12, 5,999 cc
Combined power: 612 bhp @ 7,600 rpm
Torque: 448 lb/ft @ 5,600 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed F1 paddle shift
Fuel: 15.8 mpg (combined cycle)
CO2: 415 g/km
0-62 mph: 3.7 secs
Top speed: 205 mph