From Bentley to BMW, from Cortina to Mondeo, Brit execs from the mighty to the humble have had a 40-year love affair with their company cars. And it's as passionate as ever, despite the fact that the semantics of choosing the right one have never been more complex, says Stephen Bayley.
When I was a boy, there was a strict delineation, a clear hierarchy, a common culture that all respected and observed. The roads of Britain had their own caste system. Maharajahs, the chairmen of very large public companies or very successful entrepreneurs might have a Rolls Royce. Brahmins or managing directors, a Jaguar; the merchant classes or general managers, a Humber or a Rover; and the Harijans, untouchable salesmen or technicians, a Ford Cortina.
Mind you, this is going back a bit: when I was a boy people also said 'sir' and 'mister'. And this same hierarchy worked its influential magic on the roads as well as the car parks. Overtaking was merely a matter of prestige, road positioning and visibility. On the motorway, in a cascade of respectful automobile forelock-tugging, the Cortina would give way to the Rover, as the Rover would to the Jaguar, as the Jag would defer to the Roycer.