14 Dec 2012

"All I want for Christmas is a car" - Sharon Endacotte column

All Sharon Endacotte wants for Christmas is a proper car themed gift, or - if you can stretch to it - a car

So, it’s that time of year again.

That time when well-meaning relatives decide to buy car themed gifts for the auto enthusiast in their family… and get it horribly wrong. The problem is, they see the wealth of car-themed tat on the market, get all over-excited and before you know it, you’re writing to Auntie Doris to thank her for the lovely flash drive in the shape of something that might be a Bugatti Veyron if you squint a bit and drink half a gallon of eggnog whilst wondering how the hell you can wear MINI-themed underwear without your other half pointing and laughing (though at last we may have found something the Austin Maxi is actually good for – underpants with ‘Maxi’ emblazoned across the front for Christmas 2013? Watch this space).

The thing people, including most car manufacturers, forget is that what people who like cars like is – sit down, because this is a big shocker – cars.

Now, I’m not suggesting that Auntie Doris and her kind go out and buy people cars for Christmas, because that would be a bit extravagant, and might also lead to more Peroduas on the road because an old age pension will only go too far. However, there are some things that are universally worthwhile.

Got a car? Chances are it needs a clean from time to time, and some strange people find cleaning them quite therapeutic. But wait! Those nasty generic valeting sets you find in the supermarket might seem like good value, but the quality of the contents can be varied to say the least. It’s worth looking out for something decent. Autoglym produce a wide range of high quality products, and their gift sets often represent really big savings on the individual prices of the contents (their website claims up to 60% in some cases). Another brand worth considering is Muc-Off, who also make great gifts for those strange individuals who like cycling. Their Ɯbershine car shampoo is a particular favourite of mine, and if you order it from their website, a huge pack currently comes with a complimentary bottle of glass cleaner for the grand sum of £10.

If you’re like me, and you struggle to find your own arse with both hands in the dark, technology can be a good gift option too. Although a lot of newer cars have GPS fitted, for those that don’t, a Satnav is pretty bloody handy (alternatively, a local bus timetable, giving routes of buses you can follow to get where you need to go may also work). There are many gadgets and bits of tech that are going to be a lot more useful than a jumper with an embroidered Peugeot badge on the chest. Here’s another tip, Auntie Doris – try asking your family car enthusiast if they need anything. You may be surprised at the affordable, simple things that will make their life easier. Chances are, that won’t include furry dice, a pink zebra print steering wheel cover or a novelty air freshener…

We’ve already covered the pros and cons of experience days on this site, but they can be good fun as a taster of something exciting, and the costs vary depending on where you go and what you go for. What makes them good is that you don’t necessarily need a licence to go for a ‘thrill ride’ and a few operators have packages suitable for children. A teenager behind the wheel of a Ferrari or thrashing their way around a rally stage is going to have impressive playground bragging rights. Once they hit sixteen, they could even have preparatory driving lessons, which are held off road for legal reasons and are designed to give them a head start on manoeuvring and car control. Google for local instructors, or if you’re a traditionalist, see Yellow Pages for details. But if you want something a bit more substantial for the experienced driver, a day's classic car hire is a real treat, and for many people, better value for money than an experience ‘day’ where you may only spend half an hour actually driving.

Or why not give them tickets to a car show? There are many throughout the year, and there’s something for every taste, from Autosport International for those whose passion is found on track, to Future Drive (formerly Ecovelocity), where cutting edge technology and greener motoring are at the heart of things, and you can test drive a wide variety of cars for yourself. Other more established events are as varied as Goodwood Festival of Speed, the NEC Classic Car Show, Top Gear Live, Goodwood Revival and a huge number of pageants and festivals around the country. The National Motor Museum at Beaulieu is a good day out too, and the gardens and buildings mean there’s plenty to look for the non-petrolheads in the family too.

Or just chuck ‘em an iTunes voucher – there’s plenty in the app store to keep the average car person occupied, whether it’s apps to help them avoid traffic jams or racing games, or apps inspired by their favourite motoring show.

And if all else fails, there’s chocolate. Thorntons do a chocolate car that can be personalised with a name, and there’s a monster truck made from Yorkie chocolate available in Superdrug and other high street stores. They might not be the most exciting motoring gift, but they are made of chocolate, and they both cost well under a tenner. And you can eat them.

I could go on, but I’m running out of space, and time as well. Christmas is only just over a week away as I write this, so I’ll wrap up here with a few key pointers: Remember, nobody needs a model of an MGB made of coal (I found one on eBay! - Matt), Google is your friend and, most important, car people like cars.

And in the unlikely event that anyone would like to buy me a car for Christmas, it would be much appreciated, because mine’s broken.