Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
Janis Joplin 1970
By Richard Matthews May 13th 2018
I wrote about my old friend Freddie Martin a few weeks back in relation to business trips and visiting Ireland back in the 70s and was delighted when the old boy got in contact with me this past week. Delighted not only from the prospect of meeting up but also from his question “Did you know I got your old company car when I joined R.P.Martin?” In truth I didn’t and I hereby apologise for the state that it was probably in, dented, stinking of cigarettes and probably a few empty bottles rolling round in it.
Let’s be clear on one point. I love cars, always have and always will. From my first Dinky, Matchbox or Corgi toys through Scalextric to the real thing. Despite always wanting a metallic blue car I seem to have always veered towards red and yellow and preferably Italian. Indeed the car that Freddie was referring to was a bright red Alfa Sud Sprint Veloce. A gorgeous car with a lovely throaty flat four boxer engine. It sounded great went well and as all cars Italian, in the 70s and 80s, was reluctant to start if there was even a spot of rain around. Never mind it got me around in some style and indeed I seem to remember getting it to France whilst endlessly playing Avalon and Layla on the cassette deck. It was of course a company car.
Company cars for much of my career were not only the fastest versions of that model but also the cheapest pay rise that could be given. Tax efficient to the employer, cheap to finance through leasing and status granting to the employee. What was there not to like? On the surface not a lot, certainly from the employees point of view not a lot, not a lot if you were thought highly of anyway. But from the employer a whole host of potential problems. The era that really was interesting was the Red Porsche 911 period when all of a sudden Thatcher’s children started earning big bucks in the City. A red 911 became a status symbol not only for the driver but also for the commentator as it seemed to highlight all that was obnoxious in the City.
Out of all the cars I was responsible for giving to employees, and indeed having myself, I can’t actually remember anyone actually wanting a Red 911. Black with a whale’s tail ( Bunker) certainly, Silver (mine) Blue soft top(mine) but never red. There may have been a Red 924 come to think of it but the bête noir of the media I don’t recall being responsible for. I do though remember the fun and games that the cars ensured we all had. Looking at it from an outsider’s point of view the employer and employee agreed what car was going to be given, the employee accepted a lower salary (yippee) took the car and everybody was happy. If only it was that simple. In broking, for that’s all I can talk about really, nothing is ever simple and everyone is always looking at the angles and of course we were all young. Probably too young to appreciate what we had and consequently every problem imaginable came about. From the predictable Monday morning calls when a nervous voice would say “Can you just talk to such and such Police station” to the inevitable “I’ve had a little accident“.
If you are given something, however much you deserve it, you will never respect it as much as if you bought it. Fact. I’m as guilty as the next man for the way I misused company cars and I hope that you realise that it was just down to youthful exuberance. It was of course the same youthful exuberance when Papa T, Stick and Scrapper Harris (I bet you can’t guess why he had that nickname) carried a Mini up to the first floor of the Runneymede hotel during a company outing? Nothing to do with the industrial quantities of Beer that had been consumed. Company cars were used for every reason from impressing girlfriends who had the use of pool cars to creative business opportunities. In one instance the girlfriend of a senior colleague of mine managed to slam the car into reverse on the motorway, thankfully she didn’t think a pool car was destined for the nearest swimming pool. The most creative use was, without a doubt, spotted one morning outside the original Futures market at The Royal Exchange.
We had a dynamic young trader called Danny the Rot not because he was rotten; oh no he was thus called because he was as ferocious as a Rottweiler. Tall, ginger and with a sharp tongue and a brain to match he was still a teenager when we gave him a BMW 320i as his first car. I suspect he hadn’t actually passed his driving test but never mind. We were standing, as we did, pre market outside the Royal Exchange when we saw Danny’s car turn up. Out he gets, as does his Dad, and we all think how kind of Dad. Next, Dad walks to the boot, gets a plastic bag out attaches it to the boot and carefully places an aerial onto it and sets off for his day job as a mini cab driver using our car. Oh happy days and they normally were until the employee left and on occasions they disgruntledly would drop the car keys down a drain. Not Danny though he was always behaved like gent, well to me anyway.
I worked my way up through various cars until I bought my dream car a Ferrari Dino in the early 90s. I had always wanted one since I saw my hears desire, well a pubescent boy in Italy was allowed to dream, get out of one in Forte Dei Marmi in 1969 and eventually I got one as the prices plummeted in the early 90s. I lovingly rebuilt it and changed its original colour of red to yellow and to complete the dream I drove it to Italy and parked it at the very spot that I had last seen this girl. I got out, breathed in the scent of pine trees and sun oil and thought “ I’ve bloody made it “ and went to lunch only to return a few hours later to find that it had been stolen. I did get it back a year to the day later and actually have a good idea of who stole it but that story can wait.
In present day Italy the seemingly endless wait for a resolution to the Italian election seems to be drawing closer with all the usual suspects being involved even Berlusconi seems to have taken political Viagra as he rises back into prominence. I could write thousands of words about what the outcome will be and still be nowhere near correct so all I am going to say is that a horseshoe alliance of left and right seems increasingly likely and any thoughts that Italy will muddle through as normal will be misguided. There is every likelihood that an anti- Europe, anti-euro, pro Russia, Populist Party will come to power in the heart of the community.
I’ve written mostly about cars this week and Italy still manufactures the most beautiful sounding cars but not even this fact justifies the 10 year BTP yielding less than the 10 year US Bond. That is as about as logical as Australia competing in that travesty called the Eurovision song contest and must surely point to more USD strength .
Have a good week and if you enjoyed this please share!
Richard Matthews, who began in career in 1973, is a former trader-broker in the London money, futures and foreign exchange markets. Twitter @dickiematthews5
Now I know some of you will want to know if I still have the car. Sadly no, and yes I sold it too early but as they say you never go bust taking your profit too soon.