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GTA Tripping: Fine British Automobiles

Posted by Christopher Reynolds / November 14, 2009

Grand Touring AutomobilesHey, here's a thing to do: rock up to a dealership and test-drive an insanely expensive and meticulously crafted automobile, just for fun. Al Pacino did it, and he was blind. So why can't we?

Our first thought, being members of one of the most equality-drunk societies going, is that, yes, of course we can. Conservatives and the unimaginative love to pat us all on the back by saying that we listen to a white rapper and watch a black golfer, that women can play hockey and men can do, oh, some girly thing. It is in this spirit that I can test-drive a Rolls Royce. Or so I believed.

I could even get up in arms about it. Like, who would the dealer be to say that I can't take a half-million-dollar übermachine out for a joy ride? How does he know that I don't have trunk loads of cash at the ready to fling at such a thing? If he were to refuse me I could accuse him of socio-economic profiling. I have rights!

Grand Touring AutomobilesDespite my rights activism, I thought I should at least look the part. I needed an adult, not some twentysomething wiener in tight jeans and a stamp on his wrist from last night's show (like me), but an adult-adult. Someone over 40 who looked like he could have money.

Luckily my father was in town last week, visiting from Halifax (902 what!), and he had a good pair of shoes with him.

Grand Touring AutomobilesWearing our best, we arrived at Grand Touring Automobiles on Dupont where we met Dean Jordan, one of the dealers. Mr. Jordan's specialty was the Aston Martin, and although it wasn't the most expensive brand on the lot (that went to Rolls Royce), it was what I most wanted to test drive.

Grand Touring AutomobilesDean was the real deal. As British as the cars he sells, the man worked for 15 years at the Aston Martin plant building the machines by hand. In his great Midlands accent he delivered a Tommy gun of factoids for us:

• The leather used on the interiors is procured only from cattle farms in northern climates because there are less biting insects to compromise the hides.

• The common leather interior aims to use the whole cow, Aston Martin instead recognizes that the read-end of the animal offers the softest, smoothest leather and so each of its interiors is created by sewing nine cow asses together.

• The cars are made entirely by hand and they produce less than 1000 of them per year.

Interesting enough, but I hadn't come to chat. When I asked about test-driving one, the man looked at me a moment, and then to my cohort, and then, with magic words that I cannot recall, we were rendered completely powerless. (He may have just used that flashing memory-eraser thing from Men In Black for all I know.)

We would not be test-driving a car today.

This is the sort of magic that men like Dean have. He was able to tactfully rearrange the situation so that we were not going to be test-driving anything, but we weren't any worse for wear for it. An artful manipulation.

Grand Touring AutomobilesJust the same, there I was, 10 minutes later, behind the wheel of a V8 Vantage Aston Martin. Under my fingers, through the cow-ass leather steering wheel, it was pure power and precision. Dean came with, in the passenger's seat, and so we got to talking.

He told me about his days working in the Aston Martin factory, and about how he had test driven the famous DB9 (the "James Bond Car") on a track in Spain. And then it hit me: this kind man who had spent his life building and selling one of the most beautiful things humanity has ever produced has never owned one himself and could probably never own one. An injustice, I thought. Dean has a right to an Aston Martin!

As I drove and he drew my attention to the shifting suspension system, I found myself saying "Top gee-ah" automatically in an exaggerated English accent. I hoped I wasn't offending my kind British ride along, but I couldn't help it.

When we returned to the dealership I finally steered the conversation toward my angle: how can the average Joe show up and test-drive something exciting? The short answer, he said, is that he can't.

"We'll look at his watch. We'll see what kind of car he shows up in," said Dean. It makes sense: the dealership is concerned about possible damage, but even more than that, they don't want to log any extra kilometres on new cars, but still, as a hyper-sensitive Canadian, the idea that I can't do something because of my socio-economic standing sets off (ludicrous, foolish) alarm bells. So difficult is this life of non-millionairedom.

The other option, he said, was that average Joe can lay down five or 10 grand as a deposit to test-drive one, but then again, said Dean, "guys like us can't do that."

Photos by Stephen Reynolds.



Chino / November 14, 2009 at 10:21 am
Nice, ballsy. I like the story, but i don't get it. How did he "tactfully rearrange the situation"? I thought you weren't going to be able to test drive it, but you did.

Freddy Bisco / November 14, 2009 at 11:28 am
I always drive by that stretch on Dupont, with the dealerships selling Bentleys, Rolls', Aston Martins and Lotuses, and dream :(

coast to coast like butter and toast!

Nana replying to a comment from Chino / November 14, 2009 at 11:37 am
From the change in tone, I gather he probably told him about the story.
SYSS Mouse replying to a comment from Nana / November 14, 2009 at 11:45 am
From the change in tone, I gather he probably arranged the trip well in advance.
Christopher replying to a comment from SYSS Mouse / November 14, 2009 at 12:56 pm
You're half-right.

I did arrange the trip and talked to someone else about the article, but when we arrived Dean was unaware of our intentions, and he did, in that exact same way that he would to a couple of bums off the street (which we very much were), "tactfully rearrange the situation" so that no test drive would be happening.

After some pleading he agreed to "take me out" in the car--with him driving. It took until halfway through the drive to get him to switch seats with me.
bluesclera / November 14, 2009 at 03:03 pm
Pretty short gta trip. Wish there was more.
seanm / November 14, 2009 at 07:27 pm
Spot on in regards to one of the most beautiful things humans have produced comment. The V8 Vantage is quite possibly the definitive representation of perfection. Even all the anti-car hippies around here can't deny that it is a remarkable machine.
Ernest / November 14, 2009 at 09:23 pm
I would have appreciated: 1) a clearer explanation of how you went from not being able to drive the car to being able to drive the car; 2) some description of how it felt to drive a car most of us will never experience.

Nice angle, though. A+ for imagination.
Christopher replying to a comment from Ernest / November 14, 2009 at 09:45 pm
I feel you...standby for the remix.
alex chan / November 14, 2009 at 09:57 pm
what the fck does this hafta do with toronto?
alon / November 15, 2009 at 02:46 am
This article was wack. How did you end up test-driving it when he told you that you wouldn't be test driving it? Confuse-o-rama, does nobody edit these things? I still can't make sense of this story.
Christopher replying to a comment from alon / November 15, 2009 at 03:35 am
BIG JOHN / November 15, 2009 at 01:21 pm
Christopher, your hand is very sexy! It's so smooth and hairless. I can also see a bit of your leg. And that, too, is very sexy. When are we going to see more?
mike / November 15, 2009 at 02:20 pm
Does it concern you guys that people come here merely to gawk at the regular failings of this blog? If the narratives with conspicuous gaps, gigantic portrait images and laughably terrible titles all suddenly disappeared, I don't know if I'd keep reading.

With that aside, this article was satisfyingly confusing. I appreciated having to read into the comments to see if the author decided in retrospect to mention what can only be described as the climax of the story. Keep up the "good" work!
Jason / November 15, 2009 at 02:30 pm
This article could use improvement, but the premise rocked. This could be the start of a regular series: off-beat, interesting things to try with your time in Toronto.
Alrex / November 15, 2009 at 02:50 pm
LOL - gta tripping... i guess dupont is north of bloor = no mans land.
Do Dat / November 16, 2009 at 11:25 am
I can understand from a dealer's perspective why they would not want just any "joe-schmoe" coming in and test driving cars that can run easily over $100k.
But at the same time - how do they expect you to know if you want to put down the cost of a small home on this car if you don't test drive it? It's a catch 22 situation... and for them to "assume" that you can not afford the "socio-economic" profiling as Chris mentions.
You could have a couple mill in the bank, but you just feel more comfortable in a pair of jeans, some nikes, a ball cap and a t-shirt.

But I wonder if it's a CDN thing..cuz I know of a buddy of mine who test drove an Aston Martin in Michigan and he does not look like the "snooty, richy-rich" type.
Some dealers over there seem more willing to let you test drive the expensive cars.... not all..but some.

Will Canada ever lower their prices on cars to come more in line with the U.S????

Do Dat

Gloria / November 16, 2009 at 12:13 pm
It's probably just me, but sometimes it's good to tone down your personal, "writerly" tone. The random interjections don't work for a general audience (maybe more suited for your friends and personal blog followers) and the overwrought introduction just strains.

I gave up partway through and just skimmed through the nice photos.
Christopher replying to a comment from Gloria / November 16, 2009 at 01:33 pm
Thanks for the comments Gloria. I don't think it's just you--the GTA Tripping series is a hard swallow for lots of folks because a) It appears on a general interest blog, but the pieces aren't really "blog posts" (though this could be said for other writers on this site, certainly). and b) I'm trying to do something new with this series--it's personal essays disguised as travel guides, and so it can be confounding to a lot of readers who come expecting it to be just a story about a trip and instead find themselves tripping over my many ruminations (see Pacific Mall post). It's a risky thing I'm doing, I think, but for every miss (like the climax of this story) there have been many hits, and a lot of readers have said good things about it (one comment on my last post made me blush so hard I almost fell off my chair). Either way, thanks for the patience/time/attention, and for your understanding as I continue this project. And again, thanks for the feedback, it's totally helpful.
Jason replying to a comment from Christopher / November 16, 2009 at 03:46 pm
I disagree, this was a great piece, except for a couple holes, which have been mentioned. If Gloria can't make it through more than 258 words (half of the 516 for the article... yes, I counted), then she has ADD.

I get the feeling that a lot of BlogTO writers don't proof their posts before they throw them up. Even reading something out loud or having one friend look at a piece before you post, will catch 90% of the stuff people complain about on this site.

I'm sure this story made perfect sense to you, Chris, because you "read in" the bit you neglected to write about how you got the test drive. Your gf/bff/stranger-on-the-bus would have likely caught that without too much effort.

Just my two bits. Keep trippin'
mr hood / November 16, 2009 at 04:54 pm
im curious what he had to say about not owning one...

after 15 years of dedication and handcrafting them, to selling them, you'd think the man would have one..

if he's test driven them in far off countries, he must have had some pull to get one super cheap!

even at 50k-75k perhaps??

wb / November 21, 2009 at 09:54 am
Nice to see someone appreciating the car, rather than jumping into that try-hard, cars are evil and destroying the planet and killing cyclists routine. I love cars and find myself in the same situation as the writer and Dean, the salesperson. How sad is it that someone like myself, who would get so much enjoyment out of a car, care for and show a great deal of respect for that car and the rules of the road, can't afford one? I do not dare mention my pining for an old Land Rover Discovery in public, unless I want to face all kinds of ignorant judgements from people who generalize and have no real idea other than what they read in Now Magazine rants about the car. Remember when the car was regarded as an industrial and technological innovation? Maybe electric cars will bring that back. I hope.

In the meantime, I'm going to throw on a Top Gear episode and have a little cry. / November 25, 2009 at 08:42 pm
Hey - I have given a number fairly high end vehicles some serious test drive ... has let me deliver BMWs, Porsches, Lexuses ( Lexi? ), Jaguars ... across North America.

They are not ALL sweet cars ... but more than a few are ....
Toronto Movers / April 1, 2010 at 07:36 pm
This maybe a little bit of a moot point, but I actually don't think Rolls Royce or Aston Martin are British anymore. If I remember correctly, Aston Martin is owned by Ford and Rolls Royce by Volkswagen.
Toronto Shakers / April 2, 2010 at 10:00 am
Since the article is now four months old, your instinct was correct, it *is* moot.

Worse, it's incorrect. Companies like Aston Martin and Rolls Royce don't become 'not British' simply by the fact that they are now owned by foreign interests. The history, values and philosophy, factories and workers remain staunchly tied to the UK, something you would instantly appreciate if you had ever visited the Rolls Royce Motor Car factory in rural Goodwood, West Sussex, England.
Bankston / October 22, 2010 at 06:23 pm
Great article. Sounds like fun. To all you blow-hards, give the man a break. If you don't like his stuff, go away. It is not required reading for your LIT101 class.
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