You probably know James May from Top Gear, but if you’re from North America, you probably didn’t know he has had a storied career not only in automotive journalism (Autocar magazine) but also as a television and radio host. He recently waxed poetic for RadioTimes about his first car, a 1978 Vauxhall Cavalier.
To Americans, the Cavalier may sound familiar, but it’s not related to the Chevrolet Cavalier. The Vauxhall Cavalier was the sister to the Opel Ascona, the mid-level model that was popular with middle-class British families when new. James claims he obtained it from a sales representative, so it had a few miles and a dent. This one was absolutely bare-bones with no clock and no headrests (they were mandatory in the U.S. starting in calendar year 1969). “The Cavalier 1.6L was bog-ordinary … [and] the interior was brown.”
Many of us can relate to this: “These days, it’s no secret that I have a Ferrari. I love it, dearly, but neither it nor any other car I drive now could ever be as exciting as my Cavalier was. It’s not just that it was the first; it’s that I came to it from a bicycle, which I would think nothing of riding 40 miles to visit girls I imagine might be interested in me, only to discover that they weren’t, which meant I’d have to ride it 40 miles back the other way.” Perhaps it was a Pontiac LeMans with manual steering, for us Yanks, but the script is the same.
May considers the Cavalier “a car of the people,” something that is practically akin to an unalienable right, which gave birth to “the people’s car of hope” like the Ford Mustang or Capri (in some ways a British Mustang that enjoyed some sales success in the US until it was replaced by a Mustang clone in 1979). While his Ferrari may be the penultimate car for an enthusiast, his heart will alway be with his little beater because without it, there would be no Ferrari.