Which is the Best Irish Stout? Well, you could always try looking for the answer in Guinness World Records, the default repository of achievements and natural extremes.
I was as nerdish as any other schoolboy, possibly a fair bit more in fact. In the early to mid 60s, I owned several volumes of the, then, Guinness Book of Records, which was published annually. This contained information on the Longest, Heaviest, Brightest, Furthest …… etc that you could quote, authoritatively, to your friends and relatives, who would look politely impressed whilst stifling their yawns.
Naturally, one of the first sections I always turned to was Automotive, so that I could check the Most Expensive and Fastest categories. For a long time it seemed that the fastest production car was the Aston Martin DB4 GT and the most expensive car was the Darrin DiDia. The Aston was accompanied by a photo which corresponded more-or-less with my expectations, but the Darrin had none. It was a mystery to me, a meaningless name, but something that was far more costly that a mere Rolls Royce, so a fact well worth knowing at the time. And those facts stay etched in my mind, so I needed no research to write them for this piece – I wish my more recent memory was that retentive.
Only years later did I find that the ‘Darrin’ referred to the singer Bobby Darrin of ‘Dream Lover’ and ‘Mack The Knife’ fame. He didn’t actually build the one-off car, he just paid in $150,000 for it in 1961; an awful lot of money back then. The car was designed by Andy DiDia and built by Clark Kaiser Customs.
Male children are often obsessed with values. They want to know the quantifiable extremes, but they also want to be able to tame the subjective. Although not shown in Guinness, for years I accepted that the Rolls Royce (no particular model) was The Best Car In The World. That was what people said back then and though, at heart, I must have known that this was just an opinion, I just couldn’t put up with such uncertainty. I rather preferred to imagine that there was some sort of central committee, who took out the measuring tapes of excellence, and calculated this to be A Fact.
In reality, motoring is full of uncertainlty. Look on any website (except this one, of course) and you will find hot disputes over the ultimate values, from best colour to greatest racing driver*. And subjective opinion is further quantified in order to produce lazy, useless listicles – 10 Most Ugly Ferraris / 25 Unforgettable Motoring Nonentities / 50 Sexiest Diesel Hatchbacks. The fact that there are so many mistakes made in the auto industry means that for every VW Golf, there are several Edsels and shows us that you can’t really analyse. Even measurable figures mean nothing in the end.
The Veyron Super Sport might be The Fastest Production Car In The World, but there are various cars that feel faster and more visceral. I might have grown out of it, but does Ferdinand Piech get a copy of Guinness World Records in his stocking every Christmas?
Several years after my interest had abated, I was actually featured in the Guinness Book of Records. I think it is the 1974 Edition and I am 23rd from the left (that’s probably a desperately inaccurate guess) in the rear segment of the World’s, then largest, unsupported sitting circle. If you have a copy, I will gladly autograph it.
* Incidentally, the answers are Nogaro Blue and Mario Andretti, although tomorrow that might change.