Knightsbridge, 2016

Today, golden sneakers have taken over from monk-strap brogues.

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Behold the splendid variety and exceptional exclusivity that is the domain of upper class motoring in 2016!

Back in the olden days, my younger self used to indulge in the stiff upper lip, olde worlde charms of Knightsbridge’s crusty kind of wealth. As a young, car obsessed German boy, the illustrious parts of London used to be some kind of automotive mecca: Bentleys and Royces galore, not to mention vintage exotica (at a time when old cars were considered just that in Germany). There was a certain nonchalance even to that aloof chap that parked his Ferrari 456 halfway across a zebra crossing, just because that happened to be right in front of the café where he intended to have his breakfast. Not to mention all those gentlemen in double-breasted pinstriped suits, who always seemed to embody some kind of aristocratic calm.
Rose-tinted it certainly is, this recollection of Knightsbridge’s past, and most certainly there were quite a few cretins around back in the day too, but that place used to possess one thing: class.

That crucial ingredient has mostly been replaced by, I guess, sheer wealth. There are more expensive cars around than ever before, but most of them tend to be on the vulgar and/or boring side. Some of the terraced houses that make up much of Knightsbridge’s residential area actually appear to have been abandoned – what with their owners probably betting on being able to add another cypher to their market values in due course.

Yet the most poignant image of Knightsbridge anno 2016 isn’t one of those utterly inhospitable ‘condominiums’ (does anyone else have the stench of rubber in his/her nose when reading that term?) that also seem to be mostly uninhabited and radiate all the charm and – that term again – class of council housing with added bells and whistles.

It was the car that was parked in front of the house that used to be home to one of the great aesthetes in cinema history: Sir Ken Adam. The legendary James Bond production designer famously used to drive around London in his white Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud Drophead Coupé, which could actually be seen parked in front of his house on Google Maps. And in the 1960s, that same honour fell to a Jaguar E-type. It’s been cars like these, with the typical terraced houses in the background, that had defined Knightsbridge to me.

But when I returned this year, there was neither Jaguar, nor Rolls-Royce to be seen. A quaint Nissan Figaro actually did its best to lighten the mood, but the reality of today’s Knightsbridge was all too vividly summarised by the green screamer that occupied Sir Ken’s parking space.

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Adieu, Sir Ken! Goodbye, Knightsbridge!

Author: Christopher Butt

car design critic // runs // contributes to The Road Rat magazine // writes a column for Octane France //

27 thoughts on “Knightsbridge, 2016”

  1. Kris. To cheer you, I could have directed you to Wilton Crescent where an S1 Bentley Continental Mulliner fastback has been parked regularly for years. Obviously cared for, yet not hidden away and cossetted in a garage, it’s always a cheering site. Particularly nice is the idea that, when tourists pass it by to gawp at a luridly coloured Lambo, they don’t realise that they may likely have passed the most valuable car in even that well-heeled street.

    1. Now that is just delightful, Sean! And a wonderful nod to the world of cinema as well, given the prominent role of a Bentley Continental in The IPCRESS File’s Royal Albert Hall-set scenes.

    2. Thank you Laurent.In my day job I have a lot to do with ‘sites’, as in locations, and sometimes get confused. My illustrious position on this sight means that I can actually correct/edit my comments (even yours should I feel so mischievous), but I will not do so in tribute to your diligence.

  2. Another favourite, long-term, street-parked London classic was this ‘Shelby GT350’ that was around Chelsea for several years. I use inverted commas since, although it looked fine to my eyes, unlike coachbuilt Bentleys, classic versions of workaday vehicles (Lotus Cortina, Fiat Abarth, etc) are the easiest to re-create, so I could not tell for certain.

    1. It doesn’t look legit to me. The proper article has wire retainers at the leading edge of the bonnet. The wheels don’t look right either. Still: nice car.

    2. Actually Chris, it’s a while since I last saw this, and I just lifted this archive photo off Google Street View. I remember it had some sort of GT350 club sticker in the back window and, although it’s not clear here, I thought it had bonnet pins (but maybe that’s my memory playing tricks). However the clincher that it’s probably masquerading is that it’s got the louvred side windows of a GT (though, of course, even they’re pretty valuable these days).

    3. I thought the Mk 1 Shelbys had glass – which always seems back to front since louvres = performance. And I thought that the later, more bloated marks had scoops. But a quick look at the Wikifont Of All Knowledge tells me that the early Mk 1s had the standard factory louvres. So, since I recollect this car as having a 65 registration, it is back in the frame.

      Actually, I had this discussion several years ago with someone in the States. At the time Shelbys were already well into 6 figure sums. I sent them a better photo and they declared it was a replica. There was nothing they could point to, their main reason being that who would be crazy enough to park a highly valuable car on the street. I said that was the least reason for thinking that a car you found on a London street wasn’t kosher.

  3. That photograph full of Range Rovers is rather depressing, isn’t it? At least supercars and interesting coupes allow some pleasure to the observant passer-by, and enhance the streetscape. Nose-to-tail monochrome SUVs do not!

    1. There’s a pretty residential street near my neck of the woods which is hardly 300 yards long and lined with XC90s (I counted 7 of them on most days – I hope the local residents got a group discount), Range Rovers and other lesser SUVs. Most of them too wide to fit in the standard London parking space. Quite sad really.

    2. My own street lost its credibility quite a long time ago, and it now has its share of the usual suspects. But several years ago, Johhny B Goode turned up to a house up the road in his Murcielago (Don’t bother with the spelling Laurent, I know it’s wrong and I can’t be bothered to look it up) and his Mum came out and put plastic bollards round it. Sweet.

      Of course I’m making up the back story. I have no idea what the car was doing there or whose it was, but the bollards just seemed to highlight what a ridiculous form of transport it was.

    3. I think one guy has an Aston Martin fetish at the (not so) common end of your street. I’ve seen a Rapid parked there a few times, and classic DB-something (5 or 6, presumably) two or three weeks ago.

  4. Ensconced in the Brexit voting hinterland of the post-industrial Midlands as I am, any sort of exotica is a rare sight around my residential context. Imagine my surprise then the other week at spotting a brand new powder blue Audi R8 pulling up at the otherwise nondescript semi opposite. Out from this Teutonic spaceship tottered what my father would describe as a “dolly bird”; platinum blonde, creosoted tits, supernaturally white teeth. Her absolute glee at parading this vehicle at what I presume to be her lowly relatives was palpable. To be fair she took the genetically less fortunate out for runs in it, resulting in a large amount of V10 vrooming and, at one point, an audible graunch as she grazed the valance on a speed hump.

    1. Thinking on, there was a weekend when I saw three different Teslas passing through the village. And a bloke down the road has a TVR Tuscan Speed 6 stashed away in his garage.

  5. Laurent. There was a Quattroporte V up the road a while ago – maybe they traded it for the Rapide. Ah, isn’t gentrification wonderful. When I moved in, I had the flashest car in the street – a three year old Renault Espace, tied joint with someone’s equally old 3 Series BMW. I judge that by the scientific fact that they were the only two cars to have paint stripper chucked at them one night.

    And I did see this round the corner a few years ago (Kris and Eoin please close your eyes now).

  6. I worked in Knightsbridge for 18 months and hated it. I have witnessed some of the worst taste car styling crimes known to human kind – pink and chrome Veyrons, matt black Phantoms with lime green wheels, etc. Bling-tastic!

  7. Photographs of leafy Knightsbridge without a Bristol in sight nor even mentioned in the thread. What has become of DTW?

    1. DTW has come across some money? When/how did that happen?

  8. I once got lost wandering around Knightsbridge, having booked a cheap hotel on the periphery of the area. The number of Aston Martins and Porsches parked nose to tail in the streets, some of which displaying kerbed alloy wheels and bump-scrapes, was simply dazzling. It was as if I had been transplanted into a world where £100k cars were the norm, which in effect I had. I even saw nannies ferrying children around in ‘cheap’ X5s. Absurd.

    1. Living in London I hardly notice the sheer volume of up marketry parked on the streets any more. I did once walk round Berkeley Square doing very rough maths to count the value of cars I was passing, but I gave up in despair.

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