Alan Clark: The Thinking Man’s Enthusiast

by J Kraus

Back Fire: A Passion for Cars and Motoring by Alan Clark

I just recently finished reading Alan Clark’s Back Fire. It is a very refreshing book as he was a true connoisseur of automobiles and motoring; one of the few among enthusiasts that sought something special from his vehicles beyond performance and prestige.

In short; a man after my own heart. Alan could have as much fun behind the wheel of his 2CV, Beetle or 1950 Chevrolet as he would driving his Silver Ghost, Bentley Continental or 550 Spyder. As long as the car was imaginatively designed, well executed and entertaining to drive – that is what mattered.

Unlike the majority of enthusiasts and collectors, Alan was not so concerned with the bragging rights and bravado that come with high top speeds, low 0-60 figures and impressive lap times. These are the purview of those who evaluate cars as amusement park rides rather than automobiles. He was much more interested in the driving experience and character of his cars. To him, power and speed were subservient to soul.

Alan with his ‘Daily Driver’ 911 filled with four cases worth of Domaine Goisot Saint-Bris following a trip to Burgundy

In this manner, Alan personally preferred six-cylinder Jensens and Bentleys to the later and more powerful V8 models. And although Alan thought his 911 Carrera was a “superb machine” he actually thought more highly of his earlier and far less powerful Porsche 356’s, calling the 356 “One of the greatest.” He described his favourite cars as those that exude charm, balance and obedience.

By the same token, Alan had little use for ‘hairy-chested’ sports cars with stiff suspensions and low ground clearance, the likes of Astons and E-Types; dismissing them (as well as most Italian exotica) as automotive equivalents of costume jewellry. He owned both a 3.8 and 4.2 E-Type briefly in the 1960’s but was dismayed to find that unless he was really pressing on, his journey times were no better (and far less comfortable) than he could achieve in his Jaguar Mark II Sedan. After selling the 4.2, he returned to driving Porsches.

Quite unlike the more typical and simple-minded enthusiasts who reflexively gravitate like salivating dogs to the engine option with the highest output, he often tended to favour more relaxed powerplants with flatter power bands, preferring his 60 and 75 horsepower 356’s over his later Super 90, and lamenting that his XK120 no longer seemed as smooth after the compression was raised and larger carburettors fitted at the factory in preparation for the 1953 Carrera Panamerica. He realized, as so few do, that when it comes to performance, like so many instances in life, there is often a price to be paid for extracting that last extra bit. A price often not worth the tradeoff.

The 2CV high in the Alps near Zermatt. Alan drove his family in the classic Citroën from England to Switzerland on holiday

When Alan passed away, his eclectic collection included pre-war Rolls Royces and Bentleys, post war Bentleys, 1950’s Jaguar XK’s, a VW Beetle, a 911 Cabriolet, a Citroën 2CV and DS23 Decapotable. He valued genuine unmolested originality most of all, and held little interest in restored vehicles. Although he had a late model Bentley Continental S, he rarely drove it, preferring to drive one of his classics, feeling that moving about in modern cars was more akin to travelling as opposed to driving.

Too many people acquire a car as a tool to accomplish an unrelated task: the ability to outperform other men, impress others, boost their self-esteem or acquire an certain image. Since Alan was a man of means and accomplishment (and quite popular with the ladies) he had no need to select his cars by such irrelevant criteria. He drove and collected what he liked, pure and simple.

2 thoughts on “Alan Clark: The Thinking Man’s Enthusiast

  1. I always enjoyed Clark’s column in “Classic Cars” when I occasionally picked up an issue, so I purchased this several years ago and found it quite entertaining. Alan found classics much more enjoyable than “moderns” due to the fact that exploring the limits of current performance cars on public roads was too risky and demanded such a degree of concentration that the sensation wasn’t worth the effort. I agree completely.

  2. I often wonder what happened to his collection of cars, I totally agree that classics are more involving, but remember a classic to a 40 year old is not the same to a 30 year old.

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