But then the editor dropped a letter on embossed paper on my desk. It was an invitation to join a team of people who were driving the original Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, the legendary AX201, from John O’ Groats to Lands End to raise £50,000 for the NSPCC. As The Autocar had joined the car on its original exploits in 1907 when it broke the world’s reliability record (it covered 15,000 miles in seven weeks without a mechanical failure), it seems only right that we should be there for its latest adventure.
The only reason I got the gig was that I was the sole member of the editorial team interested even in pre-World War 2 cars, let along World War 1. But there was a catch: the invite was simply to ride in it and, quite rightly, my editor insisted that I drove it and that he’d not take the story if I didn’t.
There followed quite a long conversation with Rolls-Royce in which it was explained that, insured for £20 million, this was the most valuable car in the world so of course I couldn’t drive it. But I held out: truth was they needed the story and permission was granted. I drove it from Barnet in North London to Swiss Cottage – hardly an epic journey it’s true, but one I had never even dreamt I might make. And when I sat down at my ancient Olympia typewriter the next day, words just fell from my fingers as they had never done before.
I filed the story the same day and was then summoned to the editor’s office where I saw it in the middle of his desk. There was no word of congratulation, just enquiry: ‘Why don’t you always write like this?’ he asked.
‘I will endeavour always to do so from now on,’ I replied. Over 30 years later, I still am.