How a Rolls-Royce helped me write | Thank Frankel it's Friday

12th February 2021
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

I’m not sure it’s a process all writers go through, but I expect it happens to most of us. Some time early on in our writing career we find what is best described as our ‘voice’. I don’t think anyone save the preternaturally talented comes to this racket with their voice fully formed, but if you don’t find it reasonably quickly you simply won’t survive, or at least not in a form that enables you to be paid to drive nice cars and write about them.


There is no shortcut to finding your voice, nor are there really any indications that it’s on its way. You can’t try writing in someone else’s voice because you’re not them, you’ll never be as good at it and sooner or later you’ll get found out. Nor can you summon it out of thin air. In fact the entire idea of finding your voice as a writer is fundamentally misplaced. Truth is, it finds you. Or at least it did for me.

And in my case it wasn’t something that evolved over time, it was like flicking a switch. One day I was writing mechanically and awkwardly, the next the words flowed and I had pretty much reached my level, whatever that may happen to be. Sure, you can get better thereafter because over time you find nuances and a certain verbal flexibility and dexterity within the structure of your voice you didn’t know was there at time, but the style is the same. Think of it as finding yourself as a person: you may wear different clothes and have different hairstyles over time, but underneath it all you are you and that doesn’t change.

My light switch moment came in the autumn of 1990. I’d been an Autocar road tester for a couple of years and had learned enough to be able to go through the motions of that rather formulaic kind of writing well enough at least to be able to hold down my job. But that wasn’t good enough: others would come with voices fully formed and displace me.


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.

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