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Do you suffer from car envy?

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Motoring journalist Tim Barnes-Clay says he's treated differently by other road users depending on the car he's driving. What does your car say about you? 

TBC - Bentley

I love cars.

In fact, I passed my driving test within a couple of months of my 17th birthday.

This was mainly so I could have some much needed independence, but also so I could sit behind the wheel without a "responsible driver" barking instructions at me.

My first motor was a tiny Fiat Panda and I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.

Defined by the car you drive

Forget modern-day motoring woes with all its talk of rising petrol and diesel prices and costly car insurance.

Back then, in my teenage mind my Fiat Panda was my mobile home - a place to be alone with girlfriends and my ultimate symbol of manliness.

But that's when I also became aware that a vehicle could define you in the eyes of others.

People would make judgments about me before I'd even stepped out of my metal box.

I initially discovered this when large cars would sit up my backside. I'd have the pedal to the metal, so it wasn't a speed issue.

I reckon it was because I was in a weak-looking car, so in some motorists' minds I had to be a feeble individual.

That was my take on it anyway - it happened too often to be paranoia alone.

Other people's perceptions

On the flip side, the views of my non-driving peers at college inflated my fragile ego.  Apparently I was "cool" because I drove.

It didn't matter that it was a diminutive Fiat I owned. It was a car and that was enough to elevate my previously pedestrian - in more ways than one - status.

But over the years I've noticed the continuing presumptions made about me by others depending on the car I'm driving.

Maybe I get to observe this more than most as a motoring journalist with the hard job of testing brand new cars every week. 

In fact, that's me pictured at the top of the article, road testing a Bentley Continental GT.

Yet, great though my job is, I have bets with myself about how I'll be treated every week.

No-one lets a BMW driver out

TBC - BMW envy

For example, give me a BMW for seven days and I can guarantee you I'll rarely be let out of side roads at rush hour – unless it's by another German executive car driver.

Lend me a Vauxhall Astra and I'll be waved into the heaving mass of traffic, sometimes with a smile.

I can only suppose that I must be considered powerful and prosperous driving a new BMW, therefore I don’t deserve pity.

And perhaps my bland Vauxhall hatchback shouts out "family man trying to get home". Who knows?

Still, I never expected the police to have these preconceptions too. Truth be told, I've been pulled over a few times.

Don't get me wrong, I respect the law - but what gets me stopped? It's certainly not speeding, as I wouldn’t last very long as a motoring scribe if I drove dangerously.

Pulled over by police

The latest incident involved piloting one of the finest automobiles money can buy – a £225,000 Bentley Mulsanne.

This flagship of the luxury car brand only does a few miles to the gallon, so I made sure I wasn't heavy footed.

Yet I discovered the boys in blue still found me of great interest.

Apparently, having a shaved head, a goatee and wearing a hooded top isn't the done thing while driving a car fit for royalty.

Ah well, I guess the police were just doing their job. After all I could have stolen the car – and, let's face it, a Bentley is so utterly inconspicuous.

But I wonder, would I have been stopped togged up in a dinner suit?

Car like a 'set of clothes'

In effect a car is just like a set of clothes. "Wear" an insipid motor and you're likely to pass unnoticed through the highways and byways of Great Britain.

Sport a flashy set of wheels and you'll stand out in the crowd – and possibly get more attention that you bargained for.

But maybe that's the whole point.

After all, getting noticed is a combination of appearance, personality and perceived accomplishments – and a car can shout, or whisper, all of these things about you – apparently.

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