Beyond the Fringe
I've got nothing against hairdressers. Anyone who can ask "Are you going anywhere nice for your holidays?" twenty times a day and pretend to care is endowed with more social skills than I'll ever possess. I use the word "endowed" advisedly; some people assume that male hairdressers are homosexual. Ridiculous. You can no more claim that the majority of male hairdressers are gay than you can say there is such a thing as a "hairdresser's car." Actually, you can, and there is. On the car side, the Rover MGF, BMW Z3, Mazda MX-5, Mercedes SLK, Suzuki Cappuccino, Toyota MR2, Ford StreetKa and the Peugeot 206CC are all perfect examples.
To qualify as a Hairdresser's Car (HDC), a vehicle must satisfy strict criteria. First, it's got to be a convertible. It's no good spending hours on your trademark tresses to hide them under a hardtop. The number of days you can drive top down without baking, freezing or soaking may barely top double digits, but the scissor-wielding set are happy to suffer for their art.
Second, it's got to be small. The hairdresser's high street habitat mandates a machine that can fit in a parking space no larger than a Queen size bed. If you can imagine a giant putting his hand over the car and going "Vroom, vroom!" it qualifies.
Third, an HDC must look like "the rough one" from a boy band: butch, in a feminine kind of way. The only red line drivers of these asthmatic automobiles explore comes in a lipstick tube. But they love the whole boy racer thing. (As my hairdresser pointed out, the difference between macho posturing– bonnet bulges, rear wings, sports seats– and camp theatrics is smaller than Max Power readers might like to admit.)
Fourth, an HDC must be relatively cheap. Like most glamorous jobs, hairdressing pays peanuts. While a BMW Z8 satisfies all the basic HDC criteria, its stratospheric price tag makes it about as realistic a proposition for hairdressers as a career in professional wrestling.
Lastly, an HDC must be crap. A typical HDC has a weak-willed engine and a chassis that's less entertaining as Newsnight. The Z3, for example, is the worst car BMW has made since it started producing machines with more than three wheels. It throws a hissy fit the minute you throw it into a corner– which is nigh on impossible given the horseless stable under the base model's bonnet.
Sure, the basic MGF and SLK are safe and predictable handlers. They're also about as fun to pilot as a riverboat. While the MX5 has a fantastic chassis, its engine lacks grunt. As for the mini-drop-top from Peugeot, let's just say that on a rating of one to five stars, the 206CC doesn't even reach low Earth orbit. If your hairdresser's unsteady hand spills latte first thing in the morning, it's not a hangover. It's scuttle shake.
Yes, it's easy to laugh at these incompetent HDC's. And yet…
Something strange has happened: manufacturers have turned their HDC's into real sports cars. Once the Elise proved that small can be credible, carmakers told their boffins to break out the steroids. The AMG SLK screams (well, whines loudly) from zero to sixty in, gulp, 4.9 seconds. Beemer's M Roadster does the dash in 5.1 seconds— although it still storms off in a huff if you corner too quickly. How long before Suzuki turn the Cappuccino into a Double Espresso? How long before your hairdresser eyes your Honda Accord Type R and says, "Oh that thing? My new Beetle's got a 3.2 litre 225 bhp V6 and a flower vase."
A perfectly good (bad?) genre of automobiles is disappearing faster than Jennifer Aniston's fringe. What's more, enthusiasts are being lured into deeply unmanly machines and… enjoying it! I spent a week with a Boxster, a car continually criticised for being a sheep in a Marks and Spencer's three-piece suit. Now that Porsche's mid-engined baby has a bit more power to play with, slinging the former HDC through the twisties is more fun than dressing up as Jessie from Toy Story. Did I just say that? I meant to say it's more fun than blasting a Carrera 4 through a chicane at Brand's Hatch.
In fact, it's time the legions of hopelessly heterosexual pistonheads acknowledged their debt to the HDC. The re-birth of the roadster genre, the realisation that small, driver-focused cars can sell in significant numbers, is down to the fact that Toni and Guy's guys care more about posing than, well, anything.
So if you feel a sudden urge to buy one of these up rated toy cars, don't be afraid to get in touch with your feminine side. You'll own a superb sports car, and have something interesting to talk about when you get your hair cut.
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