It is one of the cruel facts of my life that I have never felt sexy behind the wheel.
Given the diversity of fetishes out there, I would have thought there would at least be a niche group that gets hot for middle-aged men in VW saloons. But as I drive the mean streets of south-west London, I have to confess I have never sensed other drivers eyeing me up with the salivating lust provoked by Steve McQueen or Lewis Hamilton.
Given my own obvious sex appeal, I had put this down to the choice of car, which has always veered towards the practical and second-hand — neither concept a byword for sensuality. But the controversy over the decision by both professional darts and Formula One to stop using glamorous models at their tournaments has made me realise there was another reason.
It is because I lack a lightly attired woman draped across the bonnet as a visible clue to my glamour. When cars are first unveiled to dumb men like me, they almost always have a woman reclining racily on the chassis. (I should add that I am talking about the international motor shows rather than the local showroom, where the VWs are normally adorned only by a thirtysomething salesman called Clive.)
Clearly, we know our new car does not actually come with a woman on the bonnet — for one thing, it would be terribly impractical on bends. But that has never stopped carmakers using women to sell to men because — duh — pretty woman equals sexy car, equals sexy driver. And nothing says sexy like a bored model running through product specifications.
But this thinking may finally be under severe threat. With Formula One and professional darts dispensing with the services of “grid girls” and “walk-on women” hired to bring sex appeal to their rather tedious sports, it may be only a matter of time before carmakers — especially at European and US events — also seek to end their brand association with The Benny Hill Show.
The darts damsels accompanied players to the stage at tournaments and were there to add a touch of glamour. This, as you can imagine, is not easy. But you can see the logic. Take away the women and all you are left with is large men chucking small arrows at a board.
This, sadly, is where my car parallel kicks in. My own car choice is closer to darts than F1. It is ageing, functional and no number of fabulous females could disguise the fact that it is driven by a portly, middle-aged man.
Unlike darts, F1 is seen as sexy. It exudes wealth, danger and speed but never lost its 1970s vibe, so sees pretty women as the natural accoutrement to money and power. But lest you think they were just there to provide fresh meat for the racing elite, we are assured they had a real job — to help drivers find their cars in the bustle of the race build-up. I hardly need stress how important this is. We couldn’t have Lewis driving the wrong car round Monza.
The news prompted wails from commentators in the rightwing media, oozing compassion for these poor women facing unemployment and destitution. There is no getting round this. Some women are losing jobs they may have enjoyed, though if the jobs are truly necessary they could probably be done by both genders and with — you know — proper clothes. Social change can cost jobs. Children lost work when we stopped them going up chimneys. But when pundits lament unemployment due to social progress, you can be sure it is the progress rather than the job losses they are really mourning.
But, thunder some, what about the famous women making money off their looks — the Myleene Klasses and Kim Kardashians peddling barely clothed images for business purposes? Well, it seems an odd kind of feminism, I’d agree, but at least they are their own product — and quite often their own boss.
For the sports, if you can take away something as high profile as glamorous models without changing the fundamentals of the event, that perhaps is a clear indication of why it is time for them to go.
And as to sex appeal, without the women F1 will still be glamorous; darts and my VW, not so much.
But then who were we kidding in the first place?
This article was originally published by the Financial Times.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018.