March 28, 2014 11:40 am

Porsche pensioners and the road to ruin

‘How would you rather leave this world – being starved to death on the Liverpool Care Pathway or speeding into the sunset with 700bhp at your feet?’
illus of racing car©Illustration Lucas Varela

Get your motor runnin’; head out on the highway. Forget Teslas or driverless cars, the future of Britain’s roads is geriatrics in Lamborghinis. We’ve had White Van Man, Galaxy Man and Mondeo Man. Well move over buddy, because here comes Porsche Pensioner. We are talking thick-rimmed specs, leather driving gloves and Steppenwolf on the stereo. Born to be wi-yi-yi-ild.

If this dystopian vision of old boy racers peering over the dashboard sounds a touch unlikely, one only had to read the coverage of George Osborne’s pension reforms. Naysayers warned of witless silver foxes getting their clammy mitts on their entire pension savings and – freed of the need to buy an annuity – wasting them all on one last blowout. So the narrative is now that everyone with a private pension will soon be heading off to the car showrooms to trade in their bus pass for a V8 turbobastard with chrome cylinders and a nodding Jeremy Clarkson doll in the back window.

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Robert Shrimsley

(I do actually blame Top Gear. If it wasn’t for all those fifty-something men in relaxed-fit jeans, zooming around narrow country lanes in sports cars, the idea of a nation filled with pedal-flooring pensioners would never have taken root.)

Naturally, the whole thing is overblown, a failure to distinguish between a theoretical and an actual risk. For one thing, pensioners may be able to afford the car but they won’t be able to afford to run it. The fuel costs and insurance alone will cost more than the minimum income guarantee. Others complain that the recently retired will spend the money on buy-to-let properties though these are known to have lousy acceleration.

There are, of course, some serious and sensible objections to the pension reforms. I don’t share them but they do need to be answered. But what grates is the implicit, patronising assumption that people – especially old people – are too stupid to be trusted. The underlying message is that these feeble-witted wrinklies can’t be trusted with their own money; and what could make the point more eloquently than their doing things that are obviously the preserve of the young and cool?

These biddies need to be forced to buy a low-yielding annuity so that they can eke out their final years. The last thing we want to see is them roaring joyously into the last goodnight in the driving seat of a Bugatti Veyron. That’s not seemly. Old age is for Saga holidays and watching Midsomer Murders; it isn’t for behaving disgracefully and enjoying the fruits of your labours. Why fritter away all those lovely savings enjoying yourself when you could be watching the pennies, stocking up on the Sainsbury’s value-brand beans and fattening the bonus cheques of insurance salesmen?

Then again, the whole thing may be a cunning gambit to boost the economy by ensuring someone has money to spend. The young are going to be struggling to find work, paying off student loans and battling to get on the housing ladder; the middle-aged have the cost-of-living crisis. We need the pensioners to get out there and live it up a bit. Until now the smart business was planning products for cash-strapped pensioners on a limited budget – now we can see the old as the kickstarters of the economy.

Perhaps we are moving into a world in which wealthy pensioners not only own a Lamborghini but may also buy their own graduate to polish it. New products will spring up to cater to the grey pound. Ferrari is already looking to extend the brand: we read last week of plans for a new theme park; now I envisage Ferrari stairlifts (hall to landing in 2.3 seconds).

Sadly this vision is something of a pipe-dream. More likely is that people will be risk-averse with their pension pots. I suspect Lamborghini salesmen face lean years if they are relying on a sudden wave of silver Sennas.

But good luck to those who do go for it. For when the end does come, how would you rather leave this world – being starved to death on the Liverpool Care Pathway or speeding into the sunset with 700bhp at your feet?

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robert.shrimsley@ft.com; Twitter: @robertshrimsley

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