21st April 2000 at 01:00
What does your car sayabout you? Dr Peter Marsh, co-director of the Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford and author of Driving Passions - the psychology of the car, analyses the modes of transport found in school car parks.

"This is really intriguing. The Mercedes SLK is in competition with the Porsche Boxster and BMW sports cars, but it's definitely a girly car - it's driven by people like Caprice, the supermodel. Tim Henman has one, but he's a bit of a pretty boy.

"You are looking at about pound;30,000 for one of these. Even second-hand models can cost more than the list price - that's how much they are in demand. So how a schoolteacher ends up driving one, I don't know.

"It evokes all the things that Mercedes are good for: flair, excitement and sexiness alongside teutonic thoroughness and reliability. It's a gorgeous car, a classy sports coupe. I think you can even take the roof off these and hang it in your garage if the weather is good. It's a true roadster in that sense. And it's fast - it could probably give a Porsche a good run for its money.

"The trouble with a car like this is it that because it is very expensive, people notice it. So the person who drives it is clearly prepared for that. They are not necessarily extrovert, but they are appreciative of style and are prepared to flaunt it.

"They would probably have to cope with the disapproval of colleagues who would thinkthat it was wrong for a teacher to be spending their money on one of these.

"It's the kind of car that female senior executives, who don't want to drive a man's car and want something sporty and sxy, would drive. To translate this into a teacher, I would think this person is a headteacher with plenty of disposable income. Or it's someone with a rich father, or someone married to a neurosurgeon.

"I have no idea what she teaches but I don't think it's domestic science or religious education and I would be surprised if she taught in an 'ordinary' school. This wouldn't last five minutes parked outside a comprehensive in parts of London. But even in the independent sector salaries aren't that much higher. So this is a real mystery."

The car belongs to Judy Ballanger, head of RE at an intermediate school in West Sussex.

"Well, I do happen to be married to an accountant. But I did have to wait two-and-a-half years for it - I had my name down as soon as it came out. I saved up some money and I was prepared to work in Waitrose after school to save some more.

"I love the style of the car and its interior and the quirkiness of the roof - the boot opens backwards and the whole roof fits into it. That's what made me want to buy it. I hadn't really considered the disapproval aspect but it is there.

"Most people say 'it's lovely and aren't you lucky' and I am very appreciative and proud of it. I hardly dare touch it sometimes.

"It gives me a good feeling when I walk out into the car park and see it waiting there after a hectic day. I drive 75 miles a day and really enjoy the travelling. I do enjoy the good things in life like holidays and wine - but then so do most people."

Harvey McGavin.

Wheels comes to a halt this week. Many thanks for your contributions

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