Rich People's Problems - My neighbour has bought a Bentley
© James Max

My neighbours have just bought a convertible Bentley GT. A six-litre, W12 version which doesn’t fizz or roar. It positively burbles, like a boat. It’s a thing of beauty and a beast on the road. To some it’s also a blatant symbol of needless consumption (and, perhaps worse, something that audibly and conspicuously gobbles up fossil fuel).

When I saw it, a thought popped into my head: why didn’t I buy one of those? Another swiftly followed: how can I go one better?

This is not a column about keeping up with the Joneses. I could care less about taking any financial or material decisions designed to outdo anyone. What is far more rewarding — and frankly, fun — is goading a friend to an excessive, yet joyous purchase or allowing oneself to be so persuaded. One-upmanship doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game in which the aim is to crush the competition. At its best, it can be an inspiring social activity.

Take my neighbours and their new Bentley. They didn’t buy it because they needed a car. They have quite a few already. It wasn’t because of any problems with the vehicle they planned to take on our late summer road trip — five couples in five cars travelling through seven European countries. The black Mercedes SL they drove two years ago did the job and was perfectly capable of stepping up to the mark this time around.

A big part of the motivation was simply fun. They wanted to make an impact like a someone bombing into a swimming pool — unnecessary, but highly entertaining.

And this was a sneaky move too, made while no one was looking. They didn’t ostentatiously park it in the driveway the week before our trip. There was no chatty build-up or announcements of an impending purchase. This was done by stealth, and to powerful effect.

Two years ago, you may remember I wrote about my ill-fated road trip with my Aston Martin. After it returned to the UK on a low-loader, many of you told me I should bin it. One mischievous reader even described it as a “Jag in drag”. How very dare you! Well, I ignored you and spent £6,000 getting the old boy (his name is Dougal) upgraded, suspension fixed, engine serviced, oiled, air-conditioned, engineered and in fine fettle.

On a team trip to Norfolk earlier this year, he performed magnificently. He may be a 2002 DB7 Vantage Volante but he scrubs up nicely. He’s covered just over 62,000 miles, has a full service history, has had various works over the years but presents really well. He’s ever so comfortable. And has a big boot — essential if you’re off on a road trip through many of the countries that we may shortly find it rather harder to visit on the hop. Even though reliability is a drawback of older cars, there’s also another: they have virtually no tech. A long journey without access to your phone and its delicious supply of internet is potentially argument-inducing.

But I’ve found a solution in the shape of three small online purchases. For £32.73 you can order an MPow car windscreen phone mount, a PowerDrive 2 double USB socket and an FM transmitter car kit with Bluetooth connectivity with a double USB port. Together, this allows you to power, see and hear your phone safely, with banging tunes, up-to-date satnav and calls with the parental unit all covered. Although I considered replacing him, with these investments I couldn’t bring myself to jettison the Aston. So, tub of sweeties at the ready. Croatia road-trip here we come!

On the day of our departure, the weather was clement and the car roof down. We arrived in Frinton-on-Sea — our scheduled meeting place before embarking at Harwich — and Dougal the Aston was purring with anticipation. Having met our friends, we were kept waiting by my next door neighbours. In retrospect they’d probably been around the corner, purposely arriving last to heighten the impact of the big reveal.

It certainly produced the desired effect — that sharp intake of breath as you realise they’ve got one over on you. The car may be eight years old but it’s in great condition, and looks and sounds the part. There’s one thing you can say about a Bentley: the quality persists long after the Premier League footballer has moved on to the next model.

I am sure that kitchens, bathrooms and extensions have been built up and down the land primarily to impress the neighbours. Yet there’s a subtle difference between that kind of one-upmanship and the sort practised by close friends, having fun and offering encouragement and support for a decision that — however bonkers — may actually be the right one.

I didn’t know our friends were going to buy the Bentley, but we’d had plenty of amusing conversations about the model which entertained the possibility that one of us might take the plunge. In fact, they now have a swimming pool because we chatted about what fun they are to have. Dare I suggest that I egged them on? Perhaps it was also this friendly rivalry that means their inflatable pool unicorn can seat the whole family rather than just one person.

Having a choice of vehicles for everyday activities may also have played its part in their decision. I’ll admit that I rather like choosing my car depending upon whether I’m picking up fish and chips or the dry cleaning, heading off to the tennis club or going on a more in-depth mission to purchase a boot full of fireworks.

At the very least, their grand entrance set the tone for the holiday that followed. It was a treat to be able to go on a road trip with friends, sharing responsibilities for booking venues, planning routes and basking in a fine villa on the Croatian coast. To share a few glasses of rosé, play frivolous games like “dog bingo” and laugh like drains at all manner of silliness. And on return to the UK to pop down to the beach hut after a walk and open a bottle of fizz together — because there’s so much after-holiday chat to catch up on.

As for car envy, I already have a Bentley, albeit of a 1970s vintage. Do I need a new one? No. Do I want another one? Not unless it ups the game. I’ve already bought two cars this year, so perhaps I don’t need to do any more showing off for now. After all, one of the purchases has orange seats. And Greta Thunberg can sleep more soundly because the other one is electric.

James Max is a property expert and radio presenter. The views expressed are personal. Twitter: @thejamesmax. If you have a problem for James, contact him at richpeoplesproblems@ft.com

This article has been amended since original publication to correct the Bentley model marque

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