Billionaire businessman Sir David Tang can buy any luxury car he likes (indeed, he has: more than 100 over the years). But his current crush is powder blue, 50 years old and miniscule
The first thing I see as Sir David Tang comes strolling towards his lodge in the centre of Hyde Park is his brilliant smile.
“Is it not lovely?” he asks, pointing towards his garage. “My wife says I have to get rid of it but I love it. It reminds me of a pug. It is so sweet!”
He is referring to a powder blue vintage Fiat Multipla, a head-turning bubble of a thing. The contrast between this multipurpose vehicle – used as a taxi in Italy until the Seventies – and its regal surroundings is enormous. Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge are neighbours across the lawn in Kensington Palace.
“It says here that it is a ‘historic vehicle’ so it must be old!”
The number plate reveals that the car has just passed its half-century, one of only 100 right-hand drive versions imported to the UK.
Sir David bought the car fully restored six years ago for about £ 15,000, just one of more than 100 cars he has owned over the years. It is safe to say that Mr and Mrs Tang are real car enthusiasts.
“I’ve had several Maseratis and Astons,” says his wife, Lucy. “Our neighbors complained every time we started them up!”
For David, it began with a Jensen Healey. “I couldn’t afford a Jensen Interceptor at the time. I did get one later but it was only misery. It broke down all the time so I gave up.”
As for an all-time favourite, Tang plumps for his Rolls. A Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud ‘Chinese Eyes’ Drophead Coupé to be precise.
“It has gorgeous armchairs. They are magnificent. I don’t like the brakes, though; when braking it is as if nothing happens.”
It is surreal, then, to cram into this tiny blue Fiat, knowing that the 59-year-old billionaire behind the wheel can afford to buy anything on four wheels.
Tang was born Tang Wing-Cheung in Kowloon, Hong Kong. His grandfather had been one of the region’s leading philanthropists, enabling the family to send him, aged 13, to study at The Perse School, Cambridge, despite being unable to speak a word of English.
He went on to study at King’s College London, then later picked up a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from two of California’s best universities.
Back in Hong Kong, Tang founded the China Clubs and the hugely successful Shanghai Tang fashion chain, as well as becoming the exclusive distributor for all Cuban cigars in the Asia-Pacific region.
Then there were restaurants opened, newspaper columns penned, boards sat on and a knighthood bestowed, in 2008.
But back to our road trip, and Tang is relaxing into his role as driver. The Fiat’s interior is beautifully upholstered, a combination of exposed light blue paint and light tan vinyl. Charming, though far from luxurious.
We lurch across the Bayswater Road. Tang is convinced that one or more gears are not working. (They are.)
The speedo, however, definitely isn’t. But with a top whack of 56mph and acceleration not worthy of mention, there is little chance of a run-in with the law. Our two-hour pootle flies by, and as we arrive outside the fashionable Dorchester Hotel, it becomes clear just how valued this itinerant polymath is.
The drive is densely packed with Ferraris, Mercedes, black cabs and Bentleys, but as soon as a doorman emits a whistle, a space immediately appears. Well, he does own one of the restaurants here.
Our coughing old Fiat, spewing an old-fashioned sort of blue smoke, slots in neatly.
Sir David gets out and cheerfully wishes me bon voyage, as I move to the driver’s seat and take his 50-year-old car back out into the traffic.
When I return it to its garage in the park, I’m sure Wills’ and Kate’s curtains twitch as they try to catch a glance of this charming little machine.