Fortunately, or perhaps because of some good judgement, I’ve never had any dealings with the Mafia. Over countless happy holidays in Italy, I encountered many people wearing shades but rarely felt threatened.
Apart from watching the stereotypical characters in the original Italian Job, Marlon Brando and his extended family in The Godfather and meeting a slightly dodgy “fixer” who “organised” things for us on a Fiat launch in Sicily, I’ve never knowingly come face to face with the renowned organised criminals.
The other week, however, driving through South Lanarkshire, it may have looked as if I’d been appointed Mr Big in the Mob. In my hands was one of the most dramatic – or in some lights, sinister – vehicles I’ve driven since I toured the streets of Edinburgh a few years ago in a massive American Hummer.
In something of a speculative move – they say it’s “market dependent”, which is sales-speak for whether anyone wants to buy it – Land Rover has taken its top-spec Range Rover and stretched it to create a luxurious long-wheelbase SUV with a huge interior.
The Range Rover Autobiography Black is a special edition of the first extended Range Rover for 20 years since the LSE, which ran from 1992 to 1994. It is aimed at the well-heeled who want a special alternative to the traditional long wheelbase executive saloons from the likes of Jaguar, Mercedes, BMW and Audi.
It was first revealed at the end of last year, appropriately at the Dubai Motor Show, where “bling” is commonplace, and is only now beginning to appear on British roads. That said, you’re unlikely to spot one, and certainly the model I drove is likely to be the only example seen cruising through the villages of South Lanarkshire.
This vehicle isn’t just big, it’s huge, at 5,199mm long, or more than 17 feet, and with the blacked-out rear windows, the term intimidating just doesn’t satisfactorily convey its presence. The bodyshell has been stretched, but the specialists at Jaguar Land Rover’s “Engineered to Order” division have retained the distinctive silhouette and features of the standard model, like the floating roof, without losing any of the vehicle’s renowned all-terrain performance.
The car has other distinctive features, with its own grille and side vents, rear lamps and auxiliary vents at the front, and only a subtle “L” badge. The seven-spoke highly-polished 22-inch wheels are pretty special too.
But it’s inside that these extra dimensions have the greatest impact. Rear-seat passengers in a standard Range Rover were never cramped, but in this monster, rear legroom has been extended by 186 mm to allow anyone in the back to stretch out on the reclining and lumbar massaging leather seats, kick off their shoes and relax. The front passenger seat can be moved back and forward from the back to create even more legroom.
Prying eyes can be kept at bay by the powered side-door blinds while you sip your champagne, kept at the right temperature in the chilled compartment alongside the pair of glass flutes.
The rear central console incorporates electrically deployable black leather tables with integrated USB charging sockets and the controls for the seat-back mounted TV screens. At night, the whole area can be bathed in one of a range of ten colours of LED lighting to suit your mood.
Clearly, Land Rover believe there are enough wealthy people out there who want this level of luxury and sophistication in what is world-renowned as one of the most capable off-roaders in the market.
How many of them will ever get their tyres grubby, far less muddy, is difficult to imagine, but what’s clear is that this is a very individual creature and it will take you wherever you want to go – in superb luxury – but at a cost.
It’ll be tricky to find a parking space big enough, you’ll be lucky to get 20 miles out of a full tank, and if you’re a company car taxpayer, your monthly bill will be in the neighbourhood of £1,135… unless you’re registered somewhere abroad.
Such as Italy.
Price £105,830 (£106,930 as tested)
Engine 5.0-litre petrol, supercharged, 8 cyl, 503bhp, 461 lb ft
Performance Max speed 140mph; 0-60mph 5.5s
CO2 emissions 299g/km