19 JUNE 2013
Suave Homeland actor Damian Lewis's starring role in a cool promotional film for the new F-Type Jaguar – the first sports car created by the British manufacturer in a staggering 52 years – left HELLO! wondering whether this glamorous two-seater is set to eclipse its predecessor, the iconic E-Type, as the celebrity car of choice.
CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL GALLERY
So when, as joint editor of HELLO!, I was invited to test-drive the sleek new vehicle around the winding, country roads of Umbria, I quickly said "Si" to an Italian mission.
When it launched in the Swinging Sixties, the E-Type swiftly became the dream car for the movers and shakers of the day. Stars including George Best, Tony Curtis, Brigitte Bardot and Steve McQueen all had one, and on clapping eyes on the E-Type in 1961, Frank Sinatra famously stated: "I want that car and I want it now."
Models Yasmin Le Bon and David Gandy recently swapped the catwalk for the open road, spending three days at the wheel of an open-top 1950 Jaguar XK150 taking part in the famous Mille Miglia Italian car rally.
"I grew up in a Jaguar family," David has said. "The E-type is almost a brand in its own right. Even people who don't know about cars would name it in a top ten. They're timeless."
All of which means the F-Type has a lot to live up to.
When I meet my F-Type for the weekend – its bodywork resplendent in HELLO! red – I have to admit I'm a little nervous. It's parked outside the beautiful NUN Assisi Relais & Spa Museum hotel in the heart of the historic town of Assisi.
Photograph: Mark Hedley
The renowned wellness centre here boasts hydro-massage therapies and heated chambers reviving the ancient Roman practice of thermal bathing and body care. Sounds heavenly. So I'm slightly distressed that I'll have to swap an inviting white dressing gown and slippers for driving gloves and a dashboard. But it's convertible, so at least I'll get a tan while I drive.
When the engine revs and we glide along the narrow streets of this picturesque town, it's impossible not to be seduced by the brooding power of the car – but it is champing at the bit to be let loose on the open road.
The F-Type bears a few subtle nods to its older relation – like vintage-feel switches and dials on muted tones in the interior – but it is a much louder and prouder modern reinvention.
We zip through the countryside to visit the Urbani Truffle Academy, the world's first truffle school, and HQ of the family business situated in the tiny village of Scheggino. Parking the F-Type in the town square, we are greeted like celebrities with handshakes and hooting horns from locals – purely because of the car.
With 150 years of truffle-producing history under their belts, the Urbani family is responsible for 70 per cent of the world's supply of truffles, with factories around the globe.
Fourth generation truffle heiress Olga Urbani invites us into the factory, and as the unmistakable scent of truffles fills the air, we are staggered to learn the most expensive European white truffles can sell for over £2,000 a pound, making them one of the most luxurious foods in the world.
After a lunch of fresh white truffle risotto, created in the onsite gastronomic centre, dedicated to innovative truffle cuisine, we're back in the car cruising down the autostrade to Rome. We get there fast and unflustered – I actually wouldn't mind driving the whole way back to London.
"It's supposed to be just that little bit selfish," said the car's chief interior designer Alister Whelan, describing how the F-Type is focused around the driver.
So now I, like Damian Lewis, know why the people at Jaguar waited over half a century to deliver this car – the E-Type is an impossibly hard act to follow, but my theory is they wanted to keep the F-Type to themselves for a little while. Because they knew that driving it makes you feel like a star. In my fantasy life, I will join the waiting list – just behind David Gandy, with any luck.