Alex Mills, Founder of the Infamous Fan Site That Spread Top Gear Across The World, Dies at 34
FinalGear helped make Top Gear the international success it is today, sharing it beyond the UK and connecting fans everywhere.
Top Gear would have never become the widely loved phenomenon it is today if the internet hadn't spread the show far and wide beyond the U.K.'s physical borders, and that is thanks in no small part to the show's unofficial fan site and forum FinalGear. Alex Mills, who went by Viper007Bond online and established FinalGear starting in 2003 as the place to find anything and everything related to Top Gear and its related shows, passed away Thursday, Feb. 27, after a long battle with leukemia. He was 34.
FinalGear started off as a place to organize everything from reliable torrents of Top Gear and like shows to detailed lists of the music that was featured in the episodes. It was hard to find quality rips of the show when FinalGear started, so it became an invaluable resource for car fans across the globe. Over time, it grew into a massive automotive community that even Top Gear's hosts acknowledged as a major source of their fan base and an influence on the show.
FinalGear stopped posting torrent links in 2014, but by then, the BBC was distributing edited versions of Top Gear across the globe due to intense fan demand, and fans who were dedicated enough to want the original edit could easily find it elsewhere. Yet when fans spent years, ahem, "acquiring" the original Top Gear on their home computers, it only felt natural to see the show's three longtime hosts reappear on Amazon's streaming service for The Grand Tour.
Ex-Top Gear and now Grand Tour host Jeremy Clarkson offered his condolences to Mills' family this week and nodded towards the site's major influence on his work:
To say that the site had a deeply positive influence on the automotive community would be a criminal understatement. Many of us who currently work in the automotive industry or media owe our careers to FinalGear in various ways, be it from Top Gear's immeasurable influence on our work, to more directly, as Antti Kautonen noted that a forum connection to fellow auto writer Blake Z. Rong gave him his first shot at writing about cars for Hooniverse.
I'm no exception. I found the site when I was struggling with depression in college, and it was a deeply needed distraction. The worldwide nature of the community meant that there was always someone around to talk to when I really needed it, and chat I did—to the point that Mills gave me half-operator status on FinalGear's IRC to kick trolls off when they would inevitably flood the channel after every Top Gear release.
Other forum members who lived in Texas invited me to my first track day, and from there, a hobby was born. I started going to autocross events and track days of my own, giving me something to look forward to on the weekend that also served as the impetus to finally graduate. Later, I even found my first job through connections made in the local racing community.
FinalGear's online community has spawned numerous in-person meets that brought members from around the world together. It was during FinalGear's Texasmeet focused around the first-ever United States Grand Prix in Austin when I met then-Jalopnik Editor-in-Chief Matt Hardigree, a connection that led to my first automotive writing job. Even without the torrent links, the community has lived on, particularly in the form of its annual Ringmeet, which has given forum members and their friends across the world the chance to finally make the bucket-list pilgrimage to the Nürburgring among like-minded car nuts.
Without FinalGear, I don't know if I'd still be around, or in the position I am in today, and I know I'm not the only one who's been tremendously grateful for the site's existence. Messages of appreciation for Alex's work not only just with FinalGear but also with WordPress (which even this site uses to post) started pouring in as soon as Mills announced that his leukemia was terminal. His family acknowledged how thankful they and Alex were to hear such an outpouring of support when they wrote on Alex's personal blog that he had passed away:
Alex was with his family when he passed peacefully earlier today, Wednesday, February 27th. We would like to thank everyone across the globe for their love and support. It meant a lot to us and Alex to hear from so many people. He really enjoyed reading all of the comments, letters, and cards.
We’re so grateful for the time we had with him. He will be missed.
For the FinalGear community itself, we haven't just lost the site admin—we've lost a friend known for a near-perpetual smile and an appreciation for good burritos. Mills was constantly on the site he created and the related chat rooms it spawned, and like the rest of us, he met up with other posters whenever he could.
Mills' work among the automotive community will no doubt live on through the friends he brought together online as well as in spreading the popularity of one of the world's best car shows, which forever raised the standards of what people around the world expect from automotive media.