After more than 30 years of putting cars front and center in millions of living rooms, dorms, and toilet-time phone screens, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May are finally saying goodbye to the car TV game. Earlier this week, it was announced that The Grand Tour on Amazon Prime will run its final episode in 2024.
Before The Grand Tour, though, the trio made their names and arguably did their best work on another car show called Top Gear. If you're reading this site, you probably know this show well. Blending high-budget stunts, middle-aged-British-man buffoonery, and an almost surgical understanding of what makes good television, peak Top Gear made automotive journalism Entertaining for the first time in the same way Gran Turismo made car video games serious for the first time.
While it must be said that not everything they said or did has aged well, it's hard to overstate what their show did for car media and car culture as a whole, spawning seemingly countless foreign spinoffs, successors, and shameless imitators. Love 'em or not, the original trio of Clarkson, Hammond, and May remains iconic in the hearts and minds of many car enthusiasts.
As the institution comes to an end, I thought it'd be nice to look back on five of my favorite Top Gear moments.
Bugatti Veyron Races a Eurofighter Typhoon: Series 10 Episode 3
Given that it was the fastest car in the world when Top Gear was arguably at its best, the trio have had multiple memorable adventures in the Bugatti Veyron. First, Clarkson raced it against a small plane from Italy to London, then May maxed it out at VW's Ehra-Lessien test track, but the gang's coolest Bugatti stunt, in my mind, has gotta be when Hammond raced it up and down a runway against a Eurofighter Typhoon—that's a fighter jet for those not familiar with military aircraft.
Top Gear always took pride in unabashedly appealing to the eight-year-old boy who lives in all of us, and few segments illustrate that fact better than this one.
The Reliant Robin Review: Series 15 Episode 1
The three-wheeled Reliant Robin appeared on Top Gear precisely twice, but somehow, the time they turned one into a space shuttle was indeed not the more memorable outing. I'm not smart enough to articulate why the sight of Jeremy Clarkson repeatedly rolling what is essentially a motorized tricycle onto its side only got funnier each time, but I'll be damned if it didn't make for excellent television.
The Indestructible Toyota Hilux: Series 3 Episode 5 and 6
Winding the clocks back to the show's third series, we got what was arguably Top Gear's first water cooler moment. On a mission to verify or debunk the notion of Toyota reliability, Clarkson and May took a Hilux pickup and put it through a series of extreme torture tests. The truck was driven down stairs, driven into a tree, drowned, hit by a wrecking ball, set on fire, and, finally, dropped from the top of a building.
Spoiler alert: After all of that, the Hilux still started, even appearing to roll into the studio to a hero's welcome under its own power.
Driving a Ford Fiesta Through a Mall: Series 12 Episode 6
By the 12th series, TG had long thrown all remaining pretenses of being a consumer-advice car show firmly out the window. In feigning response to criticism that it no longer featured proper reviews of everyday cars, Clarkson took the then-new Ford Fiesta for a very, very, very thorough road test. Among other things, the Fiesta was evaluated on practicality, ease of parking, and projected running costs.
Oh, and how it'll fare if you ever find yourself being chased by a Corvette through a shopping mall. Y'know, real service journalism stuff.
The British Leyland Episode: Series 10 Episode 7
Cheap car challenges were some of the most consistently entertaining things the trio did and there may not have been a cheap car challenge funnier than the time they all took £1,200 and bought an old car made by British Leyland. As fun as it was watching Clarkson slide and marvel at the latest and greatest supercar every week, cheap car challenges often had the polar opposite appeal: look at these shitpiles and how bad they are. And few cars were jankier than three British family cars built in the '70s.
In true Clarkson fashion, then, those three cars are a pretty good metaphor for the Top Gear trio themselves. Old, British, crude, and definitely problematic at times. But I dare you to tell me they never made you laugh.
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