Top Gear is a BAFTA, multi-NTA and International Emmy Award-winning BBC television series about motor vehicles, mainly cars. It began in 1977 as a conventional motoring magazine show. Over time, and especially since a relaunch in 2002, it has developed a quirky, humorous style. The show is presented by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, James May and The Stig, an anonymous test driver. The programme has an estimated 750 million viewers a day as of 2013 September, making it the most watched show worldwide. In 2007 it was one of the most pirated television shows in the world. It is also the worlds second most expensive show in the world at £1.2 billion.
The show has received considerable acclaim for its visuals and presentation, as well as a number of criticisms for its content and comments made by presenters. Columnist A. A. Gill described the show as, "a triumph of the craft of programme-making, of the minute, obsessive, musical masonry of editing, the french polishing of colourwashing and grading." Groups such as the Environmental Investigation Agency have criticised the BBC for allowing Top Gear to film in environmentally sensitive areas such as the Makgadikgadi salt pan in Botswana.
New episodes are initially broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC Two. Episodes of Top Gear are also broadcast on Dave, BBC America, and a number of other television channels around the world. The popularity of the show has led to the creation of two international versions, with local production teams and presenters, for Australia and the United States. Initial episodes of the Australian version is scheduled to be broadcast in the second half of 2008 while NBC is holding the American version for broadcast in February or March, 2009, as a possible mid-season replacement.
- Main article: History of Top Gear
Jeremy Clarkson, who helped the original series reach its peak in the 1990s, along with producer Andy Wilman, successfully pitched a new format for Top Gear to the BBC, reversing a previous decision to cancel the show in 2001. The new series was first broadcast in 2002. Top Gear's studio is located at Dunsfold Park, a privately-owned aerodrome and business park in Waverley, Surrey. Top Gear uses a temporary racing circuit which was designed for the show by Lotus Cars and is laid out on parts of Dunsfold's runways and taxiways. A large hangar is used for studio recording with a standing audience who apply to the BBC for free tickets, albeit with an estimated 21-year waiting list.
The new series format incorporates a number of major changes from the old show. The running time was extended to one hour and two new presenters were introduced: Richard Hammond and Jason Dawe, with James May replacing Dawe after the first series. The Stig, an anonymous masked racing driver, was introduced as the test driver. New segments were also added, including "Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car", "The Cool Wall", "Car News", "Power Laps", and one-off features such as races, competitions and the frequent destruction of caravans.
- Main article: Races
The show regularly features various races. There have been a number of epic races where Clarkson or one of the other presenters drives a car against other forms of transport, typically involving Hammond and May taking the same journey by combinations of plane, train or ferry.
A number of smaller scale 'novelty' races have also taken place that demonstrate various strengths and, more often, weaknesses of cars. These races involve one of the presenters, in a carefully chosen car, racing head-to-head against an athlete in conditions that favour the latter. The programme has also featured a variety of small races, typically lasting a couple of minutes, that pit two similar cars against each other, for example old vs. new.
- Main article: Challenges
Early series featured novelty challenges and short stunt films, typically based on absurd premises, such as a bus jumping over motorcycles (as opposed to the more typical scenario of a motorcycle jumping over buses) or a nun driving a monster truck. No stunt films appeared between series seven and ten, but series eleven saw the introduction of segments with an anonymous stunt man (credited as "Top Gear Stunt Man") performing car jumps.
Starting with series five, many of the show's films were introduced with the tag-line, "How hard can it be?". These included films where the presenters attempted to build a convertible Renault Espace, being roadies for The Who, and participating in the Britcar 24-hour endurance race at Silverstone Circuit.
Starting with series four, one episode of each series has featured a film built around the premise of "Cheap cars", whereby the presenters are given a budget (typically around £1,500, but it has been between £100 and £10,000 depending on the type of car) to buy a used car conforming to certain criteria. Once purchased, the presenters compete against each other in a series of tests to establish who has bought the best car. The presenters have no prior knowledge of what the tests will be, although they generally involve a long journey to determine reliability, fuel economy, and a race track event to determine performance.
Star in a Reasonably-Priced CarEdit
- Main article: Star in a Reasonably-Priced car
In each episode, a celebrity is interviewed by Clarkson. Then, Clarkson, the guest and the studio audience watch footage of the guest's fastest lap around the Top Gear test track. The times are recorded on a leader board. For the first seven series of Top Gear's current format, the car driven was a Suzuki Liana. At the beginning of the eighth series, the Liana was replaced by a Chevrolet Lacetti. Consequently, as the Lacetti is more powerful, the leader board was wiped clean. The format for setting a lap time was also changed: each celebrity is allowed five practice laps, then a final timed lap. No allowance is made for any errors on this final timed lap. At the end of Series 14, Clarkson revealed during an interview with Seasick Steve that the producers were considering a replacement for the Chevrolet Lacetti. After killing off the Lacetti by partially crushing it under two industrial chimneys, the replacement was revealed to be a Kia Cee'd (pronounced by Clarkson as the "Cee apostrophe D.").
Ellen MacArthur set the fastest lap time of any celebrity in the Liana. As of July 2008 Jay Kay set the fastest lap time of any celebrity in the Chevrolet Lacetti in the final episode of series 11, knocking Simon Cowell off the top, a position which the latter had held for over two series. In Series 15, after the initial top place was taken by Peter Jones, it was subsequently claimed by Rupert Grint, later Cameron Diaz, and on the same show, Tom Cruise.
There have been several mishaps in the past with this feature. Sir Michael Gambon went around the final corner of the track on two wheels, prompting Jeremy to rename the corner in Gambon's honour. Lionel Richie and Trevor Eve lost a wheel and David Soul destroyed the clutches of both the main car and the back-up car. Several celebrities have come off the track in practice, with Clarkson showing the footage to the audience.
There is a separate Formula One drivers' leader board. The Stig is top of this board, but the presenters consider Lewis Hamilton's time to be more impressive; despite being set on a very wet and oily track, Hamilton's time was only three tenths of a second slower than The Stig's. In the past Clarkson has told drivers that they may deduct 4 seconds for a wet lap in the Suzuki Liana making Hamilton's lap even more impressive. All Formula One times, even those set after the seventh series, are set in the Suzuki Liana. During Series 15, Reubens Barichello topped the Formula One drivers board with a time of 1:44.3, something that was commented on throughout the series, for example, "Some say... he has spent all of last week pushing an effigy of Reubens Barichello through his desk fan".
- Main article: Power laps
In the Power Laps segment, The Stig completes a lap around the Top Gear test track to gauge the performance of various cars.
The qualifications for the normal Power Lap Board is that the car being tested must be a road-worthy car and be able to go over a speed bump which is referred to sometimes in the UK as a 'sleeping policeman'. There is a separate unofficial board of times for non-production cars.
The most powerful production car ever featured on Top Gear, the 1,001 PS (987 hp/736 kW) Bugatti Veyron, has now been round the top gear track and is now 6th [under the caterham] and in front of the Pagani Zonda F
The car that recorded the fastest lap time on the Top Gear track was the Renault F1 car, at fifty nine seconds (0:59.00), although it was disqualified because the rules only include production cars able to get over speed bumps.
As of the Eleventh Series, the fastest road legal car that met the 'sleeping policeman' requirement was the Gumpert Apollo S in a time of 1:17.1. This is only 0.2 seconds faster than the former lap leader, the Ascari A10.
Without the 'sleeping policeman' requirement the fastest time around the track for a road legal car was be the Caparo T1. The Caparo posted a time of 1:10.6 despite its reliability problems. As of Series 14, this record stands with Michael Shumacher's Ferrari FXX, which set a lap time of 1:10.5.
Currently, the fastest lap time was set by the Pagani Huayra setting a time 1:13.8
The Cool WallEdit
- Main article: The Cool Wall
Introduced in the sixth episode of series one, Clarkson and Hammond decide which cars are cool and which are not by placing photographs of them on to various sections of a large board. The categories are, from left to right; "Seriously Uncool", "Uncool", "Cool", and "Sub Zero". According to Jeremy, an important part of each car's coolness factor rested on the extent to which he believed they would impress the actress Kristin Scott Thomas. More recently, BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce has also been used as a notional judge. Both have since been the celebrity guest for the Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car feature, with disastrous results for Jeremy's pride. When Scott Thomas appeared on the show in series nine, many of her own judgments on which vehicles were "cool" and "uncool" were the opposite to the show's verdicts (her own set of wheels being a Honda Civic, previously dubbed "uncool"). Later, when Bruce came on in series 11, her preferred choice of transport - a Citroen Picasso - visibly horrified Clarkson.
In the first episode of series four, a separate fridge section, on a table to the right of the board, was introduced after Jeremy declared that the Aston Martin DB9 was too cool even to be classified as "Sub-Zero". It initially contained just the DB9, but was eventually joined by the Aston Martin V8 Vantage in the seventh series. At the other end of the scale, James May's car - the Fiat Panda - was placed several metres to the left of the "uncool" side, on a banner at the back of the hangar.
This was partly due to an acknowledged rule by the presenters that cars owned by themselves cannot be considered cool. In series nine, Clarkson was forced to place the Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder in the Uncool section because he had just bought one. He then revealed that he had sold his Ford GT, allowing him to move the car back into the Sub-Zero section.
The humour of this section often lies in Clarkson and Hammond disagreeing over which section a car should be placed in, with Clarkson nearly always winning the argument — sometimes by placing the car at the very top of the wall, preventing the much shorter Hammond from being able to reach it. Hammond has occasionally got his revenge, such as when he ate the card on which a BMW M6 was featured, preventing it from being used, or during series six, after Clarkson had slipped two intervertebral discs and was unable to bend down, Hammond ended an argument by placing the car in question at the bottom of the board.
The Cool Wall was mostly destroyed in the fire that occurred in August 2007, prior to the beginning of the tenth series, and was subsequently not used in that entire series. A new Cool Wall was introduced in the second episode of series eleven.
The programme will on occasion, sometimes to celebrate an anniversary, present short review films of non-contemporary cars to highlight why they are significant. These reviews are distinct from the various challenges involving old cars, because the subject matter is addressed in a more serious and factual manner. Reviews include:
- Ford Escort RS1800 Series One, Episode Two
- Citroën DS Series One, Episode Three
- Bentley T2 Series Two, Episode One
- Rover P5 Series Two, Episode Two
- Jaguar Le Mans C-Type & Mark 2 Series Two, Episode Four
- Triumph TR6 Series Two, Episode Five
- GM HyWire Series Two, Episode Nine
- BMW M1, M3 & M5 Series Three, Episode Two
- Lamborghini Miura Series Three, Episode Four
- Lamborghini Countach Series Three, Episode Four
- Volkswagen Corrado VR6 & Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.5-16 Cosworth Series Three, Episode Five
- Aston Martin V8 Vantage Series Three, Episode Six
- Mercedes-Benz 280SL Series Three, Episode Eight
- Aston Martin Lagonda Series Three, Episode Eight
- Dodge Charger 440 R/T Series Four, Episode Three
- Jaguar XJS Series Four, Episode Six
- Rover V8 engine & Rover SD1 Series Four, Episode Eight
- Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Series Five, Episode Five
- Maserati Biturbo & 250F Series Six, Episode Two
- Maserati Bora Series Six, Episode Three
- Aston Martin DB5 & Jaguar E-type Series Six, Episode Five
- British racing green & Vanwall F1 Series Seven, Episode Two
- Modern control layout Featuring: Benz Motorwagen, Royal Enfield quad bike, De Dion-Bouton, Ford Model T, Cadillac Type 53, Austin 7 Series Ten, Episode Eight
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