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World Of Top Gear:- The Best World…..in the World?

Chris Haining October 2, 2014 Car Shows, Hooniverse Goes To..., Top Gear 13 Comments

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What exactly might one expect to see or experience in the World Of Top Gear? Well, it should be staged on a huge budget and ought to involve dizzying numbers of exotic cars and recreations of lavish overseas locations. Explosions should be massive and frequent and perilous situations should present themselves regularly. A sense of fun should pervade, and every visitor should be granted the opportunity to participate in peculiar, arcane challenges. Perhaps animatronic effigies of Hammond, May and Clarkson could patrol, issuing choice soundbites possibly ending with “Power!”. As long as humour, horseplay and horsepower are all represented, the possibilities are endless.

Actually, in a manner entirely fitting with the ever-so-slightly shambolic nature of things that happen on the 8PM Sunday stalwart, World Of Top Gear is basically a big shed with a load of old cars in it. But hey, we all enjoyed this stuff on the small screen, so why not take a gawp at them in the flesh? Take the jump for a tour of the embodiment of “ambitious but rubbish”. How hard can it be?

It’s safe to say that the period of abandonment between studio and sanctuary hasn’t been kind to any of these exhibits; in some cases they still wear moss acquired during outside storage and have not exactly been handled with fragility in mind.

You could argue that it’s nice to polish stuff up and make an effort prior to sticking it on display, but then again there’s a certain honesty at work here. In this case, the cars appear to have been abandoned by the production team, left and then saved by somebody enterprising enough to realise their worth as curios.

Let’s take a look around.

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After passing the Combine Harvester / Snowplough outside, (simply wouldn’t fit inside) you first pass the visually arresting Fiat Panda and MGF from the memorable stretch limo episode. Both cars display the scars of their ill-conception.

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In the flesh you can appreciate what could be kindly termed “attention to detail” all the better:- the lo-tech video-intercom and The Big Bus inspired bowling alley are there for all to see. Sadly, the Saab 9000/Alfa 164 hybrid (my favourite from this episode) appears to have evaded preservation.

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The Hammerhead Eagle I-Thrust (or Geoff, to his mates) has made it in here, and looks even more entertainingly shonky than it did on TV. The total lack of manufacturing symmetry or accuracy of any kind are a credit to the spontaneity of the Top Gear Team. If you’re going to do something awful, do it awful properly.

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The Arctic camo-wrapped Vauxhall Nova from the Hot Hatch Challenge episode is here, complete with the roll damage that’s near obligatory on any Vauxhall Nova, along with additional rust which has developed since broadcast. But that’s a Nova certainty anyway.

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The three impressively shabby cars of the Middle East special are in attendance; the Fiat Barchetta being, incidentally, one of only three that I recall seeing this year. Note the Fiat and the Mazda wearing what I believe are Georgian license plates.

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This’ll buff right out. The legendary and immortal Hilux which has been attacked and maimed in the cruellest ways yet keeps on ticking… except the word “indestructible” is possibly a stretch; I wouldn’t call a vehicle who’s chassis is held together by the bodywork a viable daily driver. Though I believe I’ve taken worse in as trade.

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The TGV12 Rail Transport Solution, from one of the most contrived episodes to be broadcast, though still one worthy of a belly-laugh or two. I think the XJS looks pretty fly on 20” five-hole rims with no-profile tyres.

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One of the most memorable episodes, and near-zero car content. Bafflingly, Clarkson’s Vespa appears to have been de-amphibionized and reassembled, yet the Quadrophenia-issue mirrors have been allowed to achieve an advanced level of decay. This pairing reached display after first being auctioned by Bonhams, who state:

“Since the odyssey’s conclusion, Jeremy’s Vespa and the Stars ‘n Stripes Honda Chaly have been on display at the Saigon Scooter Centre. Both machines are in ‘as last used’, unrestored condition and are offered with EU import duties paid”

Seems legit.

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I’ve always marvelled at how well the late ’80s British police “Jam Sandwich” livery suits the shoulderpadded lines of the LS400. And that the Fiat coupé still looks appealing even in “something very wrong with me, Doctor” green.

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Of all the Top Gear project creations, May’s lightweight RV was one of the most cleanly executed and conceptually sound. And it involves a Lotus Excel, which can only add to its Hooniversal appeal….

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…and is in distinct contrast to Hammond’s creation. We all love a Land Rover, of course, but it quickly became apparent that a cargo of recycled lumber and scrap aluminium isn’t a promising beginning for an easily-erected overnight accommodative solution.

Mind you, his big mistake was calling it an RV or camper in the first place. What he had created was basically a prefabricated shanty town. Sadly JC’s towering Citroen is absent, presumably because it’s in too many small, rusty pieces to be easily swept up by Cornish divers.

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“Anne Hathaway’s Cottage“, Clarksons S280 with a “homely” makeover visited upon it is one of my favourite TG constructs, because in my view it’s concept is extremely valid. Why shouldn’t your car be an extension of your house? Why must everything look towards the future the whole time?

A car designed to be completely timeless, and therefore completely impervious to the ravages of time and fashion, could be a car for life, not a transient throwaway trinket. I’m in favour of buying a car to live with and keeping it for a quarter-century before passing it through the family as part of my estate.

Obviously, it would have to work as a car, though, and that one small detail is sadly missing here.

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The most ambitious challenges thus far, surely, have been the amphibious ones and Richard Hammond’s Damper Van is quite a work of art. Inevitably though, the validity of the concept and the attention to detail, including the companionway door and functioning cockpit helm position, are commendable but sadly overreach the engineering integrity of the vessel.

It failed on complying with Archimedes principal, twice, though it did manage to briefly, and bravely, leave the port of Dover… once, abortively.

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Meanwhile, Jeremy Clarkson’s Nissank veritably skimmed the water’s surface all the way to France. Well, actually the grossly overpowered Hardbody ploughed the water aside with little interest in grace, speed or, if we’re honest, keeping the water on the outside of the hull. But it made it. Technically, it drove to France.

There is much more on display besides this little lot, and in all probability the collection will expand with the production of further series, and I do hope it does.

I have written before on why I hate, and why I love Clarkson and the Top Gear Movement, it rewards and repels, enrages and entertains depending on who you talk to. But it is a talking point, and, unarguably, our world is richer for the world of Top Gear.

(All images copyright Chris Haining / Hooniverse 2014, depicting articles which remain intellectual property of BBC. Better be clear on that)

  • Dean Bigglesworth

    It was interesting seeing some of the TG vehicles in real life, but to be honest I found the exhibit a bit disappointing. Certainly the least interesting part of the autojumble.

    • Yep. Just a shed with some old cars in it, really, and just a side-show to the main Beaulieu museum. But a real, genuine Top Gear World; that would be a place, wouldn't it?

      • Dean Bigglesworth

        It would have to include a 1:1 TG track and Reasonably-Priced Car you can drive. Kind of like the ring, but you drive a Liana and there's a smaller chance of imminent death. Bonus lap if your wheels come off mid-corner.

  • 7FIAT's Later

    What is going on with Top Gear, seemed like a short season, then some specials where only 2 of the 3 are hosting, then May is doing his own 3-part series.

    • smokyburnout

      The ones with only two of them are holiday DVD specials, and the Cars of the People specials were a separate show entirely, just repackaged as Top Gear by BBC America to fill that timeslot (not that I'm complaining)

  • Mikeado

    Aaand once again I have to wonder how the hell I haven't been to Beaulieu when I live in southern England.

    Also, the only bad thing about the May Excel Sports Camper is that the access tube to the top works fine on the way up, but on the way down he got completely stuck in a small and bendy space. Upside down. In that situation, I would become somewhat terrified……

    • Dean Bigglesworth

      I you're going to visit it just once, go during the autojumble. The museum is good, but the stuff outside is even more interesting. The museum has more pre-war stuff and racing cars/bikes, though. The Beaulieu Castle was also pretty cool. And New Forest, what with horses freely roaming around.

  • Van_Sarockin

    What I've seen of Top Gear has been by turns annoying and disappointing, with far lesser measures of enjoyment and edification. This show seems to encapsulate many of the more rarified, enjoyable moments.

    • Dean Bigglesworth

      The Botswana, Burma, Bolivia, and Vietnam specials might be for you then. Less of the obviously staged but occasionally fun rubbish, more epic adventure. Actually pretty much all of the specials are worth watching even if you don't care about the regular episodes. Maybe start with the Vietnam special.

      If you don't like the specials then you might be better off just watching something else.

      • mrh1965

        Let's not forget sneaking across Syria.

        • 2cver

          And the Polar excursion. That's the one that got me started on Top Gear.

          • Dean Bigglesworth

            There's an Arctic Trucks(the guys who built the TG Hilux) dealership a 15 minute drive from where I am right now. I should really pay them a visit some day.

  • Rover_1

    Then there's the latest news from Argentina………..The cast and crew of TV's Top Gear have had to flee Argentina after they were pelted with stones by a crowd incensed that one of their vehicles …………..
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-2948