With Series 19 of the British Top Gear (the best Top Gear) starting up on January 27, I wanted to take a look back at some of my personal favorite Top Gear Challenges. These aren’t necessarily ranked, as that would’ve been like trying to pick my favorite beer. This difficulty was compounded by the fact that the show has gone on for a decade in its current incarnation. The new series will have several interesting challenges of its own, from Jeremy Clarkson commissioning university students to build an even smaller car than Peel P50 he drove through BBC offices, an Africa challenge with station wagons purchased online, and James May’s attempted to turn a Bentley Continental GT into a rally car.
1. Amphibious Cars – Series 8, Episode 3 & Series 10, Episode 2
The show has actually done this challenge twice. The first time, Jeremy turned a Toyota Hilux into a powerboat (dubbed “Toyboata”), Richard made a houseboat out of a campervan, and James added a sail and rudder to a Triumph Herald convertible. Ultimately, none of trio really succeeded in the challenge as their cars all experienced problems.
Amphibious Cars 1
Trying again in Series 10, the challenge got bigger as their cars had to cross the English Channel. Initially, the presenters didn’t seem to have learned much the first challenge and used the same concepts as before. However, Jeremy and Richard made attempts to make their cars more buoyant, while James made his mast collapsible so he could drive under bridges. After the typical breakdown of each car en route to Dover, Richard’s and James’ cars both sank, but Jezzer Clarkson was nice enough to give them a lift and they succeeded in his new Toyboata.
Amphibious Cars 2
2. Outracing a Bullet Train (Nissan GT-R vs. Japanese Public Transit) – Series 11, Episode 4
Racing West to East from Hakui, Ishikawa to Mount Nokogiri, Jeremy squared off in the Nissan versus “the most efficient public transport system in the world” used by Richard and James. While Hammond and May had to take an express train, bullet train, bus, and ferry with no expectation of stopping, they were confident that Clarkson would encounter heavy traffic in Tokyo. However, he breezed through the city with little trouble (aside from his sat nav switching off and getting lost) and ended up arriving first. Highlights of the challenge include Richard refusing to eat anything in a Japanese supermarket loaded with fish (he hates seafood) and Clarkson using a mask of naturalist Bill Oddie to beat Japanese speed cameras.
3. Vietnam Special – Series 12, Episode 8
Having been given 15 million dong to finance their cross-country trip from Ho Chi Minh City to Halong Bay, the hosts were a bit disappointed to find out that wasn’t a lot of money and had to resort to purchasing motorbikes. Not so much a problem for Richard and James, the situation provides endless hilarity as Jeremy learns to ride for the first time.
As with most road challenges, there was a “backup” vehicle, this time a motorbike with an American flag paint scheme (dubbed “Bruce Springsteen”) which the caused the hosts to do everything they could to keep their bikes running. (If you have any difficulty understanding why this would be a problem in Vietnam, please consult your nearest history book.) Later on, Clarkson and May team up against Hammond to deliver prank after prank, from squashing his helmet to painting his bike pink and then giving him a giant model ship.
With the end point as a bar out in the bay, each host was forced to turn their bike into an aquatic machine to reach their destination before the others. Watch the results below and bask in the absolute beauty of Halong Bay.
4. Campervan Challenge – Series 15, Episode 4
Since American RVs are huge and British campervans are ugly, Top Gear producers laid down the gauntlet before Clarkson, Hammond, and May to build their own holiday vehicles. Jeremy concocted some modern tower and placed it on top of a Citroen CX, Richard created a massive fold-out cottage from a Land Rover 110, and James attached a roofbox to a Lotus Excel.
Traveling to the campsite proved interesting as the Citroen was rocked by wind and he had to stop for a check engine light. Hammond’s Land Rover seemed to work pretty well, but took forever for him to put up and sounded like a tumbler dryer at night due to wind. Later on, the crew had to change into wetsuits for a surfing lesson in their cars, which proved difficult for Captain Slow. After that, a cooking challenge resulted in the partial burning down of Hammond’s cottage.
Perhaps the funniest moment comes during a visit to a cliff in North Devon, and while Jeremy goes for an ice cream, Richard and James get a devilish idea that you’ll just have to see for yourself in the following video.
5. The Three Wise Men – Series 16, Episode 1
During the Middle East Special, our three intrepid presenters had the challenge to follow the route of the wise men, in this case going from Iraq to Bethlehem, Israel. Producers gave them £3,500 each to purchase two-door sports cars, with Clarkson choosing a Mazda MX5, Hammond a Fiat Barchetta, and May cheating by spending £3,966 on a BMW Z3. The backup was a Vauxhall Astra.
Initially, the hosts had no idea they would start in Iraq until they received helmets and flap jackets. Noticeably a bit worried by this, the pranks against Hammond began when the other two agreed to follow him immediately out of the cargo plane and then hung back to let him take any fire. Since driving straight to Israel would have required driving through war-torn Mosul, they tried first for Iran. However, upon learning that no BBC representatives were allowed in the country, they went back across Iraq through Turkey, then to Syria and Jordan before arriving in Israel.
It turned out to be a pretty bad trip for May and Hammond, the former getting a concussion in the desert and the latter developing a severe case of diarrhea and then being pranked a second time when Clarkson and May rewired his stereo to only play a CD from the band Genesis (whom Richard HATES). Later on, with the concern that Israel wouldn’t let them in after traveling in Syria, the three disguised their cars to “sneak through” the desert and avoid the media.
Finally arriving in Bethlehem, they each brought their gift for the baby Jesus (gold, frankincense, and a Nintendo DS) only to discover a savior they didn’t expect, as you will see in the video below.
Hope you enjoyed these challenges as much as I did. Top Gear comes back to BBC 2 on January 27. No word yet if BBC America will have a same-day premiere.
What’s your favorite Top Gear Challenge? Let us know in the comments!