- Jeremy power tests the Ferrari 458 Italia.
- The boys buy old British roadsters from Jensen Healey, Lotus and TVR.
- Star in a Reasonably Priced Car: Jeff Goldblum.
Tonight’s episode begins with Jeremy out on the track with a new Ferrari – the 458 Italia. The 458 differs from the old F430 in a number of areas. The steering wheel features a confusing amount of controls – such as buttons for the indicators, wipers, headlights, suspension settings, headlight dim dip, traction control and the starter motor. Presumably this was due to the 458 having gearshift paddles and the designers wished to do away with the conventional indicator and wiper stalks – but this in itself creates some problems. Jeremy explains, “The thing about a steering wheel is, it moves. So none of the buttons are ever where you left them.” If you wanted to indicate left midway through a corner for example, the left indicator button may actually be upside down on the right side of the wheel. The problems continue.. two LCD displays sit either side of the central rev counter on the dashboard – the left displays car information such as fuel and tyre temperatures, with the one on the right either displaying the speedo or the satnav – but not both at once. Despite this, Jeremy suggests that the 458 Italia is the first properly pretty Ferrari we’ve seen since the 308 came along in 1975 – Ferrari maintains they arrived at the design based on science, rather than purely for asthetics. The 458 Italia produces 562bhp, which is 79 more than the old F430. To demonstrate this difference in power, Jeremy has brought along James’ very own F430 and puts it against the 458 Italia in a drag race. The 458 Italia has a 4.5L V8 which can do 0-60mph in 3.8 seconds and rev to 9000rpm – in the race it absolutely humiliates the F430.
Jeremy then ponders what the 458 is like as a drivers car, and goes on “You probably think it will be brilliant, you probably imagine all Ferrari’s are magnificent when you put the hammer down, but again, the truth is.. they aren’t. The 348 for example felt like it had tyres made from wood. The 275 had milk bottle tops for brakes. The engine in an F50 felt like it was bolted directly to your spine, and the 400 was simply awful in every way.” Luckily however, the 458 Italia turns out to be brilliant – while powersliding it through the turns, Jeremy describes it as “being beyond anything” and that although it costs £170,000 which is a lot, he doesn’t care because the 458 is one of the all time greats. He sums up the test by saying “It really is absolutely, unbelievable, mesmerizingly brilliant.” Back in the studio, we see The Stig take it for a lap around a dry track – it returns a time of 1:19.10.
In the news, Jeremy mentions that he is now on Cameron Diaz’s “to do list” after her appearance in the last episode. Jeremy mentions the controversy in last week’s F1 race, where Ferrari used a coded radio message, to issue team orders to Felipe Massa, to tell him to let Fernando Alonso go past and win. Jeremy also mentions the government’s new scrappage scheme and also tells us that there is a new Nissan Micra out, before ending the news abruptly.
In the next segment, the Top Gear producers put it to the boys that people stopped buying classic British sports cars because they were awful and bought hot hatchbacks instead. Jeremy, Richard and James however, do not agree – and went out to buy a classic British sports car for £5000. The boys decided to meet up at the Lotus factory in Norfolk, where they would be given some challenges. Jeremy arrived in a green Jensen Healey, James turns up next in a 170hp TVR S2 and Richard arrives last in a bright yellow Lotus Elan. The first challenge involved a race around the Lotus test track to see who could set the fastest time – which would also be compared to a lap by The Stig in a Peugeot 205 GTI . The boys set their times – Richard manages a 2:09, James 2:15.90 and Jeremy 2:17.90. Jeremy couldn’t get a 205 GTI for The Stig, so he laps a 205 GRD diesel instead – returning a time of 2:22.00. The next challenge has the boys driving from the Lotus factory to the grave of TVR in Blackpool, via the old Jensen factory in the west midlands – a journey of 280 miles. On the road, Jeremy gives us some facts about the British car industry. “In 1913 there were 140 car makers in Britain. In 1946 we’d exported 98,000 cars and imported only 63. Not 63,000, 63 in total. It’s just beggars belief that it’s all gone so wrong so fast.” All 3 cars were going well, aside from Richard’s Lotus shedding some interior parts in an effort to make itself lighter, and a drivers’ side window which won’t wind up completely. Jeremy found out his Jensen had extremely uncomfortable seats, which meant the boys pulled in to a motorway services to refuel and take a break. Jeremy finds out the fuel cap on his cat will not close, even after Richard stands on it. Soon after hitting the road the boys reached Birmingham and arrived at the old Jensen factory. The building has been abandoned and is very run down. Jeremy walks across the factory floor and reflects on the situation, “In the mid 1970’s, 26% of the British workforce was employed in some way by the manufacturing sector. Today, it’s 9%. It’s not that we don’t make sports cars anymore, we don’t make anything.” As night fell the boys headed for their night stop.
Back in the studio, Jeremy introduces Jeff Goldblum as the Star in a Reasonably priced car. Jeff laps an impressive 1:49.10 on a dry track.
Back with the British sport car film, where the boys are about to put their cars through a safety test at the Prodrive test track. To compare the safety of the 3 cars, a Citroen AX GT would be pulled by a special cable into the side of a lorry at 50mph. The Citroen smashes into the side of the trailer and has its roof flattened as it goes under the trailer. Jeremy’s Jensen would partake in this test to compare it against the Citroen. The Jensen is so low that it goes completely under the lorry’s trailer without any damage at all. Having passed the test, the boys continue onward and pass through Solihull, a town where Richard was actually born. The producers issue a challenge to test the waterproof-ness of the 3 cars – by putting them through a carwash. Jeremy’s Jensen and James’ TVR pass with flying colours. Richard’s car fails due to the driver’s side window being open slightly. The Stig takes a Ford Escort XR3i through the same car wash. As a joke, he comes out the other side with a car almost full of water. For the next practicality challenge, the boys pull over at a garden centre to see how many items they can get into their cars, when compared to the very practical Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk1. The boys try to get a giant rose arch into the back of the GTI, but fail – giving it a score of 0. Jeremy meanwhile managed to get a bamboo and conniver tree, James drives away with a small garden shed strapped to the top of the car, and Richard chooses a giant lady statue and an urn. As they near journey’s end, Richard gets a bit misty eyed, “I think driving to a British seaside resort, Blackpool, in a funny little British sports car, with a naked lady statue and a giant urn on the seat next to me, is above all else, fun – and for all our serious side, the British have always been rather good at fun. But the whole experience is tinged at all times with the knowledge that we’re doing something that’s ending.” The film ends with James’ TVR coming home – the factory where it was made. The boys walk through the site and look across various body panel molds which are left laying in the yard.
Jeremy sums up the feeling of the place, “It was horrible, to walk around this industrial wilderness. There were so many memories, so many thoughts of what might have been. There are of course, good reasons why almost all these great names are gone, but after our journey across the width of Britain, we really couldn’t remember what they were.”
This brings an end to Series 15.
“Some say that he’s recently been releasing pop records under the pseudonym of Lady Gaga, and that under his race suit he also wears a red G-string and suspenders. All we know is he’s called the Stig.”
Stig Power Laps
Ferrari 458 Italia
Star in a Reasonably Priced Car