- Jeremy test drives the new Fiat 500 Abarth.
- The team heads off to America again to test the latest muscle cars.
- Star in a Reasonably Priced Car: Will Young.
Jeremy welcomes the audience and introduces us to the Fiat 500, a car that “makes you feel happy”. Its $4,000 cheaper than a Mini, smaller, more economical and possibly better looking too. Despite all of these qualities, James, who is a fan of the previous Fiat 500, doesn’t like it at all, describing it as “too cutesy”. But there’s a new version, the Fiat 500 Abarth. A 1.4L turbocharged engine provides 135hp from the front wheels and allows the car to do a top speed of 130mph. Jeremy then points out that he is in fact driving the ‘SS’ version of the Fiat 500 Abarth, which produces even more horsepower. “160 horsepower in a car the size of a shoe, that’s fantastic”.
Priced from only £13,500, the Fiat 500 comes with USB connectivity for iPod’s, CD player with MP3 playback and air conditioning. What you end up with, is “a small cuddly pet mouse that can be used for killing burglars”. Jeremy continues to explain the one fault with the car. He explains that Abarth is to Fiat, what AMG is to Mercedes Benz, except Abarth have a history of going well overboard. Jeremy provides an example of an 80’s model Strada (aka Fiat Ritmo) that was modified by Abarth. They had fitted sporty front bucket seats that were unable to be tilted all the way forward to provide enough room to climb into the back seat. He then provides yet another example, a Fiat 600 that Abarth had got to and modified the rear mounted engine. The only way to cool the engine enough however was to leave the boot lid open all the time, which actually increased the top speed by a further 11km/h. Jeremy brings us back to the point he was trying to make earlier, “where’s the lunacy”, but concludes that the Fiat 500 Abarth is “a genuinely good, small, fast car”. The car is handed over to The Stig for a lap of track, managing a time of 1:35.5
The news is up and Hammond starts by sharing his affection for the Fiat 500 Abarth and introduces the Renault Twingo 133. James shows pictures of the Renault Mégane R26R and the conversation quickly turns ugly. Jeremy congratulates Lewis Hamilton and mentions that the BBC will be covering the Formula One World Series next year. Jeremy says there were a lot of complaints after last week’s episode and that he must apologise (sarcastically, and for the wrong reason) for not putting the 911 GT2’s time up on the board, which turned out to be the exact same time as the Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4.
Moving on, James gives us a brief recipe of what makes a muscle car. Richard chimes in and says that people expected the muscle car to decline in popularity due to the high petrol prices and that to find out they headed over to America to test the latest muscle cars on offer. Jeremy points out that the US State Department didn’t take kindly to their last visit and has determined that Top Gear is in fact an entertainment show. This required different visa’s to what the Top Gear crew currently had, so an agreement was made that Top Gear were allowed in the country as long as they weren’t entertaining.
For the film, James had chosen a Cadillac CTS-V, Jeremy opted for a Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, and Hammond wanted to go with the new Dodge Challenger, only there was a problem. Chrysler had decided not to lend them a Challenger, saying that Top Gear had always given them poor reviews. Two hours later, Richard had bought himself a Dodge Challenger off the showroom floor, paying $10,000 more than the list price due to the high demand in America at the moment. The boys finally assembled in San Francisco and had to drive their chosen cars across California, through Nevada and into Utah to meet at the Bonneville Salt Flats to compete in the speed week drag races. 30 minutes into the journey, and James was already regretting his choice of the Cadillac, saying that its supercharged 6.2L V8, 556hp engine was “just not necessary” in a car he described as being an “ambassador for the relaxed American way of travelling around in style”, typical James really. Jeremy on the other hand was enjoying it, whilst his Corvette had the same engine as the Cadillac, it had been further tuned to produce 640hp, describing the power as “intoxicating”. The Corvette does set you back $100,000, but the cost is justified with a 0-60mph of just 3 seconds, and a top speed of 205mph.
The boys pull over for a break at Lake Tahoe on the border of California and Nevada to take a closer look at each others cars and pointing out all of the faults. By night fall they had reached Reno, where James had headed straight to a casino and on to the pokies, hoping for a jackpot to win a car. Clarkson and Hammond however were too busy dragging each other off at the lights and setting off car alarms by revving their engines. That was until the Police pulled them over for a talking to.
Jeremy takes a break from the muscle cars to introduce the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car, Will Young. Despite having a damp track, Will managed a 1:48.9
Back to the muscle cars and the boys had packed up and left Reno, deciding to take the longer road to Bonneville. Jeremy and Richard had chosen what was known as ‘The Loneliest Road in America’, stretching almost entirely across Nevada and passing almost nothing of interest on the way. The road however, was used in the filming for the movie ‘Vanishing Point’, a popular road movie filmed in 1971 where the main car was a 1970 Dodge Challenger. The road eventually got a bit boring for them all and Jeremy decided that some competition was in order, laying down some rubber and then seeing if the others could do any better. Jeremy pulled off a fine burnout while Hammond couldn’t even get started, blaming the automatic gearbox. James decided to have a go, but it didn’t end well with the Cadillac ending up in a ditch beside the road. Eventually arriving in a small town, the boys decided to stop for a bite to eat. Jeremy snuck out the back and pointed out that all 3 of the cars have ‘Keyless Go’, meaning that as long as the keys remain close enough to the vehicle, it can be started without them. Jeremy demonstrated this feature by hopping in Hammond’s Challenger and parking it in the middle of the road, leaving it there and leaving Hammond completely dumbfounded as to how it even got there.
Jeremy and Richard decided that another change in direction was needed and tried to persuade James that he would actually enjoy the winding roads of the hills with his Cadillac, after all, it did manage the fastest time (7:59.32) around the Nürburgring for a four door saloon on factory tires. Despite his lack of enthusiasm, James did actually enjoy it, even to the point of calling the Cadillac CTS-V “the best American car” he’s ever driven. Jeremy was equally impressed with his Corvette, although Hammond wasn’t so sure the Challenger was the right car for the job. Everything was going great and the boys were really starting to enjoy their cars until they were pulled over by the Police again, who questioned them about the nature of their filming. Jeremy assured them that it was a serious factual documentary despite using some interesting hand gestures.
The next morning the crew awoke on the Salt Flats. Used as far back as 1912 for high speed runs, Bonneville has become the place where speed freaks gather every day (except the wet season) in an attempt to break a speed record, or simply just for the thrill of it all. Jeremy had awoken earlier than James and Richard and decided to get some practice in before his first official run, only he didn’t take the Corvette. He took the Winnebago instead, ignoring the fact that James was on the toilet and Richard was still asleep in it. At 9am, the salt flats came alive and Jeremy, James and Richard each chose a speed in which they would like to achieve before the day was out. Jeremy wanted to reach 170mph in his Corvette, Richard wanted to push his Challenger to 150mph and James set his target at 160mph. These speeds might seem easily achievable, however salt is far different to tarmac. Even Richard would struggle to put down all 425hp from his Challenger without spinning the wheels. They would also only have 1 mile of salt to reach their targets.
Performing their first runs for the day, Jeremy pulled 166mph, 4mph short of his target. James managed 157mph, only 3mph short, and Richard crossed the mile marker at a speed of 142mph, 8mph short of the 150mph he was chasing. To gain the extra few mph needed to reach their targets, they would have to learn to control their wheel spin off the line better, change gears faster and smoother and hold the correct line down the salt flat. After several attempts the boys still didn’t hit their targets, James didn’t improve at all while Richard managed to improve his fastest speed by only an extra 2mph, still 6mph short. Jeremy, though disappointed at not reaching his target, did however break a production car record. Salt fever took over, Jeremy, Richard and even James were now obsessed with reaching their targets. Confident that their driving skills wouldn’t gain them the extra speed, Jeremy and James put more air in their tires while Richard was told to let air out. After inflating their tires to 50psi, Jeremy and James fell only 1mph short of their targets. Richard’s choice of deflating the tires wasn’t as successful, in fact, it was worse. Later discovering that the advice he took earlier wasn’t from an expert at all, but rather from a novice who was also on his first trip to Bonneville. Despite that, he helped Hammond to use tape to cover up the grille on the front of his Challenger to help make it a little more aerodynamic. With his tires now pumped up again, Hammond set off in search of 150mph.. Whilst Richard waited for his official speed to come back, Jeremy went for another run and returned to get his official speed along with Richard.
Hammond had finally beaten his target, setting a speed of 150.02mph. Jeremy on the other hand, had not only reached his target, but had set yet another record for production cars with a speed of 176.549mph. Captain Slow was the only one that remained to beat his target. On his very next run, he managed 163mph, beating his 160mph target. Jeremy wrapped up the film and concluded that all three cars are indeed worthy for what he calls “the civilised world”.
“Some say that he invented November, and that if he won the world championship in Brazil last weekend there might have been one photograph of him without his father, gurning in the back of shot. All we know is he’s called the Stig.”
Stig Power Laps
Fiat 500 Abarth SS
Star in a Reasonably Priced Car