Top Gear: Series 12, Episode 6

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  • Richard tests the new Caterham R500 and the Veritas RS3.
  • Communism, has it ever produced a good car?
  • Jeremy does a “serious” road test in the new Ford Fiesta.
  • Star in a Reasonably Priced Car: Boris Johnson.

Episode Guide

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Richard opens the show this time and starts with the new Caterham R500, “that is actually too small for Jeremy to fit in”. Richard on the other hand fitted into it perfectly and took it out on the test track to give it a good run. Richard describes it as “something else. It moves with the agility of a flea, every little input through the steering, the brakes, the throttle, you get a result every time”. The R500 will do 0-60 in 2.9 seconds, power to weight ratio is 520hp per tonne which is the same as a Bugatti Veyron and only costs £36,000. Richard introduces us to ‘The Top Gear Excellence/Embarrassment Graph’, explaining that it measures just how good a car is, compared to how embarrassing it is to be seen in. He provides a few examples, starting with the Alfa Romeo Spider, “a pretty shonky thing to drive, but very cool to be seen in”. “The Audi RS4 is undeniably very, very good to drive, but driven exclusively by cocks”. The Citroen Pluriel even gets brought into the equation and is straight away labelled “terrible to drive” and “very embarrassing to be seen in”. Richard finally gets to the Caterham R500 and says “There’s no denying it is absolutely brilliant to drive, but also catastrophically embarrassing to be seen in”. Richard credits the embarrassing nature of the R500 to the “geeks and nerds” that mainly drive them.

“What we need then, really, is a Caterham that’s okay to be seen in”. Introducing, the Veritas RS3, which Richard thinks looks like a 1930’s racing car from the future. The German shed built Veritas has a hand made fibreglass shell that is pushed along by a BMW M division V8 engine. BMW aren’t usually in the habit of selling their engines to just anybody either, meaning that Veritas surely has some fairly good credentials that BMW were impressed with. The M3 V8 has been tuned a little further by Veritas and now produces 473hp and is capable of doing 0-60 in 3.6 seconds. The RS3 weighs just over 1,000kg and does not come with ABS, traction control, or a windscreen. There’s no roof either, and the passenger seat is only covered by a panel of fibreglass, allowing you to cover it up when not in use and allow the car to be a little more aerodynamic of sorts. The price tag is quite high though for a car that doesn’t come with much, £246,948 to be exact. Veritas does have a history though, many decades ago they used to be a German sports car manufacturer that was responsible for the first German built Formula 1 car. Richard applies some “Top Gear logic” and assumes that the Veritas might be good through the corners, he is quickly disappointed and states that the Caterham is in fact much better through the turns. Richard blames this on the steering, saying that it “appears to have been taken from a lorry”. The steering wheel requires far too many revolutions to turn the front wheels quickly. Veritas are aware of this issue and claim that they will sort it out before the RS3 is sold to customers in 2009. Richard still doesn’t like the overall feel of the car, concluding “It’s just too serious, the price is too serious, the engine, Kevlar. I want my Caterham back. I want my fun back”.

Back in the studio and James questions Richard that he did in fact say that Caterham’s are driven by “dweebs”. Richard confirms and James then points out that Jeremy’s Wife actually has a Caterham R500, much to Hammond’s embarrassment. James and Richard argue back and forth a little before both cars are handed over to The Stig. The Veritas, with a faster steering rack fitted, puts in a time of 1:24.20, making it faster than an Audi R8. The Caterham however, puts in an extremely impressive time of 1:17.90 making it faster than the Bugatti Veyron.

On to the news and James is excited to tell us that Jeremy Clarkson has lost his voice. Richard shows an issue of ‘Heat’ magazine and explains that every year they do a survey in which they ask readers to tell their weirdest crush, strangely enough, Jeremy Clarkson was number one. Will Young is also featured in the same magazine, which Richard describes as being “poetic”, bringing up the running joke of Will Young being Clarkson’s ‘boyfriend’. Jeremy tries to defend himself and pulls out a can of synthetic saliva, which Richard questions whether it really is synthetic and isn’t just some blokes real saliva. Jeremy decides to quickly change the subject and points out May’s eye infection, claiming that he looks like a mutant. Back to the news and Jeremy says that nobody from Top Gear has been asked to do the commentary for Formula 1, and then continues to joke about the three people who were selected. Richard chimes in and says that Murray Walker (84 years of age) is also going to be coming back to the BBC for the next season of Formula 1. Jeremy moves on again and talks about the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, who has recently just sold on her Jaguar to a cabbie who has gone to the papers saying that all of the addresses that Fergie had programmed into the sat nav are still there, claiming that if he was a terrorist it would be a suicide bombers dream. Jeremy laughs it off and says that most of those addresses would be national landmarks that most of the world already knows the location of. Jeremy then introduces the new mini convertible, it has a bigger engine, bigger boot and something called an ‘openometer’, which tells you how much you’ve driven the car with the roof down. Jeremy also says that car manufacturers, due to the credit crunch, are extending the length of test drive. Lexus are now offering a test drive for a period of 48 hours, BMW are offering 100 miles, and Peugeot are allowing 24 hours. Jeremy has also arrived at the conclusion that “the number of lunatics in Britain has been halved”. He states he has come to this conclusion due to a simple fact, “electric car sales are down by half, which must mean that loonies are fewer and far between”.

James moves on and says that it seems like everything you buy these days is made in China, and soon we may well be buying cars that are made in the People’s Republic. Jeremy points out that China is a Communist country and that he and James have asked the question “Communism, has it ever produced a good car”. To find out, James and Jeremy went to the Greenham Common Airbase in Berkshire. The airbase was built during WWII and was used during the Cold War to house 96 nuclear missiles, which explains the concrete bunkers all over the base. Jeremy begins by introducing the Lada Riva, which actually started out as a Fiat 124. The Russians did make a few changes during its transformation from a Fiat to a Lada. They replaced the disc brakes with drum brakes, a starting handle was also fitted, as was a manual fuel pump and the body was made out of much thicker steel, which Jeremy demonstrates with a hammer. “The heaviest part of the car though, was not the nuclear bunker body work, it was the steering” which Jeremy believes is set in concrete. The brakes were especially terrible though, being made out of aluminium they didn’t really work at all, having the same braking properties “as cheese”. 40 years later, the Riva is still being built under license in Egypt.

James takes over and lists off a number of cars that were built by the Russians and focuses on the Moskvitch 408, which was originally launched at the 1964 British Earl’s Court Motor Show for £679, and was their response to the ever popular Mk1 Cortina that was only £1 more expensive. James touches briefly on the sloppy gearbox, soft suspension and the vague steering, but mentions that the Moskvitch was actually built in the same factory as the most popular assault rifle in the world, the Kalashnikov AK-47. Jeremy and James meet up and compare each others cars. They decide that a drag race will decide who has the slower car and add a Cortina 1600E and a dog to the start line for added measure. The Cortina crosses the line first with the dog not far behind, after a bit of a wait and without the Communist cars finishing, they move on.

Jeremy then introduces the Zaporozhets 968 (also known as the ZAZ-968) and is forced to hotwire the car to get it started. Unable to close the driver’s door, he sets off with it still open and even mentions that the ZAZ was “the same as a Porsche 911”, but only because the engine was rear mounted. He pulls over to show off the party piece of the ZAZ, a hole in the floor in which you could do some ice fishing through, “not even a Maybach has this”. The ZAZ did have a quite a few trim options from factory, which included options such as the ‘968 B2’, for people with the use of only one foot, the ‘968 B’, for people who didn’t have the use of either feet, and the ‘968 A’, which came with a 0.7l engine.

They move on to other Communist made cars and look at German cars, starting with the Wartburg (pronounced [I]Vartburg[/I]), which in rally trim had upgraded brakes which came from an Austin Maxi, “how bad do the standard brakes have to be, for a Maxi’s to be better”. They also show the Trabant, which the body was made from cotton, and Jeremy shows a Velorex, an odd looking 3 wheeler, that he describes “looks like somebody’s crashed a motorcycle into the back of a cow”. James shows us the FSO Polonez pick-up truck, saying that on Top Gear, they know how to test pick-up trucks, referring to the Toyota Hilux they attempted to destroy a few seasons ago. The FSO was then dropped from a fair height to see if it would survive… it didn’t. Due to the Communist styling at the time, even British car makers produced cars of a Communist nature. The Morris Marina was one such car, and the boys think that a race between a British made Communist car, and a Russian Communist car would determine who would have won the Cold War had fighting actually started. Jeremy takes the Morris Marina and James takes the Lada Riva. The race starts and James instantly rams Jeremy, causing a trim piece to hang from Jeremy’s Marina. James attempts to over take Jeremy, who claims the reason James’ car is faster is because it has 86hp, while his only has 83hp. A fair bit of contact is made between the two and eventually Jeremy regains the lead, not for long though, as James hits the back of Jeremy’s Marina, running him off the track. Jeremy catches James quite quickly and rams him hard enough to push James off the track and down a steep embankment, ending the race.

Jeremy continues on about the differences between the Russian Communist factory workers and the British factory workers. “In Russia, you had to work hard in the car factory’s, or you’d suddenly discover how difficult it is to mine Siberian salt, while wearing a hat made from your Wife’s head”. British Communists were a lot different however “mostly, in fact, they didn’t bother turning up for work at all”, more often than not spending most of their time standing in front of the factory, on strike, huddling around a fire bucket for warmth. Jeremy and James use the Morris Marina as a brazier, setting it on fire and using it for warmth.

James introduces another Russian car, the GAZ Chaika. Only 144 of them were built, and they were only used by high ranking officials, Jeremy also reminds James that the KGB used them, though they did have a more powerful engine and the fuel was imported from Finland. Despite the amount of space inside the car and a few other plus points, the Chaika did have its bad points. A heavy clunk is heard, which James confirms was in fact a gear change and Jeremy describes it as “a man in the gearbox with a sledgehammer”. James continues to drive around the airbase with Jeremy in the back, who is appalled that the top speed of the car was only 99mph. Eventually James comes to a dead end and attempts a three point turn, which goes wrong after he accidentally pushes one of the buttons that changes the gears, through the dash. Interestingly enough, the exhaust pipe on the rear of the Chaika was incorporated into the rear bumper, something rarely seen on cars for many years to come.

Yet to find a decent Communist car, they decide to look at something simpler. The Lada Niva, a small and simple 4 wheel drive that was equipped with coil springs, which you didn’t even get in Land Rover’s at the time, and this made it surprisingly comfortable. Jeremy praises the suspension that much and claims to have once driven a Niva down a heavily rutted track at 50mph while using the cigarette lighter without burning his face off. Jeremy took the Niva off road and started ploughing through the fields until it became stuck in the mud. James took the sun roof out and stood up through it to help guide Jeremy out of the mess. Unfortunately for James, the wheels began to spin, causing mud to flick up all over the car and himself. They were eventually pulled out and continued driving it in the hope they may have found a Communist car that they both actually like, that was until the engine stopped running and wouldn’t start again. Back in the studio and Richard is quick to point out that Ferrari, Maserati and Lamborghini have all been produced in an Italian Communist run area for years.

Jeremy tries to introduce the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car, but due to his voice gets James to do so instead. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson is the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car and manages to get a lap time of 1:57.40 in very wet conditions.

Richard takes over and says that every week they receive many letters, but one in particular caught their attention recently. “Why do you not test cars properly any more, have you forgotten how”. Being upset from the letter, James and Richard decided that a proper, old fashioned road test was in order and that the new Ford Fiesta would be the car to do it in. Then Jeremy decided that he would be the one to do it. Jeremy had decided to break the road test into smaller segments, starting with:

Is it practical?
Jeremy starts by saying that whilst the styling might be nice, there are a few small problems. The back seats do not fold flat and there is only enough room to fit “2.2 children”. The boot space is less than most other cars in the same price range, though Jeremy points out that there is still enough room in the boot by putting a stuffed zebra head in it.

Is it economical?
Whilst the new Fiesta is the largest one yet, it stills weighs 40kg lighter than the previous model. There’s also a 1.6l diesel model called the ECOnetic, which produces low enough amounts of carbon dioxide that you don’t have to pay any road tax.

Is it fun to drive?
Jeremy says that ever since the Ford Focus was introduced “all Ford’s have a driving feel that you just don’t get in other cars size or price”. He takes onto the Top Gear test track and claims it has “a Volkswagen feel of solidity” and has “a lotus feel of sportiness” to it. “It feels fabulous”, and if you go for the 1.6l Ti-VCT (Twin independent Variable Camshaft Timing) that Jeremy is actually testing, its quite fast too, easily doing 70mph, the maximum speed limit in Britain.

Will it break down all the time?
Jeremy says, “Hopefully not”, as the Fiesta is made by German’s and most parts have been fitted to other Ford’s for years, and no horror stories have been heard yet. A basic model is available, and as Jeremy says, “there’s nothing to go wrong”.

Is it easy to park?
Yes, it is easy to park. As Jeremy puts it, “It’s got windows, it’s got a steering wheel”.

What if I go to the Shopping Centre and get chased by baddies in a Corvette?
“This can happen… oh, and it just has”. Jeremy takes the Fiesta into a shopping centre after closing time and gets chased by baddies in a black Corvette. The Fiesta is much nimbler and keeps its grip on the slippery floors while the corvette was sliding every where and hits almost everything in sight, eventually crashing in to a shop front. During this segment he also mentions that the Fiesta produces 120hp, more than enough on a marble floor, and comes up with a classic Clarkson quote, “I was once chased through a shopping centre in Putney actually, in south west London, by baddies, I had an original Mini and I must say that was very good”, making reference to the movie The Italian Job.

Is it green?
Referring to the actual colour of the car, Jeremy simply says “Yes, very”.

Can I afford it?
Jeremy sums this one up very, very simply. Prices start at around £8,500, but you really need £11,000 to get a decent mid-range model, “so, if you have £11,500 to spend on a car, then yes you can. But if you’ve only got 40p, then, no, you can’t”.

What if I’m asked to take part in a beach assault with the Royal Marines?
Jeremy loads the Fiesta onto an LCVP Mk5 amphibious landing craft and packs the car with a few troops ready for a beach landing. Jeremy comments on the fact that the gun fire can barely be heard once the door have been shut, and then discovers that smoke grenades fit perfectly into the cup holders in the centre console. He continues and discovers that you can fit 2 spare assault rifle magazines in the glove box and then tells the soldiers that whilst the front windscreen is heated, it’s not bulletproof. The LCVP landing craft get within range of the beach and the troops start to deploy guns blazing. Jeremy shouts his best war cry and puts the foot down, plunging the little Fiesta straight into the salt water til the water level is over the bonnet, “that’s quite a lot deeper than I thought”. Despite a little water leaking in, the Fiesta makes it to dry land, where Jeremy lowers the electric windows for the troops so they can shoot without having to exit the vehicle. Jeremy concludes, “The most thorough test of a car ever undertaken on British television. The Fiesta has come through with flying colours”.

Some say…

[Richard Hammond] – “Some say that one of his legs gets longer when he sees a pretty lady, and that I haven’t done one of these for some time and I’ve forgotten to make up a second thing. All we know is he’s called the Stig.”

Stig Power Laps

Caterham R500
1:17.90
Veritas RS3
1:24.20

Star in a Reasonably Priced Car

Boris Johnson
1:57.40 (very wet)

Screenshots

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Rating: 8.7/10 (49 votes cast)