- Top Gear celebrates the 50th Birthday of the British Touring Car Championship.
- Jeremy tests the latest electric sports car, the Tesla.
- Top Gear Stunt Man tries to break the record for the longest jump whilst towing a caravan.
- James reviews the new hydrogen powered Honda FCX Clarity.
- Star in a Reasonably Priced Car: Sir Tom Jones.
Richard opens the show with a birthday tribute to Top Gear’s favourite motorsport, the British Touring Car Championship. Richard tells us that the BTCC (British Touring Car Championship) is celebrating its 50th birthday. Many clips are shown of highlights of the Touring Cars over the years with Richard saying “show me another sport, where there’s been more close racing, more overtaking and more amazing driving. Nothing comes close for excitement”. Touring car racing was created to help the motor industry sell cars after the recession in the post war years, “every car on the track looked like the one your Dad drove”. Richard takes a Mk1 Jaguar out onto the Top Gear test track and claims it to be one of the first real stars of touring car racing. Tires were very skinny and were cross-ply, providing little grip and causing the cars to often be side ways around corners. Roy James, the get-away driver from the great £2.6 million train robbery in 1963, was a particular fan of the Mk1 Jaguar’s and always made a point of acquiring one that had been prepared for touring car racing.
During the mid 60’s, the Jaguar’s were soon pushed aside by the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and the Ford Falcon. “Their massive V8’s were a most un-welcome intrusion into this British sport. But the Yank invasion did bring about one of the best and most unique aspects of British touring car racing, we call it the David and Goliath effect”. Your typical British touring car at the time was the small, but agile, Escort’s and Mini’s. It sounds most unfair when you put them up against the roaring 5L V8’s from the American muscle cars. But, whilst the American cars were very quick down the straights, the smaller British cars were able to keep up quite well with a major advantage in the corners.
Naturally, the Mini’s were involved on a lot of the David verse Goliath battles, “and in their over eagerness demonstrated that other great trait of touring cars… crashing”. The British Touring Car Championship wasn’t just known for the close racing and crashes, it was also the place that Formula 1 drivers were able to be seen driving cars you would buy from the showroom. Richard lists famous names such as Graham Hill, Jim Clark, and Nigel Mansell. “Even though they were racing at much slower speeds than in F1, that didn’t stop them crashing”, and more crash compilations are shown.
Richard then takes a Ford Sierra Cosworth onto the Top Gear track saying “everyone agrees that Ford brought motorsport to the working man, and some say they did it through rallying”. Richard disagrees however, and firmly believes that they did so through Touring Cars. He lists the Escort’s, Cortina’s and Capri’s as the popular Fords in the championship, but says that their “crowning glory” was indeed the Sierra Cosworth. The Cosworth produced a whopping 550hp from a 2L turbocharged engine and won an equally impressive 43 races in the BTCC.
“The Ford’s were hungry for wins, and inevitably in their over eagerness, there were some crashes”. More crashes…
In the 1990’s, just about every manufacturer was taking part despite the BTCC capping the engine capacity to 2 litres. Richard emphasises once again on the closeness of the racing in touring cars, providing an example with the last race in 1992, where in the final 2 laps of the race, 3 drivers could possibly have won the championship that year. “That one race alone sums up everything that’s so brilliant about touring cars.” More crashes are shown again.
Back in the studio and Jeremy claims that the BTCC just hasn’t been as good in the last 3 years as it used to be. Richard adds to that by saying that SEAT have pulled out, leaving it pretty much to Vauxhall’s. Jeremy shares with us his idea of how to improve the BTCC. “You line all the cars up on the grid, and then just before the flag drops, set them all on fire”.
In the news, James says that the Morris Marina’s Owners club were upset that they had set a Morris Marina on fire in the last episode. Jeremy runs through a few comments that they found on the clubs website and picks on their spelling. Jeremy says that they don’t like to upset any of their audience and have bought another Marina to ‘preserve’ it. They show a live feed of the Marina sitting out on the Top Gear test track, when strangely, a piano lands on the Morris Marina and crushes it. The boys each show off gift ideas for the upcoming holiday period and display their own ideas for making money by using car badges on useless items.
Jeremy moves on to eco cars, “the trouble is that they’re a bit like cod liver oil. Very good for you, but you’d rather have a plate of steak and chips”. He points out that up until now, there hasn’t been an eco friendly car that’s sporty enough. Introducing the Tesla, a fully electric sports car based on the Lotus Elise and made in America. To benchmark its speed, the Tesla is lined up against a normal petrol powered Lotus Elise in a quarter mile drag race. Jeremy jumps in the Tesla and turns it on, or at least he thinks it’s on as it doesn’t make any noise. He mentions that it only has one forward gear, they originally designed it with a 2 speed gearbox, but it kept breaking. Despite its top speed only being 125mph, the Tesla makes light work of the Elise in the drag race, mostly due to its 0-60mph time of only 3.9 seconds. “Not bad from a motor that’s the size of a watermelon and only has one moving part”.
Jeremy explains that it would normally cost £40 to fill the Elise with petrol, the Tesla however, only costs £3.50 to recharge its batteries completely. He also mentions how little effort has been put into sound deadening the cabin and describes hearing a lot of wind and tire noise.
Jeremy draws another comparison, this time telling us that the electric G-Wiz “has the top speed of a horse” and runs out of power after 40 miles or so. The Tesla on the other hand, utilises batteries like a laptop, 6831 to be exact, and the manufacturer claim a range of 200 miles. All of those batteries do have a downside though, they add an extra half a tonne in weight, which causes the some dramatic understeer and weight transfer issues through the corners. They have tried to make up for this by making the chassis out of aluminium and the body out of carbon fibre, but with the weight of the batteries, Jeremy describes it as being like him “thin at one end, thinning at the other, and then sort of with a big fat bit in the middle”. Jeremy demonstrates the addition of the weight by putting the Tesla and the Elise through the Hammerhead. The Elise clearly handles better through the corners, but once on the straight, the Tesla leaves the Elise for dead.
Just as Jeremy is about to say just how good the Tesla is, the batteries run out, and only after 55 miles of driving. After pushing the car back to a power socket, Jeremy explains that it takes only a few minutes to fill an ordinary fuel tank on petrol powered vehicles. The Telsa, unfortunately, requires being plugged in to a power socket for 16 hours, which means that to get from the Top Gear studio to the top of Scotland, it would take you more than 3 days. He also shoots down the theory that it is better for the environment, reminding us all just where and how the electricity is produced in the first place. Jeremy’s solution to the lengthy charge times is to buy two Tesla’s, “so you can use one, while the other is charging”. It’s not an entirely great solution though, especially when a Tesla costs £92,000, 3 times the cost of a traditional petrol powered Elise. Jeremy sums up the Tesla as “the first electric car that you might actually want to buy. It’s just a shame that in the real world, it doesn’t seem to work”. The Tesla is handed over to The Stig for a lap time of 1:27.20 on a mildly moist track.
The boys move on to show off their new toy designed to help the elderly. The same 6.2L Corvette engine used earlier in the season for the food blender has returned, this time though, it’s attached to a rocking chair. The V8 rocking chair is tested with a dummy with less than perfect results. Clarkson is disappointed with results, stating “It hasn’t worked, because, the noise is so great, you’d never hear the television”. Richard however, seems more concerned that the test dummy’s head has fallen off.
Jeremy introduces the SIARPC, Sir Tom Jones. He manages a lap time of 1:52.20. It must also be noted that Tom Jones has not driven a manual car since first obtaining his license in his teens.
Richard moves on and introduces Top Gear Stunt Man and his latest attempt at fame. They will attempt to beat the record for the longest jump in a car towing a caravan. Richard freely admits that the reason behind the attempt is that the current record holder is Top Gear’s rival TV show, Fifth Gear, with a length of 187 feet and 8 inches. Through calculations and probably a very confusing mathematical equation, they had established that Top Gear Stunt Man must be doing at least 90mph when he hits the ramp. The car for the job was a 16 year old Jaguar XJ6, that Hammond also freely admitted, didn’t cost much at all. Whilst it looked good, the attempt fell short of the target.
Back in the studio and the boys are ready to present the Top Gear Awards for 2008. First up is the award for “the best noise we’ve heard all year”. Nominations were the Mercedes CLK Black, the Ferrari 430 Scuderia and the Alfa Romeo 8C. Hammond laughs as he announces the winner as “Will Young’s new single”, obviously a poke at the running joke of Will Young being Clarkson’s boyfriend. James moves on to the “John Sergeant Award”, awarded to the best dance performed after learning ones lap time in the SIARPC segment. As there was only one nomination, the winner is Jay Kay, who also takes home the award for the fastest celebrity lap for the season. Hammond now presents the award for “the most painful injury to a motoring related body part”. Nominations were Jeremy’s neck injury while driving the Nissan GTR, Jeremy’s neck injury for the Lorry challenge, and for a third nomination, Richard flicks Jeremy’s ear. Clarkson announces the winner as “Max Mosley’s bottom”, possibly referring to decisions made by the FIA president Max Mosley, in regards to the restrictions being placed on Formula1. The next award is for “the most embarrassing flirting on television”. Nominations were, James, for his simple, yet practical approach to two beautiful women on the side of the road during the cheap Alfa challenge. Jeremy, for his far from subtle compliment to an American woman in the audience, and Jeremy again, for his interview with Will Young. Finally, the prestigious, Top Gear Car of the Year for 2008 was presented. This year, the boys had chosen nominations based on cars that do things “better than cars that cost a lot more”. The nominations chosen were the Nissan GTR, Ford Fiesta and the Fiat 500 Abarth. The award however, went to the Caterham R500, which they celebrate by showing the impressive power lap it did in episode 6.
After the awards, James introduces a car that Top Gear has claimed to be quite possibly, the most important car in a hundred years. James had flown to Los Angeles, USA, to test the new Honda FCX Clarity, and whilst it might just look like any other 4 door family car, it does possess the technology that may just save the future of the car itself. “It doesn’t drive itself, it doesn’t levitate, this is remarkably like driving around in a Honda”. The Clarity is an electric car, but nothing like the electric cars such as the Tesla, or the hybrid Prius. The front wheels are driven by a conventional electric motor, but the motor itself is not powered by conventional batteries either. Instead, it has its own electricity generator onboard, a 100kW Vertical Flow hydrogen fuel cell. James continues to explain what it all means, he starts by saying that it still has an ordinary fuel door, but rather than pumping petrol into the tank, you fill it with compressed hydrogen. The hydrogen is then combined with oxygen in the fuel cell, “and in a rather complicated and boring way”, it makes electricity. From there, it’s pretty obvious that the engine uses the electricity to turn the front wheels, whilst James continues to explain this, the camera wonders a little and focuses on some bikini clad women playing volleyball on the beach.
“So far, most electric cars have been appalling little plastic snot boxes that take all night to recharge, and then take half a minute to reach their maximum speed of 40mph, and then run out of juice miles from anywhere”. The Clarity though, has the single most important advantage above all other battery powered electric cars. Rather than taking hours on end to recharge, you simply pull in to a hydrogen fuel station and fill up the tank. Filling the car with hydrogen is a job rather similar to ordinary fuel with the only difference being that because the hydrogen is compressed, you have to lock the nozzle in to the filler neck, which James demonstrates. Hydrogen as a fuel is also much more economical than petrol. Because unlike petrol, which is a fossil fuel and will eventually run out, hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, and costs much the same at the pump as petrol too. The other major economical advantage the Clarity has over petrol cars is that it only emits water from the exhaust, after all, that is what you get when you mix hydrogen and oxygen.
James takes the Clarity to the outskirts in to the hills and puts the car through a few tight corners. With 136hp, the Clarity will do 0-60 in less than 9 seconds and has a top speed of 100mph. Perhaps the most unfortunate thing about the Clarity is that at the time Top Gear did the review, it was only available in California, Los Angeles, USA. Since then, it has become available in Japan, with plans to have it worldwide by 2019. Due to it only being available in California at the time, James asked a local, Jay Leno, what he thought about the Honda. Jay takes James for a quick tour of his garage, where it’s clear to see just how much of an obsession he has with cars. Jay explains that he likes the Clarity so much because it will save petrol and allow car enthusiasts to keep their weekend gas guzzlers in the shed while taking their hydrogen powered cars to work during the week. He draws comparison to how when the motor vehicle was first introduced, the horse began to be used less and less for transport duties and was used more so for recreational activities, in turn, it will be much the same with hydrogen and petrol powered vehicles. James sums up the film by explaining that as Human’s, we have built our lives around motor vehicles, “you get in, you drive as far as you want to go, you fill up, you drive some, that is the freedom that a petrol powered car gives you”. Battery powered electric cars just don’t fit in with our lives, they just require far too much time to recharge, the Clarity though, allows us the same freedom as a petrol car. “The reason it’s the car of the future, is because it’s just like the car of today”.
“Some say, that he doesn’t like to get his helmet wet, a point that was proved last week when he was caught in the back of shot by an eagle eyed viewer (a picture is shown of The Stig using an umbrella) all we know is, he’s called The Stig”
Stig Power Laps
1:27.20 (mildly moist)
Star in a Reasonably Priced Car
Sir Tom Jones