With the Nimrod jet engine at 75% power the burger van begins to wobble. Then the parked Cessnas sitting blameless by the side of Huddersfield ‘International’ airfield starts to do the same. The roar – 12,000lbs of thrust delivered through an opening 80 cm wide – is deafening.
Jeremy Clarkson, standing five metres to one side in front of a rack of knobs and wheels, takes it as his cue to turn the jet engine, which is mounted on scaffolding, up to full blast. Finally, the two Cessnas unlucky enough to be behind it flip over completely and tumble away, like napkins in the wind. They come to a halt about 100 yards away on top of the burger van and an upturned portaloo.
The noise slowly dies down. The small airfield looks like it has been hit by a tornado, which is because basically it has.
“Well, the jet engine managed to get those planes airborne, so it’ll move us along at a right old clip,” Clarkson explains to James May and Richard Hammond as they remove their ear defenders.
This is all part of a plan. The plan, as part of the new series of The Grand Tour, is for the team to break the world waterspeed record for an amphibious car, somehow. Clarkson has appointed himself Project Leader and has decided that the best way to get a car to move as fast as possible on water is to strap a large jet engine to the back of a Suzuki Jimny. Will it work?
“No,” says Clarkson after some consideration, before adding, “there’s an 85% fatality rate for the water speed record.”
The unlikelihood of a successful outcome, however won’t stop them trying. Nor, seemingly, will the 85% fatality rate. While the jet engine winds down the three of them have a cup of tea, then head into a nearby hangar on which someone has stuck up a makeshift ‘GTIT’ sign (for ‘Grand Tour Institute of Technology’). The crew – little more than three cameramen, a director and a producer; it’s a production that’s light on its feet, always on the move – quickly set up and then they start to film.
In a different scenario, what follows might be called a ‘strategy meeting’. For Clarkson, Hammond and May it takes the form of an argument with power tools. The Grand Tour isn’t entirely improvised – the three presenters have a written series of bullet points they examine before the take so that the films follow a vague direction – but those bullet points have long ago been discarded amidst cold cups of tea and biscuits somewhere in their green room (which is Huddersfield’s ‘Departures Terminal,’ which is a portakabin). The take consists of two cameramen with shoulder cams circling the three of them as they bicker.
“We do have a treatment,” says Clarkson later, “but mainly we just ramble. Often the rambling provides better stuff than the stuff that’s planned.”
For the Amphibious Vehicle Speed Challenge, this ‘rambling’ takes them through a joke that involves Clarkson bashing a hammer every time May tries to speak, an argument about Pink Floyd songs and the merits of sawing the front off a boat in order to attach it to a car. May and Hammond take doors off and unscrew headlights, before suggesting a Bond Bug would be better. Clarkson, who can’t get open the bonnet at first, calls a Bond Bug a ‘Reliant Robin in a Leisure Suit.’ They argue about who makes the best cup of tea. The cameras just keep rolling until Clarkson says, “Right, we’ve got enough.” Then they break for lunch. Clarkson and May decamp to the ‘Departures terminal’ for a snooze.
This is how they make The Grand Tour, though on this particular day there’s nothing particularly grand about it. Though it is a splendidly hot, bright morning on a hilltop near Huddersfield, it is still Huddersfield.
“Usually we have needs for certain things, so we end up in certain places,” says Hammond. “You know, we need an airfield, we need water, we need fuel and today we need to make quite a lot of noise with the jet engine. We often find ourselves for those very reasons in the middle of nowhere. And I don’t mean the centre of Huddersfield being in the middle of nowhere because we’re not in the centre of Huddersfield.”
Later, Clarkson is asking for help starting up a circular saw so that he can wade into the front of the speed boat. It’s not clear whether this was scripted or just an idea that’s come to him. Hammond and May inform him, with barely concealed delight, that he has his visor on upside down. Clarkson contends that this means the visor is ‘broken.’ A cameraman asks which way the debris from the saw is going to fly.
“Either into my groin or into my mouth,” says Clarkson. Again, neither of these options deter him. In the hangar there are now three jet engines, a dismantled Jimny, strewn offcuts of high density foam and the discarded rear-end of a fibreglass boat. Outside they’re clearing up the upturned planes and the burger vans. The word I keep hearing from cast and crew is ‘carnage.’ It seems apt enough.
“On the scale of carnage this barely starts,” May counters as we watch a tractor right a portaloo and the jet engine is packed away onto a lorry. “It’s only two aeroplanes and a burger van.”
If Clarkson’s idea for an amphibious record-breaker is doomed then what do they have to offer?
“First we just have to get through Jeremy’s idea,” says May. “Jeremy appointed himself project leader, because he knows everything about boats. And physics, and jet engines, and anything else you’d like to bring up. Once we’ve proved that his Jimny is useless then hopefully we can move on to mine and Hammond’s idea which is…
“Better!” Finishes Hammond. “Ours is better thought through. But then it does involve a Bond Bug. Still, we have to set out with an intent because it’s a very expensive show to make so we have to decide ‘Right! This is what we’re going to aim for.’ But then serendipity is often our best friend because what actually happens is far better. That’s what makes the show.”
The Grand Tour Series 2 Episode 9 will be available Friday 2nd February 2018 on Amazon Prime Video.