How a Top Gear episode epitomised what it means to love cars
The greatest episode... in the world?
[Spoilers ahead, duh]
On the 11th of March 2018, BBC debuted the third episode of the 25th season of Top Gear. The show was in a transition period, as this was the third season after the departure of the infamous Clarkson, Hammond, and May trio, and the show was still finding its feet after the bombshell of losing arguably the very thing which took them to worldwide fame.
I too was a skeptic. I still watched the show, albeit with lesser enthusiasm. The 10 year old child within me still loves cars and everything to do with them, so I'd happily sit through an hour of usual Sunday evening programming, even if some of the presenting and delivery was clearly trying to mimic a well known recipe, with mixed results.
I had no idea what I was in for. Like most things in life, the spontaneity and the surprise were part of what is perhaps my favourite ever episode of a motoring television show. Ever.
The appetiser started off fairly simple; a review of the new Honda Civic FK8 Type-R, a car that had already polarised opinion with its outlandish styling and blistering performance. Chris Harris was at his usual best, and complimented by some excellent cel-shaded graphics which, as all appetisers should, only gave you a taste of the main course.
And then, they headed to Japan. Now, the show had actually been there before, filming for Series 11, just over 10 years prior for a race across Japan in the then-new Nissan GTR. Which also happens to be one of my personal favourites. Perhaps you can see where this is going.
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LeBlanc and Harris then proceeded to head to an auction and duly ended up purchasing a lovely Mazda RX7 in yellow - which will no doubt give Initail D fans all sorts of warm and fuzzy nostalgic feels, and a Nissan Skyline R34 GTT. For the JDM fan this is as close to heaven on earth as you can get. Give us an unlimited budget and a plane ticket, chances are you'll find us somewhere in that gigantic car park, with 90's Japanese metal as far as the eye can see.
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The show actually then lived up to its own shenanigans by predictably putting the two cars in a series of challenges, which were both humorous but slightly cringeworthy as it involved a few fender benders. But hey, we can forgive them for that.
A sombre moment came when visiting the site of the recent nuclear disaster, that even a country as developed as this is sadly prone to natural disasters that can wreak havoc on an entire town.
Still not feeling satisfied perhaps, and wanting a more positive turn of events, Mr Reid then introduced the concept of Kei Cars, before promptly jumping into the absolutely bonkers and bizarre nightlife of Japanese car culture - Bosozuku!
Want more? Rory gets even crazier by introducing a road legal Porsche 962, a Le Mans winner and proceeds to give it a good thrashing around some twisty mountain roads. A mix of uncontainable excitement and slight jealousy at this point, but no doubt its eye candy in its most sugar-induced, cavity carving form.
BBC Top Gear Youtube
The episode is topped off with its pièce de résistance, a final point-to-point race with the earlier purchased Skyline and RX7. If there was ever a homage to Initial D, 90's era JDM motors, and the world of drifting, then this was it, all in one.
I loved everything about this episode. The cars, the bonkers culture, the bright lights and neon streets of Tokyo, the twisty and beautiful mountain passes... heck, they even threw in a few slow motion shots with cherry blossoms. It was artful, majestic, and truly the stuff of dreams.
I wish Top Gear did more of this. Heck, I wish every motoring programme and creator took cues from this one single episode on how to get it right. On how to tap into the inner child of the viewer and really tug at what makes us love what we love. Even as I went back to watch the episode to write this piece, I had goosebumps. I've never even been to Japan. I doubt any trip I will ever have there will come close.
But this is the beauty of proper journalism and creativity, that it transports you to literally another world, and makes you feel every bit of the sensation that the presenters felt when creating this masterpiece. The only thing missing was perhaps that we could smell it.
If you're in the UK, go and watch it on iPlayer if you haven't yet seen it. For this JDM fan, it is perhaps the single best hour of motoring television, perhaps ever.