Like most gearheads, I watched a lot of car TV shows growing up. A lot. And because this was before YouTube and 300 channels on TV, the shows I watched have one thing in common: I downloaded them all illegally.
First, there were the obscure Best MOTORing DVDs from Japan. Think Playstation Gran Turismo 1 through 4 but with real people. All the presenters walk around in racing suits. If I’m lucky, the show would be dubbed or subtitled in Chinese. It is basically racing footages of Toyota Supra, Honda NSX, and a bunch of Ferraris and Porsches. Lots of split screens to show the heel and toe action from the driver’s seat. As a young man, I didn’t have a high threshold for what counts as entertainment.
Then there was Fifth Gear from the UK featuring gentleman racer Tiff Needell and gentlewoman racer Vicki Butler-Henderson. In their ever eloquent accent, Tiff and Vicki taught me the difference between understeer and oversteer, Fords are actually cool in the UK, and that cars are traded in a currency called “quid” in that part of the world.
Then there was BBC’s Top Gear. Until it was canceled last year, the world’s most popular car show was an enthusiast’s weekly affair. I know the three presenters better than my co-workers. To me, Jeremy Clarkson is Fred Flintstone only in appearance. From time to time, Jeremy would make a profound comment about the Germans or the French. Usually in an ironic way.
James May, or “Captain Slow”, is the guy at work who knows every trivia on Jeopardy. Maybe a little boring when you catch him around lunch. Then he would say something hilarious out of nowhere. Then he goes back to talking your ear off about refrigerators.
Richard Hammond, or “Hamster”, is the snappy dresser. But when he got into that god awful car accident in 2006, we finally saw the other side of him. His wife talked about his struggle with memory loss and depression after. It was heartbreaking to see how life can turn on happy-go-lucky people.
How would you describe the show? After a long week, I would nerd out to hear what Jeremy has to say about the Enzo every Sunday. We witnessed epic adventures across the North Pole and Africa. We watched Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise race around the Top Gear race track. When I was in school, I would binge-watch old seasons before binge was even a “thing”. Speaking of which, I don’t remember ever fast forwarding a new episode of the show.
Top Gear reminded me why I loved cars in the first place. It wasn’t about the horsepower, top speed, or how many cylinders are under the hood. It actually goes way back when we were kids. It was the bonding experience with our dads. It was because of a drop dead gorgeous car that belonged to a cool older brother of our elementary school buddy. Cars are important to us because of the human experience. And when James and Richard walked off the show when BBC fired Jeremy, we could identify with the camaraderie. It made us like the show just that much more.
I wasn’t sad when BBC canceled Top Gear. Because as soon as the news broke, a rumor started circulating that the Top Gear guys would be moving to Netflix or Amazon. I knew that the show wouldn’t be gone forever. The guys didn’t hate each other like the Beatles.
Fittingly, the new show will be called “The Grand Tour” and will be available on Amazon Prime. But perhaps the best part is that live shows will now be filmed all around the world. Meaning if you live outside the UK like me, you may one day get to go to a live taping and meet the gang.
Too bad I did not get tickets to the show when there were filming in LA earlier in September. It would be awesome to go to their next US taping. Hopefully before Jeremy’s next “fracas”. With Jeff Bezos.