Top Gear (and Grand Tour) Shaped My Life

I love cars. Ever since I was a kid watching the road through the backseat window and until I got behind the steering wheel myself, I always like watching cars on the road. I now also like driving them, although I mostly drive our family car. I’d like to think that my love for cars started in the days where the PS2 or PS3 (or the Xbox, whatever) was the staple need in a boy’s house. I’m crediting the Need for Speed series and the Gran Turismo series as my top influences that got me crazy on cars. Need for Speed with all its fast-paced free roam gameplay, and Gran Turismo for its realism and making me learn about different things like drivetrain, car maintenance, and how different cars feels differently.

During this same period (the mid-2000s and early 2010s), while browsing through the cable TV programs I stumbled upon a channel I’ve never seen before. It was called BBC Knowledge, and when I stumbled upon that channel, it was showing the show that would change my life. It might sound like an exaggeration, but it really was a life-changing moment. Right there in front of me was introduced an orangutan, a spaniel, and a hamster that would crack my funny bones, show me cars I’ve never seen before, and actually help me learn English further while acclimating with different kinds of accent. It was Top Gear.

I watched multiple seasons of this brilliant show. All the segments were brilliant in their own ways: the news, the Cool Wall, Stars in a Reasonably Priced Car, The Power Lap, the road trips, the cheap car challenges, the various creations like the Espace Convertible and the Hammerhead Eagle i-Thrust, and the stunts. It’s always a mix between some of this crammed into around an hour of runtime. I would see Clarkson trying to prove that a hammer is a universal tool, that everything can be sorted by applying more power, and that he’s a genius. I would see Hammond behaving like the resident American, hating the fact that he has to deal with 2 old men, and come up with a myriad of excuses for everything he does wrong. I would see May driving considerably slowly, shout at Clarkson and Hammond every time they pull a prank on him, and does that silly dance after winning a challenge or prove himself right.

Spaniel May, Orangutan Clarkson, Hamster Hammond (from left to right). image from: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-8475353/Jeremy-Clarkson-shares-socially-distanced-snap-James-Richard-Hammond.html

Beyond their silliness and constant bickering, they actually taught me about cars. In their own way, they taught me about what to look for in a car. They taught me about how to get the best out of a car. They taught me that the price tag of a car doesn’t determine the quality of a car. They taught me to appreciate the classics. They taught me that you can like a car even if that car is basically crap. Even though they never construct themselves as a show that gives out consumer advice, they were still influencing how I see cars in general. Even with the lack of car culture here in Indonesia (compared to the USA and the UK), the importance of understanding the car world has become apparent to me. They taught me that it’s important to have a connection with what you drive, especially your own personal car.

Around the year 2014, I lost touch with Top Gear. I had moved further in the city so I can be closer to school since it was my final year of high school. I didn’t really follow them on social media to know what was going on and what was about to happen. In 2015, just before I got into university, I found out about the hiatus and Clarkson being terminated. Needless to say, I was quite gutted by the news. I thought I would never have the chance to watch the trio ever again in Top Gear format. At the same time, I found out that Hammond and May also quit the show, and all hopes of seeing the trio on one screen start to fade away further. It wasn’t until mid-2017 that I discovered through a friend that there is a new show going on since 2016: The Grand Tour. I actually cried happy tears and smile like an idiot when I got to watch the opening sequence.

The Grand Tour gave me another chance of seeing the 3 manchildren go around the world, drive various cars, bickering and picking on each other, and enjoy themselves in a platform they’re meant to be in and be comfortable on. 3 seasons and 37 episodes passed, and I was watching the “Funeral for A Ford” episode. I was on an emotional rollercoaster throughout that episode, seeing the trio tell stories about their cars in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s; ending with an elaborate celebration of the death of the Mondeo and the subsequent montage of different people with their Fords, but the hardest news was to come. At the end of the film, Clarkson announced that the format that they have been doing as a trio has come to an end and will be replaced with adventures only. I remember audibly gasping and wiping my eyes, but I realize that as long as I can watch them then it should be fine. I just didn’t expect that I had to wait for the Madagascar Special that long.

I’m going to leave you with a quote from Jeremy Clarkson, the resident Top Gear/Grand Tour orangutan:

And on that bombshell, it is time to end. Thank you for reading, trust no one, and see you in the next post.

Bachelor's degree in International Relations from Universitas Indonesia. Football. Cars. Pop culture. Current affairs. Personal rants. Random thoughts.