Catching up on our backlog of The Grand Tour episodes today, we are forced to think back to the good old days of Top Gear. Top Gear, before Clarkson got so full of himself, was a better show than The Grand Tour. And while this claim will be as emotional to some as “Evo vs. STi”, it is supported by the ratings of this new show versus the original Top Gear (the jury is still out if the new Top Gear can be saved… and if it is to be saved then Matt LeBlanc will do it).
Here’s an example: Series 13 Episode 5. Our three heroes face yet another cheap car challenge – this time a drive to France in three old rear-wheel drive sports coupes (pronounced “coupe-aaa…” in British): a Porsche 944 (Clarkson), a 300ZX (The Hamster), and a Capri 2.8 Injection (Captain Slow, although with a reasonable 160 HP).
Disclaimer: a classic Ford Capri was hurt in making this show. And we do like old Capris so we are not happy. In fact we are considering importing to the United States the exact model of Capri shown below… and they are becoming more and more rare. Nonetheless…
In this episode, several tasks were given to our heroes, including trying to beat The Stig around a race track. Everybody failed at that, and of course the Capri over-heated (giving us a deja vu moment… in our own Capri, an earlier 1974 model, the over-heating occurred in the dead of winter, requiring a major repair in sub-freezing temperatures and a wind chill well under zero degrees).
And then there was the braking test: in 200 meters, accelerate to 60 MPH and then brake. If you fail, you run into one of your favorite possessions. Of course, Captain Slow crashed into his own piano and destroyed it.
Another test was a race on a snow track at a French ski resort. This brought us to another deja vu moment: the purpose of our own Capri was as a “winter car”, so that we could keep our 1979 Mustang Indy 500 Pace Car in the garage for the duration. Our Capri certainly wasn’t as nice as this well-equipped blue example from Europe. The model Top Gear used was of late-seventies vintage, which was not imported to North America. That’s a shame, because Bosch mechanical fuel injection replaced the previous (and miserable) carb and the car reached an all-time peak of capability. And a great set of cloth Recaro seats was offered as an option – which the blue car above has. Unfortunately, the Capri terminally expired and was left by the side of the road. James Mays was switched to a backup Morris Marina. The final test was a race on snow and ice and – STOP THE PRESS – Captain Slow beat both Clarkson and The Hamster.
Getting back to the real world, this episode’s track test pitted the new supercharged Jag (direct-injected DOHC 5 liter V-8, with 6-speed auto) against an M5. We have to admit, we liked the Jag – despite the anti-Jag jokes that Clarkson weakly offered (because when did he start standing up for the Germans?). During the timed track test, The Stig listened to Scottish music, which Clarkson characterized as “the sound of beats being offered inside a stomach lining”. We definitely don’t want to know about the cultural reference there, although we think we’ve seen a reference to it an old Monty Python sketch.
Anyway, the Jag was only a 1/2 second slower around the test track than the M5. We think our next European car needs to be a Jag – now that we’ve had a Capri (of similar reliability).
Yes, we do miss the old Top Gear!