jeremy clarkson

Why I reckon motoring TV is about to change

NEVER has the sale of a secondhand tent seemed quite so emotional.

If you haven’t watched the last episode of The Grand Tour yet(and you don’t mind forking out for Amazon Prime) then you might want to put your copy of The Champion down for an hour, watch it and then come back, because it’s really worth catching up with. In a nutshell, the motoring telly giant that was the Clarkson/Hammond/May trio came to an end – except it sort of didn’t.

After an extended piece bemoaning the Ford Mondeo’s steady slide from the top of the car sales charts a genuinely emotional Jeremy announced that there would be no shows involving him taking the mickey out of the latest motors alongside his two mates in front of a studio audience, either for The Grand Tour or back on Top Gear. An extended montage of what they’d been up to on both shows followed – including everything from Richard Hammond’s many crashes to the Reliant Robin space shuttle – duly followed, giving the trio’s work the sort of send off a certain incident involving cold meat and a late night at a hotel a couple of years ago denied them.

The only snag is that it was all much ado about nothing, because the three of them then went on to say they are going to carry on working together on The Grand Tour, albeit in a new format that focuses solely on their big globe-trotting adventures. Read between the lines, though, and I reckon that there’s a wider truth; that the studio-based school of motoring telly they pioneered is finally on the way out.

I’ve written before that a lot of Top Gear now feels tired trying to hang on to elements popularised more than 15 years ago and that I’ve already predicted the next series, fronted by two celebs who aren’t practised motoring writers, is going to be awful. Which is a shame, because the one that’s just finished was one of the best yet, and that includes comparing it to ones presented by the old trio.

But in a streaming-obsessed world where you can watch everything on demand simply rocking up in an old aircraft hanger and then packing in an audience around a few strategically-parked supercars just seems a bit, well, a bit old hat now. I’ll happily predict that Top Gear will eventually follow suit and go for a rethink in a few years’ time, and might even be parked up altogether.

Saying that about a car show that I’ve grown up with, from crackly early Nineties episodes of a fuzzy-haired Clarkson moaning about mid-sized Vauxhalls to Chris Harris doing balletic mid-corner routines in McLarens, is a bitter pill to swallow, but I also loved Top of the Pops and Tomorrow’s World, and the world moved on from both of those too. Personally, my own prediction is that the massive motoring juggernauts that are Top Gear and The Grand Tour won’t be replaced by something equally big but several slicker, smaller shows, covering exactly what you want, when you want. Petrolhead paradise on demand. My vote’s with a show packed with old TVRs and Morgans.

I could be completely wrong of course. Maybe no-one wants to buy a secondhand tent and, stuck with it, they’ll have a rethink of the rethink…

The Porsche 911 makes no sense – and as a result makes complete sense

There have been many different 911s over the years - and none of them truly make sense

WHO remembers Cheesy Peas?

It was a fictional delicacy popularised on Nineties funny-fest The Fast Show – and, to my mind at least, shorthand for anything that sounds inherently wrong but actually ends up working unexpectedly well. Go on, admit it. Cheesy Peas sounds like a stomach-churning concept but I bet you’d happily wolf it down if it was served with sausage and chips after a cold November night out. It makes about as much sense as Dolly Parton’s Nine to Five being played over a fight scene in Deadpool 2 or Jeremy Clarkson being given Chris Tarrant’s old gig on Who Wants to be a Millionaire – yet all these baffling concepts somehow work.

The Porsche 911 is very Cheesy Peas. Any car nut who knows their stuff is educated from an early age that a sports car has its engine up the front, some wheelspin at the back and a driver grinning childishly somewhere in the middle, yet the chaps in Stuttgart decided to launch one with all the important gubbins at the rear. It’s all out of sync, yet in Porsche’s 70th anniversary year it went so far to refer to the 911 as “our icon” in its own business assessment.

Having now driven one for the first time, I have to agree. There have been all sorts of 911s over the years but the car I was entrusted with was a 1970 model, which represents a sweet spot between Porsche realising it’d cocked up the original car slightly but before it started adding turbos, four-wheel drive, wider bodywork and water-cooled engines into the mix. So it has a 2.2-litre flat six rather than the two-litre, and a slightly longer wheelbase to tame the original’s appetite for lift-off oversteer.

It is the oddest sports car experience, yet it really works. With no mechanicals weighing down the front wheels the steering feels super-light, yet it’s packed with feel, and while it’s a bit weird hearing a boxer engine fire up behind you, it’s hard to deny that it revs beautifully and pulls – sorry, pushes – really well. You also sit far too close to the windscreen, the steering and pedals are offset, the dashboard layout is a complete mess, and yet it all adds up to a package that’s weirdly addictive.

So I’m not even remotely surprised that for all the attempts to replace it with the 928 and decades-long process of little improvements that Porsche’s mainstay is still a car that has a boxer engine slug out miles between some barely usable rear seats. Sometimes things don’t have to make sense to be enjoyable, and long may it continue sticking two fingers up at motoring convention.

Stranger things have happened, after all. Cheesy Peas have been made into a Jamie Oliver-endorsed real-life recipe, for instance…

We’re the fastest nation on earth. £25m is a small price to pay to keep it that way

If successful Bloodhound SSC will be the first vehicle to be driven at more than 1000mph
I’M SURE that by the time you read this, Richard Branson will have saved the day.

Or perhaps Simon Cowell could do the honours – he likes cars and isn’t short of a few quid. Maybe Jeremy Clarkson could chip in. Either way, I’m sure someone’s about to step up and stop Britain’s land speed record bid from stalling on the final straight.

You might have seen in the news that the team behind Bloodhound SSC – that’s SSC as in Supersonic Car – have had to call in the administrators, who are calling on someone, anyone, to step in with £25 million to make sure the nation’s bid to be the world’s first to crack on 1000mph without taking off goes ahead as planned.

Yet the administrators’ statement is about as far from, say, a department store going bust as it’s possible to imagine.

“Bloodhound is a truly ground-breaking project which has already built a global audience and helped to inspire a new generation of STEM talent in the UK and across the world,” said joint administrator, Andrew Sheridan, who went on to say that while bankrolling Bloodhound will cost a fraction of what it’d take to run a rubbish F1 team anyone who does so will leave “a lasting legacy”. Not exactly the sort of thing the administrators said when Woolies or BHS went bust.

The fact that even the suits with the red ink talk about Bloodhound in such evocative terms goes to show you what Britain loses if – as is widely feared – the project runs out of money in the next few weeks. The land speed record is an area in which Britain is indisputably the world champion, and the new project was being backed by big business and government ministers alike to inspire a new generation of science-loving speed freaks. Yes, I know it’s been promising big things for over a decade, but when you’re planning to propel a bloke along the ground at Mach 1.3 you can’t afford to fluff it up.

Which is why I really hope that a country that’s somehow managed to keep Aston Martin going through seven bankruptcies and rescued Lotus from oblivion seemingly every other week will find the £25 million – to put that into perspective, £18.7 million less than what Liverpool paid for Fabinho – needed to make sure Britain’s the fastest nation on earth. Even if the money comes entirely from Ronan Keating record sales, it’d be worth it.

But then I hope that by the time you read this someone really has stepped in and that all this is entirely redundant – in which case, I’ll happily run a correction in next week’s Champion.

Over to you, Richard.

Top Gear vs Grand Tour isn’t the TV battle you might think

CarFest is proof enough that Chris Evans really is a petrolheadAFTER what feels like an eternity one of the biggest battles in motoring is about to get underway. Or at least that’s what the tabloids want you to think.

In the ginger – sorry, red – corner there’s the new series of Top Gear. Chris Evans has stuck to his vow to resuscitate it post-fracas by the end of May 2016 – but only just, because the new series finally hits our screens on 29 May. Their contender in the increasingly grey-haired corner is the old Top Gear trio, only with a reportedly much bigger budget and a cyberspace colossus backing them.

The script every other newspaper report, motoring website and Facebook commenter want you to read is that Chris’ capers will crash and burn to either horrifically low ratings or the entire team falling out and vowing never to work with each other again by the end of the first series. In the meantime Clarkson’s new show will roll up, convert every TV viewer into an internet evangelist and that’ll be the end of the car show I grew up with.

All of which is utter nonsense, of course.

Top Gear vs (the rather oddly named) Grand Tour just isn’t going to happen, and I haven’t heard a single car nut tell me they’re going to watch one over the other. They’ll watch Chris Evans and Jeremy Clarkson, mainly because one’s on a TV show starting next week and the other’s fronting an online collection of films which is unlikely to start until much later in the year. I can’t be the only one wanting both to succeed, because it means for the first time we’ve got two big budget motoring shows to sit back and enjoy.

Both are fronted by blokes with charisma and a genuine, heartfelt passion for classic cars – if you’ve ever been to one of Chris’ CarFest shows and watched him wandering around gawping at the supercars, you’ll know he’s still one of ‘us’ no matter how much he admits to being overpaid by. Jeremy, Richard and James (who incidentally are publicly rooting for Top Gear’s success) are meanwhile free to do even more of the big, spectacular car adventures they did so well before someone threw a plate of cold meat in the works. I’m keeping an open mind on both, and so should everyone else.

The only thing we’re missing now is a third way for people who want an intelligent, no-nonsense car show with proper reviews about things you might actually buy. Come on Channel 4, bring back Driven