Top Gear is one of the most popular and successful TV shows ever. Especially since it re-launched in 2002, it has taken the world by storm. Men, women, and kids of all ages love Top Gear. Aside from the incredible chemistry and humour of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, the show is also beloved and revered for its incredible stories, cinematography and editing. The aforementioned trio left the show in 2015 and have appeared on Amazon Prime’s The Grand Tour for three seasons since then. While Top Gear has continued with replacement hosts after the trio’s departure, the golden years of Clarkson, Hammond and May will never be matched. While the new hosts have yielded some really wonderful episodes, this post is only going to talk about the ambitious but (not) rubbish episodes of the show featuring Clarkson, Hammond and May. Without further ado, here are the 14 best Top Gear episodes of all time.
1. Lotus Exige Evades an Apache Attack Helicopter (Season 4 Episode 1)
This spectacular episode is oozing with two of the best features of Top Gear: Jeremy Clarkson’s ridiculous metaphors (“the Lotus Exige is like putting a Saturn 5 rocket in a food blender”) and otherworldly face-offs between two unlikely rivals. Top Gear has pitted man against cars and public transport against cars before, but it has rarely featured a faceoff between a car and a military vehicle. The showdown between the incredible Lotus Exige and the legendary Apache attack helicopter is a complete thrill ride with not a single weak moment. All car and helicopter fans get to geek out over the Apache’s insane weapons systems. The Apache can identify 256 unique targets from 8 kilometres away, pick the 16 most dangerous, and eliminate them all. The showdown features the incredibly agile Lotus Exige attempting to evade the Apache’s missile lock. The ensuing battle ends up being far closer than you might expect. To top it all off, the feature has Mötörhead’s galloping Ace of Spades playing in the background. What more could you want from a Top Gear feature.
2. Amphibious Car Challenge #1 (Season 8, Episode 3)
Let’s be honest with ourselves, at some point of time in our lives, we’ve all dreamt of having a car which can transform into a boat (and maybe even a plane). However, no major manufacturer has mass produced such a vehicle. The dreadfully slow 1961’s Amphicar and the limited run of the very good Gibbs Aquada are the closest we’ve come. However, the Top Gear trio took it upon themselves to turn a regular car into an amphibious vehicle. Even though the end goal was the same, all three came up with distinctly different choices. Jeremy Clarkson attached a 225 bhp outboard motor on the back of a Toyota Hilux, Richard Hammond connected a propeller to his VW Camper van’s engine and James May turned a Triumph Herald into a sailing boat. They raced across a reservoir.
How hard could it be? Watch and find out. Top Gear took this challenge to the next level during a later season when the trio had to cross the English Channel to France on their amphibious cars.
3. Attempting to kill the Toyota Hilux (Season 3, Episode 5 and Episode 6)
This incredible episode came very early the life of the re-launched Top Gear. The intentional, wanton and (ultimately) futile attempts to destroy a Toyota Hilux were presented masterfully. The script’s creativity and shot selection were incredible and it was definitely a sign of things to come.
Placing the Hilux on top of a building undergoing demolition is the kind of over-the-top brilliance that old Top Gear didn’t have. After this episode, the world was put on notice. The new Top Gear is here to stay and it takes everything to 11. The true genesis of the Top Gear the world has fallen in love with.
4. Supercars’ tour de France (Season 3, Episode 7)
Top Gear features a lot of spectacular cars and metaphor torturing during their tests on the Top Gear test track. Aside from that, the terrific trio of Clarkson, Hammond and May also takes those glorious supercars to amazing destinations. However, with this film, Top Gear proved that living with a glamourous supercar isn’t as easy as it looks.
The French road trip on a Ford GT, Ferrari F430 and a Pagani Zonda proved to be very difficult while navigating Paris’ treacherous traffic or getting the cars out of a parking lot meant for normal sized cars. This film was a realistic portrayal of the difficulties of living with a supercar.
5. Ferrari 612 Scaglietti race to Verbier, Switzerland (Season 5, Episode 8)
Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May always tend to argue over finding the fastest means of transportation between point A and point B. A lot of Top Gear films have revolved around this theme. One of the best ones of that type, is the race to Verbier. In this episode, Clarkson suggested that the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti can get from the U.K. to Switzerland faster than his co-hosts can get there on a plane. Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? After all, the plane is MUCH faster… or is it? The race’s catch is that Hammond and May will have to use public transportation to get to and from airports in the U.K. and Switzerland. Clarkson on the other hand only had to navigate through the traffic on the motorways. Can the monstrous 6.0-litre V12 grand tourer Scaglietti outrun a super fast modern passenger jet?
6. Reliant Robin shuttle challenge (Season9, Episode 4)
As far as the funniest segments in Top Gear history go, Jeremy Clarkson’s test of the Reliant Robin — or rather, Clarkson’s non stop rolling of the Reliant Robin is up there at the top. However, before that hilarious Season 15 segment, Top Gear used the Robin’s ‘pointy” shape as the basis for a DIY Space Shuttle. The rocket scientists involved had to attach rockets to a terrible car and a remote airplane pilot would control the descent of the ‘shuttle’ on its way down. What could possibly go wrong?
The hilarity of the situation ensued when Hammond and May realized how expensive and time-consuming the project would be. Unsurprisingly, the pair decided to use cheap parts from model airplanes, but the best part of the clip is learning of all the scientific obstacles impeding their success. It’s funny, sure, but it’s also wonderfully educational.
7. U.S. Special #1: $1,000 American Car road trip (Season 9, Episode 3)
This episode was really special as it was the first time that the Top Gear Trio had shot a special in the United States of America. It certainly didn’t turn out to be the last but it is probably the most memorable. The special’s challenge was to land in Miami, find three truly American cars for under $1,000 each, drive them to New Orleans and prove that buying a used car is cheaper (and better) than renting one in the USA. They bought their cars but it wasn’t an easy drive by any means. The trio faced many challenges, some designed and some unexpected, including a braking test that sent Hammond’s very American pickup trunk into an alligator-filled Florida swamp and a run for dear life from some enraged hillbillies in the deep south (after the trio ‘decorated’ each other’s cars). This film might be slightly offensive towards American Southerners, as it portrayed them like murderous, inbred morons. However, if you’ve got a sense of humour, you can look past it and have a great laugh. A truly fabulous journey deep into the American south.
8. Race to the North Pole (Season 9, Episode 8)
Simply put, the Top Gear Polar Special is one of the best episodes ever of the show. The sheer audacity to even think about driving a car to the North Pole on a ‘pokey’ motoring show boggles the mind. James May and Jeremy Clarkson drove a modified Toyota Hilux (equipped with a ‘bumper dumper’) across the frozen arctic to reach the Earth’s North Pole.
However, since it is Top Gear, it had to be a race. Richard Hammond raced against the two in a traditional sled pulled by a pack of huskies. Clarkson and May were the first (and the most drunk) to drive to the north pole. And of course they drank while driving because they were ‘technically sailing’.
It’ll make you laugh and cry and leave you with a sense of wonder like few things in life can. It’s a masterpiece. Some non-car highlights include the sled dogs being led with the help of a giant kite across the frozen Arctic ocean.
9. Homemade stretch limousines (Season 9, Episode 6)
This segment is truly wonderful for its pure, unbridled ridiculousness, as well as its frequent references to the iconic film, The Great Escape. James May fused an Alfa Romeo with a Saab make a limo that is sporty and sensible. The fusion continued inside with an interior featuring a sauna on one end and a replica of the Sistine Chapel on the other. Not to be outdone in ridiculousness, Richard Hammond built a super stretched rear wheel drive sports limo convertible while Jeremy Clarkson built a Fiat Panda-based two-door limo. It was so ridiculously long that it needed six wheels and the passengers had to use a pull-up cart like the movie The Great Escape to get to the back seat. It’s really hilarious during the track based tests but it gets even more interesting when the limos ferry celebrities across the streets of London.
10. Ford Fiesta serious road test (Season 12, Episode 6)
Ever since it was re-launched in 2002, Top Gear has been everything but focused on testing everyday cars with an emphasis on practical considerations like cargo space and fuel economy. Over-the-top stunts make up the bulk of the show’s repertoire now, but not everyone appreciates that the cars on the program are irrelevant to the average driver. To address those critics, Jeremy Clarkson undertook a ‘thorough’ road test of the Ford Fiesta back in Series 12. The Ford Fiesta is a sensible small car, but Jeremy Clarkson ended up doing some not-so-sensible tests with it, including storming a beach with the British Army. All in all, if the segment was good enough for Mr. Needham, so it must be great for us all.
11. Peel P50, Bugatti Veyron vs. Eurofighter Typhoon (Season 10, Episode 3)
This episode was loaded to the gills with excitement. It featured two cars at the absolute opposite ends of the car spectrum. The show started with the Peel P50, the smallest car ever made. Jeremy Clarkson searched long and hard for a proper small car and chose the Peel P50 over the traditional ‘small’ cars as they were all massive compared to the P50. Jeremy Clarkson drove the tiny car to work at the BBC, but instead of parking his car in the lot, he simply carried it into the elevators and drove it inside the BBC office. He even appeared in the background of a live news broadcast and commented on a female news anchor’s buttocks.
To balance the show, Top Gear concluded the show with a feature on the Bugatti Veyron (fastest car in the world at the time). The Veyron participated in a drag race against one of the greatest fighter jets ever made, the Eurofighter Typhoon. The Veyron would race down a mile on a drag strip, turn around and race back while the jet would hit an altitude of one mile, and come back down. First across the finish line wins.
12. Vietnam Special (Season 12, Episode 8)
Many backpackers dream of going on a road trip through Vietnam on a two wheeler, and that’s exactly what Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May did in this episode. Yes, even the bike-bigot Clarkson rode almost 800 kilometres across the gorgeous Vietnamese countryside on a scooter. To add to the hilarity, the trio got custom suits made during a halt. References to numerous Vietnam War films only add to the fun.
13. Bolivia Special (Season 14, Episode 6)
When you think about the Amazon jungle, the Atacama desert, or Bolivia’s “Death Road”; Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May hardly seem like the people who could handle the perils of those places. However, they do exactly that, in clapped-out SUVs to boot. A notoriously unreliable Range Rover, an old and decrepit Toyota Land Cruiser and a Suzuki Jimny with a rotten ride is what the trio used to tackle the perils of Bolivia. Aside from being one of the most exciting Top Gear Special, it was also one of the toughest. The trio had to drive through humid, insect infested forests, arid deserts and try to not die of altitude sickness.
Aside from all that, during a sequence on the ‘Death Road’, James May attacked Jeremy Clarkson with a machete and Richard Hammond commented that, a scene like that isn’t something people normally see on other shows. Indeed Hamster, indeed.
14. Finding the source of the River Nile (Season 19, Episode 7)
This two-part Top Gear special sent the Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May in search of the source of the world’s longest river, the Nile. James May chose a Volvo 850R as his automotive companion. Jeremy Clarkson chose a BMW 528i Touring, and Richard Hammond (smartly) chose a Subaru Impreza WRX Estate. During the course of the journey, each member was forced to turn their vehicle into a something they could easily spend their night in. Obviously, this meant that the trio ‘found a workshop and cued the music’. After reaching the shores of Lake Victoria and realizing that it’s not the actual source of the river Nile, the trio ventured further into the heart of Africa to find the true source. During the journey, the trio also built a ferry to cross a crocodile-infested river. As the journey reached its conclusion, it turned into a race with only the winner could be credited with the discovery of the source of the river Nile.