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Sam Mace

Top Gear Volvo 850 T5R (2)

There are two things that happen every year without fail – Keith Adams buys a dodgy car or two, and Top Gear will upset someone. This year it was me the programme managed to upset.

The popular motoring show’s concept of destroying serviceable motors for the sake of good telly isn’t a new one. In the early days of Clarkson Top Gear, when the presenter sported a rather natty Lionel Ritchie Afro wig, a brand new Hyundai Accent was used in a banger race and then crushed and then Datsun Sunny was catapulted to the ground-the earliest signs of the shows burgeoning appetite for destruction I can remember.

But of course we can all remember the fiasco caused after a Morris Marina was set fire to, even resulting in so-called ‘death threats’ from the Morris Marina Owners’ Club. I thought this was a little ridiculous. As Richard Hammond quite rightly stated: “It’s not like you need a breeding pair.”

I don’t like to see any old car wrecked, but the Marina is hardly a car we can be proud of. But the continued onslaught of Marinas, just to annoy the people who owned them grew a little tiresome. Like kids catapulting rubbers at the teacher because they know it will annoy them. Then we get on to the India special debacle. By the now the Marina has been forgotten, so it would seem like a good time for the team to move on and do something decent. But they didn’t.

Three nice British classics wrecked: pulled to bits and chopped up. This was when my heckles started to rise. Seeing the Jaguar XJ-S destroyed, and treated with so little respect upset me. Here was a car I had wanted since childhood, and I helplessly watched as it was trashed. People kept telling me that is was “just a car”, but try explaining how you feel to someone who thinks a car-and there’s nothing wrong with this-is just an alternative to the train.

But I let it pass. There are tons of nice XJ-Ss wafting around leading pampered lives.

This time though, it was different.

If you didn’t watch the last two episodes of Top Gear, allow me to bring you up to speed. The trio was charged with the task of finding the source of the River Nile – a noble enough quest-on the condition that they used only estate cars to find it. A Subaru Impreza, a BMW 528i Touring and a Volvo 850 T5R were gathered in a small African village to await their undignified fates at the hands of Top Gear.

I groaned as soon as I saw the Volvo roll into the frame with a certain long haired man at the helm. It’s low-low-low ride height and chin spoiler made it as suitable for driving in Africa as say, a Borat style mankini is for meeting your girlfriend’s parents is for the first time (unless they are very liberal). Much of the terrain in Africa though, is not liberal.

Top Gear Volvo 850 T5R (1)

Now, if it had been a garden variety Volvo 850, chances are it would have been fine. But a low, fast Volvo gets stuck on a damp lawn. I speak from experience. Now, who can tell me what happens to a car’s ride height when you fill it with stuff? That’s right, it gets lower.

For some reason, The Long Haired Man decided to fill the Volvo with what looked like my parents’ kitchen. With its ride height now a matter of a few inches, the combination of being dragged over mud and rocks meant that the Volvo shook itself to bits, eventually snapping its rear suspension. Having a hole cut in the bonnet probably didn’t do it any good either.

So where’s the problem? It was a high-mileage Volvo which wasn’t worth a huge amount, and was probably only one big repair bill away from the salvage yard. What’s wrong with it going out with a bang (or more of a snap)?

My problem is it was killed for entertainment. Most of Top Gear’s millions of TV fans are now people with no more than a passing interest in cars or adolescent kids, who tune in between Secondary School Musical and Jersey Shore who couldn’t tell a Vitesse from a Sterling. The majority of people watching would not know what an 850 T5R was, let alone the importance of one. Seeing a car so steeped in automotive history treated with zero respect was heartbraking.

So why not use a normal 850, which could cope with the terrain better anyway. I’d have rather see the 850 T5R being sold to a true enthusiast – even if it was only trashed at track days for the summer before being punted into a tyre wall a Druid’s, dying in a cloud of steam, dust and swearing. That would have been a more fitting and dignified end for it.

As Keith Adams put it: “Why not just send them out with f***ing i30’s?”. The average Top Gear viewer could probably not care less what they wrecked, so why not just make it something ordinary, rather than something special?

It’s a shame though, as it was good TV. Clarkson, Hammond and May were very respectful towards the communities they drove though, and the show provided some genuinely interesting content. And yes, I laughed when the Ford Scorpio estate  fell in the river. I’m sure there’s people getting angry on Scorpio forums though.

You really can’t do anything on TV without offending anyone, and I accept that. But please Top Gear, stop destroying modern classics and well looked after interesting old motors. They belong with enthusiasts. With people like us.

See for yourself here’s the car in happier times…

Top Gear Volvo 850 T5R (3)

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

100 Comments

  1. Yes, it’s a shame they dropped that piano on a Marina, as I imagine pianos like that are getting quite rare now..

  2. It’s usual Top Gear fodder. It does seem a bit respectful, and it worries me that it is teaching young impressionable minds that anything other than a brand new bmw, or whatever variation of Zonda, can be treated with disrespect and damaged at will.

    Thought something like a Xantia or C5 estate would’ve suited James better – comfortable big bus, cheap, the suspension can be raised to help get over the rough terrain…

    Only car I can think of that they had in a challenge that I owned was the Alfa GTV, though it didn’t fare too badly. Though it did let out the secret that I am not a millionaire playboy, they’re just a cheap car 🙂

    “Why not just send them out with f***ing i30’s?” – Ahh the i30, the car the R30 could’ve been…. 😉

    (In the previous week they did damage a load of Kias playing rugby…)

  3. Well the i30s would have been a lot more expensive. These were 3 £1500 old bangers.

    Old cars die. However sad it might be for something nice to die, not all cars can be preserved to be polished on front drives. If Darren from Basildon had pimped it up with enormous speakers in the boot, and bouncing suspension, would this have been any more respectful?

    Yes the 805R was a daft choice, but presumably it’s ridiculousness (rather than choosing an AWD version), highlighted the significant achievement of crossing Africa.

  4. I have seen the Africa episodes here in the USA (on BBC America) and just get so turned off by their childish antics of destroying old cars like they do. The USA licensed version isn’t much better, they seem to have the same child-men mentality as well. I love the exotic trips, as they often show us the beauty of the countries they visit and a slice of real life of the masses we little see. They come in and act like ‘ugly westerners’ probably spending little locally. I don’t like their terrible and wasteful destruction of vehicles for fun (especially ‘class’ ones).
    The BBC is owned by the public, they pay stupid fees for the programing. I don’t expect all of their programing to be highbrow, but someone needs to clean up their act and mature it up. Maybe they need to boot the obnoxius and sometimes insensative Clarkson and replace him with a woman with brains.

  5. A lot of older cars are ending up in Africa anyway. I don’t see what the fuss is about. Hundreds of cars get stolen and hooned around till they break, at least they paid for them and made a tv show in the process.

  6. Much as I loathe Top Gear, we must remember the BBC makes a lot of money out of it. For all its faults, the BBC is a fantastic institution and any way it can find to continue doing the good stuff, the better.

    Of course, Top Gear has done many a public sevice, notably involving destroying caravans. They also proved that we could save billions on the defence budget by using Toyota pick ups instead of….well anything!

  7. I have to agree with this blog although I don’t hold much affection for the Volvo in particular. What really bugs me is the child like mentality that wanton destruction of anything equals good programming. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good action film and even JC’s own dvds. What I don’t like to see is the destruction of a Rugby pitch and all those brand new Kias because I just think, “Is this what my TV license money pays for?”

  8. Slight correction Frankie mate, Clarkson destroyed the Accent and Sunny in his ‘On The Box’ production videos. I stopped watching ‘Last of The Summer Top Gear’ because of stuff like this

  9. What is the fuss about these cars were on the market ready and waiting for any “enthusiast” to buy and cherish. Let’s be honest these were not blower Bentley’s or D Types Jags but three ratty old foreign made estate cars so unlikely there was a queue of enthusiast rushing to save them from the Breakers yard.

    The Volvo Museum in Göteborg have an 850R so they were not making it extinct. In fact the good people of Göteborg I have spoken to, consider it was a proud and fitting end to be trashed hunting for the source of the River Nile rather than ending up in the breakers yard.

    Also I suggest people read J Clarkson’s column in the Sunday Times where he extolls the virtues of keeping our cars longer and not chopping them in because of fashion. Pointing out how his ready for the Scrapheap BMW survived the ordeal of African roads, yet had been considered little more than Scrap in the UK.

  10. The previous government’s scrappage scheme would have given £2000 to remove these cars, is that better?

    The Kia Rugby match was a bit rubbish, but the pitch was about to be relaid, and presumably Kia provided the cars as publicity. If MG had provided a load of unsold MG6s, and got lots of cheap publicity, people here would have probably loved it!

  11. Whats the big deal? They were only dull old cars which nobody wanted (£1500 is a clue) and destined for the scrapyard very soon anyway. They certianly weren’t classics (and at £1500 each they were probably not particualry worth bothering with – there will be many more and far better examples out there). At least this gave them a grand send-off. Go head and live a little and fight the right battles – this is the wrong battle to fight. There are far worse things going on in the car world – e.g. scrappage of classic cars (garages still offering to take your old car for £x against a new one), theft and subsequent scrapping of near-classic cars, banger racing 60’s and 70’s cars, minor insurance damage and minor MOT fail write-off of classics, etc, etc.

  12. As a car mad youngster I was cuffed to bits when BBC 2 started and included it’s motoring programme – Wheelbase (remember that, with Maxwell Boyd?). I watched every programme avidly, back in those days it was like a moving version of Autocar & Motor magazines, probably far too ‘stuffy’ for people now as it actually was a factual programme.
    Over the years I have seen the programme ‘evolve’ into what it now is where nothing is taken seriously, it is presented by three heavily overpaid buffoons, and none of the ‘facts’ presented can be believed. OK, so charging around a text track sideways smoking the tyres on an expensive car that you don’t have to pay for if or when you break it looks like teriffic fun, but it’s hardly relevant.
    I stopped watching the show (although I do like the ‘Star in an ordinarily priced car’ feature) for these very reasons some time ago. I am sure however that a great many people started to watch the programme at the same time and for the same reasons…

  13. So let me get this straight. Was this your volvo that got trashed? I can understand that being a bit upsetting, but you contradict yourself too much in your article. Why has the volvo more preservation value than a marina, or a scorpio, or an i30? Even with the childish mockery of the cars the TG boys drive (and destroy) the show highlights motoring issues and I enjoyed seeing the cars have one last stab at glory.

    If you don’t like it just exercise the power of the off switch.

  14. I’m sorry but it is the BBC licence fee that is paying for this mindless destruction, which means us! And Clarkson is a massive hypocrite, because he changes his supercar at least once a year, and has already been pointed out, they had a massive team of mechanics on hand to keep patching up the cars, otherwise they would have lasted about 2 minutes. Over the years, Clarkson has destroyed quite a lot of BL/AR products, At least 2 Dolomites, several Allegros, countless Marinas, a Maestro, a Montego a Rover 200, an SD1….

  15. Meh. High production Volvo gets trashed rather than being left to rot under enthusiasts carport. There are still 181 “R’s” left according to how many left, (out of theoretically 385 originally existing) one on ebay presently, blog when you have secured one!

    It was good T.V. pure and simple!

    If you want a real BBC scandal however…. Lonely Planet sold at £80 million loss…
    http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-21841479

  16. You mention the Ford Scorpio, an immaculate blue example was sitting in a drive in Gretna today. Please don’t let Clarkson go near it, though.

  17. 15@ bear in mind TG is probably propping the Beeb up – it went from 50% ownership to 100% ownership last year, and is retailed to 212 networks – that’s a lot of money returning to source.

  18. Plenty of those cars die as spares cars or on peoples drive ways hoping to be got around too one day so Top Gear is such a small percentage it makes no difference. I love the license fee argument it’s always trotted out and is always utter rubbish, face it the BBC has to cater for everyone and their are plenty of programs doubtless that some like and some moan about. If you don’t like it don’t watch it and let the other millions and millions of people enjoy 🙂

  19. Compared with the way Hollywood trashes cars, 3 £1500 bangers plus the Scorpio for 2 hours of TV is chicken feed.

  20. Top Gear is a massive earner for the BBC, with its magazine, exports and DVD sales, and ratings are the highest for a BBC Two show. You contrast this with the ITV alternative, Dancing On Ice, whose ratings are falling now and is as expensive to produce, but as a reality show has no potential to be repeated and can’t make anything as a DVD as no one would commit to a boxed set of zelebs dancing, and Top Gear makes more sense.

  21. Dont know what the fuss is about,i have a V70R awd that i cant give away, the prop is missing for the rears and no one is going to spend a grand on a new one let alone source a breakers one not only that no one is going to spend the same amount on a throttle body and re-programme either,if Top gear give me a grand they can have it.

  22. I’ve just got tired of the same lame jokes, Clarkson’s toadying up to Z listers with summat to plug, and pointless cars that nobody will ever buy, and Clarkson offending someone with his gob

  23. What we had in the Top Gear special was three blokes who clearly love cars, each extolling the virtues of the car they’d chosen whilst engaging in a hugely choreographed but nonetheless very entertaining trek across Africa. So what if the cars got wrecked? If they were left in mint condition by the end of the show the BBCs rules meant they couldn’t be sold on anyway. But those cars spent two hours as ostensibly the stars of a massively popular TV show; have we *really* got to the stage where we start wailing on the Internet about every car that gets wrecked on TV? Surely better this than them being involved in a multi-car crash on “Casualty”!

    We live in a capitalist world. These cars could have been bought by enthusiasts if they’d wanted them – it’s not as if the Top Gear team went and stole them! This gnashing and hand-wringing about TV shows and cars (mainly Top Gear) is getting rather tedious, and a little bit pompous at the same time.

  24. I was rather sad to see the Scorpio simply wrecked. Rare, short production run, and damn good cars.

    It’s a sign of how pampered, insensitive and stupid we are that we defend Top Gear going to a country where a car like the Subaru or Volvo would be massively, hugely valued by someone and just breaking it wilfully, like a child smashing up a toy?

    Yes, cars are wrecked for TV shows all the time – but Top Gear’s convoluted format is getting pretty tedious, a distraction and a shame from what could be globally interesting and exciting in interesting locations. They could, for example, have done that trip in a new Dacia Duster, Quashqai and Kuga, even with the same abuse of the cars.

  25. I thought this series was really good and for the first time in a while Clarkson didn’t look bored.

    In his own words he gets paid for acting like a 9 year old. The problem he has is that when he does talk sense no one listens.

    Also, anything non leftie or pc on our ever worsening BBC has to be a good thing.

  26. I remember one of those custom car magazines, either Max Power or Redline, used to have the strapline, ‘The definitive guide to arsing about in cars.’ Now those magazines are off the scene, has “Top Gear” adopted it? For some reason or another, whenever those three guys get hold of old cars and do all manner of foolishness with them, that line always comes to mind.

  27. We’ve stopped paying for our TV licence as we no longer watch live TV. I don’t see why we should pay Clarkson and his cronies at the BBC for all their tripe! If any of you have any sense then stop paying your licence fee.

  28. Since the program I bet that there’s more interest in the 850 T5R now than any time in the last five years. That must be better for the remaining ones rather than them just being used, abused and forgotten.

  29. I can understand people getting upset about rarer, older cars like Marinas or MG Maestros being wrecked but find this far less understandable. I dare say there are probably more 850Rs left on the road than Marinas for one. Besides, in the future 850Rs will probably be preserved in far greater numbers than more prosaic versions. The ‘not as if they need a breeding pair’ argument applies even more here. I even see the facelift Scorpio as a bigger loss as those are probably much rarer.

    At the end of the day more cars will end up in the scrapyard because of movies, TV drama and owners who don’t know the true worth of their cars. I think Top Gear preserves their old challenge cars so it’s not like this one has gone to as much waste as ones that have been scrapped for whatever reason.

  30. We’ve binned our digibox and are doing the same to be honest. There is nothing really worth watching on the box now

  31. Thanks for all the comments opinions and feedback guys 🙂

    @ Richard Kilpatrick. Yes, I did feel a tinge of sadness of the Scorpio. I’m actually a fan of their styling, and I always found them a bit of a wildcard, at a time when Ford were just starting on their New Edge stuff. The last “big Ford” to be sold here as well.

    @ Sandie. Checked how many left, and yes there are more of the Volvos (850 Rs and T5-R combined) on the road than Marinas.

  32. There is a Scorpio on the entrance road to the GFs work, on a GB ‘R’ reg. I like the rear, the full length light strip is reminiscent of my coupe or my old GTV. The front though I just can’t resolve. It seems though that perhaps they were a little behind the time with big headlights and huge grilles, if they had squared them off they’d look quite modern.

    The Mondeo is as big as a Scorpio, all Ford have done is merge their D and E segment cars and moved it up towards E sizing while keeping the D lineage. Peugeot did the same recently, though more obvious by calling the 40x and 60x replacement the 508.

  33. The BBC in no way is a “fantastic institution”. Its a typical publically-funded behemoth with zero accountability. The money it wastes is shocking (huge salaries to their favourite presenters and at least £1 billion on the move to Salford being two cases). There is no place in the 21st century for state sponsored media in a supposedly democratic country. I am also sick of the number of “adverts” now on BBC TV and radio promoting BBC programming and DVDs for sale.
    As for trashing an old Volvo, so what? (even if it was a T5R) Plently of newer cars than this were trashed under Browns (urgh!) “scrappage” (horrible word) scheme, all for people to prop up the Korean economy and buy new Kias and Hyundais. It was an old car that could have been bought by someone to use, but wasn’t (crippling insurance and running costs). You know what you are going to get with Top Gear, switch it off if you’re not into watching three middle aged blokes acting like 15 year olds.

  34. @35

    Whilst I pretty much completely disagree with you about the BBC, I completely *agree* with all of your second paragraph. This is what Top Gear is and does, so either watch it or don’t. Simple.

  35. Hang on a mo here. Why the hell are people defending 3 overpaid complete cretins smashing up cars for a laugh? Those who are defending them, are not real car enthusiasts in my eyes! And Russel has it bang on about the Beeb. Savilegate proves this! Time to privatize methinks, and stop their gravy train

  36. Privatise and Top Gear will become an hour long review of the latest VW products.

    BBC will lose all documentary and investigative journalism programmes and will end up another ITV, ran by the likes of cowell pushing trashy reality shows constantly.

  37. Thank goodness I don’t watch TV anymore (at least not in my own home).

    Trouble is, the BBC send round their ‘bovver boys’ to people like me, whom they clearly regard as ‘criminally minded’ for daring to assert our rights not to accept ‘programming’. If you don’t have a license then they think they have the right to interrogate you and search your premises for illegal television equipment. And if you reply to their threatening letters to the effect that you don’t watch TV, then they still expect to enter your premises to make sure.

    And they always include words to the effect that ‘you can stop this investigation now by buying a license’- its practically blackmail.

  38. Sorry not had time to read all the comments but…. Cars have been “wrecked” by TV and films from the start. If you think it’s wrong then it’s up to you to do something,such as buy the car and restore it yourself. I find it’s a bit like TV, if I don’t like what’s on I turn over or off but I don’t try to change it because I don’t like it.

  39. There’s a few postings by the people who sold the Volvo and the Subaru over on PistonHeads. Both of them are pleased that the cars got such publicity, plus the Volvo seller was chuffed to bits that someone had actually bought his car – he’d been trying to flog it for ages with no interest so it can’t be that special if there’s no takers even at £1500.

  40. None of those cars are modern classics. Maybe the Scooby, but just about thanks to its rally heritage. But a Volvo 850? Gimme a break! Think of the hundreds of them that have been scrapped by their owners just because they are old or need new parts.

    And comment 29. Adam, you are in no position to criticise a service you refuse to pay for. And how do you know it’s tripe if you don’t watch it? Oh, someone told you?

  41. Actually, I’m amazed this blog actually got posted given that anti-Top Gear propaganda on this site has become very predictable and tiresome now.

  42. @37

    So I’m not a real car enthusiast? If being a “real car enthusiast” means I waste my time having a pointless, childish hissy fit over three rather mundane cars being bought for a good price from their previous owners and starring on TV for two hours, and then see fit to slag off anyone who disagrees with them, then I’m *very glad* not to be tarred with that brush.

  43. The trouble with Top Gear is that you can’t do with it,silly stunts etc as you can’t do without it, independent as far as one can be and a certain brilliance born out of completely exposing any shortcomings in car designs and what the motor industry is up to disguised as entertainment. Don’t forget that James May loves the Dacia Sandero and Fiat Panda, that Hammond’s enthusiasm and pure knowledge of cars is mostly very infectious and Clarkson’s prose is in my opinion in a class of its own with a certain poetic quality… Have a listen! He uses the language with remarkable effect.
    Driving across countries is always a unique experience and has an honourable history. The very first recorded crossing of Australia from east to west was not by Victorian eccentric explorer on horseback but by a small team of drivers in a Mini and an Austin 1800 in 1966!

  44. @47
    “The very first recorded crossing of Australia from east to west was not by Victorian eccentric explorer on horseback but by a small team of drivers in a Mini and an Austin 1800 in 1966!”

    Crossroads Alice DVD
    The story of the (unlikely) first two cars to cross Australia from east to west through the centre in 1965. As part of worldwide testing for Castrol`s GTX motor oil, BMC publicity Manager Evan Green and “Gelignite” Jack Murray, photographer Scott Polkinghorne and mechanic Alan Kemp took a Mini and an Austin 1800 on a 12,000 mile adventure through the extremes of the Australian countryside. From the southernmost point of the mainland, they travelled to the most easterly point, then to the heights of Mt Kosciusko before heading west on a compass bearing for the Indian Ocean before heading north to Darwin then down the `Track` to Adelaide and back to the starting point.
    http://www.miniworld.com.au/prod33.htm

  45. Who cares about the understeering Volvo? back in the late 90’s the BMW was easily the finest car of it’s class. I drove a previous generation (E34) across Europe in ’04 it was my finest ever motoring experience, in a now largely extinct car.

    On a more positive note media exposure might get these cars out of banger valley, far more Dodge Charger’s were saved after Dukes of Hazard than were destroyed in silly stunts. Any car that hits £1500 is in serious danger of death. If they make it up to £3000, it’ll be worth paying for an engine rebuild or new transmission. A bit of notoriety might get more people remembering how great the 90s were and hopefully bid them up to safety.

  46. To those arguing that the Volvo is not a classic, remember “classic” is subjective. If you take the “a car must be made before this date blah blah blah” EU rubbish, then no, it probably isn’t. But the definition of the word classic outside of EU bureaucracy describes something which serves as an establish model or standard, by which others are judged-which would make the 850 a “classic” estate. The fast version however owes its existence to touring car success in the 90’s, most notably the BTCC.

    http://www.touringcartimes.com/2009/11/29/road-cars-of-touring-car-racing-volvo-850-estate/

    The 850 Touring Car was and still is very a much a stand alone car, and probably one of the best known BTCC cars of the 90’s. The 850 T5-R was the first true high performance estate (BMW M5 Touring aside, which is an even more rare sight) and kicked off Volvo’s change in image with the help of the later C70.
    Then again, if you don’t have a true interest in cars you won’t care one jot about any of that.
    Maybe some of us are outdated, refusing to accept that the car is now seen as a disposable commodity, with no emotional or non-monetary value. If you want a machine that is just a lump of metal to serve you and be chucked when it breaks, I have one thing to say to you: buy a Hotpoint.

  47. Ah, the Princess that was on sale for months until Top Gear bought it. Now it’s on display in a museum. Good stuff as far as I am concerned.

  48. This is a fuss about nothing. You can’t save all cars ever made. If the Volvo had gone into a scrapyard no-one would have said anything. So why the fuss about it being wrecked by a few middle-aged teenage hooligans before it gets to the scrapyard ?

  49. I agree with 52 totally – we really need to get over this attitude that every older machine should be preserved – it’s only a car!!

    You could also say that TG’s antics increase the nation’s love of cars and all things motoring so may well end up having a beneficial effect…….

  50. TG has strayed quite far from its origins as a motoring show. It is now an entertainment show, the show just happens to hand around motorised vehicles. There is a reason for this. Even when the re-booted TG launched there was a balance between POOOOWWEERRR, “torques” and Zondas compared to normal cars – albeit usually in hot hatch spec. When the BBC writers went on strike the BBC schedules were messed up and TG had to shoe horn something like 12 episodes into 8. Basically they kept the challenges, the Zondas and the power slides but left the more mundane stuff on the cutting room floor. Ratings went through the roof, people who werent petrol heads started watching and kept watching. So the “boring stuff” was never put back in and more challenges, races and specials were put in the schedule instead.

    If you want a motoring show in the original TG format 5th Gear is a very good alternative. If you want an entertainment show about cars then TG is for you.

    TG makes an absolute fortune for the BBC, it is syndicated and licenced to countries across the world. The live shows, merchandise, DVDs etc all returning money to the BBC – keeping the licence fee lower than it would otherwise be. For those of you who reckon there is nothing on TV and are not paying the licence fee, I presume you don’t listen to Radio either?

  51. @54

    I vaguely recall early Top Gear has Jason Dawes with his used car tips, and Ed Chyna made the occasional appearance, including making a Bond car out of a Rover 800.

  52. Top Gear is just entertainment with cars. It pampers for the tastes of 12 year olds (like my son who loves it) and the seemingly endless supply of petrol heads that this country has. It also makes the BBC a load of money.

    Yes, I too get fed up with the mindless bits and I was not happy when they trashed a Dolomite, SD1 and Princess. The Dolomite was a good example that they trashed – see this forum and read the post by Stewart Moss:

    http://forum.triumphdolomite.co.uk/viewtopic.php?p=42648

    I personally would have had that Dolly and kept it for myself to use rather than see TG trash it. I loved both my Dollies.

    So, no, I don’t really like TG any more. It was OK when they actually had stuff about cars that I might buy or want to buy but stripping the rubber of an expensive set of tyres to make a penis shape on concrete is puerile behaviour of the highest order. I could live with destroying the odd caravan and even some of the challenges like crossing South America and the Indian challenge, but destroying cars that may justifiably be “classic” like the Princess and the Volvo is just crass.

    I don’t like Marinas, my dad had one and it had laughable handling and a 0-60 measured in what felt like hours but it proved reliable transport for our not well off family for 6 years. There is a sizeable Marina/Ital owners’ club which is very enthusiastic about the car, and annoying them just for the sake of it again comes under the heading of puerile and juvenile behaviour.

    I do still enjoy the star in the reasonably priced car and also the Stig flogging some supercar round the track but, TBH, about 70% of the show leaves me cold these days.

  53. Top Gear has moved far from its roots where William Woollard would test the latest Austin Allegro and have a debate on the future of British Leyland. OK good fun for the million or so that watched the show, but a bit worthy and dull to most viewers, and certainly TG wasn’t an entertainment show when it started. Now it can attract up to 8 million viewers, viewers love the expeditions and silly games with cars and the banter between the presenters.

  54. #50 “The 850 T5-R was the first true high performance estate”

    What about the Audi 200 Quattro Avant?

    Anyway, the Volvo & BM were great cars. I had an E39 528i saloon. Brilliant. The Touring looks even better, IMO.

  55. Ah I had forgotten about them…but I’m sure some smart arse will come along soon and say “what about the Lynx Eventer” 😉
    Yes, I don’t get the anti BMWism all the time. Some of them are great cars.

  56. Just think who looks like an alien? Clarkson. Weird or what? Huge head with perm, huge chest and tiny skinny legs of a 12 year old girl. Who is laughing now?

  57. @48: CAR Magazine carried a fascinating article on the cross-Oz trip some years ago. I think Evan Green’s son Gavin may well have been editor at the time…

  58. I can remember the old Top Gear, it was on for only half an hour, but was so boring I rarely managed the whole show. Testing boring hatchbacks on gently twisting B roads at 40mph, testing baby seats and the on I best remember was testing the offroad capabilities of a Range Rover using a leafy country lane, no mud in sight! Current format much better, testing cars you want to own but can’t afford and doing things with cars you know you would like to do, but either can’t afford it or haven’t quite got the balls to do it.
    I got the impression the Kia rugby match was part of a big Kia advert – not quite sure how the BBC got away with it. The scorpio was probably ditched because it might well have won the challenge.
    @Paul N – mind you we don’t know what you look like do we! People in glass houses….

  59. What I find tedious about Top Gear specials are the obviously contrived ‘incidents’- like the Scorpio drowning. At least the cars taken on this trip were driven on challenging roads and did an interesting journey (admittedly with an absurd level of back-up, absurd to anyone who’s done a banger rally anyway).

    But far far worse was the childish attitude to Marinas (not a car I even like). The repeated meaningless trashing of cars just showed the Top Gear as a nasty and vindictive schoolyard bully.

    If they had bought a few Marinas and tried to do something interesting with them (drive to Timbuktu maybe) then they could have, like with the Volvo/BMW/Subaru, given the viewers an ‘entertaining’ program which actually involved driving the cars…

  60. @63. Yes valid point. I shall have to trim my lime green mullett and try to hide my beer gut before I have my photo taken.

  61. I’ve often been amazed at the car wrecking which goes on at ‘Top Gear’. I couldn’t get over the ‘three nice British classics’ episode. More recently, the Kia Cee’d ‘rugby’ match. Ok, not classics but who the hell alowed this destruction???

  62. I think that today’s ‘Top Gear’ should just be a feature in a show which is more like the old William Woollard ‘Top Gear’. A light hearted element in a practical, useful motoring ‘magazine’. If the Clarkson element was moderated and the ‘Woollard’ part ‘jazzed up’ a bit I think the two parts could show together.

  63. I preferred the Channel 4 (I think) show with Tiff in it. More like the Top Gear of old. And not a Clarkson in sight.

  64. @71. Yes Driven. Tiff was in Fifth Gear the Channel 5 one. Both better alternatives to Top Gear I think. And there used to be a show with Penny Mallory, a big bloke and Richard Hammond before he was on Top Gear. Was that on Sky 3 or something? I got it on Freeview I think. That was another good one. They bought 2nd hand cars and other stuff.

  65. It was Used Car Roadshow. I went on wikipedia. Can’t find reference to Hammond being on that. I’m sure he was on some car prog before Top Gear though. My memory does not serve me well (a bit like the TR7 I used to own back in the day).

  66. Top Gear is hugely popular and profitable hence their willingness to trash ‘chicken feed’ cars for entertainment. My problem with TG is it has become so predictable. The childish school boy humour repeated over and over – it represents everything that is wrong with modern Britain. Three bafoons with limited talent lauded as celebrities. Real talent like Quentin Wilson however does not get a look in, and the audience ‘dumbed down’ and not even interested in cars. I stopped watching a long time ago. This country is finished – just waiting for the total collapse then people won’t find people like Clarkson quite so funny.

  67. @75, I can relate to what you are saying,but TG is the only TV show i look forward to on the telly. Clarkson is capable of some truly amazing oratories at times-the senna story was without equal.

    Perhaps as the ratings are as high as they are the formula will carry on,i must admit some of the challenges are silly but hey,the are car,tractor truck,train and plane enthusiasts that will gripe like some of us on here.

    Personally,i was more pissed off about the Nimrod MRA4 being scrapped than the antics of these three.

  68. @78, The old addage applies,dont like,dont watch.
    I will never watch any reality show at all,complete with nobodies that either got thier tits out or had an orange in thier mouth and a steam iron up thier deaf and dumb and got busted.

    Diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks!

  69. The concern must be for the viewers who actually believe the nonsense delivered by Top Gear, they cannot see through the facade, I believe that Top Gear presenters does have a sway on the car buying public, note the scrorn and contempt for the typical cars which many of us drive.

    The Vauxhall Vectra springs to mind, the Vectra was subjected to TG negativity in extremis, yet the car was a fleet favourite for low running costs and all round competence. How many Vauxhall jobs were lost due to Top Gear?

  70. It should be pointed out that they didn’t buy the 850R to trash it, until the suspension damage, most of the ‘damage’ was superficial. When people race old cars and dent them, should they be condemned as well?

    One interesting thing after the raft incident, is that it showed the difference between a car with even weight distribution like the 5 series, and the very nose heavy 850R which nearly tipped the raft over at the front!

  71. @MM 80

    On the DVD commentary for the Bolivia special their own producer! Andy Wilman said “If you are actually wanting information on cars you would be better off watching Strictly Come Dancing” or words to that effect 🙂

  72. I recall the old Top Gear. The ‘new’ BBC ‘2’ idents, such as paint splashing or sparks, the announcers then would usually mention the studio “And now we’re over to Pebble Mill for motoring action with Top Gear”.
    Woollard introducing Goffney who would review the new Primera using some B roads around the midlands.
    Clarkson the cheeky upstart.
    Tiff would get an S class sideways, which back then was a rare treat.
    Quentin would tell you how to get a cheap Merc, or how to buy a car in Europe.

    I guess it just didn’t capture the imagination of the Playstation generation of drivers.

    That’s where Clarkson’s new Top Gear project took over.

  73. I remember the Noel Edmonds, Woollard, Goffey, Tony Mason days – “the ashtray is a bit of a stretch from the driver’s seat, visibility out the back is very good” etc. Worthy but dull, like a TV version of Which.

    Then the likes of Clarkson, Tiff and Quentin (and later VBH) came in later which improved things considerably. It was during this time that Clarkson did his infamous Vectra ‘test’. TG declined again when Clarkson left to do his chat show and indeed was dropped for a period, before the somewhat new format was started by Clarkson & co, with the remnants of the old team going to create Fifth Gear.

  74. I remember the post-Clarkson original TG era, Clarkson went off and made a few programmes such as Motorworld, Extreme Machines, Meet the Neighbours etc.
    They brought in James May, I think he tested an S-type. The forums afterwards were comparing him to a new Clarkson.
    Then they cancelled the whole thing. The team moved to Channel 5.
    May came in on the 2nd series of ‘new’ Top Gear, after Jason Dawes was dismissed.

  75. Yeah never bother to watch it now. They have done some stunning specials Vietnam, Bolivia, USA, Africa. My gripe with the India special is that the Allegro made the trip without much bother and no real mention of it. I suspect it would have been as comfortable on the unmade roads as the other classics and probabaly a lot more drivable Farmers love using them as “field cars”. But of course to mention that too much that would not have fitted in with the agenda.

  76. I enjoyed seeing the AROnline forum light up with indignation during and after that feature in 2008 when the team wrecked 3 BL cars to ‘celebrate’ BL’s 40th anniversary..

    There’s also footage on Youtube to an afro haired Clarkson wandering around a car parts jumble sale in the late 80s..

  77. Look at Fast Car magazine now,a rag for silly spotty kids with Clio’s and Corsas with Ferrari F40 bodykits-i used to buy it and it shown you how to port an head or the very enjoyable Vizzrad spells column,perhaps Top Gear isnt catering for those kids but big kids and “ladettes”.

  78. I enjoy TG and especially the programs such as the recent one in Africa.

    It is a sad reflection on the way that we treat our cars that they were able to buy 3 perfectly usable cars for £1500 a piece and drive them halfway across Africa without major problems. The program demonstrated that we don’t have to have a new car to have reliable transport. In the case of the V70 a well cared for 1995 model on decent alloys and private plates would not look very different from the latest model. The cost £1500 against something north of £30k.

  79. Couldn’t agree more, brilliant article. Thank you.

    There’s something immoral about destroying a perfectly serviceable car too. Many people would love to own these cars, would dream of being able to afford any car, let alone a nice one like these.

    I still haven’t forgiven them for destroying the last-of-the-line Mini…

  80. I really don’t see the problem, 3 reasonably common cars worth less than £5k were wrecked in an entertainment program watched by millions around the world. How many cars that could be saved are wrecked banger racing watched by a couple of hundred people. Makes Top Gear look a bit better.
    The fact that all 3 cars made it, with a far smaller support crew than most people on here seem to think they have – I know the two main guys, Is testament to the improved build quality of cars in general.
    Most car enthusiast’s seem to forget that to most people cars are just an appliance and that when they become uneconomical to keep on the road they get thrown out, like an old washing machine or fridge.
    We’re the weird ones for having feelings towards machines.

  81. Yes, hats off to Volvo, BMW and Subaru. They clearly know a thing or two about how to make a car last.
    Despite my ranty blog, I did think it illustrated how some cars packed off to the scrapyard (where the BMW would have gone before long) have so much more life left in them than we think.

    And yes, we are weird for having feelings for machines.

  82. What a bunch of sad idiots all those complaining about the destruction of these 3 cars are.

    We live in a free world, I guess a few of those comments are from people wanting to return to their idealistic view of what communist rule may be like.

    Top gear is the most sold television program in the world to more countries than any other and makes the bbc far more than it costs to make and pays for a lot of the tripe bbc force on us.

    If you do not like what you are watching change channel, or are you so disgusted you just have to keep watching it !

    Oh and get a life as well, there are far better things to do than moan about a car being destroyed for entertainment.

    I am not saying top gear is perfect but more people watch top gear than any other program in the world, the majority of them must enjoy it !

  83. To the person writing about the vauxhall vectra at number 80.

    Have you ever driven one, or if you do, have you driven any other car for that matter?

    I drove four 57/58 plate examples on a taxi fleet.

    Number one was 8 months old, cam belt snaps, water pump had seized, as its a taxi normal warranty does not apply so £6000 main dealer bill at 28000 miles.

    Second one, at 14 months old and 40000 miles, starts using water and comes out of main dealer garage with £4500 bill as it needs a cylinder head and as its a taxi , normal warranty does not apply.

    If you want to change your headlight bulb, its only 1.5 hours to change it at a vauxhall dealer, nice bill, not !

    Many, many more big and small bills on cars which were sadly assembled on a friday afternoon

    The same fleet of taxis had same age skoda octavias and toyota avenisis models which have reached 300000 plus miles with no major issues you can maybe understand why the vectra is certainly not perfect, the great build quality of pre 1995 vauxhalls does not seem to exist these days.

    The avenesis was even more boring than the vectra to drive, the mark one skoda octavias seemed even better built than the vw golf they were based on and never broke down.

    The vectras were quick but fell apart, a friend who had a new astra with the same engine had to have the engine replaced after 12000 miles, not the signs of a great car !

    Maybe top gear should start destroying vectras to take the heat off the marina owners club before they try to murder clakson !

  84. Volvo 850s and E39 5-series get trashed routinely on banger racing tracks up and down the land. They are mass-produced cars, not classics. Would you really put a scruffy £1500 Volvo 850 on display at a classic car show, next to an immaculate Amazon or P1800?

    Claiming the 850 had a special significance because it featured in the BTCC series back in the day – does that make the Toyota Carina and Vauxhall Cavalier equally significant?

    As stated above, the Volvo owner was on Pistonheads, delighted that he got £1500 for it, and acknowledging the car was hardly a concours winner. There are a small number of E39s and 850s that are very well looked after by conscientious owners – these cars won’t ever appear on Top Gear, and **may** become classics in 10-20 years, when the numbers have thinned out sufficiently.

  85. Loved reading the feedback to this article. The Volvo 850R has emerged as a classic and this tired incarnation of Top Gear is no more. Thank goodness for that.

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