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.
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…
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.