U.S. Special: $1,000 American car road trip (Season 9, Episode 3)
This was the first time the boys made a trek across the pond for a road trip but it certainly hasn’t been the last. Their challenge: Land in Miami and find three American cars for under $1,000 each and drive them to New Orleans. Along the way, they’re beset by complications as well as a series of challenges, including a braking test that sends Hammond’s pickup into an alligator-filled swamp and a run for dear life from some enraged hillbillies. This film might be insulting to Southerners, as it makes them look like murderous, inbred morons. If you can laugh at it, though, it’s a fabulous journey.
One of the funniest segments in Top Gear history is Clarkson’s test of the Reliant Robin — or rather, when Clarkson rolled the Robin numerous times. However, before that segment aired in season 15, Top Gear used the Robin’s pointy shape as the basis for a Space Shuttle. Not only would the Top Gear crew need to build a rocket, they’d need to fly the Robin a few thousand feet in the air and land it safely for use some other time. 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 educational!
You have to love this episode for its pure ridiculousness, as well as its frequent references to the iconic film, The Great Escape. May puts both an Alfa Romeo and a Saab together to make a limo that is sporty and sensible — complete with an interior sporting a sauna and a replica of the Sistine Chapel. Hammond builds a rear-drive sport limo convertible, and Clarkson builds a Fiat Panda-based two-door limo so long that occupants must use a pull-cart to get to the back seat. It’s funny when the homemade limos are on the track, but when they head into central London, it really gets good.
While all the other episodes on this list are ambitious but rubbish, as the boys like to say, the Polar Special is on another planet altogether. Imagine the sheer audacity required to wonder if your television show could successfully drive a car to the North Pole for the first time in the history of man. That’s exactly what they did. Clarkson and May — full of gin and tonics — race a highly modified Toyota Hilux against Hammond and a team of sled dogs to the top of the Earth. If you only watch one episode of Top Gear in your entire life, make sure it’s this one. 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.
This episode was a double-whammy of entertainment, with two different vehicles highlighting the show. First up was the Peel P50. Clarkson was on the lookout for a small car, but simply wasn’t satisfied with traditional “small” vehicles. Compared to the Peel P50, everything is massive. Clarkson pilots the tiny production vehicle to work at the BBC, but instead of parking his car in the lot, he proceeds to take it in the elevator and drive it around the office (and into the background of a live news broadcast). Afterward, the crew decided a good match-up for the Veyron (top speed of 250 mph) would be the Eurofighter jet (top speed of 1,500 mph). The Veyron would race down a mile 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.