Top Gear — in the form we know and love — began airing on BBC Two in 2002, and over the ensuing 16 years it became required viewing for any serious gearhead. The show’s blend of offbeat humor, contrasting personalities, gorgeous cinematography, and amazing vehicles has even managed to bring many non-car fans into the fold, including the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch and Sir Michael Gambon.
Of all the hilarious and informative episodes, several stand out from the crowd, however, and they’re worth looking back on as the show faces an uncertain future. After firing Jeremy Clarkson and triggering the exodus of cohorts Richard Hammond and James May, the BBC relaunched Top Gear with a new cast led by Chris Evans, who departed after just one season. With a new cast and yet another revamp, only time will tell if Top Gear will find its footing again.
For your viewing pleasure, we won’t give away the endings or meat of our favorite episodes. Instead, we’ll give you just enough info to get the gist. We hope your interest will be piqued enough to seek the episodes out for yourself. Enjoy!
Although I had been watching Top Gear for a while before I saw the wanton destruction of the Toyota Hilux, I wasn’t yet sold on the show. After this episode, though, I was hooked. Not only was I hugely impressed with the Hilux’ ability to just keep living; I was also impressed with the creativity of the script and shot selection. On a larger scale, I consider this episode the beginning of the current Top Gear style. Putting a pickup on the roof of a building during a controlled implosion effectively separated modern Top Gear from the previous iteration. I truly believe it was that moment that marked the beginning of what we know now as Top Gear.
This episode combines two of Top Gear‘s best features: Jeremy Clarkson’s metaphors (“the Lotus Exige is like putting a Saturn 5 rocket in a food blender”) and insane showdowns. There are a few car vs. military machine face-offs throughout the show’s history, but the Exige vs. Apache is one of the best. Not only do we get to completely nerd out over the Apache’s bonkers weapons systems — it can identify 256 targets from 8 kilometers away, pick the 16 most dangerous, and eliminate all of them — we get to watch the Lotus attempt to evade the helicopter’s missile lock. Does the Exige avoid certain death? Watch and find out.
We can always count on one of the trio to claim that a car is faster than a train, plane, boat, or any other craft from A to B. It’s a Top Gear hallmark. This time, it’s Clarkson suggesting the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti can get from the United Kingdom to Switzerland faster than his co-hosts can get there on a plane. No brainer, right? Obviously the plane is faster… or is it? See, the catch is that Hammond and May will have to use public transportation to get to and from airports in the U.K. and Switzerland, while Clarkson only has to worry about traffic on the motorways. Can Clarkson’s 6.0-liter V12 grand tourer outrun a passenger jet? I’d say watch the above video to find out, but, sadly, the BBC has yet to post a video of the race on YouTube. You’ll have to hunt down the clip yourself!
We’ve all dreamt of a car that can transform into a boat, but for some reason, no major manufacturer has put such a vehicle in production. Well, the Top Gear trio has come to the rescue with its own amphibious cars. Predictably, each craft represents its creator’s personality. That means James May chose a dainty convertible with a sail, Richard Hammond chose a wonky van with a poorly-engineered propeller, and Jeremy Clarkson bolted a massive engine to the back of a pickup. What could possibly go wrong? Everything. Everything could go wrong. And it does.
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 the 15th Series, 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, but it also references the iconic film The Great Escape often. 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 Jeremy 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.
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 matchup 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 back across the finish line wins. Go on and join the 31 million other people who have watched this race.