The Truth About Cars » Top Gear The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 14 Apr 2014 16:57:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Top Gear The 1980s: When Worse Was Better Tue, 04 Mar 2014 21:06:48 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

With the wife and kids out of the house on Sunday I finally had a little private time. Naturally, I did what a lot of men do when they find themselves home alone – I caught up on the current season of Top Gear. To be honest, I have mixed feelings about the world’s most popular television program. On the one hand I am generally unimpressed with lengthy reviews of million dollar hyper cars or high end luxury cars, the seats of which my ass will never grace, but I do enjoy the challenges and the occasional look back at cars of the past. Naturally, I was quite taken by this season’s premiere episode, a modern day test of the hot hatches of the 1980s.

For those of you who are too young to remember, the ‘80s was the greatest decade ever. Beginning with the official death of Disco on July 12, 1979 and ending only with the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind on September 21, 1991 it was a decade that lasted almost 13 years. That’s astounding! Moreover, blah blah blah, Reagan, blah blah blah, MTV, blah blah blah cellphones the size of bricks instead of the size of a suitcase. Yeah, it was great. We had some things and we did some stuff but the best part was the cars.

Click here to view the embedded video.

In the Top Gear episode, our trio of aging heroes set out to prove that the small, sporty cars of their (our) youth were better than the youth oriented small cars of today. To support their claims, they are each given a small sum of money and are told to bring back an aging hot hatch. Because it’s Britain, the only car I could actually recognize was Jeremy Clarkson’s VW Golf GTI, but all three seemed to be small, “sporty” and, compared to today’s cars, terribly lacking in options or sophistication. They then put these cars through a series of “tests” in that special way that only Top Gear UK can manage and the results are a lot of fun. If you get BBC America, I highly suggest tuning in and watching the fun for yourself.

The episode put me in an introspective sort of mood. I lived through the entirety of the 1980s, actually beginning my first year of high school in the fall of 1979, but I was not a creature of the ‘80s. My tastes ran towards ‘60s muscle cars, ‘70s hard rock and that special sort of Pacific Northwest fashion sense that Nirvana made a grungy part of the ‘90s. Still, by the end of the ‘80s, with the arrival of my own Tuuuuurbo Dodge I had adapted enough that I at least (sort of) fit in.

Photo By T Kreutzer

It turns out that, like our Top Gear hosts, I miss those days and I find myself spending a good deal of time looking back at the cars of that era. I have this nascent idea of bothering poor unsuspecting people on Craigslist by posing as a buyer for their old car and then writing articles about my test driving experience, but of course, I have a problem in that, first, I’m not very good at telling lies and, second, cars of that era are a might thin on the ground in the Western New York region. Perhaps I will try this ploy once I relocate to less salty climates but for now I am stuck living in my own memories.

Compared to modern performance cars, the cars of the 1980s are pitiful pieces of machinery. The turbo Dodge I recall so fondly had a peaky turbo, suffered from massive amounts of torque steer, and blew a head gasket at just 90K miles, but it was light, flickable and, punched way above its weight. The 200SX Turbo I lionized at the beginning of my tenure here at TTAC was much better composed than my Shadow and was a speedy little thing but it turns out that it had just 120 horsepower – that’s actually 2 horsepower less than dowdiest little car Nissan makes today, the Cube. I could find other examples too, I am sure, but there is no point in beating a dead horse there is only one right answer to the question at hand. Today’s cars are far, far better in every way.

But the right answer is, I think, wrong. What we had then may have been technically worse, but it was also so much better. In that same way that a modern jet fighter can outperform a P51 Mustang the new cars have it all over the old ones, but ask any pilot which bird he wants to strap himself into and the vast majority will choose the old one. So it is with cars. I might lose a contest of seed and handling, but at least I’ll go down fighting with a smile on my face. And that’s what it’s really all about anyhow.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Tokyo Motor Show: Are The Japanese Really Back? Mon, 25 Nov 2013 15:30:01 +0000

Three of the world’s most important auto shows began last week. Since my invitations to the various press events must have been lost in the mail I, like virtually everyone else in the world, followed them over the internet. I’m OK with that, really. I hate fighting the crowds and by the time a show closes high resolution photos of the most important cars are always all over the world-wide-web, anyhow. With the photos are the journalists’ impressions. Some are good and some are bad, but they all make me think. For example, there’s this article from the Top Gear website on the Tokyo motor show that asserts, on the strength of the cars at this year’s show, “Japan is back.” Hold on – Really?

To be sure there were some important and exciting cars at this year’s Tokyo motor show. Honda showed us a new NSX and the S660 sport compact that compares favorably to the Beat kei class sports car that Honda produced back in the last century. Nissan showed us the amazing three-seat, electric “Bladeglider,” a hotted up Nismo GTR and the retro themed IDx. Toyota’s performance car offerings came in the form of the Lexus RC and a convertible FT86. While Toyota ripped the top off of their Toybaru twin, Subaru went the opposite route and gave baby some back with their Cross Sport. So far as I could glean, that was about it for cars intended to stir the hearts and minds of enthusiasts. That would have made for a pretty small show though, so augmenting the really interesting stuff were was a whole slew of hybrid/electric/gas, etc SUVs, sedans and city cars intended to appeal to the masses.

Click here to view the embedded video.

From my perspective what we got are some new toys of the uber rich, two small cars that my all-American ass won’t fit into, a couple of modifications on a car I probably won’t buy anyhow and one wanna-be-retro Nissan that might actually have some possibilities if they don’t screw it up with a powertrain that serious enthusiast wouldn’t want. The emphasis on products with hybrid or alternative energy powertrains and other technical innovations says some good things about state of Japanese industry and the many different body styles on display indicates that the Japanese have noted the success of Korean cars’ design language and are finally looking somewhere other than Mercedes for inspiration, too. Good news for sure, but does any of it mean Japan is back?

For me, the glory days of Japanese cars happened roughly between 1985 and 1995. The cars of that era had good, solid lines and, while the designs weren’t daring, they did have their own unique sense of style. There was technical innovation too and it came wrapped up in practical packages. Real performance was offered across all the price ranges and the variety of new cars was enormous. There was something there for everyone and if you could not afford a Twin Turbo Supra or a Turbo 300ZX, you could, at the very least, take home on of the good looking down-market alternatives: the AE86 Twin-Cam Corolla or the 200SX Turbo. Today, that wide aray of choices is no longer a part of Japan Inc.’s current line-up.

I’m not sure why that is, but in the process of writing this article it suddenly hit me that the cars on display at this year’s Tokyo motor show says something about how our society has become ever more divided over the past couple of decades. It doesn’t take an economist to point out that the rich have gotten richer and the rest of us poorer. The market reflects that reality. The rich get supercars, those of us in the middle get family trucksters and the odd toy while the unwashed masses receive battery powered practicality. The choices are gone and fun is being increasingly reserved for those who can afford it. It wasn’t that ay 20 years ago and the sad truth is that Japan isn’t anywhere close to being back. But then, none of us are, are we?

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast, he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Aston Martin V12 Vantage Loses A Pedal, Refuses To Die Wed, 29 May 2013 11:00:20 +0000 Aston Martin Vantage. Photo courtesy Aston Martin.

Despite a wistful tribute to one of the most outrageous sports cars on the planet, Jeremy Clarkson was wrong. We will see another car like the Aston Martin V12 Vantage. But something is missing.

The V12 Vantage S gets a 50 horsepower bump and a 37 lb-ft boost in torque. Final power figures are 565 ponies and 475 lb-ft of torque. Top speed is now 205 mph while 60 mph comes up in 4 seconds. A 7-speed automated manual is the sole gearbox option – unfortunately, the three-pedal gearbox goes bye-bye.

In a way, Clarkson was right. The lack of a manual gearbox means the end of an era – as far as I know, there are no more V12 powered sports cars available with a real manual gearbox. But in the grand scheme of things, I am ok with it. It’s a small price to pay. When every supercar is employing some kind of hybrid system or turbocharged engine, we have a real, honest to goodness naturally aspirated V12 crammed into Aston’s smallest bodyshell. My guerrilla antics with the V8 Vantage means that I’ll probably never drive one of these, barring a sudden Powerball win or the kind of marriage that necessitates a pre-nup. But I’m glad that it exists.

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Autobiography Of BS, Now Available On Dead Trees Fri, 17 May 2013 14:06:56 +0000 vw_propagandaThose who frequently demanded that the Autobiography Of BS © is turned into a book or a blockbuster movie see themselves a little closer to their declared goal. The series will be a monthly feature in Top Gear Deutschland, a very glossy magazine and spin-off of the TV series. The BBC-inspired buff book already hit the stands in Germany, and arrived in my Japanese mailbox today.

The series begins with a German version of How I Lied about the Golf, germane due to the fact that the Golf will be 40 next year, and also due to the fact that it just entered its 7th generation.

The historical relevance of Golf & BS has been acknowledged by Volkswagen’s Heritage Dept. and documented  on the Volkswagen-Classic website.

Top Gear prominently features what Volkswagen wisely decided to sidestep:  That internally, the success of the Golf was very much doubted before the launch in early 1974, and that its triumph was a streak of luck, albeit one paired with a very good car.

The magazine can be bought for €5. The movie rights are still up for grabs. Please peruse our comment function.

vw_propaganda ]]> 7
Tesla Suit Against Top Gear Thrown Out Again Tue, 05 Mar 2013 13:45:43 +0000

A U.K. court dismissed a libel lawsuit from Tesla against the BBC show “Top Gear,” Bloomberg reports.

The case had been thrown out  before. Tesla appealed.

In the show, Jeremy Clarkson said the car would only run for 55 miles on a full battery. Tesla said he lied, and that the breakdown was scripted.

Three judges dismissed the appeal today, saying they were not persuaded that “the case which Tesla seeks to make has any real prospect of success.”

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Great News Everyone! Dacia Sandero To Cost £5,995 Tue, 16 Oct 2012 19:05:08 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Great news everyone! The Dacia Sandero will apparently cost £5,995, or about $9,600 in its cheapest trim level, when it goes on sale in the UK tomorrow.

Full pricing and specs will be released Wednesday, but with the Duster SUV retailing for £8,995 (just under $15,000), the smaller, less prestigious Sandero could conceivably occupy the rock-bottom price point. The Telegraph, claims that the cheap sticker is accompanied by improved interior materials and lots of borrowed switch gear. It would be easy to make jokes about how French quality is an improvement from Romanian quality, but our own Marcello de Vasconcellos drives a Brazilian-spec Logan (the sedan version) and assures us that it’s muito bem inside and out.

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Judge Bricks Tesla’s Lawsuit Against Top Gear Thu, 23 Feb 2012 15:47:38 +0000

Not a good day at Tesla: As if it’s not enough that the blogosphere is aflutter with bricked roadsters and unauthorized GPS tracking, on top of it we have fresh news from England that Tesla’s suit against Top Gear has been  thrown out.

In 2008, Top Gear had said that the Tesla Roadster would only get 55 miles instead the 200 miles Tesla had specified. To underscore that point, a Tesla Roadster was pushed into a garage.

Tesla brought suit for libel and malicious falsehood. Last October, British Justice Tugendhat disallowed the libel claim and asked that the malicious falsehood claim should be amended if it were to be allowed to proceed.

Tesla’s lawyers handed in an amendment. Justice Tugendhat read it and ruled today that Tesla’s second attempt to formulate their malicious falsehood case on damage was so “vague” and so “gravely deficient” that “it is impossible to say that it has a real prospect of success or is in respect of a real and substantial tort.”

Which, to use the term du jour, bricked the lawsuit. The incriminated video has been “removed by the user.”

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Top Gear Shoots In China Mon, 05 Dec 2011 19:34:42 +0000 Chinese media are going wild because BBC’s Top Gear has landed in China. Jeremy Clarkson and James May arrived in Beijing for filming a new Top Gear episode which will be on TV in next year’s season. Judging from the pictures take on-scene, the shoot seems to center on two topics, and both may make the Chinese car industry lose the ever so important face.

The first episode appears to be May in a JAC Binyue and/against Jeremy in a Greatwall Haval M2.

The second item seems to be about copied Chinese cars. There is a Shuanghuan Noble (Smart), a Shuanghuan SCO (BMW X5) and a Lifan 320 (Mini). On some other pictures Clarkson and May are looking curiously at an old Chinese 3-wheeler. Top Gear always had a thing for 3-wheelers. Possibly, they will blame China for copying a Reliant Robin

A Land Rover Discovery camera-car has Shanghai-plates on it. And the press caught the Top Gear protagonists indulging in that great Chinese pastime: Smoking.

Lifan 320. Note Mini scale model on the roof. May having a smoke.

Clarkson having a smoke.

Shanghuan SEO on the left.

Guangzhou Auto Trumpchi, there seems to be a camera behind the window, not sure whether it is part of the show.

Shanghuan SEO.

Old Chinese 3-wheeler.


May takes a look at the engine.

Clarkson in Greatwall Haval S2.

Land Rover Discovery camera-car with Shanghai plates.

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Jeremy Clarkson Is A Pig-Ugly Homophobic Fri, 02 Dec 2011 21:46:31 +0000

We at TTAC get our fair share of complaints once in a  while. (They usually start with a “b” and end in “ias.”)

We are nothing compared to Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear.  The likewise UK site Carbuzz chronicled the biggest complaints against Clarkson.  According to The Guardian, “Clarkson, who flew out to China to film a new series of Top Gear as the row erupted on Thursday, issued an apology.”

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Tesla Loses Top Gear Libel Suit, Still Pursuing “Malicious Falsehood” Charge Wed, 19 Oct 2011 17:46:42 +0000

Earlier this year, when Tesla sued Top Gear for libel (allegedly committed way back in 2008), I argued that Tesla was likely to lose the case. And sure enough, The Guardian reports

Electric sports carmaker Tesla Motors has lost a major part of its high court libel claim against the BBC’s Top Gear programme, but is still suing the corporation for malicious falsehood over an episode that showed the company’s Roadster model running out of battery in a race.

Ruling at the high court in London on Wednesday, Mr Justice Tugendhat said that no Top Gear viewer would have reasonably compared the car’s performance on the show’s airfield track to its likely performance on a public road.

Judge Tugendhat ruled

In my judgment, the words complained of are wholly incapable of conveying any meaning at all to the effect that the claimant [Tesla] misled anyone.

This is because there is a contrast between the style of driving and the nature of the track as compared with the conditions on a public road […] are so great that no reasonable person could understand that the performance on the [Top Gear] track is capable of a direct comparison with a public road

Which is remarkably similar to the argument I forwarded earlier this year:

Since even Tesla has admitted that the first-gen Roadster wasn’t a track car, wouldn’t it have been even more misleading for Top Gear to depict it as a car that is capable of driving its entire claimed range in hot-lap driving?

Justice Tugendhat is expected to rule on the “malicious falsehood” complaint later this week, but don’t be surprised if it’s thrown out. And even if it isn’t, one wonders why Tesla went to all this trouble. Their claim in court is that the 2008 broadcast continues to impact their business because of its availability via download, DVD, and syndication. But really, that can’t be than the negative publicity generated by Tesla’s belated and highly-public attempt to sue the world’s most popular motoring show.

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Do Electric Car Companies Have A Sense Of Humor? Wed, 03 Aug 2011 18:58:02 +0000

The first time Top Gear “tested” an electric car, it depicted Tesla’s Roadster running out of electricity and being pushed from the track. Tesla immediately pointed out that the batteries “never fell below 20%” during the test, a charge the British motoring show addressed by claiming that its review

offers a fair representation of the Tesla’s performance on the day it was tested.

Tesla responded again, and then three years later (as the Roadster was headed out of production) the EV maker sued the BBC and Top Gear producers. An online war of words erupted, with Tesla coming away looking rather foolish. And guess what? Now it’s all happening all over again… and this time, the most EV-committed global automaker, Nissan, has taken the Top Gear bait.

In the video above (if it hasn’t yet been pulled), Jeremy Clarkson and James May drive a Nissan Leaf and a Peugeot Ion (a rebadged Mitsubishi iMiEV) and run out of electricity. Comic antics ensue. Nissan though, wasn’t amused (and apparently hadn’t heard of the Tesla debacle), and so Executive VP Andy Palmer rang the Times of London [sub], which dutifully ran a piece with the headline “Clarkson didn’t give our electric cars a sporting chance.”

Having had some practice with this very scenario, Top Gear producer Andy Willman fired back at the Top Gear blog, laying out a four-point defense:

1) We never, at any point in the film, said that we were testing the range claims of the vehicles, nor did we say that the vehicles wouldn’t achieve their claimed range. We also never said at any time that we were hoping to get to our destination on one charge.

2) We never said what the length of the journey was, where we had started from, nor how long we had been driving at the start of the film. So again, no inference about the range can be gleaned from our film.

3) We were fully aware that Nissan could monitor the state of the battery charge and distance travelled via onboard software. The reporter from The Times seems to suggest this device caught us out, but we knew about it all the time, as Nissan will confirm. We weren’t bothered about it, because we had nothing to hide.

4) The content of our film was driven by the points we were trying to explore. As James stated in the introduction, you can now go to a dealer and buy a ‘proper’ electric car, as in one that claims to be more practical and useful than a tiny, short-range city runabout. That’s what the car company marketing says, and that’s what we focused on in our test: the pros and cons of living with one as an alternative to a petrol car.

Ask any fan of Top Gear whether its tests (with the possible exception of test track laps) are any more “real” than, say, professional wrestling, and the answer will be “no.” Top Gear is a scripted show, more allegory than documentary… and as long as they don’t explicitly present EV segments as scientific range tests, where’s the lie? If Top Gear were really “journalism,” they would have tested the Tesla with less than a 20% state-of charge (for starters). Nissan complaining about its treatment in this segment is akin to the the American Kennel Club complaining that Top Gear treated sled dogs unfairly in the Polar Special because the presenters were allowed to modify the Toyota HiLux the dogs were racing against. In the very electric car segment that Nissan’s Executive VP got so steamed about, the lads were also scolded for parking in handicapped spaces, for crying out loud. That says everything you need to know about how seriously Top Gear should be taken as journalists.

But I would argue that there’s a calling that’s even higher than the exalted “journalist”: the comedian. Whereas the journalist has only a noisy commitment to objectivity, a tenuous concept if ever there was one, the comic lives by a far stricter code. With no platitudes to hide behind, the comic has no choice but to point out all that is strange, awkward, unspoken and unrecognized in the world. And Top Gear’s producers realize that audiences aren’t hungry for literal, documentary-style automotive tests verite. What they want is an allegory that helps them understand the truth that’s being left out in the tsunami of EV enthusiasm. And, as Willman points out, a lot is being left out:

In the story in The Times Andy Palmer, Nissan’s Executive Vice President, was quoted as saying that our film was misleading. Well with respect to Mr Palmer, Nissan’s own website for the Leaf devotes a fair amount of space to extolling the virtues of fast charging, but nowhere does it warn potential customers that constant fast charging can severely shorten the life of the battery.

It also says that each Leaf battery should still have 80 percent of its capacity after five years’ use, and that, to a layman, sounds great. But nowhere is it mentioned that quite a few experts in the battery industry believe when a battery is down to 80 percent capacity, it has reached End Of Life (EOL) status. Peugeot, for example, accepts 80 percent capacity as End Of Life.

Now I also know, to be fair to Nissan, that when you go to buy a Leaf they do warn you about the pitfalls of constant fast charging. But the website is the portal to the Leaf world, it’s their electronic shop window. Is it misleading not to have all the facts on display? I’m only asking.

In the world of PR, journalists are expected to objectively repeat what a company’s representative tells them (specifically about the kinds of issues Willman raises) and test their cars under OEM supervision. Comedy, on the other hand, asks Clarkson and company to portray the reality of carbon-age men fumbling to come to grips with strange new technology. Which approach produces the more truthful “review”? More importantly, having the advantage over real journalists, why can’t EV companies just laugh at the comedians?

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The Race To Monte Sun, 03 Jul 2011 09:55:35 +0000

To celebrate the nuptials of the Princess and the Prince of Monaco, here one of the Top Gear classics: Aston Martin DB9 against public transport.  London to Monte Carlo.  Who gets there first? Car or train? At the risk of ruining the plot, remember what Jeremy Clarkson said:

“I think the important thing we proved today. No matter how good public transport is, not matter how much it runs like clock work, it will never be a match for a car.”

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Tesla Vs. Top Gear: The War Of The Blogs Sun, 03 Apr 2011 19:26:30 +0000

Compared to smothering hugs, ample booze and possibly a little deniable blackmail, suing a media outlet rarely is the best way to perform the skillful art of public relations. This is what Tesla is finding out right now.

Most likely after throwing words of caution by its own PR folk to the wind, Tesla decided to bring a defamation suit against the BBC’s Top Gear. According to Tesla’s own blog, Top Gear perpetrated “serious and damaging lies,” such as claiming that “the Roadster’s true range is only 55 miles per charge. “ Of course, writes Tesla’s Communication VP Ricardo Reyes in the blog, Tesla is “not doing this for money. As the world leader in EV technology, Tesla owes it to the public to stop Top Gear’s disinformation campaign and provide the truth. “

Top Gear has its own blog. In it, Top Gear’s Executive Producer Andy Wilman answers with some counter battery fire. Normally, says Wilman, when a suit is brought, both sides keep their respective mouths and blogs shut while “brainy people wearing wigs” (lawyers wear wigs in the UK, at least in court, sometimes … never mind) argue over the matter. “Tesla, however, doesn’t seem content to wait for the legal eagles to settle matters,” says Wilman. “On the contrary, it’s been very busy promoting its side of the argument through the media.”

Tesla’s PR agency PHA Media even contacted the British TV program “The One Show” and invited them to “have some fun with this.” Too bad The One Show is a show of BBC One (hence the name), and it just so happened that Top Gear “accidentally received” the email. Which allowed Top Gear to have some fun with it.

No longer bound to the “pre-legal etiquette of keeping schtum until we get our day in court,” Wilman then provides a point for point rebuttal. The core is that Top Gear “never said that the Tesla’s true range is only 55 miles, as opposed to their own claim of 211, or that it had actually ran out of charge. In the film our actual words were: ‘We calculated that on our track it would run out after 55 miles’.”

That 55 miles number did not come from Top Gear’s “heads, but from Tesla’s boffins in California. They looked at the data from that car and calculated that, driven hard on our track, it would have a range of 55 miles.” (Before lawyers prepare another defamation suit: “Boffins” is nothing bad. In British English, it stands for people engaged in technical or scientific research. At worst, “boffin” could be understood as “geek.”)

Tesla concedes that Clarkson said: “Although Tesla say it will do 200 miles we worked out that on our track it would run out after just 55 miles.”

I guess even a wig-wearing judge will give this one to Top Gear. (Note to Tesla: When quoting from videos, QUOTE VERBATIM.)

As for the rest, if you are interested in a lot of he said, she said, here is Tesla’s blog, and here is Top Gear’s rebuttal.

Again, if Tesla would ask me for advice (I’m sure they won’t) I’d tell them to quietly settle. Each blog on the planet that writes about that stuff will do what we do, and link to Youtube. There, at the times of this typing, the Tesla segment already had racked up 336,139 views. (Not counting other clips of the same segment floating around in various digital formats.) If what is said there indeed is lies, then this is how lies multiply.

Should Tesla win, and the segment is blocked from retransmission, that Youtube flick will become a collector’s item. And what will people remember? That the Tesla is running out of battery mighty fast. Which  Tesla most likely does not want them to remember.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: The Deepest Sand… In The World Wed, 13 Oct 2010 20:41:57 +0000

“Former Stig Ben Collins endured a difficult debut in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship during the final rounds of the 2010 season at Brands Hatch.”

What have we learned from this?

Well, the recap indicates what all race car drivers know but most Top Gear viewers don’t, namely that there’s no magic to the business and that you have to work hard to win races.

One championship-winning Grand-Am owner summed it up very well on his Facebook page:

A very sad, if not unexpected, end to The Unmasked Stig’s first weekend in British Touring Car (at Brand’s Hatch). Proof positive that he should have stayed where he was rather than proving he’s not really the mythical man in the white suit we all hoped he would be.

For the record, in my professional touring-car debut I was three seconds a lap off Randy Pobst’s pace in a fairly similar car but at least I drove it for 45 minutes without crashing! Unfortunately, my co-driver Jamie had a missed shift on the back straight four laps after kicking my slow ass out of the car.

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Oh, To Be A Stig Mon, 30 Aug 2010 20:05:07 +0000

NB: I stole the above photo from my own “The Truth About Stigs” article. Said article might be worth a brief glance if you’re really interested in this topic…

From Top Speed:

After a scandalous trip to the courtroom over a planned autobiography and a not-so-smooth release of official documents from the racer’s company, Collins Autosport, Ben Collins has been revealed and canned from playing the part of the world renowned Stig.

Who is Ben Collins? What does all this mean?

In the same way that our “Booth Babe” can be reliably provoked by unattractive men holding Canon Rebels in the low-angle position beneath her turntable, I am always ready to get worked up when people talk about “The Stig” being the greatest driver ever. I’ve continually maintained that he was a simply a touring-car veteran or similar junior-pro-level driver. Of course, the original Stig was the engaging, amusing Perry McCarthy, whose book “Flat Out – Flat Broke” is worth a read by anybody who has ever wondered how people get rides in major pro racing series.

Well, it turns out that the post-McCarthy Stig has been the same fellow for the past seven years, namely Ben Collins. Ben’s Wikipedia entry is here and it has reasonably complete details on his competition history. He was a standout open-wheel driver who transitioned into a modest career as a sports-car, touring-sedan, and stock-car guy. Think somewhere between Bill Auberlen and Boris Said in terms of career and results.

Collins had been “outed” as the Stig previously but the BBC had always denied his involvement. The recap of the legal action is worth reading; in it, the BBC clearly states that the mystery of the Stig’s identity is crucial to the show. They’re probably right; while your average club racer or autocrosser would have a lot of respect for time that were explicitly set by Mr. Collins, the average non-racer is under the impression that a Michael Schumacher or Lewis Hamilton would be vastly quicker than somebody who had the same early career path but didn’t have the sponsorship, luck, or right results to make it all the way to the top.

There’s already a new Stig doing public Top Gear events, so the people who care will continue to have a chance to argue about his (or her) identity. Who knows? Maybe it really is Michael Schumacher this time… but more likely, it’s one of those guys whose name commands respect in a touring-car paddock.

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In Defense (Defence?) Of Top Gear Mon, 09 Aug 2010 15:22:25 +0000

I ought to start this article off with the reasons as to why I decided to write this article. I got scalded recently for criticizing Jack Baruth’s article on why Top Gear USA will fail. On reflection, the scalding was well earned. It’s a bit unprofessional to criticize a fellow worker’s work no matter how much you disagree with it.

But this set off a light bulb in my head. Why should I post a comment about why I disagree with an article, and get browbeaten, if I can write an article of my own, highlighting my thoughts? Isn’t that the American way? Why give something away for free, when you can sell it?

But before I proceed, I ought to clarify that I’m not going to advocate why Top Gear USA will fail. That’s another topic completely. I’m going to talk about my reasons as to why I think Top Gear is all right.

Top Gear does something which few shows do: capture our imaginations. Say what you want about these awful reality shows (America’s next supermodel, American Idol, America’s got talent, etc), but everyone watches for one reason, to see an underdog story come true. Want proof? Look at the Susan Boyle video.

And this is what Top Gear does. It shows us what deep down we’d all love to do, if we were given a budget of their size. I would love to do a cheap car challenge with my friends which (nearly always) ends up destroying the car in some fashion. Or do a race across Europe. Or build an amphibious vehicle.

Now many criticize Top Gear for not catering to “normal people” and not doing enough “proper reviews”. But wouldn’t that be defeating the object, somewhat? When Top Gear WAS doing reviews of Vauxhall Vectras and Toyota Corollas (A.K.A “Old” Top Gear) did it capture the imaginations of people around the world?

There were probably a thousand other shows on American TV doing exactly the same thing, so what would have made “Old” Top Gear distinguishable from the rest? In fact, I find it strange that it’s normally “petrol heads” who criticize Top Gear for not doing enough reviews on “normal cars”.

You’d have thought, showing Lamborghini Gallardos doughnutting and Bugatti Veyron being maxxed out would get the petrol in their veins flowing? But no, what they actually want to see is a Honda Civic being tested on whether it has the best boot space in its class. Yeah, right(!)

Top Gear  talks more about the car industry as a whole. They criticized the car scrappage scheme in the UK for not being environmentally sound, they moan about speed cameras & various new motoring laws and the price of petrol. These are topics WE’VE talked about on TTAC.

But for some reason, it’s fine for us to talk about it because “we’re The Truth About Cars and we’re committed to telling the truth about the car industry”, but when Top Gear does it, it’s seen as silly and frivolous.

Now as I mentioned earlier, the reason (I believe) for Top Gear’s success is the way it captured people’s imagination. Top Gear started doing stunts which, quite frankly, people hadn’t seen before on any show. Can anyone name a TV show (I won’t even say “car show”, just any show) before Top Gear which did stunts like this:

  • Race an Aston Martin DB9 against the Eurostar/TGV to Monte Carlo, France?
  • Cross the English Channel in an amphibious vehicle?
  • Have a road trip across South America?
  • Race a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti against a plane to Verbier, Switzerland?
  • Try to see if they could go from London to Edinburgh and back again onone tank of fuel?
  • Race a Mercedes-McClaren SLR against a boat to Oslo, Norway?
  • Try to destroy a Toyota Hilux?
  • Race a Bugatti Veyron against a Cessna 182 to London, UK?
  • Try to send a Reliant Robin into space? (I doubt anyone had the budget to do that!)
  • Have a road trip across Africa?
  • Race a Nissan GT-R against the Shinkansen Bullet Train across Japan?
  • Race a Toyota Hilux against a dog sled to the North Pole?
  • Drag-raced a Bugatti Veyron against a Euro Fighter Typhoon Jet?

All of these stunts/races were thing people had rarely seen on TV, let alone on a car show. Now we come to the “Star in the reasonably priced car” segment. I’m going to gloss over the comments who say that it contains a load of British stars who they don’t know, because if you remember it’s a British show with, well, British stars.

My criticism stems from the petrol heads who see this part as the bit which could easily be cut out of the show. But I believe this segment has merit. Now, I’m not a fan of “celebrity culture”. I couldn’t give a toss what Madonna has been doing for her lunch. But a lot of people do care. As TTAC commentator Tricky Dicky eloquently puts it “The whole point of the ‘Star in the Reasonably Priced Car’ is NOT to deliver a benchmarkable assessment of driving skills, it is to get another angle on a celebrity doing something outside of their comfort zone.”

No-one actually cares if Michael Gambon has a perfect driving line. In fact, quite the opposite, we WANT to see how bad celebrities actually drive. And at the very worst, this segment has given us one thing. Andy Garcia, Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz and Jeff Goldblum driving a Kia C’eed. What other show has done that?!

Now is Top Gear perfect as it is? Hardly. Top Gear has thrown some clunkers our way. The bit where they tried to make their own electric car was painful to watch as it didn’t tell us anything and was quite unfunny. The caravanning episode, whilst funny, told us what we already knew; that caravanning is utter misery.

But even “The Sopranos” had some dud episodes, too (“Pine Barrens” springs to mind). To say Top Gear is brilliant all the time, tells us that,

1. There’s no room for improvement (which there clearly is!) and

2. You’re believing the hype.

Top Gear is a great show, but is it without fault? No.

So, there you have it, my case for why Top Gear should be given a great deal of respect for what it has done. It has got people who weren’t that interested in cars, interested in cars. And surely that can’t be a bad thing?

Disclaimer: Cammy Corrigan is fully aware that this article may end her writing career, but still went ahead with it. With a little TOO much encouragement from Bertel Schmitt, who said: “I’m a sucker for career-ending stories.”

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Why “Top Gear USA” Is Unlikely To Succeed Sun, 08 Aug 2010 17:02:06 +0000

Watch it if you must, and if you haven’t already: this is “Top Gear USA”. The three people involved are:

  • Rutledge Wood, a television personality best described as “professional douchebag”;
  • Adam Ferrara, stand-up comedian and character actor;
  • Tanner Foust, a fanatically self-motivated and successful individual who has made a name for himself participating in a variety of low-talent driving events such as X-Games Rally and “Formula D”.

Even if you don’t watch the trailer, you should be able to figure out that this series will be an absolute train wreck. With that said, the original Top Gear has never exactly been compelling television, yet it’s found a worldwide audience. The USA version won’t, and here’s why…

The English didn’t invent the idea of a TV show about cars, any more than the Japanese invented the basic ideas behind the Honda Civic. We’ve had American TV shows about cars for decades, and they’ve all been unwatchable garbage. “Motorweek”, with its endless pans of Toyota Camrys doing five under the speed limit on rural two-lane roads, is a perfect example. I double-dog-dare you to get through an episode of Motorweek without picking up a book, checking Twitter, or changing the channel. It’s unbelievably bad.

The original Top Gear succeeded in the UK because it had no competition and because it was on one of the default-choice BBC channels. Motorists in the UK, as a group, are an endangered, persecuted species, endlessly taxed, regulated, and humiliated by everything from a national network of speed cameras to a Byzantine inspection process which fails perfect-condition Jag XJSes off the road because the handbrake doesn’t work better than it did when the car was new. Driving in the UK sucks. It’s much easier to watch a show about driving, so Top Gear became a success.

Add in a sprinkling of the usual fawning British celebrity culture, and there was no stopping it. If you think the American celebrity culture promotes idiots to fame, you will be flabbergasted by the Brits; Google people like “Katie Price” or “Jade Goody” to find out what our oh-so-sophisticated cultural betters like to do with their time. “Jezza” Clarkson almost seems like a reasonable individual compared to some of these folks.

As with their compatriots in print journalism, American video autojournalists set the bar so low that this relatively flaccid English product had no trouble high-stepping over it. Unlike Motorweek, Top Gear at least showed the occasional spinning tire or racetrack action. The hosts appeared to be living people, not cadavers bolted to a stake and shocked into speaking by repeated electrical stimulation. It’s not great stuff, but it’s better than what we got here.

Naturally, the “Mr. Euros” of the world loved the snob value that came from watching a British TV show. (These people were apparently all too young to have seen Fawlty Towers.) Watching TG became a must-have status badge in the world of Internet car forums and “Cars and Coffee” circle-jerks. This is amply demonstrated by the fact that the anti-American episodes of the show are usually some of the most popular and most discussed episodes with American audiences. The folks who watch TG here consider themselves to be better people than the “Amurricans” lampooned on the show.

The final inspired addition to TG was “The Stig”. I’m continually surprised at just how impressed non-racers are with this person and the glorified-autocross “test track” he uses. When we lampooned him at Speed:Sport:Life by having me put on a mirrored helmet and present myself as “Mr. Roboto”, we got some nasty, threatening emails from it. Even if TG itself doesn’t take The Stig seriously, the viewers sure do.

For the record, the whole “Stig” deal is a joke. The race course is a joke. The vastly differing weather conditions are a joke. If you think that “fast lap” times mean anything on that show, you are mistaken. It’s all about entertainment, plain and simple.

Can an American version of this English show succeed? Of course not. It’s missing the three crucial factors that made the UK one work. It will not have a large audience as the original show did, it will not benefit from American celebrity culture due to the complete and utter nonentity status of all three hosts, and it won’t benefit from the snob appeal of being an overseas product. I promise you that the vast majority of potential viewers will simply continue to watch the original. Why would they switch?

If an American show about automobiles is to succeed, it has to be American. It should incorporate all the American automotive and racing traditions, from quarter-mile circle tracks to rallycross. It should provide accurate, fair information and have hosts with both crowd appeal and respectable resumes. Top Gear USA fails on all counts, and it will fail anyway for the simple fault of not being British.

If any of you watch the premiere when it comes out, feel free to let me know your thoughts. I won’t bother; I’ll be out driving. For that matter, you should be, too.

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Are You Intrigued By The New Top Gear USA? Thu, 22 Apr 2010 20:52:47 +0000

I can’t think of anyone who has watched an episode of the BBC’s seminal car show Top Gear and not enjoyed it. In fact, even my most auto-ambivalent friends are quick to reference the exploits of Jezza, Captain Slow and The Hamster as their sole source of automotive news and entertainment. Thanks to its status as one of the world’s most-pirated TV show, Top Gear has made remarkable inroads in the US with a little “help” from fansites like Final Gear. But will an American version be able to capture the appeal of the original? It’s been tried before, and now it’s being tried again.

In 2008, NBC picked up the option to produce a US version, rumored to star Adam Carolla. By early 2009, NBC had canceled the show, reinstated it, booted car reviewer extraordinaire Dan Neil from the lineup, and kicked the project to cable. With A US version of the show apparently dead, enthusiasts shrugged and kept downloading episodes of the BBC version. But now, according to a Jalopnik interview with the show’s executive producer, Top Gear USA has found a new home at the History Channel, and will start shooting on Monday. But should we care?

The History Channel’s John Hesling makes a strong case for the new show by revealing that Top Gear USA will deviate as little as possible from its British inspiration. Apparently that means we can expect the show’s format to be largely unchanged. Says Hesling:

We’ll be doing star in a car, we’ll be doing the power tests, car reviews, action films, and the studio element. It’s a format that’s the jewel in the crown of the BBC so we’ll be doing it exactly like the British version. It’s exactly the same format.

That means a full-hour show (well, 44 minutes, including commercials), a Stig (though not “the Stig’s fat American cousin”) recording “power laps,” and a real “star in a reasonably-priced car” segment instead of a Leno-style “Green Car Challenge” abortion. Hesling also insists that:

There’s no sense in doing it if the production value isn’t there… We wanted to get enough money to absolutely match the cinematic caliber of the UK version.

So far, so good, but what of Top Gear’s famously take-no-prisoners review style? For as long as rumors of a Top Gear USA have been circulated, there have been murmurings that Top Gear’s editorial freedom would fall victim to the commercial TV format. After all, the BBC doesn’t have to worry about offending advertisers, but the History Channel sure does. Regardless, Hesling insists that

we will be absolutely and brutally honest. That’s what Top Gear is.

To emphasize the point, Helsing pledges that Top Gear USA will not be sponsored by any automaker. But will the show’s cast be capable of wrapping that brutal honesty in the same entertaining-yet-informative patter as their British counterparts? Hesling admits that nobody can replace Jeremy Clarkson, meaning the cast’s chemistry will require more than a little tweaking. Top Gear USA will be hosted by comedian Adam Ferrara, Race/Stunt driver Tanner Foust and Speed Channel “NASCAR analyst” Rutledge Wood. But will these three be able to find a unique but equally-endearing rapport? We won’t know for sure until the show hits the airwaves sometime in November or December.

In the meantime, filming reportedly begins on Monday in the hills outside of Monmouth, Oregon… which just so happens to be quite close to TTAC’s Portland headquarters. If enough of the B&B are buying the hype and are desperate for clues to the potential awesomeness of Top Gear USA, we will certainly consider a fact-finding mission. Register your enthusiasm (or lack thereof) in the comments, and we will act accordingly.

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