By on August 2, 2021

July 30th saw the streaming release of the third installment in The Grand Tour Presents series, Amazon’s installment rework of the formerly tent-based automotive series. Following up their “Seamen” premiere (which I liked) and “A Massive Hunt” (which I didn’t), Clarkson, Hammond, and May get back to their basics of years ago with “Lochdown.” And there’s not a lot wrong with that.

Before you read any further, be advised this article contains major spoilers of the episode. You’ve been warned!

The premise of Lochdown is a simpler one than the prior episode, an answer to a question: Why didn’t American cars catch on in Europe? The question itself is enough for any viewer to anticipate the era of cars the old Top Gear crew would target. The Seventies, of course. Big chrome, big engines, big trim gaps, The Grand Tour is going to have some Brougham Time. Clarkson’s pick is a Lincoln Continental Mark V, Hammond goes for a boat tail Buick Riviera, and James selects a Cadillac Coupe de Ville. All three cars are from the early Seventies, have enormous V8s, and are in various states of trim disrepair.

To find an answer to their question, the team travel from the northernmost city in England, Berwick-upon Tweed, to an island in the Scottish Outer Hebrides. The journey itself is around 360 miles, and there will be a series of challenges along the way – though Clarkson doesn’t use that phrase as the show goes out of its way not to use phrases from former careers and employers.

The first 25 minutes of the hour and a half runtime are the most enjoyable. Unlike “A Massive Hunt,” Clarkson, Hammond, and May spend time talking about the cars they’re driving and have chummy conversations about their American iron before the journey begins. The way they talk about their Detroit steeds in the beginning smacks as false, like someone at Amazon HQ called for a bit of pandering to their large American audience. While I believe Clarkson lies his Lincoln and Hammond enjoys his Buick, not an ounce of me believes May likes the Deville. The car is a result of the show’s production, as James is expected to drive a Cadillac as established in the Top Gear trip to New Orleans episode of 2007.

The first hurdle the team faces is a drive through Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh. Ancient cobbled streets (which are closed to traffic and pedestrians in advance of the show) are not fit for American luxury barges. But you knew that, and the show’s used this trope many times before with various cars. Clarkson opens his Continental’s door only to find the inside door panel is still shut, which you’ll recall from the British Leyland challenge of 2007. A conclusion “unsuitable for cities” is reached quickly, and the team is onto their next Scottish real-world test.

It’s a track race on a circuit with many tight turns! Up against the American cars is the sportiest Scottish car ever made, a Hillman Avenger. Surely it will be slower with its puny engine than the American luxury cars with their V8s. Lap times go as you’d expect, though May makes no attempt to drive urgently around the track and proceeds like he’s headed to work. Conclusion: Enormous American cars aren’t suitable for tracks. But we knew that already, too.

COVID is mentioned as a reality after the track portion, and it’s indicated the presenters can’t stay in hotels as they’re all closed. So they get caravans which they “must sleep in,” but clearly don’t. Around this time the episode becomes more gag-focused and less enjoyable to watch. May’s caravan is filled with water, Hammond drives too fast on a dirt road and runs off the side with his caravan, and Clarkson’s lodging becomes unhooked and falls off a hill into some woods. It’s all very scripted, throwaway stuff.

Next up is a race to see who built the worst cars ever. Was it the Soviets or the Americans? This segment is a dirt track race with a PT Cruiser, a Dodge Caravan, and a Pontiac Aztek against a Yugo and a Zastava and something else. The Russian cars are barely shown in the race. The team acknowledges the 2000s were a very bad time for American cars (not untrue). The race proceeds with lots of body contact, and it’s determined the PT Cruiser is the best worst car because it lasts longer than the Soviet-produced vehicles. None of it means anything, just filler.

The team is invited to go to a traditional British hunting party, in a contrived segment where some new classic cars magically appear for the team to drive. These represent their favorites from the American breed. “You see, not all American cars were like those 2000s ones.” As far as I can recall, this is the only time fresh temporary substitute cars were delivered for any segment of any show the trio has done since 2003. Our hosts wax poetic about the classic Shelby Mustang GT500, Camaro Z/28, and the Charger R/T as they drive to a fake hunting party where the parking lot has only green Range Rovers in it. Hammond doesn’t make it as his Charger destroys itself in an unexpected (and big) way which is clearly unscripted. Nice to see reality creeping into the show after the last episode’s methodically scripted antics.

Somewhere along the line, the producers deliver news of an American-flavored town in the Outer Hebrides, filled with American car lovers and car culture. The team head this direction to enjoy their cars, which they’ve now modified and made worse. There’s no rhyme or reason the modifications occur, specifically with May turning his Deville into a “low rider” with side exhausts. Time to head to this mythical Scottish island settlement that’s like America.

After the last two dud segments and the dud modifications, the show wraps up its final 20 minutes or so with a well-used set piece: The team must build a bridge across a river, the other side of which has this American town on it. This segment doesn’t really make sense but is rather an opportunity for some goofing around, sinking a boat, and for May to get his very lowered car pretend-stuck on the bridge.

The team makes it across to this American town, which is a set done up to look like an out-of-place American strip mall. There are no people, and only one MG parked outside. The team parks and goes to a bar, only to find that everything about the modern American culture is actually Chinese. One Korean reference is shown amongst the Chinese things, but that seems like an editing slip. The team sips a Tsingtao (decent beer by the way) and concludes there’s really not much America left. The initial prompt and reason for the journey are forgotten.

Overall, “Lochdown” is a decent episode that feels comfortable to long-time fans of the three hosts and the work they do. Unlike “A Massive Hunt,” the script is slightly more concealed, and unexpected events made it past the editing room floor. The hosts spend more time together than in their prior voyage and seem to enjoy their schtick much more. As always, the cinematics are very well-presented, and the accompanying Seventies tunes are nice as well. The initial question on American cars was a throwaway, but that’s what you want with a show like this. The adventure’s in the journey, not digging up a treasure chest at the end. I found myself smiling through at least the first third of the episode. The runtime is a bit unnecessary, but this one’s worth a watch.

[Images: Amazon]

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33 Comments on “The Grand Tour’s “Lochdown” Episode Returns to the Familiar...”


  • avatar
    Crosley

    ” Why didn’t American cars catch on in Europe? ”

    _____

    Excessive fuel taxes in Europe. Any other “brain busters”?
    It would the equivalent today to spending like $200 to fill your tank.

    Same reason SUV’s and trucks are rare there.

    I’m not really sure what these excessive taxes have done to make Europe any better, except make life harder for the working class.

    • 0 avatar
      FerrariLaFerrariFace

      I mean, if you expected a scientific exploration into such a question, you were guaranteed to be disappointed. It’s Grand Tour, not a PBS documentary.
      That said, it’s really just an excuse for a show premise that was poorly executed. We’ve seen this schtick a thousand times before and it just isn’t that entertaining anymore. Time to hang it up, boys, and move on to something new. Maybe sheep herding.

    • 0 avatar
      SaulTigh

      But…but…but…the HEALTHCARE!

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Perhaps a little research should be conducted prior to posting?

      Poverty rates in the USA are higher than in western European nations or Canada or Australia or New Zealand.

      Social inequality in the USA is also greater than in most other ‘western’ democracies. And this generation of Americans have less social ‘upward mobility’ than do their peers in other ‘western democracies’. For the first time in history.

      The USA managed to squander the great economic advantages it experienced after WWII and right up until Friedman style right wing politics became normalized.

      The social democratic policies enacted during the Great Depression and WWII such as the G.I. Bill helped to create an educated, middle class in the USA.

      https://www.prb.org/resources/poverty-in-the-united-states-and-other-western-countries/

      • 0 avatar
        RHD

        It’s always easier to besmirch another system without doing any previous research at all.
        The Scandinavian countries have very high taxes, and the people are the happiest in the world.
        Paying lower taxes to save a few bucks for another trip to Walmart does not make anyone any more contented with their life.

        • 0 avatar
          CaddyDaddy

          I liked Lochdown, a good little escape from the endless drone of impending doom that is barked thru the speaker on the TV.

          ..and the people are the happiest in the world.
          Complete Horse Pucky. It’s like standing in a room full of mask wearers and trying to communicate that you hate wearing the mask. It’s group speak and wanting to conform. To question the large social welfare state of Scandinavian countries is hearsay. Once on the dole, it’s tough to get off. Also, these are homogenous small population countries. The left has turned the USA into a salad bowl of groups hating each other dependent on the producer class and endless dept spending.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            @Caddy: what you wrote is wrong on so many levels. And based solely on your political opinion rather than fact.

            Social mobility in European democracies is higher than in the USA.
            Social/income inequality is less.
            Life expectancy is higher.
            Infant mortality is lower.
            And yes, population happiness indices are much higher.

            The USA should have cemented its superiority after the fall of the Soviet Union. However largely due to the ongoing impact of Reaganomics it squandered all of its advantages.

            Corporate and ‘high income’ tax rates under Ike, JFK, LBJ and Nixon were significantly higher than they are now.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    I only comment on the picture. These guys dress like trash

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    Of the three new extended length episodes, this one felt the most like old Top Gear. I really enjoyed “Seamen” because you can tell they were really having a lot of fun on the water (the can of spray-on deodorant per armpit still cracks me up – if you’ve been to that part of the world, you know exactly what he’s going through), “A Massive Hunt” was a massive let down because it was just way too overscripted, but this one just needed The Stig instead of Abbey to be Top Gear from 2014 again.

    Were some of the gags tired like the huge cars in tights spots? Yes. And they did the huge American car gag with their Florida to New Orleans road trip, minus the painted slogans on the cars. But given what they had to work with due to the Covid lockdowns (I guess they were starting to film in northern Russia before having to leave), it was still a decent and fun episode. And at this point in their careers and what we expect, I just want to watch a fun show.

    And the Mongolia “Survival of the Fattest” episode has to still be the best Grand Tour yet.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Thanks for the review, I’ve tried watching not Top Gear and most episodes were just a bit too scripted for my liking and too long, I have to skip around a bit to enjoy it.

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    Why didnt american cars catch on in Europe? 1 the price of fuel, 2 the road infrastructure cant support cars of that size because theyre all pre industrial roadway layouts, designed for horses and foot traffic long before cars were invented while in the us once youre past the east coast its clean sheet roadway designs, long straight wide roads designed for big cars.

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    I thought for the most part it was entertaining. Thought a couple of parts were slow-but overall liked it.

  • avatar
    SD 328I

    I think some of the best selling cars in the the UK has historically been Ford and Vauxhalls, so essentially Ford & GM. Well, until GM sold Vauxhall.

    Though I’m sure they mean US specific models in Europe. Of course this was pretty much a rhetorical question purely so they can drive giant land yachts around small UK towns.

  • avatar
    Socrates77

    Better health care in europe. Americans are fat and unhealthy.

  • avatar
    ABC-2000

    James May’s Cars of the People, season 2 Ep1 about 24 min in, the real reason why american cars fail in Europe and Japan (also in the US) and the invasion of Toyota cars in America.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    …The team acknowledges the 2000s were a very bad time for American cars (not untrue)…

    I’d have to disagree with that statement. There were plenty of competitive American vehicles from that era mixed in with the crap. If you want the real nadir of US vehicles, I’d say 1976 to mid 1980s would be the low-water mark.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    The reason that I have an Amazon Prime account is to watch The Grand Tour. So that is great news that there is a new episode. I truly miss watching the Three Amigos on a regular basis. ‘Classic’ Top Gear is one of the great shows in television history and transfers to many different countries/cultures.

    However, they have nearly always unfairly besmirched American luxury barges. Particularly those of the Malaise Era. While giving similar era Rollers and Jaguar sedans an unfair ‘pass’ despite the fact that they are quite often inferior in most (all?) aspects to Lincolns and Cadillacs of the 1970s.

    Stolen from Wikipedia, which posted this review of a Mark V from Motor Trend, which I understand is a questionable source, but I do quite agree with the accuracy of this review: “To drive the Mark V is to be the captain of your own huge, luxurious ship. In an operational sense, the Mark V is massive, smooth and competent only in boulevard or highway applications…..What it was designed to do, it does very well. It isolates the driver and passengers from the outside world, and when you’re driving, it makes you feel – and makes other people think you are – rich”.

  • avatar
    spamvw

    Why didn’t American Cars work in Europe?

    Can you imagine the tax on a 427/455/460 ci engine in Europe or Japan?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tax_horsepower

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    @Arthur–Have you watched Clarkson’s Farm on Amazon Prime. If not you must–it is hilarious.

    • 0 avatar
      theflyersfan

      Second that. I didn’t know what to expect – an old, fat guy with too much money trying to run the “Diddly Squat” farm and shop, but it ended up being very entertaining.

      And I keep hearing back and forth if it’s coming back for a second season. Not sure if it should because I think a lot of the charm will be lost.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      @Jeff, thanks I have not watched it. Due to your recommendation and that of ‘theflyersfan’ I will. Just like ‘theflyersfan’ I was reluctant to watch it in case I was disappointed.

      • 0 avatar
        SaabStory

        Personally, I have been extremely disappointed with at least half of the Amazon-produced GT webisodes. Clarkson’s farm was sublime. It’s new and different, but holds so much of what made Top Gear fun and special.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Clarkson’s Farm is currently filming a 2nd season that is scheduled to be release in June 2022. I have watched 2 of the other episodes of the Lochdown the one with the boats on the Mekong River Delta and the other in Madagascar both hilarious. As for American cars of the 70s they are harder to drive on the European roads and the taxes on the larger engines along with the fuel taxes would make them not feasible for most. The large American cars as do the large American pickups and suvs really shine on interstate driving long distances. Since few full size sedans are available the go to vehicles for those wanting large cars are the full size crew cab pickup or the body on frame suv. I do miss the old land yachts of yore but with EPA and Department of Energy they have disappeared and probably will never come back. Really miss split bench seats with arm rests, column shifters, and interiors in other colors besides black and gray. I really liked the 71 boat tail Rivera.

  • avatar

    Why judge American cars by vehicles built nearly 50 years ago. These old land barges have nothing to do with what is being built today. The British better watch out for Tesla. Tesla is making British luxury cars irrelevant.

  • avatar
    Mr. Monte

    Well Corey the only one from the early 70’s in the Riv, the Mark V is late 70’s 77-79 and the Deville is a mid 70’s 75 or 76 based on the headlight design!

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Well we watched it and greatly enjoyed it. Made us remember why ‘classic’ Top Gear was must see television.

    And for once, the Three Amigos actually gave American land yachts due credit.

    No they were not made for European urban driving. Or tracking.

    But they are exceptionally good as highway cruisers and boulevardiers. Giant displacement low revving but torque v8s. Split bench seats. Sublimely quiet inside. Sheltered from NVH the driver never gets tired.

    And |I love, yes love that burgundy interior. Please bring that back.

    Why do we now have to live with Teutonic all black interiors????

  • avatar
    Tstag

    American mock British cars for Reliability, panel gaps and dodgy electrics. This is how the British view American cars, badly built, badly designed and panel gaps you could drive a car through. Ford and Vauxhall’s were all designed in Europe so we don’t consider them American btw.

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