The Grand Tour's "Sand Job," Nothing to See Here, I'm Afraid

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

Just short of the eight-month mark, Amazon’s expensive The Grand Tour is back for its penultimate episode. Following last summer’s “ Eurocrash,” the maturely titled “Sand Job” sends the trio of presenters to an all-new location to tread upon content ground they’ve crossed many times previously. And though the special is sparse on content, it’s certainly coming with length.

It’s perhaps because of this length that one feels a bit ripped off at the end of “Sand Job.” On the tails of “ A Scandi Flick” in September 2022 which expanded the standard hour and a half runtime to an hour and 39 minutes, “Eurocrash” upped the ante to an hour and 47 in June of 2023. “Sand Job” inexplicably runs for two hours and 16 minutes. Two hours that will never be returned to yours truly, but at least I can share the handful of things you’re definitely not missing if you’ve never seen it.

(Warning: Intensive and detailed spoilers lie beyond this point. If you’re not about that, turn back now.)

“Sand Job” takes the presenters to the remote and little-viewed country of Mauritania, located in the northeast corner of Africa southwest of Algeria. It’s a French speaking nation of the Muslim faith, which is referenced throughout the program as a punchline. There’s simply no alcohol here, and we don’t speak any French!

The challenge is to create a rally raid car and then sorta-kinda follow the route of the old Paris-Dakar rally, the challenging race that you might think has run from Paris, France to Dakar, Senegal since its inception in 1977. In reality the race ran its initial course until 2007, then was canceled in 2008 due to intense security concerns in Mauritania. Renamed Dakar, from 2009 to 2019 the race ran in South America. Since 2020, Dakar has been held in Saudi Arabia. 

The real race requires meticulous off-road driving preparation and heavily modified vehicles of 4x4 persuasion. Our presenters are challenged to see if they can complete this partial route of a thing that doesn’t exist anymore in production convertibles which have been modified by unseen experts somewhere. The cars are to be cheaper dupes of the very expensive “rally spec” production cars from the likes of Lamborghini (Huracan Sterrato), Porsche (911 Dakar), and Morgan (CXT).

To that end, Clarkson selects a Jaguar F-Type V6 S convertible, Hammond picks an Aston Martin V12 Volante, and May chooses a Maserati GranCabrio. Each of the cars cost around £25,000 ($34,542 USD). The cars are transformed off camera for an unknown sum before arriving via train to the hosts at the small city of Choum, Mauritania. 

It would’ve been nice to share the expense of modifying the cars since budget rallying was the challenge here, but oh well. Some jokes about not speaking French ensue, and eventually all three cars are off the flatbed rail car and on the sand. It’s worth mentioning that this special is a cross of two specific Top Gear specials you’ve seen before: The “Africa Special” (Season 9, Episode 5-6), and the “Middle East Special,” (Season 16, Episode 1). This episode isn’t half as interesting as either of those, even though the latter was made well into the TG decline.

The production crew did a great job on this episode as expected, with many wide panoramic shots of the desert and appropriately serene drone footage. However many shots of an empty desert you might need, this special is sure to satisfy. It becomes apparent pretty quickly that there’s not a lot to show otherwise. 

At around 25 minutes in the journey is just underway and Hammond has his first breakdown, a theme of the show. The complicated V12 Aston is from the Ford era but is also of an earlier archaic electronics era, a troublesome combination. The theoretical “backup car” is introduced, a very old Mercedes cargo van. This vehicle serves as a prop chest for the episode, and is filled with many items that wouldn’t actually fit in there together.

A 1960s tunnel is encountered thereafter, presumably once used for mining. At its far side is our first set piece, a hastily assembled “mine field” with a wooden barrier Clarkson manages to swerve into even though he’s only driving about 35 miles per hour. The recently painted signs indicate danger, and the presenters are very surprised! But their mobile fuel tanker (moving set piece) drives right through the barrier like a maniac, and encounters nary a mine. 

The group turn around and climb the mountain the tunnel cut through, before encountering a work crew with a backhoe and a van which is, we’re told, building a road. The road clearly curves around to lower elevation in the near distance, but Jeremy concocts a complicated pulley system using the backhoe to drive down the sandy mountainside. It doesn’t make sense.

Following the Jaguar down is the fuel van, which does not tip over at intense angles on the mountainside because there isn’t actually fuel in it. May and Hammond drive down and meet Clarkson at the bottom, declaring they noticed the road off to the side was there all along. 

There’s more desert driving (on a road this time) before the trio arrive at the larger city of Chinguetti, a place being consumed rather quickly by the sands of the Sahara because of global warming. James goes to a library and handles a book that’s 500 years old. Returning, Hammond and Clarkson have filled his Maserati with sand.

James is neither angry or surprised at the sand, and we see that he will empty the car with a shovel and nothing else. May sort of disappears conveniently for about 25 minutes, so Clarkson and Hammond can use their set pieces from the “back of the van.”

A field plough and two snowmobiles are produced, and magically mounted (with included hydraulics) to the front of the Aston (plough) and the F-Type (snowmobiles). These kooky inventions are planned to smooth the washboard sand road surface in front of the cars to make it easier to drive. But lo and behold they don’t work! One of the snowmobiles inexplicably breaks free from a mounting that was loose to start, and drives off into the sunset. 

At about an hour and 10 minutes, May ties the fuel tanker’s line to the roof tent of Hammond’s Aston Martin, which Hammond doesn’t notice because he’s apparently blind. It rips the roof off, but Hammond can only feign surprise. This special is now half over, but already long out of juice.

More desert driving occurs, the team finds an oasis (one of the more interesting moments), and there’s a drag race. But oh no! The team forgot the drag race was on a city street, and there are carefully choreographed “traffic” cars crossing the runway. Close call, you guys. More feigned surprise.

There’s also a visit to an ambassador thrown in the mix, which is conducted like an awkward interview and has some Ferrero Rocher jokes. Did you know there’s no alcohol here? They also speak French, and everyone is poor. Off they go for more desert driving.

The border of Mauritania and Senegal is reached, but there’s no bridge anywhere! The trio pull out a tired trope from previous Africa and Vietnam experiences: build a car raft as a boat/ferry! There’s one modern update: Flotation is provided by empty plastic bottles in a very realistic way. The rafts don’t work but somehow they manage to get across to a very recently cleared bit of land on the Senegal side.

Arriving in Dakar it’s bad news! There’s some civil unrest which is shown via phone screen. The team are on the beach where they don’t see or hear any of it. However, given the Dakar airport is stated as closed, they’ll have to go back and finish the race in Mauritania. Thankfully the runtime is filled, and “On that terrible disappointment, it’s time to end.”

That statement should be the tagline for this special. With no new ground to cover and super-scripted set pieces littering an otherwise empty landscape, there’s just nothing left for our trio of hosts. Whether you believe they decided to hang it up a while ago or they were canceled due to a host’s statements (the narrative has changed a couple of times there), it’s very clear the format is past its expiration with these three presenters. Having said that, the three will be back for one final episode to finish out their lucrative contracts. Look for that some time later this year.

[Images: Amazon Prime]

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Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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2 of 34 comments
  • Carrera Carrera on Feb 22, 2024

    Will miss them when it's over.

  • Arthur Dailey Arthur Dailey on Mar 12, 2024

    Corey, I am going to have to disagree with your review. We watched Sand Job just last night. It was the most enjoyable 2 hours of TV viewing we have had in many months. My wife is not a 'car person' but has always greatly enjoyed Classic Top Gear and watching these '3 blokes'. They were the very best at what they did/do.

    Are they past their prime? Yes. Do they repeat some old bits? Yes. Is more of their current programs obviously pre-scripted? Without a doubt.

    But watching them is not like watching Willie Mays in his last year with the Mets. or Johnny Unitas in San Diego. This is more like watching the final season of Ted Williams. Or Wayne Gretzky with the Rangers. Or Gordie Howe with the Whalers. Or Tom Brady in Tampa. All time greats who can still periodically rise to the occasion and demonstrate flashes of their past brilliance. Infinitely better than watching journeyman or imitation performers.

  • Wjtinfwb Job cuts and EV's... is that a winning strategy? You're locked in to substantial labor expense after the UAW agreement signed a few months ago. And EV's ain't exactly flying off the shelves en masse. Get the new Charger out already, it's been teased more than the Bronco and Supra were combined. Get a real Hybrid option out for the RAM trucks and big Jeeps that consumers will buy. Consider bringing back a Gen 3 Hemi with an aluminum block, direct injection and perhaps a Hybrid option to counter the Toyota debacle and get a jump on GM. Dump the Hornet and build Dodge a version of the Jeep Compass they can actually sell. A Dodge with Alfa bones isn't compelling to either brands fans. Fix the Durango's oil cooler problems to avoid alienating police departments nationwide. Do you want every cop in the US driving an Explorer? Freshen up the Pacifica and get Chrysler a cool sedan or wagon that can create a buzz like the 300 did more than a decade ago. And fix your dealers, they are by a large jackasses. Plenty of opportunity for improvement.
  • 3-On-The-Tree True that’s the worst beat down in history.
  • Jalop1991 Tesla has made getting repairs a real headache for some owners, as the automaker hasn’t allowed them to get work done at third-party shops. That policy has led owners to seek  class-action status against the company,So, move next to the airport then complain about the noise.Got it.
  • Jalop1991 One of the most interesting parts of this situation is that Stellantis, and by extension, the Chrysler Group, is increasingly considered a foreign companyNational Lampoon, May 1981.
  • ChristianWimmer This W126 example looks very nicely maintained and very clean inside and out. Definitely owned with love and respect. I can see Bill from Curious Cars selling this thing! My father drove a second hand bare bones facelifted 1985 Mercedes 300SE W126 back in the day until the early 2000s which eventually got passed down to me. The previous owner had only paid extra for a sunroof and automatic transmission. It had black cloth seats, no A/C, manual windows, no cruise control and those ugly plastic hubcaps which were so common on 1980s Mercedes’. I drove the 300SE for about seven years and enjoyed the comfort and pretty low running costs: reliable and also relatively fuel efficient. If you drove it normally you could get it to sip 9 L / 100 km. Motor oil consumption was pretty high as it got older needing a top up with 1 L of oil every 1,500-2,000 km, but this was apparently normal on the 3.0 inline-6. A comfortable long-distance cruiser and it even “handled” pretty nicely when you attempted to drive it in a 50% sporty manner on some backroads. After the free-for-all parking lot it usually parked on got demolished and parking such a huge barge became a problem, I ended up selling it to a local classic car club which still own it to this day and display it at classic car shows. Great memories of that car. 420SE/SEL and the 560SE/SEL are nice but the thirsty motors are something of a turn off.