Top Gear — S17, Ep1

50 years of the E-type Jag

What is it about Top Gear, that self-described “pokey little motoring show,” that appeals to so many people?  I’ve never been much of a car enthusiast.  My driving exam consisted of six right hand turns.  I doubt I will ever experience the luxury of getting behind the wheel of a Jaguar or Bugatti Veyron.  Likewise, I don’t think I’d appreciate the differences between a V8 and a V12 engine.  I am very much car-illiterate.

And yet, I’m hooked on this show.  I live vicariously as the show’s characters speed through gorgeous landscapes all over the world.  I am awed by the longevity of such vehicles as the Toyota Hilux and the Ford Fiesta.  More importantly, I am roaring in laughter at the antics of our three heroes James May, Richard Hammond, and Jeremy Clarkson.  Their love of all things automotive is infectious,  their humour addictive,  yet approachable, and I can’t help but get swept up in it all.  I would be remiss, of course, if I left out The Stig: Top Gear’s silent and mysterious tame racing driver; The Stig, who some say only knows two facts about ducks (and they’re both wrong); The Stig–some say it’s impossible for him to wear socks, but he can open a beer bottle with his testes.  Truly, Chuck Norris is an amateur compared to the helmeted, faceless face of The Stig.

Let’s start the new series, shall we?

Cue the music and cue Jeremy’s booming voice where tonight we will see Richard buying a cup of coffee, James slipping on snow, and a picture of Steve McQueen.  Back in the studio, Jeremy jumps in with what we have to look forward to location-wise in this upcoming series (Las Vegas, Monte Carlo, Italy, Albania…and Loughborough).  However, tonight we start with General Motors and Hummer.  Hummer is no longer in production in the United States as it’s now considered too big and, according to Clarkson, “too silly.”  However, there is still a place where people feel the Hummer isn’t big or silly enough, and that takes us to Richard Hammond in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Marauder v. H3Images of barbed wire and graffiti flicker across the screen before we see one of the aforementioned defunct Hummers.  It is an H3 specifically, and it is, as Richard points out, “a pretty sizeable car.”  But say hello to the blood-red behemoth that is the Marauder, a beast of a vehicle that will probably never “have one of those Christian fish symbols on the back of it.”  Built in South Africa, the Marauder weighs ten tons, is twenty-one feet long, and nine feet high.  Needless to say, in traffic it tends to stand out a bit.  The Hamster gamely navigates the streets of Johannesburg, remarking gleefully how people get out of one’s way when driving a Marauder.  Richard then idly comments about how some people feel nervous when driving around Johannesburg (given the city’s infamous reputation when it comes to crime), adding “but I don’t!”  He then notes he has the odd feeling, on one hand, of being scared he’ll bump into something,  and then, on the other hand, of not caring if he actually does.

Like the original Hummer, the Marauder is a military specc’ed vehicle that civilians can buy.  Of course, in order to actually get one, you need to pass a background check and come up with a check for three hundred thousand pounds ($480,940.00 US approx.).  While the price puts the Marauder on par with the Rolls-Royce Phantom, it’s not exactly luxurious.  What it lacks in comfort and style, however, it does compensate for in other matters. Making his way through slow traffic, Richard points out that this is usually a time to activate the sat-nat for a better route.   But the Marauder doesn’t need sat-nav, what with its powerful off-road capabilities, which Richard eagerly now demonstrates, culminating his demonstration by smashing through a brick wall into an alley way with nary a scratch on the metal beast’s hide.  “This is a good town car!”

Marauder gets angryAs Richard decides to pop off for coffee, another benefit of the Marauder as a city roundabout comes into play.  Cue the tow truck coming in to attempt to punish the parking violation.  However, the Marauder has 290 brake horsepower and a top speed of just seventy miles per hour, which admittedly isn’t very fast.  But its torque is over one thousand, which means it’s pretty good in a towing tug of war.  The Marauder easily drags along the poor towing truck as if it were a child’s toy.  And now, another possible obstacle?  Getting boxed in at a parking lot.  This is not a problem for the Maurader, which squashes the two hapless cars in front of it like empty soda cans.

But the Marauder does have its weak points, as Richard points out via a trip to the nearest McDonalds.  The Marauder is clearly not meant for drive-thru.  Nor can its windows be rolled down.  This is a problem when one is trying to pick up your order, especially when coupled with trying to make narrow turns and a burger bag stuck in one tiny access hole.  Likewise, if you find yourself visiting a safari park, the windshield wipers are sadly not lion-proof.  But are these the only weak spots?  It’s time for one more test.  We cut back into a field, where we find an ordinary Hummer H3, which soon becomes shrapnel thanks to seven pounds of explosives placed underneath it.  Will the Marauder meet the same fate?  After another explosion, the Marauder is caved into the earth a bit with one rear tire destroyed…but it’s still drivable.

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