Posted by: magrimmett | April 20, 2008

Top Gear: African Adventure


Hello! And welcome! Thank you very much. Now as you know, the producers on this show like to give us challenges. Specifically where they give us a very small amount of money and tell us to buy a used car. Then they set unbelievably hard tasks for us to do to see which one of us got the best deal.

Hammond: Yeah. This week, for a Top Gear special, they came up with a real humdinger. They gave each of us 1500 quid and told us to go to Africa (Clarkson snorts) and buy a car.

May (who is wearing the most eye-abusing bright shirt in pink, yellow, and blue, mercifully muted by his jacket): Yeah. And there were just two conditions–it musn’t be four wheel drive, and it mustn’t be built in any way to go off road.

Ah, sunrise over Africa. Dogs are sleeping, and we’re at the border post between Zimbabwe and Boswana.

May: And for once, I was the first to arrive. Now, as you’d expect, I have done things properly. (Can’t help it, I flash back to the best road in the world adventure, when May had also “done it properly.”) He’s shown up in a silver Mercedes Benz 230 E from 1985. “A car that Africa absolutely adores. Because it’s comfortable, it’s rugged, it’s dependable, and frankly, if the other two have bought anything other than this along, they’re idiots.”

The first idiot, Clarkson, arrives in a dark blue sporty thing with a sunroof. He requests assistance. “Can you open the door? Because the handle’s broken.” May: It is a Lancia Beta. Clarkson: Coupe; 1981. The only Lancia of any sort in the whole of Botswana. It’s done 29000 miles. May; Hmm. One owner, is it? Clarkson laughs: A little old lady.

Clarkson: And boy, had she ragged it. They put up the hood and check out matters. May: Yeah, that’s normal, isn’t it? That fizzing? (The fizzing comes from coolant squirting out through the duct tape onto the engine.) Clarkson: That’s…ah…yeah. May: What’s the piece of cardboard for? Is that for mopping up the moisture? Clarkson: No, that’s because the battery– May: Shorts on the bonnet. You’ve done well. So now what? Do you want a lift?

They leave the Lancia to settle down and stop leaking and stand in the road with binoculars.

Clarkson (Genuinely puzzled): What the hell is that?

May: I dunno.

Clarkson: Could it be a Moscovitch? You– Opel! …and on the front it says Kadett.

Hammond pulls up, sets the parking brake, and hops out of a rectangular little yellow car: Yeah! Clarkson: What the hell have you done, man? Hammond: It’s an Opel Kadett from 1963. Clarkson to May: So that’s the same age as you. Hammond: Yes, but it’s much better nick than you are. It was 1200 pounds, I had much change with which to buy many beads. How much more simple can you get? It’s got two moving parts and it’s been here for 44 years. 

They cluster around to examine it. Clarkson: I love the speedo. Hammond: I do like a horizontal speedo. I really do. May and Clarkson laugh. Clarkson: Where’s the engine? Hammond: It’s there. He opens the hood and displays the very small engine. May: It’s tiny! Hammond: Do you want to know about the power? Clarkson: Yes, I do. Hammond: 40…They did a sport version with 48, but I didn’t want anything too lairy.

In voiceover, Clarkson: With the cars at the start line, it was time for our challenge. “The people of Surrey think they need four wheel drive cars because they live up a lane which sometimes has leaves on it. You will now attempt to prove them wrong by driving your two wheel drive cars from here on Botswana’s eastern border with  Zimbabwe 1000 miles to its western border with Namibia. That’s right across the spine of Africa. “

Hammond looks blank, moves his jaw a couple times, and looks at Clarkson. Everyone is silent, digesting this challenge. May finally sniffs and says, “I’m confident.”

Clarkson: I wasn’t. We hadn’t even started and already the Lancia was playing up. In addition to the fluid leak we saw earlier, now it won’t start. “James chose not to wait.” Clarkson to Hammond: “He may be mechanically confident, but he has just turned right. Which is Zimbabwe. Which is where, I should point out, the BBC is not allowed.” Hammond laughs: Oh, hello!  Oh, sorry, sorry. I’m going now. May has discovered his error, turned around, and is now proceeding in the correct direction.

Clarkson gets the Lancia going and he and Hammond also head out. People on the side of the road wave at the cars. Very friendly. The lads discuss what’s wrong with their cars. Clarkson: The gearbox is broken, the steering is broken, the window’s broken. In fact, we all had problems. May: Everything works, except this knob (holds it up to view) which controls the blower. Hamond: I’ve got to have the windows open because there’s quite a strong smell of petrol. May: And that mirror over there, which is actually slightly stuck. Clarkson: Hazard warning lights, the clock, the fan, the hand brake. All of the dials. Hammond: The brakes are terrible because they only work on that (front passenger-side) wheel. They work very well on that wheel, but only that wheel. May: And that instrument’s a bit wobbly. Apart from that, everthing that’s important to the car works perfectly. Apart from the hand brake. He demonstrates; it exerts no stopping force at all.

Hammond: “This is just the happiest car in the world. I should call it Oliver–not that we’d ever name a car on Top Gear, I wish I hadn’t said that.”  Aww, he’s named the puppy!  He puts his hand to his face in embarassment.

Clarkson: It’s now five past ten in the morning and it’s starting to get quite hot. I’ve got an idea. He puts on his sunglasses, sits tall, and sticks his head out the sunroof. As he goes by the Opel, Hammond does a double take.

Hammond: Do you know that that is? He presses a button, which produces a weak wheezing noise. A horn! He laughs. Oliver, you’ve got a cold! Listen! He pats the dash and coughs.

Hammond: We were having fun, but then we discovered we were travelling with Bill Oddie. Clarkson identifies birds, ticking them off in a book: Hornbill, Southern yellow-billed.  Have a good look at your car, it’s massive! Hammond: Don’t knock Oliver. Uh-don’t knock my car. That’s a fine piece…he’s a fine… May: What did you call it then? Hammond: Oliver’s a friend of mine and I though you were talking about him.  He walks off. May: He’s given it a name. He and Clarkson laugh.

Clarkson: So far, the journey had been a doddle. But then the tarmac just sort of stopped. Oh, this is bad. May: I can see from here just how hard the suspension on Jeremy’s Lancia is having to work. It’s just a blur. Clarkson laughs. Hammond: God! Oh! I’ve broken it. Engine isn’t working. May, mockingly: Oh, dear. They’ve stopped to observe. Clarkson: He’s done, literally, 1 kilometer of this. May: I know what’s wrong with it. Clarkson: The bonnet won’t open. May: It’s the bonnet catch. It’s burst. Hammond: Shut up!

Clarkson: Hammond was tetchy because he knew the price of failure. Anyone whose car broke down would have to complete the Journey in a Beetle.  A white Beetle rolls down the road slowly, to the accompaniment of doom-laden music. Clarkson: It is, collectively, our least favorite car in the world. Hammond pulls a face. May: Oh, yes. Clarkson: It is the punishment. In desperation, Hammond: Please! Oh, hang on, hang on! A wire by the steering has come loose. He connects it, it sparks, and Oliver starts right up. Hammond: Oliver! and puts arms up. Clarkson: What did you say? Hammond: I said…a la.. a la..I love ya!

Clarkson: Oh my God. Hammond: What now? Clarkson: My car’s on fire, but in a very specific place. May: Wow, look at that. Hammond hoots. Clarkson: Where’s your magnifying glass? May: There’s a laser beam coming through it. Nope; the piece of cardboard over the battery had shifted and the hood had taken the brunt of it. Hammond: So it sets itself on fire. Clarkson: If you don’t have a piece of cardboard.

Clarkson: We drove deeper and deeper into the bush. They drive into a village; people stare, and children chase after the cars, shouting. Clarkson: What is that? May: Looks like the sea.

The road petered out and they stop under a lovely large tree. Clarkson: The good news was that we’d successfully reached our campsite for the night. The bad news came in the shape of another challenge. The camera pans an empty, vast expanse. The lads stand on the edge of it, shifting nervously and surveying the terrain. Clarkson reads: “Stretching before you is the Makgadikgadi. These are the biggest salt flats in the world. They’re almost completely lifeless and as wide as Portugal. No car has ever driven across them. If you run out of water, you will die. If your car breaks down and you can’t be rescued, you will die. If you run out of food, you will die. It’s like driving on a creme brulee. There’s a primeval ooze covered with a thin layer of salty crust. If you have thin tires, you will beak through that crust, get stuck, and you will die.” So it advises us to fit fat tires and remove as much weight as possible before setting off. Well, how hard can it be? Hammond cringes: Don’t say that!

The sun sets over a scene of carnage. Clarkson: Ready? He smashes the side glass of the Lancia with a hammer. Hammond looks startled. Clarkson the removes the nonfunctional side mirror from May’s Mercedes. Hammond looks appalled. May: Thanks awfully.

Hammond walks around the Opel, deciding that nothing is optional. May to Clarkson: Can I put something out? Clarkson: What? May: Hammond’s walking round his car, muttering about how he needs all of it. Clarkson: See, I know exactly what he’s doing. May: He’s formed an emotional attachment, hasn’t he?  Clarkson: It’s be like saying to him, “Could you cut bits off your wife?” They quietly laugh.

The next morning, they have a visitor. A group of individuals on ATVs roar toward them, overshadowed by a motor under a parachute. The guy in the air was the Vice-President of Botswana.

Hammond: That is a (expletive deleted) cool ride. It’s better than an official Rover 75 and a couple of policemen on motorbikes.

The VP is amazed to hear what was being planned; he’d never known anybody to do it. Clarkson points out their conveyances. VP: Oh, really. This should be interesting. Hammond: You were smiling. You’ve just stopped.

In voiceover, Hammond continues: Buoyed by the Vice-President’s optimism, we set off. There’s a pan of the endless salt flats. ” As we plowed on, the little Opel was going well.” To the camera, Hammond continues: Oliver is just skipping. Boo! This car was born to do this!” Well, it’s nice that it finally has a chance to fulfil its destiny.

Clarkson: Sadly, though, despite the weight shedding, my Lancia was not doing so well.

The Mercedes also isn’t doing too well, judging by the depth of the tire tracks. Clarkson tries to help May along, predictably by crashing into the rear of the car. May looks nettled: Really helpful.

Clarkson: Well, there’s always the Beetle, James!

Hammond: It’s waiting for you.

The Mercedes gets stuck. Fortunately, May’s friends are on-hand to help. Hammond: What are you going to do? It’s sinking! Clarkson: James, honestly, how far is that? A mile? Clarkson does come up with some concrete assistance: ramming the rear of the Mercedes with the Lancia. Not successful. Hammond: Just a nudge.  (A crash on impact) That’s a crash.  Clarkson: Unfortunately, because it was an automatic, it was useless, so we told Richard to try. But he didn’t want to hurt Oliver.  Hammond rolls up slowly to the nose of the Mercedes and taps it gently.

Hammond: Aaah! Clarkson laughs. Hammond: Aaah!

Clarkson: This was hopeless, so we had to rope in the camera crew. Because the ooze was so bad, we had to get even more drastic with the weight shedding.

He breaks out the rear window with a hammer. The glovebox door is kicked off; body panels are removed. Clarkson: We toiled away for hours. There’s a shot of men sitting on the salt flat, looking rather unimpressed. “Well, two of us did.” Hammond is taking a nap in Oliver, muddy boots hanging out the window. ” Then finally, we were ready. ”  We see an animal skull attached to the hood of the Lancia. The doors have been removed completely, the passenger seat is missing, but the rest of the body is intact. Clarkson: Now, this is light. Lancia Beta Coupe Sugerleggera!

The Mercedes, in contrast, is almost completely stripped. Oddly enough, one windshield wiper remains. The Opel has as many parts as it went into the salt flats with.

Hammond: Not a modification. Ha ha ha ha!

May: This is excellent!

Clarkson: Why don’t all cars have no doors? May claps and chuckles. “When I come to power, I’m gonna make it a rule, cause this is just better.”

Clarkson in voiceover: However, the Makgadikgadi wasn’t going to let us off that lightly, and soon even our super-lightweight cars started to struggle again.  Sitting back in a comfortable chair, the viewer is treated to shots of the Lancia and the Benz being pushed out of the muck, repeatedly. May: This is hopeless. Hammond, causing a hernia and/or throwing his back out as he pushes out a car: Aaah! Clarkson takes a break to declaim: People of Surrey! You need four-wheel drive for this bit!

The Beetle lurks in the distance.

The gunk is extremely thick and sticky and has jammed the Lancia’s tires completely. The lads get to work with shovels in the wheel wells. Instructively, Clarkson points out: You know what it is? Fish. It’s just rotted, prehistoric fish.

After another massive push, they’re off again, and the ground mercifully hardens. They hum along, grateful, I suspect, to be making good forward progress. There’s something on the horizon.

Hammond: Now, this is interesting. Because now we’re coming between what look like islands.  They get out to investigate, and also to camp for the night at Kubu Island. They’re about a third of the way across and it’s quite desolate, but also rather attractive in its starkness. The sunset is glorious. They appreciate it and camp.

Clarkson: Day two on the salt pans. We’d been told that today our problem would not be mud, but dust. It must have been cold that night; even May is in a jacket and all are sipping at hot beverages. They also all look a bit the worse for wear. “That meant James and I had to rethink out wardrobe solutions. I’ve teamed my iqual with a bin liner. V-necked! Last time I wore one of these, I went to see The Clash. Frankly, I thought this was all a bit much. I mean, how bad could this dust be?”

And off they go; immediately, it seems, they’re enveloped in a cloud of dust. Clarkson: Aaah! My eyes! May: Crikey, I can’t see Jezza already. *coughs* Clarkson: Oh, no, no, no, no! *coughs* Hammond, looking like a miracle of cleanliness: Meanwhile, in my unmodified Kadet…I’m just going to adjust my quarter light a bit, just an inch, that’s better. I can feel the hate now. I’ts nice.

May: Ugh. My keffiyeh’s come off.

Clarkson: James and I made it through the dust with our lives considerably shortened.  They get together for a tete-a-tete while sitting in their cars to compare maladies. May: I’ve got consumption  and TB. Clarkson: I’ve got every single 1920’s disease. And then Lord Smug piped up.

Hammond, his un-dusty state even more glaringly apparent by comparison to the other two, adds his own tale of hardship: I had to close this at one point about that much and it pulls the air out and you get fresh air through. It’s nice.

Clarkson has his fingers curled around the Opel’s window and looks quite filthy and uncomfortable. “You know what it’s like when someone punches you really hard in the middle of the face?” Hammond chuckles: I do, actually.

Then the surface gets even worse. Very rocky. Clarkson compares it to the seven circles of hell, but I’m fairly certain Dante didn’t rate dust and rocks and highly stripped cars in his description.

The going smooths out again, but the Lancia is in trouble. Clarkson: I’m gone, I’m gone! Hammond: And you can’t get out? The power has cut out; Clarkson rolls to a halt. May and Hammond continue. Hammond taunts: Do you remember what the man said, Jeremy? Break down, and you…what is it? Have a nice time? No, die. Clarkson watches them drive away, then sets to work. Clarkson: I’m not certain what I favor most: certain death, or that Beetle.  The Beetle lurks at a distance like unrequited love.

As Clarkson struggles with the nonfunctional Lancia, May asks Hammond: Is my car on the crab? Hammond: No, it’s tracking tried and true, mate. To the camera: He’s worried about tracking, and look at it.

Hammond: I can see something in the mirrors. Please let it be a Beetle.

May: I do hope it’s a Beetle.

Hammond: Please, please let it be a Beetle!

May: Please, “let it be” a Beetle?

Nope, it’s the Lancia. Clarkson: I’m baaaaaack! May: Oh, Jeremy, well done’, I’m disap…Sorry, delighted. Hammond is more direct: You’re not in a Beetle! Clarkson: Not a Beetle! A fully functioning Lancia Beta Coupe.

Hammond: I just wanted the Beetle to pounce on you when you were straying behind. I’m gutted.

Hammond: With our convoy back up to strength, we pressed on. Apart from Jeremy being Bill Oddie occasionally.

They’ve stopped to observe something on the ground. Clarkson says that flamingos breed out there. Hammond, skeptically: So that’s breeding, is it?  It’s quite a dead bird. May: It’s a fossil. Clarkson: It’s not a fossil. It only died about two years ago. May: I was talking about you.

They see some ostrich tracks, and Hammond hops along the tracks. It must be said: nice butt.

May: Can I just say? You look like a gay cowboy and you look like a gay terrorist. He’s really got no room to speak, what with his shirt and his beads.  Clarkson: No, you look like a terrorist with a broken windscreen wiper and your face is ridiculous.

Hammond starts to pick on the Lancia. “Why haven’t you turned it off?” Clarkson: It’s gathering electricity. Hammond: So if you turn it off, the battery isn’t going to start it. Turn it off and start it, then. Let’s have some beautiful silence. Goaded, Clarkson shuts it off and then can’t get it started again. Hammond laughs. May: Why did you turn it off, you idiot? Clarkson: Because he said it would…  Hammond: Good luck, mate. Somebody’ll give you a jump start. He runs off to Oliver. Clarkson: No, don’t go away. Hammond: Goodbye.

May: Annoyingly, Clarkson got the Lancia going again and then we came across some birds.

They ‘re ostrich, in the flesh, running, somewhat more gracefully than Hammond. Although they’re taller, with longer legs.

And then they see a cow. They’ve made it across the salt flats. Clarkson rhapsodizes over the trees and life forms. Hammond is genuinely proud of him. May: Personally, I’m absolutely delighted cause I think the Magkadigkadi is one of the most unpleasant places I’ve ever been. It’s just a big bowl of dust. (To a cow) Hello, mate.

Clarkson: Widow Twanky might have been glad to see the back of the salt pans, but despite this, they gave us a startling parting gift.

Dust in the air creates a glorious orange moon. May: I’ve got goosebumps. I know a Philip Larkin poem about the moon. Would you like to hear it? Hammond: No.

 After (presumably) a good night’s sleep, they begin to cross the Kalihari. Clarkson, picking up animal skulls along the way: Everyone who comes to the Kalihari takes away a different memory of it: the savagery, the simplicity, the vast heat. Me, I think the bumpiness.

The convoy reaches a village. To the accompaniment of lovely a  capella harmonies, children run along with the cars through the street. They stop. Clarkson: It was another challenge.

“Your cars have travelled far and suffered much. So we will now discover how much performance they’ve lost in a competition against the clock on a rally special stage.”

Hammond: Mine can’t have lost any performance. It never had any.

May: I’m not going to ruin my Mercedes just for a few points.

Clarkson: You’re right. You’re not. Because you’re not driving it. Some say he’s seen The Lion King 1780 times and that his second-best friend is a Cape Buffalo. All we know is he’s not the Stig, but he is the Stig’s Aftrican cousin.

From a hut comes a fellow in silver and blue athletic shoes, a spotless white loincloth (???) with a tasteful shoulder drape and beaded accents, racing gauntlets, and helmet.

May: Wow.

Clarkson: He’s protected the important bits.

They drive to the rally course on a dried-up riverbed. Oliver is up first. Going around the course, the Opel manages a powerslide, to the amazement of Clarkson. Hammond is chuffed and ridiculed by Clarkson. The time: 1:12 seconds.

May: Next up, the Panzer tank. Assets: heaviest, longest, best tires. Clarkson: Longest? Longest is good for rallying, is it? May: It is on this. Clarkson points to the utter lack of  Mercedes Benz rally cars.  May, to everyone’s surprise, has beat Hammond with 1:06. May: I always do my ancient… Hammond: I hate your gloating dance.

Clarkson’s Lancia is up next. He’s arguing rally cars as May and Hammond burst out laughing. The Lancia is on fire. The boys can’t stop laughing long enough to say anything constructive, but finally, May calms down enough: Stopwatch still running.

Clarkson comes up with a game plan, but the Stig’s African cousin has had enough and walks off, the amusement of Hammond and May and the amazement of Clarkson. As Clarkson stares with dismay, Hammond looks into the engine compartment: Hey, Jeremy…you’re right. Youre engine is canted.

May has the next challenge: You will drive your cars to Nigeria through the Okavango Delta.  Clarkson: That’s the really big wildlife place. He looks cross. May continues: “In the Okavango, you will encounter many deadly animals, including lions, leopards, cheetas, hyenas, wild dogs, hippos, black rhino, and crocodile. Bird snakes, shield-nosed snakes, puff adders, boomslang, cape cobras, bandit cobras.” Hammond looks queasy. ” Black mambos, black widows, and thick-tailed scorpions.”  Hey, cool! I thought JK Rowling just made up the boomslang!

Clarkson: What about the honey badger? Hammond, distracted from the litany of impending disaster: The  what? May critiques: That’s the least-scary sounding animal in the world. Clarkson: The honey badger does not kill you to eat you; it tears off your testicles. Hammond: It does not! May is more analytical: Why is it called a honey badger? Clarkson: Because that’s what’s made it angry. Hammond: Why isn’t it called the badger of death?

May: In order to protect ourselves from the lions and the honey badgers, Jeremy and I would have to rebuild our cars.

Construction ensues using found materials, with the help of local men welding the parts back on. Sitting in his car, Hammond practices his lion drill: Oh, no, there’s a lion coming! Aah, what should I do? He closes the door. “Oliver will protect me.”

Outside the calm protection of Oliver, there is drilling, sawing, and welding going on. Clarkson has a plan. He and Hammond bait the Mercedes with a cowhead in the trunk and several pieces of meat placed strategically in the car’s structure, including one piece by the engine. It’s not just for the annoyance of the flies; Hammond: Effectively, he becomes a burger van driving. They also attach a cowbell to the under carriage. Not to be outdone, May is once again painting slogans on the others’ cars.

They set off for the wildlife refuge. The Lancia has three animal skulls on its hood, a  picket fence covering the driver’s side door area with an attached bull horn, and the other door stopped up with masses of pop cans. The slogan May has painted: Lite Bite Cafe.

Because there were a lot of Mercedes parts available, May’s car is in slightly better shape. May: God, this is like being in an allotment shed. He seems pleased, though.

Oliver bears the slogan: All Adders Are Puffs. The lettering is pretty neatly done and is less likely to get them damaged than the one used on the American road trip.

May: Can anyone else smell burning, or is it my car?

Hammond: Is is like a barbeque smell?

The quality of the road changes once again, becoming soft and sandy. They have to drive fast to avoid being bogged down. Oliver is in the lead. Clarkson and May are slightly alarmed with the going; Hammond is having fun and laughing in a rather crazed manner.

May: Amazingly, even Jeremy had his work cut out for him trying to keep up with the Opel.

Clarkson: His car just looks so composed. I’m developing this irrational hatred of him and it. Hammond chuckles: This is such a good game!

They have to slow to cross a wooden log bridge dressed with monkeys. Clarkson’s throttle has jammed wide open and the brakes are pretty much shot. He warns Hammond to speed up or he’ll hit Oliver. Hammond is poking along so as not to hurt Oliver’s suspension. Hammond: What? (Crunch) Thanks! Help yourself to my brakes, why not?

Clarkson, anxiously: I’ve lost a skull.

May, looking out of the window, points: Monkeys!

Clarkson: I’m sorry, I can’t– (Crash)

Hammond: (Expletive deleted)!

Clarkson comes to a halt against a very sturdy tree. Something falls out of the tree with the impact.

Clarkson somehow addresses his throttle issue, and they proceed at a more sane pace. Clarkson: This is where wildlife cameramen come to make a name for themselves with David Attenborough. But unfortunately, our film crew are best, really, with cars.

May, helpfully: Giraffe on the right. There! The big thing!

But all they get are blurry shots of parts of animals. Clarkson grouses: If we ever do a program called ‘The Back End of An Animal’, these are the boys to hire.  Hammond chips in: This week, on ‘Too Late To Look’…

In a rare moment of compassion for the film crew, they pull over to give them a decent chance with the animals.  Clarkson: We stopped, and discovered we weren’t much good with animals either.

They scope out elephants at a watering hole. Clarkson, in hushed tones: They stopped for a drink. Using their noses to shovel water into their mouths… Hammond: Jeremy, that’s a rubbish commentary. May: That one’s lifting it’s sort of  paw up. A bit like a dog does. Clarkson, derisively: Paw? May, dismissively:  Hoof. Foot. Whatever you call it. Clarkson: There’s a man over there with the best  combover I have ever seen in my life. Attention successfully diverted from the elephant’s appendage! May, in awe: That is…He’s got four partings as a result of that.  Clarkson: You’re bald! Deal with it! Combover guy turns to look at them and they hastily focus their binoculars in  other directions.

Clarkson: Elephants, rally special stage, best combover I’ve ever seen–

Hammond: Everything’s here.

They camp by a river. While May services his car, Hammond pulls Clarkson away from the campfire and reveals a plan to put the cow head in May’s tent. Clarkson: Love your thinking.

Snickering, they enter the tent and are scared by nearby hippos. They’re discussing the dimensions of their dilemna, when suddenly:

Hammond: Hang on. That’s my bag in James’ tent. This is my tent! Clarkson snorts wildly. Hammond: Get it out!

The journey has taken a toll on the cars. The bush mechanic took two cubic feet out of the Lancia’s carburetor the night before, and asked Clarkson to be a little more careful. They come across a wide river to ford. Usually, you’d wade in first to check the depth, but May just goes for it because there are hippo families basking nearby. He gets stuck while Clarkson is looking at birds. However, he diverts his attention long enough to nudge May free with his car. Unfortunately, the river water floods the passenger space and Clarkson is left with a wet bottom.  May and Clarkson fuss about the water when they reach the bank, but a rather well-built guide isn’t worried–a rifle round to the floor pan of each car solves the problem quite neatly.

Hammond: Meanwhile, using patience, I’d found a proper crossing point. He’s lecturing about fording techniques when the ground suddenly drops out from beneath the tires and Oliver begins to sink. “Oh, God! It’s stalled! It’s going down!” Which is not actually an infrequent occurrance on Top Gear, come to think of it. “I can’t open the door! Oh! (hyperventilates) Oh, God!” He gets out and tries to push Oliver free. “Please! Come out! Come up! Float! Float! Float!” His anguished cry “Oliver!” rings out through the empty countryside.

With uncanny timing, Clarkson chipperly radios Hammond: Hammond, how’s it going? Hammond, still in the middle of the river with a becalmed Oliver: Well, he’s got a bit of water in him. Clarkson is unconcerned and tells Hammond about the drain-creating device. Hammond, hopelessly: Good. ..I might need the rifle. The others arrive and laugh heartily at the sight of Oliver being towed out of the river by a tour bus.

May diagnoses the enormity of the task facing Hammond: Battery’s probably pretty knackered, and then the carburetor will be flooded, and then working down, the distributor cap, that’ll be full of water, the engine itself–if a bit of water went into the cylinders, you might have compressed it and broken it, and the oil will be–

Hammond depressed but determined: I know all this. I can fix him.

Clarkson, disbelieving: You are going to try and mend this?

Hammond: If you’d leave me to it, yes.

Clarkskon: So we did. Clarkson hooks his iPod up to his radio and plays sad music. Hammond looks askance at his handset; Clarkson chuckles. May: Oh, that is harsh. That is quite harsh. But go on. REM plays next; Hammond looks like a man in way over his head.  May and Clarkson sing along, and then with that fun pretty well exhausted, go on ahead to set up camp. Hammond gets the bush mechanic to bring down the generator and works through the night, spurred by the thought of the Beetle. He appears quite handy.

The next morning, Clarkson and May await his arrival at camp. Clarkson is going on about being knackered and feeling like an explorer when May hears an engine. Clarkson: Is that Hammond? May Is that a  Beetle, more to the point…It is not! Oliver has emerged, triumphant. Clarkson is in utter disbelief: No way. Hammond chuckles, sleep-deprived but successful: Oh yeah, yeah, who’s back? Aah. (a satisfied pause) And here’s the best thing. Remember the horn, which was rubbish? He bleats the horn cheerily. May: No, it’s excellent. He and Clarkson look like they’ve just gotten a delivery of coal for Christmas. Clarkson: Is that technically possible?

Clarkson: With all the dars defying all the odds, we began our final push to the border. May: My car’s working perfectly, as usual. Hammond has no brakes, but Clarkson is in worse shape: he can’t control the right-handed spearing. It’s become actually dangerous to brake now.

At the edge of the delta, they pull over to remove the skulls from the Lancia, which craps out again–the solenoid has left the building.  Clarkson moans: That last 60 thousand–it had that feel of a car that’s dying. Hammond is sympathetic. May coughs: Beetle!

May tries to gloat, but Clarkson is having none of it. May: This is worrying. I need to be home by Saturday. I’ve been invited to a Beetle (something, sorry, my handwriting is illegible here). He cracks a broad smile.

The efforts of the whole crew get the Lancia going again. Clarkson is having  his best Dr Frankenstein moment, overacting the hell out of it: It lives! It lives! He gets about 100 yards away, then must be pushed out.

Hammond: Soon we hit the tarmac and we started to taste the hope. He begs Oliver for good performance while Clarkson frets about being stuck in second gear. May: Obviously, mine would keep going to the other side of the country, but…

Clarkson breaks down again. This time, only two of the crew stay to help.

May: This is an object lesson to owners of old cars everywhere. You can drive them round the world. Hammond: Yeah, it’s really relaxing.

May celebrates the aproach of the border: 1596 km, that’s near as dammit to 1000 miles, I’ve still got half a car left, and very bad hair.

Hammond pulls over to stop behind May, but predictably, crashes into the rear of the Mercedes. “Sorry! I’ve got no brakes!” To the lovely if somewhat puzzling choice of music–Verdi–May presents the border to Hammond.  Hammond: We’ve done it! All we had to do was wait. Wait to see which car Jeremy arrived in.

They hear an engine in the distance. Hammond, hopefully: Unmistakable clatter of an air-cooled engine. It’s going to be the Beetle. Clarkson: And it was. But I wasn’t driving it. The Lancia is in view. Clarkson is just mad, pumping his fist, yelling, and rocking back and forth in his seat.  Hammond: I’m almost pleased.

 Clarkson: Watch out! Brakes don’t work! And crashes into the Mercedes. May, tepidly: Congratulations. Hammond: That’s astonishing.

They discuss the winner. Clarkson votes for the Lancia as it’s been so surprising.  May shoots this down: You don’t buy a used car to be surprised that it works. He presses for the Mercedes. Clarkson: It’s a showroom model, James. May: I admit it’s not entirely original, but in technical terms–Clarkson: I think, honestly, we have to be magnanimous here. Because only one of the cars has actually made it unmodified. Hammond nods humbly. “So that brings us nto a Top Gear Top Tip: If, people of Surrey, you want to replace your BMW X5 with something that’s brilliant off-road–” Hammond: Simple. Clarkson: Inexpensive– Hammond: Easy to maintain. Surprisingly comfortable. Clarkson: Absolutely. Um..Then you’ve got to get yourself a VW Beetle. Hammond’s face falls flat: What? May: He’s right.


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