Posted by: magrimmett | January 26, 2008

Top Gear: Bugatti Veyron

Tonight Hugh Grant stars in our Reasonably-Priced Car, and is the new Audi TT any good? We find out by playing golf.

In the studio, Clarkson: Hello and welcome. Thank you for that. Now, now, as I’m sure you know, James May is the slowest man in the entire world. By the time he sets off anywhere, normally his hair has grown another inch. So, plainly, he was the ideal man to try and max the fastest car in the world.

We cut to a monochrome view of a track in a wooded area, looking at the vapor trails of a car that’s just offscreen. May (with satisfaction): Vlad the Impaler is back. (To accompany that slightly bizarre statement, we get some wet car porn of a very sleek, dangerous-looking car just ripping up the track.) Last year the mighty Bugatti Veyron starred in our greatest Top Gear Challenge ever when it raced an airplane across the continent. To the swell of a dramatic chorus, he continues: In that film, Jeremy talked endlessly about the Veyron’s ferocious power and its incredible top speed. But because he was on public roads, he had to stick to the speed limit. (How frustrating was that!) But today we’re not going to talk about it. We’re going to do it. We’re going to take the fastest production car in the world up to its top speed. That top speed is 253 mph. Much faster than a Formula One car. And when you think that the Veyron has air bags, air conditioning, a stereo, a boot, and all the other stuff F1 cars aren’t burdened with, you realize what an incredible machine this is. (We get some interior shots–there’s a raised center console, sleek leather seats, and it’s a left-hand drive.) The Veyron is about pushing the outside of the envelope. It’s about doing things people said were just not possible. This car is sort of a Concord moment. Getting a car to do 155 frankly isn’t very difficult. (The very formidable car drives toward the camera; it’s very low to the ground, just a matter of inches. Dark and mean, this is the car Batman would be driving if he had a lick of sense.) The Veyron needs just a piffling 270 hp to reach that speed, but 253–crikey. The faster you go, the more Mother Nature tries to hold you back. So to do the next 100 mph, the 100 mph that takes you up to 250 mph, needs another 730 hp. So what you end up with is a 16 cylinder engine with four turbochargers producing 1001 hp and a lot of heat. That’s why your car has one radiator and this car has ten. (No, that is not a misprint, it’s what he said. Ten radiators. One car.) The engineers really were in uncharted territory with this car. Here’s an example–when they wanted to sort out the high-speed aerodynamics, they went to the Sauber F1 team and they said, ‘do you mind awfully if we use your wind tunnel?’ and they said, ‘terribly sorry, but we don’t go up to those speeds.’ In fact, cracking 253 mph caused nightmare after nighttmare, but Bugatti insists that this 850 000 pound car can do it. Mind you, actually testing their bold claim is a bit of a palaver. This is Ehro-Lessien, Volkswagen’s maximum security test track in Germany.

May fills us in on the history of the track: When it was built during the Cold War, it was deliberately sited in a no-fly zone near the East German border in order to stop prying eyes from seeing secret prototypes. (Shots of the track are showing high banked curves.) It has over 60 miles of private track, but the bit we’re interested in is the main straight, which is a whopping 5.5 miles long. Although it is technically a flat and level road, if you stand here, you can’t actually see the other end, and that’s because it’s following the curvature of the earth. But even when you’ve sorted the venue, you can’t just jump in the car and go. This is Germany. There are procedures to go through. (He looks quite pleased.) I like procedures. You have to insert a special key in a slot by the door. And when you do, the diffuser flaps close, the rear spoiler retracts, and the whole car hunkers down to be as slippery as possible. (The engine revs, a wonderful throaty growl, and he’s off.) He comes off the bank at 200 km/hr and puts his foot down. The climb from 200 to 300 km takes 9.4 seconds. “Captain Slow is doing 360km! 370! It’s no wonder Michael Schumacher retired–he’s slower than me!” The world outside goes by in a blur. He’s now faster than the F1 cars. May tells us that right now, the engine is sucking in as much air in one minute as he breathes in four days. At close to the maximum speed, the tires will only last another 15 minutes, but this is ok because he’s only got enough fuel for 12 more minutes. He’s at 407 km now, covering the legnth of a football pitch every second. Incredible speed. He hits the magic number, the top speed, and the film goes silent as he shoots down the track. As he decelerates, in his understated way he says: It’s made my eyes water.

Back in the studio, Clarkson concedes that he is impressed with May’s performance and talks shop a bit: Ok, thing is though, ok, you know when you take a Ferrari or a Lamborghini, or particularly a Koenigsegg up to its top speed– May: No. Clarkson: No, James, no, actually you wouldn’t, but when you do, they fizz and they buzz, and it feels like the body panels are peeling away cause you’re right on the edge of what’s physically and technically possible. May: Really. I didn’t get any of that with this to be honest. The only thing I got was at the end of the straight, had to touch the brakes, you can see the spoiler come up to slow it down, you get a sort of..(moves his head from side to side.) Clarkson: And that’s it? May: Yeah… Clarkson: So it’s kind of safe and relaxing even at 250 mph? May: Absolutely, yeah. It’s totally undramatic. But I would give you a bit of a warning. Which is it’s disorientating, doing that sort of speed, because after I’d come off the banking, I was slowing down to stop, and you know how you get a bit impatient, and you think, oh, I’ll just open the door. Fortunately I looked back at the speedo and I was still doing 70. Clarkson: So we’ve established that this is faster across Europe than your light airplane. May: Yep. Clarkson: We’ve established that it really will do 250 mph, but we’ve never been able to find out how fast it will go round our track. Now the problem is, is Bugatti are happy for us to have one here; they’re happy for you (gestures to May) to do that, but they won’t lend the Stig one. So really, this is an appeal. If you’ve got a Veyron and you’d like to lend it to us, we are prepared to pay anything up to 30 pounds.

Now we get Hammond with the news. He tells us that the new Porsche Cayenne is out. It’s never been a good-looking car, and it may be assumed that it hasn’t been improved by the look of its new ad. The official photo issued by Porsche shows three dark cars driving down a track at night, and the only light is from the headlights. Hammond can’t believe it: What? What? (laughing) May: I can hear the discussion that the photographer had actually with the director. He said is the light good for you? And he said, no, there still is some. Clarkson turns to a party that TVR owners are having for the workers who were laid off when the Blackpool plant closed. It includes a buffet dinner, bar, disco, and a live band. Hammond: Wow! A TVR band! So they’ll play presumably really loud, really fast, and then burst into flames. Clarkson has a picture of the new Renault R27 with the four Renault F1 drivers. The new driver really, really likes the car. They get a chuckle out of this. Hammond: What I love as well if you look around, the other guys who’ve clearly spotted the problem–well, you could hardly miss it, could you?–are all very embarassed. ‘Don’t look!’ Clarkson got the picture off a French website. In the official picture, the one Renault issued, the embarassment has been averted by herding all the drivers behind the car. No one is visible below the waist.

Clarkson moves on to other topics: Now, if you’re looking to spend between 20-25 000 pounds on a coupe, your choice jsut got a lot more complicated. So, to see if we could help you out, the three of us have been to Scotland for a row.

We’re looking down on a suspension bridge: on the right hand lanes, red, white and blue cars speed toward us. Clarkson: These are the cars that have caused the problem. There’s the new Audi TT (the white one), the Alfa Romeo Brera (the blue one), and the not-so-new but still quite interesting Mazda RX-8 (the red one). Since Clarkson is talking and he’s driving the Audi, that’s what we hear about first. He didn’t like the old TT because it was just a Golf in a pretty dress. “And that’s like putting a cow in a track suit. Still not going to win any running races.” This new one, though, is different: it’s longer, wider, more agressive, more technical. The back half is steel, the front aluminum; beside dropping weight, it improves the weight distribution. The suspension fluid is loaded with iron filings; when you turn on a magnet, the filings move, and the suspension becomes stiffer. “It’s no longer a cow in a track suit. It’s now a cow GTI in racing overalls.” Whatever. Moving away from the barnyard analogies, he says it’s a proper sports car now, and we get some car porn of the TT.

May: “Rubbish. What you want is one of these; this is a new Alfa Romeo Brera. (in an Italian accent) Is a pretty car. Superficially, both these cars are the same: 4 seat coupes, 4 cylinder engines, 6 speed gearboxes, and both cost about 24 000 pounds.” Both also ofer similar options on larger engines and four wheel drive. However, it really isn’t like the TT. The official Top Gear position is that you can’t consider yourself a true petrol-head unless you’ve owned an Alfa as they aren’t cars for posers but for real drivers because they aren’t boring. Uh-huh. May claims that the Alfa has soul and passion and a heart. Love to see that one; is it located by the alternator, or perhaps by the reservoir for brake fluid? Anyway, comparing the two interiors, May claims that the Audi makes you feel like you’re stuck in a Berlin post office, whereas the Alfa feels more like a Milanese espresso bar. The sunroof retracts, and the interior is brushed metal and leather.

Cut to the two cars parked nose to nose, with May and Clarkson each seated on a piece of tree. Clarkson forces May to admit it takes 8.1 seconds to go from 0-60, and Clarkson claims that a canal boat could out-drag the Brera. May defends his Alfa, conceding that it’s not as quick as the TT, which is a car for people who use moisturizing products anyway. Clarkson agrees that he prefers an Alfa to an Audi, but not this Alfa because it’s pokey. They’re interrupted by a horn honking, and the Mazda shoots by. Hammond laughs and says that if you want power, this is it, as the Wankle engine gives the Mazda 0-60 in 6.4 seconds, and the top speed is a reasonable 150. The engine is different too; it’s a rotary, which means all the power is at the top end. Unlike the others, the RX-8 is bespoke, designed from the ground up. It’s also the only one with rear wheel drive. “This is a proper, blue-blooded drivers’ car.” It has four doors: two big front ones, and two little ones that open on the reverse. There are disadvantages: low gas mmileage, burns a lot of oil, and the depreciation is pretty bad. However, it’s 2 000 pounds cheaper and just as much better. “And I don’t care what those other idiots say.”

Back on the bridge, Clarkson muses: A tricky decision, then–three similar cars but three different opinions. To see if we could find a winner, the three of us needed to meet up, so this being Scotland, the home of golf, we decided to break out the Pringle. On the course, to May: What would you be using here? May: How the hell do I know? Hammond assumes a stance: and it’s like that. Clarkson: I can’t believe–you seem to look like somebody who’d done it–laughs as Hammond hits a very poor shot, perhaps four yards, and he actually falls to the green, he’s laughing so hard. (They do seem to be in a tee box, so Hammond’s use of a wood makes sense.) Clarkson: You got dressed up in that outfit–(Hammond has on an Argyle sweater-vest and bright blue shirt and pants, but Clarkson really has no room to talk in his black and white striped pants and gray Argyle sweater. For the record, May is attired in yet another Argyle sweater, white shirt, and salmon-colored pants.) –to do that. Hammond is unpeturbed by the mirth: Honestly, I could have carried it that far.

Clarkson: We were extremely quick getting to a new hole. (They’re driving their carts along at a really good clip, forcing each other off the path in turns.) But every time we got there, things slowed down again. (We see why: May is in the rough, hacking at his ball awkwardly. He hits it out, but may have pinged Hammond with it, as he hops quickly out of his cart rubbing his hip. He’s on the green, but no more graceful than May. As Clarkson observes these antics, his cart glides down the hill behind without its driver.) As you might expect, the conversation is about cars: they’re bickering while Clarkson thinks he’s addressing his ball. They’re completely ignoring the golfers behind them who want to play through; one bends over his club in despair of ever getting to play again. May is rattling on; Clarkson tries to tee off on his head, and Hammond stomps off, retrieves May’s golf bag, and empties it on the green. May: That’s childish and doesn’t solve the arguement. Clarkson: After this, we were asked to leave and all we’d managed to agree on was that the Alfa was the least golf-clubbish.

Cut back to the studio. Clarkson: My guest tonight is a global megastar. Really, he’s made his name playing the kind of dithering Englishman we all know and love, so it was only a matter of time before he’s asked to pl ay the lead in “James May, The Movie.” Please welcome, to this pokey motoring show, Hugh Grant!

Clarkson: I’ve gotta say, this is a thrill for me. Grant (politely): It’s a thrill for me. Clarkson: No, but really, it is because for the first time ever in a guest interview, we’ve got girls all around the front. Normally at this point, they’re all outside talking to Hammond. Now he’s out there all by himself.

They start out the discussion with Grant’s car-owning history. Clarkson expects that as a big Hollywood star, Grant would own a Prius. Grant laughs: You’d have thought. No, in my life, I’ve had two modes of car, little, tiny tossers’ cars and great big (bleep) cars. For the first time, he’s right between the two. He’d started with a Citroen Dyane, then moved to an Aston Martin Vanquish, a beautiful car “you want to lick it, or…mate with it or something.” Then a Bentley GT Continental. He’s got a bad back, and for some reason it occasionally manifests itself as back pain and sometimes as bollock pain. “And with the GT Continental, I got terrible bollock pain. Some car seats do it to me– my brother’s Golf GTI was the first one; hence, the syndrom is now known as Golf Ball.” After the Bentley, a Porsche, “It’s so exhausting, all I want is a comfy environment, and a nice arm chair, and for my balls not to hurt.”

They talk about road rage, and how for Grant it becomes road mildness at lightning speeds when he actually confronts the other driver. His film “Music and Lyrics” is coming out. Clarkson claims that they don’t plug projects, but they play the clip anyway. The audience applauds. Clarkson and Grant are roughly they same age; they commiserate over falling apart. Grant caps the tales with this about his appointment with a doctor for Golf Ball: Bent me over, and I swear to God, stuck his head up my bottom. Because when he said ‘does that hurt’ it was muffled…and it was the worst pain I’ve ever had in my life.”

How did his lap go? “I thought quite badly. Um…I like the Stig very much, he was very kind to me, but, ah, it’s not easy, Jeremy, it’s not easy.” “You didn’t think so?” “It’s counterintutive. You know, just when you’re thinking ‘Well, now, I’m going to die, so I’ll break,’ he says ‘Flat down with the accelerator.’ and, ah, the other way around. I– I know I’m going to be bad. ” Clarkson asks who there wants to see Grant’s lap, and of course they all do. There are some good things about the lap, some bad things, and he goes wide around Gambon, completely off the track and onto the grass. Grant confesses: I feel I’ve let everyone down, including the Stig. Clarkson: No, it’s only yourself. Grant would like to beat Gambon and Ewan MacGregor in the standings, which he does at 1:47:7, and also beats chef Jamie Oliver. Clarkson: I think you’re better, and funnier, and much better looking, with a smaller tongue.


We’re back in Scotland, and Clarkson is taunting the other two: Can you set the sat-nav in your car ok? May: ah, no, I haven’t got sat-nav. Clarkson: Could you do that, Richard? Hammond: I go by instinct in here. So it’s the driver’s car, or the navigator’s car. Or the air hostess, in the case of yours, Jeremy. Clarkson: I think I’ve got a bit of dust on my headlamps. I’ll just wash that off. Hammond: yes, I’ve done that with my headlamp washers. Have you done that, James? May: Well, I did that earlier, with a wet hankie and the end of my finger. Clarkson: Have either of you two got a DSG gearbox? May: no. Hammond: No. Clarkson: Have you got adjustable suspension, either of you? May: No. Hammond: No. May gets in a shot of his own: Jeremy, can I just ask, how much of that stuff is standard? Clarkson: Almost everything, really, is an optional extra. Hammond titters in delight. May dogs him: How much does that lot cost? Clarkson: The optional extras on this car add up to (mumble) pounds. Hammond: How much? Clarkson: Six (mumble) thousand pounds. Hammond: Six grand?! Clarkson to the camera: It’s actually eight grand, but shh.

Clarkson: It was tit for tat all the way, and nobody was going to give in. Hammond: Coupes are all about looks, and to find out which of ours is the best looking, we’d been told to go to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (which is housed rather oddly in an old, neo-classic temple-style building) in Edinburgh. The challenge was simple: if this prestigious gallery was to accept just one of our cars based on styling alone, which would it be?

The boys are given five minutes in the gallery’s bookstore to bone up on their subjects. Or try to find a successful line of bullshit. Whichever. Then it’s two minutes in front of a panel of three experts to argue the merits of each car.

Clarkson: Unfortunately, the crash course in the bookstore just confused us even more. May is the first one up, and begins: Can a car be a piece of art? No, but can we find any art in that piece of design? In the antechamber, Hammond is busily cribbing notes onto his hand as Clarkson frets that he can’t say that the Audi was a reaction to the overly complicated ceiling roses of Victorian houses. May goes on to the judges, citing the influence of the Scottish colorists in the design of the headlamps of the Alfa. Clarkson thinks Hammond has an advantage since he’s been to art school, but Hammond disabuses him of this notion: Did you go to art school? Then you wouldn’t know. What you do at art school is drink and pursue women. May is now beating the concepts of truth and beauty into the ground. One judge wants him to go away and calls time. May has not yet managed to bring in the Renaissance, which seems to be fine with the judges. He emerges from his examination as Clarkson moans that his trousers are not Bauhaus. Clarkson asks him: Were we made to look a bit like a minky? May: Their brains are huge. (makes a ‘the fish was thiiiiis big’ gesture.) Clarkson heads in next.

He is asked to justify why his car should be in the gallery. Clarkson: One can see influences of the Bauhaus in so many of the things around us today… And he’s off. May finds Clarkson’s notes: trousers, fat, Hitler, tiger, Mazda, Alfa, modernism, minimalism. They read like moot court notes, which you’re encouraged to jot down keywords so that you won’t read off your cards to your judges. Clarkson is now being corrected on his Cubist thinking as his collegues peek around the door. He gets pounded for hanging everything on Bauhaus, and one art expert quotes German to him. He looks lost. Clarkson: The Audi symbolizes…Freedom! Oh, my god, it’s the Braveheart argument, and it goes nowhere. Bagpipes play as the judges are stonefaced. Clarkson is dismissed. After he leaves, Hammond waves his inky palm: warm in there, isn’t it. Clarkson is just glad to have escaped.

Hammond has a novel opening: Gentlemen, God is the reason you might look at this car…and see it as something a bit unusual. He displays a picture of the interior, which looks pretty standard. He explains that it’s Japanese and therefore a little different to our eyes. One judge isn’t buying this, and also requires that Hammond put his hands in his pockets so that he can’t cheat off his notes. Busted. Amiably, Hammond: I can do that. But now he’s without his safety net, and it shows: If you refer to “Catching Catfish With A Gourd”…from the fifteenth century…by Jujitsu…As Hammond stammers along, May tells Clarkson that one of the judges is an expert in Asian art. Clarkson laughs. From here, it’s all downhill for the Hamster. When asked to reiterate the points he’s just made, he clutches. Clarkson asks May: did you feel a bit thick when you’d finished in there? May (thickly): Thick? Clarkson: How do you think he’s going to feel? May: He’ll probably punch one of them. (Indeed, Hammond looks as if he’s reaching his limit.) Clarkson: I’ve eaten brighter vegetables than he is. Hammond is being asked what else he’d display with the Mazda if it went in. Hammond: Japanese paintings. Asian art expert: Anyone in particular? Hammond (trying to recover some dignity after the reference to Jujitsu): That would be for perhaps, you know, specialists to choose. He finally emerges, looking bloody but unbowed. Clarkson: How did that go? Hammond (possibly still vapor-locked): I think well. I think well. Clarkson: You know you’re bright red. Hammond: Yeah, I’m hot. very hot.

The experts consult, and the lads are brought back in to hear the verdict. One expert has been persuaded the most by the Alfa. May: I agree entirely. Yes. The Asian expert also prefers the Alfa. The last expert says that they’d be happy to show the Alfa. Clarkson whinges: It’d break down before it got here. Hammond contributes: You’d get oil all over your nice floors. May admonishes them: You can stop being petty and infantile. They squabble loudly as the judges, perhaps not used to the unacademic tone of the discussion, look dazed and dismayed.

Back in the studio, Clarkson declaims: Well, rubbish. As Richard said, they were wrong. So we’re going to do a much more important test: which one is fastest around our track? Now, obviously, to find that out, we have to hand them over to our tame racing driver.

Some say that he once had a vicious knife fight with Anthea Turner and that he is in no way implicated in the ‘Cash for Honors’ scandal. All we know is he’s called Lord Stig! The Mazda is up first. Clarkson: Well, that’s wasted about an hour with wheel spin. Hammond: Get off! He’s started off with the best car and the only proper sports car, the Mazda. The Stig is listening to a trashy romance novel and really goes wide around Hammerhead. There’s lots of understeer. May: That is miles off. Hamond: That is elegant and controlled. He’s really wide through Gambon, and across the line. The Alfa’s next, and dips a bit in the first corner. Clarkson: oh ho! Did you see that dive? Hammond: It’s like watching the actual studio go round. May corrects them: It’s balanced, its– Hammond: It’s boring! The Stig understeers; it seems a little hard to control through Gambon. Clarkson: Is that oil coming out the bottom? And its across the line. As the Audi starts, Clarkson crows: Behold the magnificent! Hammond: Oh, you off to the hairdressers, sir? Clarkson tries to tell us it was the old TT that was for air hostesses and people who are orange, and that “This is a completely different animal.” Hammond: Front wheel drive, unlike a sports car, which would have rear wheel drive. May also pounces: I saw the front nod. There’s understeer through Gambon, and it’s off onto the grass, like the other two cars.

In the studio, the boys group around a board on which are their times. Clarkson reveals the Audi’s time: 1:31:4. May scoffs, and whips off the concealing barrier to reveal the Alfa’s time: 1:36:9. oh. Hammond predicts victory in confident tones and reveals the Mazda’s time: 1:32:0. Clarkson: Damn. Hammond: No, no, no, you’ve won. I’ve lost. Clarkson: No, I’m going to oen up now. Secretly, all along, I’ve preferred the Alfa. Hammond whispers as May hops in glee: What? Clarkson: Seriously, if it were my money, that’s what I’d buy and I bet you any money it’s the same for you. Hammond: yeah. May, practically dizzy with excitement: I knew it! I knew it! Clarkson puts the brakes on a little: Before you get too cocky, I would not recommend one to a friend. That’s the thing. May is taken aback, but Clarkson continues: Well, you wouldn’t…they’d spend their lives in a cloud of steam on the side of the motorway. Hammond wouldn’t recommend one either. May would like to but honestly could not. Clarkson: So what we’ve managed to establish is that the best car here is the worst! Hammond: Yep. Aren’t we good at this? Clarkson: We are. And that’s the end of the show. Thanks very much for watching and next week we’ve got a Top Gear special. See you then. Good night!


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