Back in the day, Top Gear was arguably the best show on television. Conceived by the legend that is Jeremy Clarkson, the show originally launched in 2002. The format of the show was simply to review and drive cars. However, as time progressed, so did the show.
Clarkson was initially joined by Richard Hammond and Jason Dawe, as well as the anonymous test driver "The Stig." Dawe was soon replaced by the hilariously nicknamed Captain Slow (James May) and the show delved into challenges, special races, timed laps of notable cars, and celebrity timed laps.
Then, at the end of the twenty-second series, Clarkson was sacked for unruly behavior, and the show was turned on its head and rejuvenated. For the twenty-third series, the programme was presented by Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc, but it just wasn't the same without Clarkson, Hammond and Captain Slow.
It's the challenges that make the show what it is, with every one full of hilarious hijinks as well as some pretty terrifying stuff. The Top Gear challenges were sometimes on par with Hollywood stunts. However, they weren't all that great, and some of them actually fell extremely flat.
Let's take a look at 10 Top Gear challenges that blew our minds and 10 that failed miserably.
20 Exciting: The Africa Special (Season 19, Episode 1 and 2)
The Africa Special saw Clarkson, Hammond and May challenged with finding the true source of the Nile River. In order to do so, they were asked to complete the task in second-hand estate cars on a budget.
Clarkson opted for a BMW 528i Touring, Hammond a Subaru Impreza Sportswagon WRX, and May a Volvo 850R Wagon. The trio traveled through Central Africa, starting in Uganda and moving through Rwanda to reach their final destination in Tanzania. In the end, it was May who discovered the source of the Nile and then pitched a Top Gear flag and Union Jack in the nearby soil with a caption that read "James May. Discoverer of the true source of the Nile, and two other blokes."
19 Exciting: Bugatti Veyron Vs. Cessna 182 (Season 7, Episode 5)
The race challenges are always the better ones, so what better than to race a plane? That's right, this time Clarkson, Hammond and May were challenged with delivering a truffle from Northern Italy to a top quality restaurant on the top of the Natwest Tower in London.
Yes, you read that right, a truffle.
Clarkson decided to use the brand new, 1001 PS (736 kW/987 bhp) Bugatti Veyron supercar, whereas Hammond and May opted to fly the whole way in a Cessna 1982. Sadly, things didn't quite work out for Captain Slow, as it was later revealed that he wasn't qualified to fly at night, resulting in the pair having to park the plane in Lille, France. In the end, it was Clarkson's Bugatti Veyron that won, with Clarkson calling it the "the greatest car ever made and the greatest car we will ever see in our lifetime."
18 Exciting: Budget Supercars (Season 7, Episode 4)
Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May just love their budget car challenges, don't they? This time the boys were told to find and buy a supercar for less than £10,000 pounds. Sounds easy enough right? Wrong.
The catch was that the supercars must be mid-engine and Italian, causing panic and several hilarious antics ahead. Jeremy bought a Maserati Merak, which had terrible brakes. Richard found a Ferrari 308 GT4, and James ended up with a Lamborghini Urraco that was basically broken from the start. The three were then told that they had to drive from Bristol, UK, to a questionable adult nightclub in Slough. On the journey, the threesome visited a Castle and did what any other petrol heads would do in that situation, timed how fast they could do laps!
17 Exciting: Race To The North (Season 13, Episode 1)
A favorite among many, the Race to the North was a three-way race between May's Jaguar XK120, Hammond's Vincent Black Shadow motorbike, and Clarkson on the 60163 Tornado locomotive. Exciting? You bet.
The race began in London, England with the finish line in Edinburgh, Scotland, (roughly 400 miles). In the end, the Tornado arrived 1-minute ahead of schedule, having taken a total of 8 hours.
Clarkson and the crew ran to the final destination point, only to find James May waiting with a pint of beer. May later admitted that he had arrived "no more than ten minutes" before the train. And Hammond? Let's just say he had mechanical issues...
16 Exciting: The Polar Race (2007)
Considered to be one of the best of the specials, the Polar Special was first broadcast on the BBC in 2007. The episode followed Clarkson and May as they attempted to be the first people to reach the Magnetic North Pole via car. And Hammond? He was going by dog sled, just to make things that little bit more difficult.
The car used to complete the challenge was a 2006 Toyota Hilux double cab 3.0l diesel pickup truck, which was chosen for its durability.
In the end, after several disputes and fights between Clarkson and May, they finally reached the finish point, beating Hammond. Hammond was then told to stop and was picked up by plane and evacuated.
15 Exciting: Middle Eastern Road Trip (Season 16, Episode 2)
These boys really know how to do funny. Billed the Middle East Special or the Nativity Special, the episode saw Clarkson, Hammond, and May road trip from Erbil International Airport in Iraqi Kurdistan, to Bethlehem. The journey took the threesome through southern Turkey, Syria, and Jordan before heading towards the Mount of Olives.
Thankfully, the episode predated the Syrian Civil War. However, that's not to say it wasn't dangerous.
The cars had to be bought on a budget of £3,500, with Clarkson driving a Mazda MX5, Hammond a Fiat Barchetta Riviera, and May a BMW Z3. Ever the pranksters, the cars were decorated in a Bedouin-style with one car having bull bars and a large hookah. Hammond's car was also fitted with a car stereo that only played songs by Genesis, and it was given the appearance of a nomadic tent.
14 Exciting: USA Road Trip (Season 9, Episode 3)
This one saw the boys take on the great American road trip. Clarkson, Hammond, and May traveled to Miami where they were each given $1,000 dollars. The boys hilariously struggled to find anything for such a small price and opted for shady business owners and dangerous deals. Eventually,
Clarkson purchased a 1991 Chevrolet Camaro, Hammond a 1991 Dodge Ram 150 pickup truck and May a 1989 Cadillac Brougham. They then had to drive through the Southern States while competing in more challenges along the way. The episode really got going when the presenters headed into Alabama and were instructed to paint each other's cars with slogans.
Obviously, they all went as inappropriate as possible. In the end, the challenge had to be aborted when the presenters stopped at a gas station and nearly ended up in a fight with the offended owner.
13 Exciting: Bolivia (Season 14, Episode 6)
This time, the boys were sent to Bolivia, where they were instructed to buy second-hand off-road vehicles for less than £3,500 each. The catch was that they had to buy the vehicles from the internet without inspecting them first, causing a number of hilarious moments.
In the end, Clarkson bought a Range Rover Classic, Hammond ended up with a Toyota Land Cruiser 40 with broken windows, and May purchased a Suzuki SJ413 with flat tires.
The episode is notable for several scary moments such as sinking mudflats, driving through rainforests with machetes, and creepy crawlies. The presenters loved the road trip so much that they often regard it to be the best episode in the show's history.
12 Exciting: The Vietnam Road Trip (Season 12, Episode 8)
Upon arriving in Vietnam, the presenters were given a show box with just over $1,000 dollars. Realizing that they couldn't afford a car with such a small amount of money, the trio opted to complete the challenge on motorbikes.
Clarkson bought a two-stroke green 1967 Piaggio Vespa, Hammond a Belarusian-built 125 cc Two-stroke Minsk, and May purchased a four-stroke Honda Super Cub. The trio experienced a number of mechanical issues with their bikes, ultimately ending with May pushing his motorbike up a mountain.
The whole episode is a funny one, with all three of them ending up in the water at some point. When they completed the challenge, Clarkson jokingly said "it's hard to sum it up really. Perhaps that's why people when they get back from this place always say the same thing, Vietnam: You don't know, man! You weren't there!"
11 British Leyland (Season 10, Episode 7)
After arguing with the show's producers with regards to the quality of cars made by British Leyland, Clarkson, Hammond, and May were given £1200 pounds to buy British Leyland cars and settle the dispute once and for all.
For the task, Clarkson bought a 1981 Rover SD1, Hammond purchased a 1972 Triumph Dolomite Sprint (with an additional £50) and May ended up with a 1978 Austin Princess, which was immediately ridiculed.
The cars were then tested for reliability, power, hand brakes, water resistance, and ride comfort. Hammond's 1972 Triumph Dolomite Sprint's performance was particularly awful. In the end, it was May's car which was was, in fact, the best. Turns out that British Leyland wasn't so bad after all. Well, one of their cars, anyway.
10 Botched: India (Season 18, Episode 1)
Top Gear might be renowned for its hilarious antics and unruly challenges, but sometimes the tasks provided fail miserably. The India Special was one of them. It saw the Top Gear team on a mission to promote all things British to the Indian public.
The whole thing was a bit of a joke, with the title sequence showing then Prime Minister David Cameron, refusing their request to go to India on an official trade mission.
The history between the two countries is no laughing matter, with Britain colonizing the country in 1858 only for India to gain independence in 1947. Just to be even more offensive, the boys all drove British cars, with Clarkson in a 1995 Jaguar XJS, Hammond in a 2000 Mini Cooper, and May in a 1975 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow.
9 Botched: Patagonia (Two-Part Special 2014)
Probably the most notorious on the list, the Patagonia special is more famed for Clarkson rubbing people the wrong way yet again. Aired as a Christmas special in 2014, the episode saw Clarkson, Hammond, and May using a selection of cars with V8 engines to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the small-block V8 engine.
The episode gained worldwide attention when the boys and the Top Gear crew were chased by a group of protesters who believed that Clarkson's license plate, "H982 FKL", was a deliberate reference to a significant battle in the Falklands War. Footage of the attack later revealed minor damage to their cars and slight injuries towards two crew members.
8 Botched: Amphibious Car Challenge 1 & 2 (Season 8, Episode 3, Season 10, Episode 2)
Not only did Clarkson, Hammond and May attempt this once, they also tried it another time a few years later. First challenged in season 8, the presenters were presented with the task of building amphibious cars and using them to get across a two-mile-wide reservoir.
Clarkson modified a Toyota Hilux pickup truck which he dubbed the "Toybota," Hammond transformed a Volkswagen camper van into a narrowboat-style which he called the "damper van," and May turned a classic Triumph Herald into a sailboat. However, it was the second attempt that was the more adventurous, as the presenters told that this time they would be crossing the English channel. All three of them modified their original designs, with May even using the same Triumph Herald that he had used in the original.
7 Botched: St. Petersburg Race (Season 22, Episode 1)
Attempting to capture the magic of the earlier races of the previous seasons, season 22 saw Clarkson, Hammond, and May attempting to find the quickest route across the Russian city St. Petersburg.
In order to compete in the race, each presenter used a different mode of transport; Clarkson hailed a hovercraft, Hammond mounted a bicycle (this time a £9,000 bicycle,) May relied on a very tiny Renault and the Stig took public transport. Although the episode was a fun one, it failed to live up to earlier races in the previous series. However, it's always fun to see the Stig in full garb standing on a train with a bunch of bemused commuters. In the end, it was Captain Slow who took the gold, with his Renault proving to be surprisingly decent.
6 Botched: Vampire Dragster (2006)
Some of the Top Gear challenges can be a little dangerous and in some cases, life-threatening, just ask Richard Hammond. In 2006, Hammond was involved in a nearly fatal crash while filming for the show.
Hammond was driving a dragster called Vampire and had been hoping to break the British land speed record. The vehicle spectacularly crashed while Hammond was traveling at 300mph.
During the crash, Hammond's helmet embedded itself into the ground, causing him to go unconscious and damaging his left eye. The crash was shown in a later episode, leading to some gentle ribbing from co-host, Clarkson. Hammond later revealed that he had suffered brain injuries from the crash as well as loss of memory and depression.
5 Botched: Homemade Limousines (Season 9, Episode 6)
Tasked with building a stretch limo to drive celebrities to a local awards show, it seemed the producers had run out of fun things to do. Ever the craftsman, Clarkson chose a 1992 Fiat Panda, Hammond a 1996 MG F and May connected a 1994 Saab 9000 and a 1996 Alfa Romeo 164 together.
Hilariously, Clarkson initially made his too long and was ordered to remove 7 feet in order to make it road legal.
Hammond somehow managed to keep the convertible roof that was already placed on his car. In the end, it was Hammond who arrived first, with Clarkson arriving second (although half of his limo was missing). As for Captain Slow, he somehow managed to get lost, causing his passenger to storm out of the car.
4 Botched: Supercars In France (Season 7, Episode 3)
The supercar episodes are usually the fun ones, but the supercars in France episode sadly missed the mark. With Clarkson in the Ford GT, Hammond in the Pagani Zonda and May in the Ferrari F430, the trio was tasked with taking the supercars to the Millau Viaduct.
On the way to the viaduct, the boys caused mischief on the cobbled streets of Paris, much to the bemusement of the snooty Parisians.
The episode failed to live up to expectations and seemed like more of a filler than an actual fun and exciting challenge. Plus, the boys were later filmed stuck in French traffic, and nobody wants to watch people stuck in French traffic, no matter how cool the car might be.
3 Botched: Ford Fiesta Test Drive (Season 12, Episode 6)
In the end, Clarkson concluded that the Fiesta was not practical (due to the seats not folding flat), but that it was reasonably fun to drive. The episode is mostly famous for Clarkson taking the car into a closed shopping mall in order to test if it could be chased by a Corvette. Although the episode was funny, nobody really wants that much attention and dedication to a Ford Fiesta, no offense to Ford.
2 Botched: Motorhomes Challenge (Season 15, Episode 4)
In this episode, Clarkson, Hammond, and May were given the challenge of building their own motorhomes from scratch. Clarkson opted for a Citroen, Hammond chose a Land Rover and May purchased an old Lotus. After building the motorhomes, the trio was then told to drive to Cornwall for a "camping holiday."
What followed was a number of mini-challenges such as cooking in the motorhome, changing clothes in the motorhome and sleeping - you guessed it - in the motorhome.
In the end, Hammond's motorhome caught fire and Clarkson's fell off a cliff and plummeted to the ground. Although this episode is regarded as one of the funniest, it doesn't really do anything in terms of cars and stats. Plus, it seemed like a waste of money, not to mention a safety hazard.
1 Burma (Series 21 Special)
The Burma special was a two-part episode that saw Clarkson, Hammond, and May use a trio of derelict lorries to travel across Burma, also known as Myanmar. The trio was then instructed to drive to Thailand in order to build a bridge over the river Kwai.
The episode is noted for the hilariously large lorries used in the challenge, with Clarkson and Hammond both using an Isuzu TX and May opting for the Hino FB100. However, the episode faced controversy when viewers complained that Clarkson and Hammond had made a racist remark after completing the bridge. Clarkson begins with "that is a proud moment, but there's a slope on it" to which Hammond replies "you're right, it's definitely higher on that side". "Slope" is a derogatory term for an Asian person on the count of their eyes. In the scene, a Thai man can be seen walking across the bridge.
Sources: topgear.com, bbc.com