While Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond still ruled the Top Gear kingdom, many challenges were won and lost. From modifying off-road vehicles to better maneuver jungle terrain to transforming trucks into watercraft, the Top Gear presenters took fans around the globe in a series of exciting episodes and specials. Each time the cast took on a new challenge, Top Gear viewers watched with bated breath to see who would come out on top.
Clarkson, not known for his grace in defeat, often debated his way to the top—whether his car was the true hero or not. Of course, there were also times May and Hammond left Jeremy so far behind, there was no doubt of his loss (not to mention the many self-created debacles brought on by pranks and playful mischief.) Whether winning or losing, something fans have come to count on is Clarkson’s ability to entertain.
To help fans of the show reminisce over these challenges, we’ve curated some of the best wins and losses of Clarkson’s Top Gear career. Relive laps on Castle Combe raceway, Jeremy’s stint as an Olympic speed skater, and a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren taking on a ferry to Oslo. With more beautiful vehicles, modified chassis, and poorly timed car jokes than any other series on the air today—The Grand Tour notwithstanding—it’s no surprise so many fans still love old episodes of Top Gear.
Without further ado, here are 15 wins and 10 losses that Jeremy Clarkson made truly memorable on Top Gear.
Working toward his pilot license, James May flew himself and Richard Hammond in a Cessna 182. In a race across Europe, the two lads took flight, while Jeremy Clarkson set off in a Bugatti Veyron supercar. It appeared that May and Hammond almost had the upper hand until May’s meticulous eye for detail slowed takeoff. This put a wrench in things when the pair were forced to transfer to a Eurostar instead. Unfortunately, May wasn’t allowed to fly after dark yet. Meanwhile, Jeremy powered on in the Veyron, reaching their destination at Natwest Tower first, where he handed the car over to Nigel Mansell.
In a comparison challenge, the boys try to prove that you can pay less to drive in a Rallycross motor race than to play golf. The three purchase cheap Rallycross cars including a BMW 328i for Jeremy, a Toyota MR2 for James, and a Citroen Saxo VTS for Richard. In three heats, May does the worst, finishing last in two and third in the final heat. Clarkson finishes last in his first heat, second to last in the second, and first in his third, where he then takes on Hammond and loses. Hammond, the winner of the challenge, comes in third in the first two heats and second in his final, before going on to beat Jeremy.
In Season 4, the presenters were tasked with purchasing a car under £100. All three succeeded in finding a road-worthy vehicle, but not all made it to the end of the episode. Jeremy’s Volvo 760 proved to have a failing electrical system, while Hammond’s Rover 416GTi had issues of its own. May’s Audi 80 1.8E was no gem either, having a lengthy and concerning crash report. While none of the three vehicles were particularly awe-worthy, Clarkson’s Volvo managed to come out on top. Aside from beating the other two on price (the Volvo cost only £1), it was the only vehicle left after the crash test.
In the Eighth Series of Top Gear, the team was challenged to turn road vehicles into watercraft. The resulting creations included a 1989 Toyota Helix outfitted with an outboard motor, a 1983 Volkswagon camper transformed into a narrow boat, and 1962 Triumph Herald modified with boat sails. While Clarkson’s “Toyboata” almost made it to the finish it took on too much water and sank before the end of the race. With Hammond’s “Dampervan” sinking early on, it was “Captain Slow” aka James May who won the challenge by audience vote. Though Clarkson agreed May’s vehicle trumped his own, he was still convinced the Helix was indestructible. That is, until the engine died and he admitted defeat.
In a Season 6 episode that surpassed any normal speed-track challenge, Clarkson raced Hammond and May to Oslo. The catch? While Jeremy sped along in a stunning Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, Richard and James took a flight as far as Newcastle upon Tyne where they climbed aboard a ferry. The ferry ride to Kristiansand was scheduled to take 17 hours. During this time, Jeremy would need to race through several countries, including France, Holland, Denmark, and Sweden (to name a few), finally ending in Norway. It looked like Clarkson might miss his mark following a restless night at a gas station near Copenhagen. Fortunately, Hammond and May had a series of mishaps which led to Clarkson’s ultimate triumph.
Season 7, Episode 3, saw Top Gear teammates challenged to buy the best possible supercar for a mere £10,000. The main goal was to make it from Bristol to Slough in one piece, a feat not achievable by anyone. Along the route, the trio also faced off against mini challenges, such as beating the Stig’s time on a lap around Castle Comb raceway. They also measured horsepower to determine which car had retained the most. Clarkson, who chose a Maserati Merak, was disappointed with his 80-bhp rating, given that he mistakenly thought the car was an SS model. Hammond, choosing a Ferrari 308GT4, delivered a powerful 194 horsepower despite rust issues while May’s Lamborghini Urraco rested in the middle at 117 horsepower.
Another car-versus-money challenge in Season 5 showed the trio buying the best Porsche under £1,500. James May’s lucky find of a four-cylinder Porsche 944 appeared to be the champion from the start. Richard Hammond purchased a Porsche 924 outfitted with a Volkswagen engine and Jeremy Clarkson bought a dilapidated Porsche 928. While Jeremy’s vehicle wasn’t fit for the road, he wound up selling its parts for the win. In a perfect example of a challenge that Clarkson should have lost, he managed to hoist himself to the top, despite May having the obviously better Porsche. Better luck next time, James.
A highly unusual ice challenge during a Winter Olympics episode in Season 7 showed Jeremy Clarkson facing off against a professional speed skater. Eskil Ervik performed the challenge on ice skates while Clarkson, who claimed to have no skating ability, drove a Jaguar XK. While there was nothing wrong with the machine Clarkson raced, the Jag was unable to grip the ice, leaving Jeremy in Ervik’s ice dust. In fact, Ervik was so much better suited to the track than Jeremy and the Jaguar that he lapped him twice before the end of the challenge. Thus, Clarkson was declared loser while Ervik took home the gold.
Only Jeremy Clarkson could take on a challenge as ostentatious as racing a supercharged V8 Jaguar XJ against a celestial orb of fire. In Season 16, Clarkson got bored with standard challenges and decided to do something truly unique: he’d race the sun. The track was a 432-mile stretch between Land’s End to Lowestoff, the most western and eastern side of Britain. He set off at sunset on Sunday night with the hope of reaching his destination before 4:30 am Monday morning as the sun crested over Lowestoft. Hitting a few pitfalls, such as slow drivers and road construction, he still managed to make it 12 minutes before the sun.
In a race like no other, the Top Gear team jumps aboard a Jaguar XK120, a Vincent Black Shadow, and a Peppercorn A1 Pacific Locomotive. May in the Jag, Hammond on the bike, and Clarkson on the steam engine set off from England to Edinburgh to see which vehicle is fastest. The locomotive, a replica built like the engines of 1949, required Jeremy to continuously shovel coal and to stop four times for water. Richard struggled with his bike controls, falling behind the other two, while May cruised happily in the Jag. Despite the train’s top speed beating that of the Jag, in theory, May still managed to arrive at their destination first.
In this follow-up to the amphibious cars challenge, the trio aimed to cross the English Channel. Clarkson modified a 1996 Nissan truck with a Honda outboard motor and nicknames it the Nissunk. May tries again with his 1962 Triumph Herald, this time altering the mast on his sail, then it collapsed. Hammond selects a 1981 Volkswagen camper van (not the original). As the Top Gear team sets off, May’s car sinks immediately, Hammond’s Dampervan 2 sinks the following day and all three wind up aboard Jeremy’s Nissan. Needless to say, Jeremy won the challenge, as he eventually managed to get them to France aboard his truck.
In Season 22, the trio gets challenged to an unprecedented race across St. Petersburg. Rather than attempting the drive in three supercars, the team splits into a Renault Twizy, a hovercraft, and a bicycle. The Stig joins the men, using St. Petersburg’s public transit line but putting himself out of the race when he glimpses a Porsche behind a fence. Although Hammond’s bike is top of the line, costing £9,000, he hits a tramline early and damages the bicycle beyond repair. The replacement bike, borrowed from a passerby, doesn’t compare. Meanwhile, Clarkson struggles to get the hovercraft to go where he wants it to go and May zips along easily in his tiny city-worthy car. While Jeremy and Richard eventually make it to the finish line, May is there waiting.
A travel-heavy challenge finally has Hammond choose their destination. From Nevada to Mexico in supercars, the trio races to the finish line, where the last to arrive must drive a Mastretta MXT. Jeremy chooses a Lexus LFA, May an Aston Martin Vanquish, and Hammond an SRT Viper. Starting at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where all three were beaten by production cars, they continued onto Willow Springs International Motorsports Park. The trio then pulled donuts in Los Angeles, before finally arriving in Palm Springs where the final challenge was issued. Though the drive to Mexico should have been easy, May and Clarkson fiddled with Hammond's Viper, causing him to come in last, with Jeremy first.
This challenge had the top gear lads reminiscing about cars from their youth. They each chose a classic hatchback which they felt surpassed the modern versions. Clarkson wound up in a Volkswagen Golf Mk2 GTI, while Hammond drove a Vauxhall Nova Sri, and May selected a Ford Fiesta XR2i. Unfortunately, Hammond lost early when the engine on his hatchback called it quits during challenge number 2. James and Jeremy’s vehicles did slightly better but by the end of the final challenge, their engines met the same demise. With all three hatchbacks out of commission, nobody won this challenge.
Top Gear is nothing if not over the top so it comes as no surprise that one challenge saw the team assembling limos out of regular vehicles. The limos were meant to escort attendees to the “Brit Awards” though not all made it. Clarkson modified a 1992 Fiat Panda, Hammond a 1996 MG F, and May a 1994 Saab which was joined onto a 1996 Alfa Romeo 164. While Hammond and Clarkson both arrived at the ceremony with celebrities in tow, May’s abandoned him. Clarkson only won this challenge because his car was photographed and published most. As it turned out, he published his own photograph in The Sun, another shining example of his good sportsmanship.
Everyone loves a convertible, so Jeremy and the crew attempted to find the best car for under £2,000. Jeremy purchased a black 1988 BMW 325i, Richard a burgundy 1987 BM 325i, and James a black 1989 BMW 325i (a popular model, apparently.) The three perform various tests to determine which convertible is best, including a 0-100 mph drag race, a forensics test, a timed lap against the Stig, testing of the roof seal, and a stunt performance. Eventually, after plenty of malfunctions, disgusting discoveries, and crashes, it’s determined that Richard is the loser, Jeremy the runner up, and James the winner.
In a fun challenge based in Italy, the boys meet in Lucca with hatchbacks, James in a Renault Clio Cup, Jeremy in a Citroen DS3, and Richard in a Fiat 500C Abarth. The challenge entails numerous tests to see which hatchback is best, including a maze through the narrow city streets, a scavenger hunt in Canelli, and a race at the Monaco GP circuit. Of the three challengers, Jeremy’s Citroen wins out, allowing him to maneuver narrow streets, collect everything on his list, and beat the boys in three laps on a professional track. Although Richard technically beat James in the race, producers gave him an overall score of zero because of mishaps in other challenges. This put May in second place.
Testing speed, sound, and picture-perfect status, the trio tried out supercars in Spain. Understated as always, Jeremy selected an intense yellow McLaren MP4-12C Spider, while keeping with the spider theme, Richard chooses a bright red Ferrari 458 Spider, and James a gray Audi R8 Spyder. After competing to see who's photographed most, which engine is noisiest, and which car is fastest, the trio attempt a timed event. Creating a racetrack, they try to beat the Stig’s time in a Jaguar XKR-S. Nobody compares to the Stig but after organizing the outcomes of all events, May concludes he is the winner. Of the cars, all three loved the Ferrari most, making it a winner of sorts as well.
On an adventure from Miami to New Orleans, the trio is tasked with purchasing a car under $1,000. May chooses a 1989 Cadillac Brougham, Hammond a Dodge Ram 150, and Clarkson a 1989 Chevrolet Camaro RS. Throughout the trip, the team races on the Moroso Motorsports track, accelerates to 50 mph and brakes before an alligator-infested river, and modifies their vehicles for sale. The episode had some entertaining surprises, such as Hammond not braking early enough to avoid gators and May not finding anyone eager enough to take his car. In the end, Jeremy was the self-proclaimed winner.
Due to an unfortunate van review, the Top Gear team is tasked with finding the best van under £1,000. Jeremy chose a Ford Transit, while Richard selected a Suzuki Supercarry, and James bought an LDV Convoy. Each tests their van in a series of challenges, including loading and unloading, a drag race, tailgating, and theft resistance. They also tried to stay ahead of the Stig while he drove a police car through town, which caused Richard to roll his van. A final challenge had them post van ads to see who would get the most contacts. In the end, Richard Hammond’s Suzuki topped the rest.
In Season 9, the team ventured to the magnetic North Pole with James and Jeremy in a Toyota Helix, modified for the trip and Richard on a sled with a team of dogs. This special was not only one of the most dangerous landscapes the trio had traversed but the first time Top Gear was aired in HD. Climbing snowy mountains and clambering across sharp jutting ice from the sea, Jeremy and James fell behind Richard at one point when the truck was unable to maneuver a giant field of ice boulders. Eventually, though, the Helix pulled through, winning over the sled-team.
James, Jeremy, and Richard all get tasked with finding an Alfa Romeo for £1,000 using their own money. James purchased the Alfa Romeo GTV 2.0 Twin Spark, Jeremy the Alfa Romeo 75 3.0 V6, and Richard the Alfa Romeo Spider 2.0i. The trio raced their cars on the Rockingham Circuit, where all three broke down. After the race, the boys attempted to create and sell calendars which featured their Alfa Romeos. This challenge was also a failure, as none sold. In the last test, the presenters modified their cars. In the end, despite problems with all three vehicles, Jeremy’s won out.
In a harrowing challenge which saw the trio rough it through the tropical rain forest, the boys are tasked with buying a vehicle under £3,500. James purchases a Suzuki SJ413, Richard a Toyota Land Cruiser 40, and Jeremy a Range Rover Classic. As they maneuver their way through the Amazon basin and over the Andes, the team modify their vehicles to better suit high altitudes and rough rocky passages. The trek is dangerous and all three suffer altitude sickness at one point. Eventually, James and Jeremy make it to their destination with Richard’s Toyota breaking down before the end. Jeremy is declared the winner.
In a race across France, Jeremy drives an Aston Martin DB9 while James and Richard hop aboard a Eurostar and then the high-speed TGV line. All three are skeptical of Jeremy reaching their Monte Carlo destination first but the DB9’s surprising speed and maneuverability allow him to rocket up to 120 miles per hour. With the boys having to slow down to switch trains, Jeremy passes them and zooms into Monte Carlo with only moments to spare. In fact, when James and Richard reach their café meeting spot, it’s only two minutes after Jeremy has arrived. Again, Jeremy proves the superiority of cars over other modes of transportation, winning the challenge.
In a challenge against himself and Audi, Clarkson takes off from London in an Audi A8 with a full tank of gas. His destination is a trip to Edinburgh and back over a commute of 800 miles. To complete his challenge, Jeremy must make it on a single 20-gallon tank of gas. To make the journey more fuel efficient, Jeremy drives as smoothly as possible without unnecessary accelerations. He also lightens the weight of the vehicle and tries not to use any electronics unless absolutely required. Eventually, even with all his efforts, the dash indicates that he has run out of fuel about 35 miles before the end of the challenge. Fortunately, the car continues to run despite the indicator and he completes the one tank challenge on time.
Sources: Motoring Box, BBC, and Digital Trends.