The year was 2002 and the folks over at the British Broadcasting Corporation kick-started the phenomena that is Top Gear. First conceived by television producer Andrew Wilman and the iconic Jeremy Clarkson, the original idea goes even further back. That’s right, Top Gear originally started out in 1977, also under the BBC but in a shorter 30-minute segment with a focus primarily on passenger cars.
Since then, the show has transformed under Clarkson and his trusty accomplices, Richard Hammond and James May. That success ran for well over a decade before running out of steam, prompting a change in format and overhauling their formidable trio of presenters. Television hit show Friends star Matt LeBlanc eventually took the helm in 2016 amid growing public scrutiny of what the show had since become. Many bemoaned the forced humor and incredulously-scripted stunts over real automotive content.
That said, take nothing away from what the show had become. It was known the world over, with many episodes shot in countries across the globe. Perhaps the show became too big, and as a victim of its own successes was often always in the media’s limelight. This meant everything from the slightest of mistakes to the silliest of negligence created waves of uproar. Add to the mix the enormous personality that is Jeremy Clarkson, who has had plenty of controversy in years past, and you get a plethora of risk, which in turn continues to fuel that media-feeding frenzy.
Here is a look at 18 mistakes made on Top Gear that people have often overlooked.
17 Bugatti Veyron gone wrong
For years the Top Gear hosts pleaded with Bugatti, the makers of the world’s then fastest car, the Veyron as a test loaner. It was a time when everyone was raving about the Veyron and how formidable a car it was, and in truth they were right. It has an insane top speed but that doesn’t necessarily always translate to a quick lap time, especially around the famed Top Gear race track.
When Top Gear eventually got a hold of the car, the entire race footage was filled with rants and raves about how the car was going to top the charts and even concludes with Clarkson saying, “this is the moment that really every motoring enthusiast in the world has been looking forward to for years.” When Clarkson ultimately places the lap time on the board, everyone is shocked when the supercar only manages a fourth-place finish, behind the Pagani Zonda F. Talk about anti-climactic.
16 Car color swap
In another bizarre Top Gear race, this time filmed in New Zealand, the network decided it would be a great idea to have a boat race a blue-colored Toyota Corolla. Clarkson was driving the borrowed Toyota Corolla along a very specific land route while James May was aboard the yacht.
While approaching a bend in the road at about 62 mph, Clarkson attempts to outmaneuver an SUV but ends up crashing into the side railing. He goes back to return the rented and damaged blue Corolla and ends up back on the road with a newly replaced red Corolla. However, if you look carefully at the B-pillar of the car from the inside, it’s still blue in color. This proves they obviously did not rent the car and simply painted over it but did leave a spot for us to find.
15 Disappearing makeshift bumper
During the Police Car Challenge episode, Richard Hammond drives a Suzuki Vitara. However, it’s not just any Vitara, it is one that is fitted with a makeshift, and rolled up spike-strip. During the race lap, Hammond crashes into a side-barrier which results in the makeshift bumper falling off the car.
Hammond, however, continues the race without the ridiculous after-market accessory. As the race approaches a conclusion, every scene leading up to it sees the spike-strip appear, disappear and then re-appear again in what really is a surprisingly poor bit of video editing. How the Top Gear staff or the network itself failed to notice this is quite disappointing for such a large network.
14 The tree incident
This costly and embarrassing mistake actually made the news, but you might have missed it. Most ironic was that the BBC News itself reported the story back on the 21st of February 2004 when it was reported that the network had to apologize to the region of Churchill in Somerset, U.K.
The reason being, Clarkson thought it was a good idea to test the strength of a car by ramming it into a chestnut tree. In addition to an apology, the parish council in Somerset were paid compensation of £250 for the destroyed tree. While the compensation was worthless to the network, the apology and bad press hurt them far more.
13 Missing seats
In the same DIY Caterham episode mentioned earlier, Jeremy Clarkson is supposed to build his own from scratch. Richard Hammond and James May are assisting Clarkson in the process. During the build, Clarkson himself focuses on installing the seats which he actually installs the wrong way around.
Later in the episode, the trio knocks the car off some blocks and quite bizarrely there are no seats in the car at all. They have simply disappeared when we clearly saw Clarkson struggling with wrenches trying to install them earlier in the episode. It is again surprising how the editors missed something like that.
12 Drinking and driving
We all know it’s a horrible idea to drink and drive, and a similarly poor choice to talk let alone brag about it. While touring in Australia in October 2014, Jeremy Clarkson puts out a tweet about driving a car while having a pint of beer sitting in his cup holder.
Specifically, he says “One of the best drives of my life. Gravel road. M6. Sun going down. iPod playing Blind Faith. Beer in cup holder”. Unfortunately, it’s not a first-time offense for Clarkson. Back in 2008, both Clarkson and his Top Gear peer, James May were drinking gin and tonics while driving in the North Pole.
11 Incitement in the US
Perhaps one of the most-watched episodes of Top Gear here in the US was the one titled, Top Gear: US Special where Clarkson, Hammond, and May were taking a journey from Miami to New Orleans in a bit to determine if it’s cheaper to buy a car than to rent one.
UK media regulator Ofcom received dozens of formal complaints regarding several scenes in the filing of this episode. From driving with a dead cow on the roof of a Camaro, but most surprisingly the presenters were challenged with writing offensive slogans on each of their cars to deliberately incite anger.
10 Special needs insensitivity
In another row over insensitivity, Jeremy Clarkson was again criticized by UK media regulator Ofcom for making a bad reference to a car as having “special needs” while on air. He was referring to the Ferrari F430 Speciale, a powerful 4.3L V8 sports car which was provided between 2004-2009, as a successor to the Ferrari F458.
Clarkson said, “the Ferrari F430 Speciale was a bit wrong… that smiling front end… it looked like a simpleton… it should have been called the 430 Speciale Needs.” The BBC network said it regretted the comments and did remove the reference in a repeat airing of the show. Clarkson, however, failed to comment.
9 Elevator floor mishap
In the Season 10 episode where they race a Bugatti Veyron with a Euro Fighter jet, a little-known fact was that earlier in the same episode Jeremy Clarkson takes a three-wheeled microcar, called the Peel P50 into the BBC headquarters to see just how nimble and convenience it could be.
As Clarkson makes his way, in the car mind you, up the elevator, the camera pans to his face behind which you can clearly see him crossing floors 25, 26 and 27 on the elevator display. However, and inexplicably, moments later you see him disembarking on the 23rd floor to ask for directions.
8 False location on the map
In the episode involving a do-it-yourself Caterham build and a race with The Stig, there is a point in the episode where The Stig stops for a refuel. As the scene cuts forward, Richard Hammond is shown looking at the map which indicates his progress in the race. Everything looks fine up to and including this part.
Where things get strange is when Hammond looks at the map, pointing out that he is somewhere between the cities of London and Oxford. The problem with that notion is that an earlier clip in the episode shows him passing by the same point between the two cities where he suggests he is situated currently.
7 Video editing mishap
Another video editing mistake was found during the filming of the episode titled “The 24 Hour Race.” The episode is about a BMW 330D, converted into a race car used to compete in the Britcar Silverstone 24 Hour race. The episode features Hammond and Clarkson along with The Stig, who clearly has more racing experience.
In one scene it shows Hammond and Clarkson helping to add racing upgrades to their BMW, with Clarkson shown next to the car’s fuel tank where a sponsor sticker is placed. However, the audience doesn’t know that those stickers haven’t been formally added yet. In a later shot, you see a sticker-less tank after which they show someone sticking them on.
6 Disappearing lap time tags
In a 2010 episode of Top Gear, the trio sits down with famous journalist and author Alastair Campbell in the segment titled “Star in a Reasonably Priced Car.” The thought behind the segment is to have a famous personality conduct a test drive of a daily ride type of car. The criteria is to find a £5,000 second-hand sports sedan to take on their famous race track.
Clarkson is about to put up Campbell’s race time on the leader board, at which time there are already 8 race tags from other drives on the board. Then after adding Campbell’s lap time, math and logic would suggest there would be 9 tags on the board. However, when the camera pans out there are still only 8 on the board.
5 Electric car battery fracas
Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster was a ground-breaking vehicle back in 2008. Despite its hefty six-figure price tag they were able to sell over 2,000 units. In a bid to increase sales and adoption, Tesla decided to give the speedy two-door roadster to the wonderful team at Top Gear.
Unfortunately for Tesla, it was pre-scripted to have the electric car effectively run out of charge midway through the segment. To add insult to injury, the Top Gear team claimed the car was only able to manage a meager 55 miles which pales in comparison to the 200 miles promised by Tesla. Upon receiving the car back, the car’s logs were able to prove there was still over 20% of battery left to burn.
4 Fishing without a rod
In a second attempt at using amphibious cars, the trio takes their challenge to the English Channel. Richard Hammond uses a Volkswagen Transporter, James May uses the same Triumph Herald from the previous challenge and Richard Clarkson takes a Nissan pickup truck.
While May is unable to even launch out of the harbor, totaling the vehicle in the process, Hammond does well before his Volkswagen’s engine gets water damage, Clarkson meanwhile wins the race and even carries his co-presenters across the finish line. The problem here is that there are several shots of Clarkson crossing the channel without fishing rods in the back of the truck but when he arrives he miraculously has them.
3 Car alarm
In a Top Gear episode where all three presenters are seen standing in front of a pair of Range Rover Sport SUVs, there is a sudden interruption where you can hear a car burglar alarm go off, cutting Jeremy Clarkson off mid-sentence.
The camera pans out only to find a rather embarrassed-looking woman. She is seen sitting inside one of the cars on the filming set, a Mercedes-Benz CLS sedan covering her face. Realizing what has happened, Clarkson walks over to the sedan, which then also shows a man who is likely the culprit as he is sitting in the driving seat (the woman was a front-seat passenger).
2 Barbecue grill
In the February 2017 Top Gear special titled, “Great Adventure: US Special” there is a scene where the trio head over to New Orleans, stopping for a night at a hotel. The following day they are given $100 each in cash to purchase something for each of their cars that would make for a more comfortable journey.
Richard Hammond purchases a BBQ grill which he retrofits on the back of his pickup truck. Shortly after he installs the grill, there is a shot taken of the truck with the grill is missing. Fast-forward a few scenes later and it re-appears back onto the truck. It’s only after you backtrack and skip forward a couple of times that you realize the mistake.
1 Clarkson phone call
During the filming of an episode where Jeremy Clarkson is showing the live audience a Ferrari Scaglietti, someone’s phone goes off which infuriates Clarkson. He starts pacing around the audience to attempt to hear where the cell phone ringtone is coming from. Eventually, he drops his head and reaches into his back pocket only to show everyone that it was, in fact, his cell phone.
This was not the first time. In another episode where Clarkson is showing another audience the Nissan Murano SUV, his cell phone again goes off. It’s a mistake that continues at least in one other episode, but it is unknown whether that third instance made it to the finished product or was left to the blooper reel.
Sources: The Drive, BBC News, The Guardian, Top Gear, Movie Mistakes, The Telegraph, Digital Trends, Auto Blog, The Drive