Top Gear Series 1

Top Gear: Series 1, Episode 8

  • Jeremy roadtests the new Audi RS6 & Mercedes E55.
  • Richard finds out if any car can be turned into a proper Driver’s Car.
  • Richard sets out to find Britain’s fastest white van man.
  • Richard compares several “Super Minis”.
  • Jason Dawe with Insider Dealing.
  • Jeremy tests the Maserati Coupé.
  • Star in a Reasonably Priced Car: Sir Michael Gambon.

Episode Guide

The show begins with Jeremy apologizing for his closing comment in the previous episode “You see, last week we did a show mostly about the environment… and I think I may have messed it up. You see, toward the end I inadvertently said that I was going to kick a Barn Owl to death”. As they mucked up their attempt to be green, this episode they’re going to be scarlet. Jeremy moves immediately onto the BMW M5 – a 4-door saloon with 400bhp under the bonnet. The M5 now has some more competition though – in the form of the Jaguar S-Type R, which also has 400bhp from its 4.2L Supercharged V8. Jeremy says Jaguar must be happy to have finally built a car that can take on the M5… but that Audi has now come along and moved the goal posts.

Jeremy then does a road test on the new Audi RS6 – essentially an A6 with a twin-turbo 4.2L V8 which develops 450bhp. At £58,000 it’s £5,000 more than the BMW M5 – but in it’s defense, Jeremy thinks it’s one of the best made cars on the road today. Jeremy continues by eluding the fact that all the rock aristocracy drive big fast Audi’s, and move to Wiltshire – where Jeremy is testing the car. “Everyone down here is in a band, and that makes pulling and asking for directions a rare treat”. Jeremy pulls over to ask Nick Mason (the drummer from Pink Floyd, who was on his way to borrow a cup of sugar from Roger Daltrey) for directions to Steve Windward’s house. Jeremy mentions Audi has stiffened up the suspension to help the car cope with all the power, and in summary says, “I could live with a hard ride, which is a good job – because I couldn’t live without those looks and that power. This car is a stairway to heaven, a bohemian Rhapsody”. Jeremy says it’s easily better than the BMW M5 and the Jaguar S-Type R, but Mercedes have thrown their hat into the ring too.

The Mercedes E55 may have some 500bhp, but Jeremy is not a fan of the E-Class styling, nor their service and customer care either. But he’s a huge fan of the 5.5L Supercharged V8 which rests under the bonnet. “If you don’t mind doing 7 miles to the gallon, this thing absolutely flies”. It may be £3,000 more than the Audi, but you get more for your money. Jeremy likens the E55 to a Euro fighter – a plane that would fall out of the sky if not for all the onboard computers constantly adjusting the control surfaces. In the same way, the Mercedes doesn’t have four-wheel drive and on a wet road the traction control is constantly working to keep the car in check. “Even the tiniest dab of the throttle and the light comes on… telling me that machinery has just kept me out of the ditch. You are right on the edge, 500bhp. That’s as far as you can go”. When faced with a choice between the Mercedes and the Audi, Jeremy admits it’s a difficult one. “If the Audi is Keith Moon – wild and flamboyant, then the Mercedes is Charlie Watts – quiet and unassuming. Me? I was always a fan of The Who. I therefore take the Audi”. The Stig takes all 3 cars out on a wet track, where the Audi lapped a 1:33 – 2.5 seconds faster than the Mercedes.

Richard then sets out with a question – Is it possible to turn anything at all into a Driver’s Car? To investigate, the Top Gear team found a man called Paul Sherwood who owned a 6-year old Lada Riva 1.5E Catalyst. The Lada is brought to the Lotus headquarters to see what they can do to improve it. To find out exactly what they are working with, Lotus let their top man Gavan Kershaw loose for a couple of laps. The car wildly lurches and leans as it goes around the corners, with Gavan describing it as “The worst car I’ve ever driven”. The guys start planning about what they could possibly do to the car, producing various photoshops of the car. The team has just 2 weeks to turn it into something special. The shopping list included new brakes, a handmade exhaust system, special Lotus black paint and hand finished seats from their in house trim shop. A replacement Fiat twin-cam engine was sourced and rebuilt to produce 180bhp. After 2 weeks, Paul is brought into the workshop to be reunited with the car – which has been painted black with thick silver stripes down either side, set off with BBS alloy wheels, racing seats and over 1000 hours worth of work from Lotus. Gavan takes Paul back out for another spin on the track – the car looks very composed even on the wet track, easily powersliding around corners and spinning the wheels up in 3rd gear. Proof that any car can be turned into a decent Driver’s Car… however Jeremy reveals the work done by Lotus would have usually cost £100,000.

In the news, Jeremy starts with the subject of parking – mentioning the fact that footballer Rio Ferdinand recently got a £40 ticket for not parking within the lines of a parking space. Richard mentions the new Citroen Berlingo Multispace – a car that Jeremy loved in the very first episode, and Jason Dawe introduces the new Vauxhall Astra. In the previous episode, the team set out to find Britain’s fastest faith – and now they want to find Britain’s fastest white van driver. After asking for applicants, Top Gear literally received thousands of replies. After they “weeded out the psychotics” and were left with 5 people. Don, Roger, John, Dale and Steve are all introduced. The van being used to lap the track is the Ford WRC Transit van – 200bhp with race spec wheels, brakes and suspension. Dale won with a time of 2:02, Steve came second and Roger third. Don ended up getting lost and returning a time of over 4 minutes.

Richard reflects on the birth of the “Super Mini” cars, alluding to the fact that cars have gotten fatter and more heavy over the years – and decides to compare a few. First off Richard tests a Ford Fiesta 1.4. While it does have an ugly dashboard, Richard says it’s a great drive. Next up is the Citroen C3 – the spiritual successor to the old 2CV. The car feels light and airy, while riding smooth and comfortably. Richard felt the Fiesta was a bit dull, but that the C3 has a lot more personality. The Honda Jazz is next – a car that is literally flying out of the showrooms. For it’s size, Richard is surprised with the sheer amount of space inside the car, however sounds a bit boomy in the cabin because of that. The Nissan Micra is also brought into the fray – a car that relies on gadgets to win over buyers. It is cheap though – for the cost of a base model Jazz, you can get a fully optioned Micra. To get a bit of 80’s small car fizz and crackle though, you’ll need to look at the MG ZR. The ZR is far more flamboyant than the other cars with it’s “look at me” styling. Richard describes it as far closer to the old original Super Mini’s. The car looks very dated inside, however the car feels purposeful and well set up – a fun car. Back in the Studio – the Honda Jazz wins in practicality and the MG ZR wins for sporty-ness.

Jeremy introduces the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car, Sir Michael Gambon. Despite almost rolling the car on the final corner, he manages a 1:55.00 on a wet track. Following this incident, the final corner was renamed “Gambon” in his honour. On his second appearance in Series 8, Michael admitted he was now “a household name because of the corner”.

Jason Dawe presents Insider Dealing with some good deals on used cars.

Jeremy takes the new Maserati Coupé out for a power test on the track. The styling of the Coupe has been around for a while already, which the new rear lights don’t exactly help. The new 4.2L V8 under the bonnet develops nearly 400bhp.. with Jeremy suggesting it’s not enough in this day of age – the car also runs a flappy paddle gearbox, much to his delight. The suspension is also far too soft and sloppy, even when set to “Sport” mode. Worryingly, it also becomes uncontrollable when driven at the limit with the Traction control turned off. Jeremy admits, “This then, is not a sports car. Frankly you’re more likely to find a sports car if you turn over and watch Monarch of the Glen or Heartbeat”. But perhaps it’s been designed to go up against Jaguar instead? This clearly isn’t true either, with a lack of opulence inside the cabin, narrow seats and no sense of well being. Jeremy concludes, “You know what this is, it’s a £60,000 Mr Nearly car. It’s stuck in a no mans land between the Jaguar rock, and the Ferrari hard place”. The Stig takes the Coupe for a lap around a wet track – returning a disappointing 1:38.00.

Stig Power Laps

Audi RS6
1:33.00 (wet)
Mercedes E55
1:35.50 (wet)
Maserati Coupé
1:38.00 (wet)

Star in a Reasonably Priced Car

Sir Michael Gambon
1:55.00 (wet)


02:20 – 00:00 ? (Audi RS6)
22:28 – 00:00 ? (Citroen C3)
47:15 – 47:40 ?


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