I love Top Gear. It's a
perfect blend of information, entertainment, action, and comedy hosted
by a trio of Brits who have great on screen chemistry. The main draw
however is that the show is very clever. It offers so many thrills and
laughs that you hardly notice that they are throwing in a lot of
information about automobiles the whole time. It's great. That's why I
was excited to finally see Top Gear:
The Worst Car in the History of the World, a direct to video
special that was released in the UK at the end of last year (just in
time for Christmas) but hadn't made it to R1 until now. Early on in the
show, they define what they're looking for; not the crappiest car to
ever roll off an assembly line but the car that doesn't come close to
meeting expectations. The car that fails when it should have. Based on
that criterion, I'm sad to report that this release is the worst Top
Gear special in the history of the world. It drags and takes pointless
detours, isn't very funny, and has a very weak ending. In other words,
it's just not clever; and that's what you're paying for.
Background: For those who
haven't heard of the program, Top
Gear is one of the most popular (if not the most popular) shows in the
world, syndicated in 170 countries and earning an estimated 350 million
viewers per episode. That's 5% of the entire population of planet
Earth. Pretty impressive. Yet the show is so simple: three hosts review
very high end sports cars and put both new and used cars through their
paces in a series of bizarre, yet incredibly fun, tasks (like having a
one mile race between a fighter jet and a supercar over a ... the jet's
had to travel vertically while the car was taking on a horizontal
Unfortunately, this special stumbles right out of the gate by omitting
one of the hosts of the TV series, Richard Hammond. This show only
features James May and Jeremy Clarkson, which is too bad because
Hammond really adds a lot of personality to the mix and his boyish
charm and enthusiasm offsets May's rather dry technical ramblings and
Clarkson's grumpy old man persona.
Even without Hammond, the special has a great premise. What is the
worst car ever? They start off with profiling two vehicles that no one
has ever heard of, one made behind the Iron Curtain years and years ago
and a Jeep clone that went horribly wrong. Then they clarify what
they're looking for: it's not which car is total rubbish, there are
plenty of low cost options to choose from, but which car was really
disappointing when it shouldn't have been. Which company that usually
manufactures excellent cars took a horrible misstep?
After setting up what they were looking for, I spent a lot of the rest
of the running time scratching my head. If they were focusing on bad
cars, why is half of the show given over to reviewing great vehicle?
They put a few sports cars through their paces while singing their
praises and bragging that they can were the new tires out in 25
minutes. The show doesn't have much focus at all.
The rest of the time they do profile cars that didn't make the grade...
sort of. Sometimes it's hard to understand what was wrong with a car.
The Ford GT was seemingly in the show because it was too wide, one
car's list of defects was that it came with a cassette tape player, and
a certain Rolls Royce was critiqued for being hand made and so
"replacement parts never seemed to fit properly." The also dissed a
Ford Escort, which seemed like shooting fish in a barrel.
Most of the time the car reviews were done while flying around a track,
which became a bit monotonous after a while. So to break it up a bit,
the two hosts played golf for a while, talking about cars while they
did. Is that really much better??
They did have a mini contest in the program where they created course
and pitted two older, very large, American cars, a Lincoln Continental
and a Buick LeSabre, against... a modern BMW M5. The track was filled
with ordeals that were designed for the big boats to fail, which made
the test even more idiotic. Does anyone really think a Continental Mark
IV is going to be able to do donuts?? It would have been much more
interesting to compare those cars to a contemporary Rolls but as it
stands the whole section was sort of pointless. The fact that it went
on for eight grueling minutes (the whole show run 73 minutes so it was
a good chunk of the program) added to the whole feeling that they were
just looking to fill time.
That's not to say the show was all bad. There were some good segments
that were entertaining and informative. One candidate was a convertible
Citroen where the method for putting the top down was absurdly
complicated and involved removing parts of the car. The horrible thing
is that the parts that were removed wouldn't fit in the car itself, so
if you traveled some place with the top down, you couldn't put it up
when you arrived. (Which really sucks if it starts to rain.) There was
also a very fun part where James May tried to park a Saab with their
Sensonic transmission. It was an interesting manual/automatic hybrid
where you could change gears with the stick shift, but there wasn't a
clutch. The car operated that automatically. It worked perfectly as
long as you were driving. If you had to do something a bit complicated
however, like trying to parallel park on a hill, it made the task
There was something akin to a running gag throughout the show too. The
two hosts kept on cryptically referring to the fate they had planned
for the winning vehicle. I won't ruin the surprise, but due to the big
buildup I was hoping that the payoff would be funny and entertaining.
Something more than just dropping a piano or some other object on the
car (they've done that several times in the show.) While they didn't
drop anything on the car they ultimately chose, the fate of that
vehicle was incredibly lame. It was the final let down in a show that
could have been so much better.
The stereo sound is very good, with a fair amount of separation between
the two channels, but I would have enjoyed a dedicated subwoofer
channel to get more of the growl from some of the more energetic
engines that they test.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic image looks very good. The colors are sharp, the
lines are tight, and the blacks are nice and inky. It's an excellent
Nothing at all.
Like a few of the cars they profiled, this special was a big
disappointment. It wasn't clever like the TV show. Though the premise
was fantastic they didn't keep to the point and kept on taking long and
pointless detours that had little to do with really crappy cars. (Does
anyone really want to see the hosts playing golf?) If you've never seen
the TV show, pick up a season of that instead. On the other hand if
you're a huge fan of the TV show, as I am, you might want to give this
a rental. But maybe not.