Ok, so we’ve got past the surprisingly quiet and designated Christmas special, it’s time for the actual special, the whole reason that Top Gear got so massive to begin with. The massive road trips. These episodes were the best of the series and even got people that didn’t watch the regular series to watch. Whether they were getting chased by Rednecks in America, riding bikes in Vietnam or almost dying in the Andes, they were truly epic spectacles. So there’s a lot of pressure on The Grand Tour‘s first epic road trip – The Beach (Buggy) Boys.
The trio love the fact that in the 1960’s, Americans turned a symbol of Nazism, the Volkswagen Beetle, into fun beach buggies which then became symbols of the counter culture. However Mr Wilman believes they are crap, so the trio aim to prove him wrong by travelling across the rather deserty country of Namibia.
And I’ll admit, this is an incredibly hard episode of television to review mainly because these specials usually fit a formula. The trio have a bunch of cars that are objectively crap but you can’t help but warm to, they go through some of the toughest environments on Earth that these crap cars should not be able to conquer, and the trio aim to wind each other up as much as possible.
And to be honest, all of this is done very well. Ok, I will admit that the buggies never did anything for me. Sure they look like quite a bit of fun, but I struggle to remember them after the episode is over. I can distinctly remember many of the other iconic vehicles that have been through this special such as Jeremy’s Range Rover from Bolivia and of course Oliver from Botswana. But apart from the very vivid paintwork on Jeremy’s buggy, they aren’t exactly vehicles you’ll fall in love with like you have done in the others.
But that really is the only flaw. as Namibia really shows up to be beautiful and also an incredibly tough obstacle. It does start off a bit weak as Clarkson, Hammond and May getting lost in the Namib desert just seems like a way to extend this into a two-parter, but it soon becomes very good indeed. The massive dunes are genuinely jaw dropping and seeing the home made buggies go down looks like a mixture of terrifying and the most fun thing ever. When they are out of desert, the incredibly tough roads become the main obstacle as they tear apart the three buggies. It is engaging television as you wonder whether or not this is it for them.
Of course, the best part of these specials is not the cars, but the genuine friendship between the trio. And you can tell it’s real as they constantly wind each other up and actively make each of their lives a little worse. Ok, it is a bit disappointing there was no follow up to fish guts being ‘accidentally’ left in Hammond’s buggy, but everything else was great. Clarkson and May basically deciding they were going to glamp rather than Hammond’s love for ‘tenting’, attaching Hammond’s buggy to a helicopter to give him a terrifying start to the day and May’s re-design of Clarkson’s buggy, which ended up setting fire to his own. It was delightful, hilarious and felt natural, truly the best that The Grand Tour can do.
And really, that’s all I can say. The Grand Tour is a very tough TV show to write about because of the formulas it uses to great effect and that the variety can be quite limited when they are doing road shows. It is also tough to write about shows that just manage to get things right without much of a fuss. And that’s what The Grand Tour has been doing, even if this is probably the best pair of episodes they have done since the show started.