Start Your Engines! Behind The Scenes Facts Of Top Gear

Top Gear was originally a 1977 30-minute long magazine television show on BBC that showed off cars and their features to the audience. Although the show did well for itself for a time, it was revitalized in a new format in 2002 starring Jeremy Clarkson, quickly becoming one of the longest-watched shows on the network and the most-watched show in history. With the focus still on cars, the new series added entertaining hosts, road challenges, and other entertaining aspects that made it so popular. Take a look under the hood for some behind the scenes facts about the series that even the biggest car fanatics don’t know.

Jeremy Clarkson Brought Both Death And Life To The Show

Picture of Jeremy Clarkson
Hannah Peters/Getty Images
Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Host Jeremy Clarkson joined the Top Gear team in 1988 when it was still in its original format as a half-hour motoring magazine show. Because of the show, Clarkson made a name for himself, which gave way to bigger and better opportunities, leading him to quit the show in 1999 to follow his television career.

Yet, when he left, the show’s audiences plummeted from 6 million viewers to just 3 million. Luckily, when he returned 3 years later in 2002 with the show’s new format, it shot back up in popularity once again.

The Test Track Is Daunting For A Reason

Picture of the track
David Goddard/Getty Images
David Goddard/Getty Images

Easily one of the most recognizable aspects of the show, the test track has seen plenty of celebrities strap on helmets and go on the ride of their life (with a fair amount of curse words added).

Yet, there is a reason that this track is so intimidating to most. It’s because it was designed by Lotus Cars as a testing facility, where they test many of their Formula One cars, so the track can’t be a walk in the park for the car or their drivers. Plus, it makes for some great television.

The Crashes Are Real And Have Been Life-Threatening

Picture of Vampire dragster
BBC
BBC

In 2006, co-host Richard Hammond, known as the Hamster, was in a high-speed crash when driving the jet-powered Vampire dragster. Hammond was raveling at an unbelievable 314 mph at one point before he crashed, going 288 mph.

The crash was so severe that it seemed all hope was lost. After being airlifted to Leeds General Infirmary, he was in an induced coma for two weeks, leading him to miss the rest of the season. Apparently, the cause of the crash had been due to a blown-out tire and would have been worse had he been a little taller.

The Song Behind The Opening Credits

Picture of the Allman Brothers Band
GAB Archive/Redferns
GAB Archive/Redferns

Anyone that watches Top Gear on a regular basis probably has probably had the song in the opening credits stuck in their heads at least once. Well, if you were ever wondering what the name of the song is, it’s called “Jessica,” and was written by the Allman Brothers Band back in 1973.

The song was a major hit and was only played with two fingers as a tribute to the jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. While the show initially used the Allman Brothers’ version, they later recorded their own for the program.

Jeremy Clarkson Ran Into Some Issues

Picture of Jeremy Clarkson
Andrey Pronin/NurPhoto/Corbis via Getty Images
Andrey Pronin/NurPhoto/Corbis via Getty Images

In 2015, fans were up-in-arms when they learned that the face of the show, Jeremy Clarkson, was being let go from Top Gear. However, it wasn’t for no reason. Back in 2014, Clarkson was already playing with fire with the producers.

The reason being for making a questionable comment on the “Burma Special” episode, saying another derogatory word off-camera, and literally being chased by a riot out of Argentina. Yet, the straw that broke the camel’s back was when physically assaulted producer Oisin Tymon.

Clarkson Rose From The Ashes

Picture of Jeremy Clarkson
Awakening/GC Images
Awakening/GC Images

Even though Clarkson was fired from Top Gear for several reasons, Amazon Studios saw this as an opportunity and picked him up for a revival show titled The Grand Tour. While on BBC, Top Gear had a budget of around $556,000 per episode, but with Amazon, the budget was drastically increased from $1.2 to $4.9 million an episode.

According to Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos, the initial price for the show’s license was $160 million, but Amazon fought for it, eventually spending $250 million.

The Hosts Make A Pretty Penny, Especially Jeremy Clarkson

Picture of Jeremy Clarkson
STEFAN HEUNIS/AFP via Getty Images
STEFAN HEUNIS/AFP via Getty Images

Since Top Gear has had such an incredible run and impressive viewership for so many years, it’s no surprise that presenters are well compensated for their work. However, since Jeremy Clarkson had been there the longest, he was obviously paid more, with a salary of around $4 million.

While that may seem rather modest, that’s far from how much he actually earned. Clarkson also owned 30% of Top Gear and made more than enough of his fair share of bonuses and dividends from the show. It’s estimated that the host’s total net worth is somewhere around $60 million.

Another Show Tried To Steal Top Gear’s Name

Fifth gear promo
Channel 5
Channel 5

When Top Gear was canceled in 2001, Channel Five came up with Fifth Gear, another British motoring series that was essentially the same thing as Top Gear. The show even had three of Top Gear’s previous presenters and wanted to buy the name of Top Gear desperately, but BBC refused.

Although Fifth Gear ran until 2012, it was eventually canceled, rebooted, and canceled again in 2016 due to a lack of funding. This is for the better because we wouldn’t have been given the Top Gear that we know today.

The Identity Of “The Stig”

Picture of The Stig
Ollie Millington/Getty Images
Ollie Millington/Getty Images

Fans of Top Gear will know that the character “The Stig” is a mute, anonymous driver that keeps his identity a secret, showing up to perform stunts when nobody else wants to. The Stig was the idea of executive producer Andy Wilman, with his purpose being to add some comic relief to the program.

Over the course of the show, there have been three different people as The Stig. In order, they have been, Perry McCarthy for the first 22 episodes of the relaunch, Ben Collins from 2003 to 2010, and the current Stig’s identity remains a secret.

James May Wasn’t Initially Going To Be On The Show

Picture of James May
Brendon Thorne/Getty Images
Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

Unknown to most, starting in 2002, James May wasn’t actually interested in being a co-presenter on the show alongside Richard Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson. When May declined the invitation, the show hired on Jason Dawe, although Dawe wasn’t on the show for long.

Apparently, many fans of the show found him boring, and after the success of the new series, James May expressed his desire to present. Jason Dawe then went on to present Used Car Roadshow in 2005, but it was canceled after just two years.

Clarkson Was Disappointed In One Of His Dream Cars

Picture of a GT40
Michael Cole/Corbis via Getty Images
Michael Cole/Corbis via Getty Images

While being a part of Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson really wanted to get his hands on a Ford GT40 for his own personal use. Luckily for him, he was able to get on the shortlist for the limited cars that were being imported into Britain through his connections with Ford’s head of public relations.

After years of waiting, he finally received the car only to be disappointed. He called it “the most miserable month’s motoring possible,” returning it to Ford for a full refund.

Richard Hammond Made Enough Money To Abandon A Porsche On The Side Of The Road

Richard Hammond on a motorcycle
NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images
NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images

As the story goes, co-star Richard Hammond was once caught in a massive traffic jam as a result of devastating floods. At the time, he happened to be driving a fancy Porsche, and rather than be late to his daughter’s 4th birthday, he left the car on the side of the road and proceeded to get home over 16 more miles!

Hammond had been driving from London to Herefordshire where they were shooting the show when he was stuck in the flood. He had already been in the car for 12 hours, so decided to leave his 1997, 911 Carrera and run home instead.

No, The Presenters Don’t Get Free Cars

Picture of Top Gear hosts
Wayne Coetzee/Gallo Images/Getty Images
Wayne Coetzee/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Although it may seem like it, hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May don’t get free cars from the companies that they have on the show. This may seem strange, considering that what they say about particular vehicles can make or break the car’s value.

Nevertheless, this is due to the strict BBC regulations that are set in place. Otherwise, car companies might be inclined to gift them a card in return for a positive review. Regardless, all three of the show’s stars have impressive car collections of their own. Unfortunately, they have to purchase them with their own Top Gear money.

Richard Hammond Was Almost Replaced

Picture of Richard Hammond
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

It’s no secret that audiences love the chemistry that Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May have in front of the camera. That doesn’t mean that the show isn’t without controversy behind the scenes.

After the first 2002 season, BBC began playing with the idea of letting Richard Hammond go in order to make room for a female presenter. When this caught wind of the producer, Clarkson, and May, it didn’t go over well, and they quickly shot the idea out of the sky.

Episodes Are Rarely Under Budget

Picture of cast
wallpaperspic/Pinterest
wallpaperspic/Pinterest

Just like any other television series, Top Gear has a budget that it is expected to follow for each episode. Yet, with a show like Top Gear that involves extensive planning, expensive cars, celebrities, and stunts, so one can imagine that the budget is never low.

Even though the producers are usually given more than they need to make an entertaining episode, Top Gear has been known to go more than six figures over budget on an episode. Of course, Jeremy Clarkson wishes that money was never an issue.

The Show Is In the Guinness Book of World Records

Picture of the cast
Dave M. Benett/Getty Images
Dave M. Benett/Getty Images

Top Gear is in the Guinness Book of World Records, but not exactly for the reason most people might think. In 2013, the Guinness Book of World Records named the show the “Most widely watched factual TV program in the world.” The show is viewed in 212 countries in territories worldwide, including several places that most people wouldn’t expect.

Unsurprisingly, the show has also set some records for driving, such as the first double loop-the-loop, longest-ever slot car track, jump in reverse, and the number of times a car rolled at high speeds.

There Are Rules For Celebrity Guests And Audience Members

Picture of Matt LaBlanc
Neil Mockford/Alex Huckle/GC Images
Neil Mockford/Alex Huckle/GC Images

Top Gear is both an informational and entertaining program, with each episode always trying to make it more engaging than the last. One of their methods for doing this is bringing celebrity guests onto the show.

Although there’s no shortage of guests, the celebrities have to follow certain rules, which are to use preapproved jokes, never swearing, and no interview do-overs. Of course, audience members must also follow the rules, which are to laugh when told, no recording, and if you’re unlucky enough to be standing, you must do so at all times.

Good Luck Getting Tickets To The Show

Picture of audience
BBC
BBC

Whether you’re an auto enthusiast or not, getting tickets to the show is no easy task. Amazingly, the wait time to be an audience member in the studio is longer than any show on history, with around 336,000 people actually on the list.

By estimation, if you were to get on the waitlist now, you’d be waiting approximately 21 years to be a face in the audience. In the meantime, you might want to start buying lottery tickets because you might have a better chance.

The Hosts Aren’t As Funny As They May Seem

Picture of the hosts
Ferdaus Shamim/WireImage
Ferdaus Shamim/WireImage

Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond were beloved hosts of Top Gear, always entertaining audiences with their humor and knowledge of cars. They’re so good, in fact, that it almost seems like there isn’t a script at all, but that isn’t the case.

While the hosts are funny in their own right, the script is created by a team of talented writers behind the scenes that formulate the basic outline of a script for the presenters to follow.

Controversy Between New Hosts

Picture of Matt Le Blanc and Chris Evans
Neil Mockford/Alex Huckle/GC Images
Neil Mockford/Alex Huckle/GC Images

After Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond left Top Gear; the drama didn’t stop. New hosts were brought on who included Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc, but the two didn’t necessarily mesh.

Things were off to a bad start before the show even started when Chris Evans made it clear that he did not want LeBlanc as his co-host. Even though Chris Evans still had two years left on his Top Gear contract, he disliked working with LeBlanc so much that he left the show in July 2016.