Top Gear fans visiting Beaulieu will feel like it’s Christmas all over again as, for an extra special (and very belated) festive present, all four of the vehicles from the presenters’ Christmas Special India Challenge have been unwrapped in the visitor attraction’s World of Top Gear exhibition this week.
Following a statement from Prime Minister David Cameron that Britain should do more trade with India, Top Gear decided to help with this aspiration. Despite strong discouragement from Mr Cameron himself, Jeremy, Richard and James set off on an epic road trip armed only with three old British cars, some proudly British products, and a wildly uncontrollable lawnmower.
Along the way they attempted to reinvent Dabbawalla deliveries (which went badly), advertise Britain on the side of a train (which went badly) and stage a glamourous ambassadorial reception (which went very badly).
Now on display in World of Top Gear is the actual Jaguar XJS driven by Jeremy Clarkson for this special challenge. It is the rare and desirable ‘Celebration’ model, built to commemorate 60 years of Jaguar and was in excellent condition before several other motorists decided to drive into it and before Jeremy equipped it with larger tyres which didn’t fit properly. Jeremy’s car can be recognised by its distinctive exhaust pipes exiting directly through the bonnet, which make a huge amount of noise when the engine is running, but on the plus side, do permit the playing of Straight Six Cricket.
Parked up alongside the Jaguar is the actual Mini Cooper driven across India by Jeremy’s colleague, Richard Hammond. It is a late example of the original Mini and the wider wheel arches indicate that it was fitted with the optional Sport Pack. Some contemporary commentators felt that this option spoilt the ride, and Richard agreed with them, although it should be noted that he was carrying an inadvisably tall and heavy roof rack full of Indian food at the time. Upon closer inspection, the entire front end of this car appears to be held on with cable ties and advanced levels of bodgery – a repair that was necessary after the wings and bonnet were ripped off by a winch.
Completing the trio’s Christmas Special line-up is James May’s actual Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow. The lack of a lower front spoiler indicates that this is an mk1 Shadow, whilst the colourful decoration marks it out as a car that has been customised by a floppy haired man who, at the time, thought he was George Harrison. The damage to the offside rear door was caused by an ‘oaf’ in a small digger, whilst the slightly sweaty smell permeating the interior is the result of what Mr May describes as “two idiots” deliberately breaking the air-conditioning system.
Also on display is the actual Austin Allegro 1300 Super bought by the Top Gear office as the ever-feared ‘forfeit car’. To the producers’ dismay and disbelief, not one of the presenters’ cars malfunctioned during the lengthy road trip across the vast sub-continent and therefore no forfeit was incurred. This was especially bad news for Greg from the Top Gear office, who had to drive the Allegro across the searing landscape of India with the heater on full blast to prevent the ailing A-series engine from boiling over, marking the first recorded occasion of a forfeit car being less reliable than the impractical machines bought by Jeremy, Richard and James.
The World of Top Gear features a collection of cars, created by the presenters for some of their most ambitious challenges on the TV show over the years. Exhibition highlights include the Top Gear ‘Enormodrome’ which recreates the feel of the Top Gear studio, where the TV show is filmed in front of a live audience.
Regular features from the programme including the Cool Wall and the Celebrity ‘Lap Times’ board which is kept up to date in line with the show. Visitors can also watch behind-the-scenes footage of the Top Gear production zone and clips of some of the best Top Gear moments.
World of Top Gear can be viewed as part of a visit to the whole Beaulieu attraction, which includes the National Motor Museum with its collection of over 250 vehicles, the brand new BOND IN MOTION exhibition which showcases 50 original vehicles from the James Bond films, Palace House, home of the Montagu family since 1538 and the 13th century Beaulieu Abbey.