4 Things We Want To See From The Final Grand Tour Special

Ahead of Amazon’s car show coming to an end, we consider what we think would make the final episode as good as it could be
The Grand Tour: A Scandi Flick
The Grand Tour: A Scandi Flick

We don’t know a whole lot yet about the upcoming special that will conclude eight years of The Grand Tour, Amazon’s successor to Clarkson/Hammond/May era Top Gear. We know it takes place in Zimbabwe, we know it’ll air at some point later this year, and, thanks to some behind-the-scenes images, we know what cars it’ll feature (more on that below).

Apart from that, we’re in the dark. Fresh from the debut of the penultimate episode, Sand Job, we’ve had a bit of a think about what we’d like to see from the final episode, which will wrap up over two decades of car TV fronted by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.

It goes without saying, but here’s your fair warning anyway: this article contains spoilers for The Grand Tour: Sand Job, as well as the upcoming Zimbabwe special.

A return to cheaper, older cars

The earlier Top Gear specials followed the formula laid out by the regular show’s cheap car challenges: the presenters were given a pithy sum of money and told to buy a car. This led to some pretty memorable, plucky cars: Clarkson’s breakdown-prone Lancia Beta, May’s remarkably tough Volvo 850R and, of course, Oliver, the Opel Kadett. The fact that the three presenters tended to gravitate towards very different types of cars often lent the episodes a pleasingly mismatched, ramshackle feel too.

The Grand Tour: Carnage a Trois
The Grand Tour: Carnage a Trois

The idea of having a budget was quietly dropped for the Patagonia special, something that was carried over to The Grand Tour. It reached the point with Sand Job where they were traversing the Sahara desert in a selection of professionally modified, fairly modern open-top grand tourers. While it was deeply impressive to see the sort of abuse these complex cars could stand up to, it also felt a little like they lacked a little of the personality of some of the older, more beat-up cars seen in earlier specials (Hammond’s sentient Aston Martin notwithstanding).

Obviously, it’s far harder now to pick up interesting cars for a couple of grand than it was even five years ago, but even so, a return to some older, less high-end metal wouldn’t go amiss. Happily, it seems our wishes might be granted on this one: the few behind-the-scenes shots that have emerged of the Zimbabwe episode show that the featured cars are a Lancia Beta Montecarlo, Ford Capri and Triumph Stag.

Less predictability

Look, we’re not here to moan about either Top Gear or The Grand Tour being ‘too scripted’. That dead horse has been well and truly beaten by people on the internet, and quite frankly, anyone who truly believed either show was a free-flowing, non-scripted slice of reality in their latter years probably needs to take a good long look at themselves.

The Grand Tour: Lochdown
The Grand Tour: Lochdown

We mean the things that are included in those scripts. A perilous water crossing was entertaining when it was on a shaky homemade raft in Tanzania, but after building a rickety bridge over the River Kok in Thailand and a ‘floating road’ across a sound in Scotland, it’s diminishing returns each time, until we arrive at the rafts used to cross the river near the end of Sand Job. It’s entertaining, but we can’t help feeling we’ve been here before.

The TG and TGT specials have always leaned into set pieces like these, but the most memorable ones tend to be the least expected: a cow on the roof of a Chevrolet Camaro, a race around an ancient Roman chariot arena, a terrible waxwork of Nigel Mansell being met with misfortune after hilarious misfortune – you get the point.

More beauty and culture

Farcical and chaotic as they can be, Top Gear and The Grand Tour’s specials have always made a point of showing off the natural beauty, local flavour and welcoming people of the countries they visit. You can see it everywhere from the American South to the Scottish Highlands, but it’s most prominent in countries where most viewers’ perceptions are coloured by either what they’ve seen on the news or been told about in history lessons: Vietnam, Iraq, Rwanda and so on.

The Grand Tour: A Massive Hunt
The Grand Tour: A Massive Hunt

In other cases, it’s nations that we simply don’t really know anything about. We couldn’t have told you much about Mauritania before we watched Sand Job, but one of the absolute highlights of the episode was when the trio visited the capital city, Nouakchott, and looked at some of the astoundingly clapped-out cars that are kept on the road.

The big specials have always been filled with absolutely stunning scenery too – again, we direct you to the ending sequence of Sand Job, with the cars flying down the beach to the epic soundtrack of M83’s ‘Outro’. We hope for, and expect, more of the same from the Zimbabwe episode. The specials have always done a brilliant job of making the setting feel like an active part of the show, not just a backdrop.

A proper send-off

Once the Zimbabwe special is out, it’ll be the first time since 2003 that there hasn’t been a car show presented by Clarkson, Hammond and May either on TV or in the works (barring a few months of uncertainty in 2015 following Clarkson’s dismissal from the BBC). That’s a significant thing for a good couple of generations of car enthusiasts who grew up watching them, and whose car enthusiasm might not have burned as bright without hearing the opening riff of ‘Jessica’ on a Sunday evening or eagerly waiting for the new Grand Tour episode to drop.

The Grand Tour: Seamen
The Grand Tour: Seamen

It’s not really the trio’s style to get overly sappy about this sort of thing, but it would be remiss of them to not at least acknowledge the impact they’ve had on car culture for the last two decades.

We got something similar at the end of the final studio episode of The Grand Tour, but even then we already knew we had a few more years’ worth of specials to look forward to. This time, it’s a much more significant ending and, with Top Gear’s future totally up in the air, it means there’ll be no broadly popular big-budget car telly at all for the first time in a long time. That’ll be a strange thing indeed, and we hope it’s treated with the gravity it deserves.


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