Top Gear Live – The Prototype Tour. Burswood dome, Perth.

Back in the early 90’s Top Gear was just another scarcely watched program that fitted the BBC’s mantra of servicing the telivision needs of the many people. It was cheap to make and nobody watched it, but that was alright because the BBC could sit back and say that they were catering for the desires of the British motoring public.

Fast forward another decade and some chap named Jeremy Clarkson has waltzed onto the scene. Along with his cohorts James May and Richard Hammond, Clarkson has spearheaded Top Gear’s rise to the top as a general entertainment program. So much so that Top Gear is now the most watched television program in the world – and I know that’s true because Tony Iffland, general manager of BBC Worldwide Australia, told me over dinner before the show.

So the problem you’ve got now is that your television show has been syndicated around the world, and the clothing and knick-knack market is now saturated with your merchandise. Bookstores are full of your branded paperbacks. But you still have the nagging feeling that you could extract even more cash out of your concept. Ah, a worldwide tour of live shows! That’ll raise those extra dollars!

So when Top Gear came to Australia, albeit 3,500km away on the other side of the country, we just had to be there! For those that didn’t go, this is what the show looked like….

For me, Top Gear Live started at a swanky corporate function in the grand ballroom of the Burswood casino. The food was delicious, the wine superb and the live band provided a fun atmosphere. They even delved into the Top Gear theme song on more than one occasion.

But the highlight of this dinner was an appearance by Mr Clarkson himself, who began by insulting members of the audience…

… and then settling into a brief Q&A with Top Gear Australia host (and Kenny star) Shane Jacobson. It was rather eerie, it was just like watching TV but there he was, just a few metres away. Although in live he can get away with a little more than on the tellie – we now know that Clarkson thinks Angelina Jolie’s gynaecologist has a better job than him. Make of that what you will.

The show started with Clarkson and May entering the arena by doing doughnuts in Aussie V8’s, typical. Then there was the usual horsing about, as per television usual.

For what it’s worth, I’d have to say that James May is my favourite of the three. I’ve lately been watching him in a series he did with wine expert Oz Clarke where they travelled around California tasting wine, and I’ve gotta say that I’ve probably been enjoying that series just as much as Top Gear. ‘Oz and James’ Big Wine Adventure Live’? Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it…

Anyway, moving along.

The best way of describing the show is that it is very ‘Hollywood’. The first ‘act’, if you will, was loosely based around the space race, with stunt drivers performing very accurate and well timed handbrakies in these highly modified Ford Fiesta’s. And yes, I did spend most of the act studying the rear quarter panels and catching glimpses of the dashboards to determine that they’re Fiestas. Need. To. Get. Out. More.

The running sheet that we couldn’t see showed that the challenge was up next…. who could make the fastest car using household whitegoods?Jacobson raced this articulated ironing board contraption…While May had ‘built’ this car made from washing machines. The old drums as wheels were a nice touch, although they were very loud as it drove around.The most outlandish vehicle was of course reserved for Clarkson, who’s V12 blender powered contraption was steered by a Dyson upright vacuum and gained power from it’s 160m long extension cord. All things being equal, this was actually pretty funny to watch.

More stunt driving followed, with a loose storyline based around some kid stealing his Dad’s black Mustang and getting caught up in a street race. He sucks as a driver, so the Stig comes along and helps him win by transforming it into a newer white Shelby with weird ass body modifications.One of the cars used in this sequence was a Ferrari F430 Spider. Except it didn’t sound quite right. It never really got a chance to rev out much in the area……and proportionally it looked a little off. I think it’s too narrow, and the rear quarter panels aren’t quite right. It’s a very good replica, I think with a few genuine body parts, but I’m happy that it’s not a real one.This was further confirmed by the seats and interior. Not legit.I wasn’t sure about the R35 GTR either, but it looks genuine up close. Maybe it’s just the small size of the 18″ Rays Gramlights messing with the lines. Retrospective Googling tells me it’s actually prepared in the UK by JRM, who the trainspotters amongst you will know field a pair of official Nismo backed R35’s in the FIA GT1 World Championship. They must have done some tricky shit to make it do the things it does in the show – there’s no drive to the front wheels anymore to enable it to drift, god knows what that makes the computers do.

I’d be keen to know the history of the RX8 in the show, it had a very serious looking roll cage and a pair of winged Corbeau seats. It no doubt has some interesting race history before becoming a Top Gear hack.

A trials rider performed some incredibly balanced stunts on this JCB digger as it drove around the arena. The JCB looked plain evil – I’d seriously become a tractor driver if I could drive this thing around.

For me this was the highlight of the show – the time when they simply paraded some mouth watering supercars around. I think it deserves it’s own separate post, so sit tight. You should all be able to pick the silhouette of this one, though.

More horsing around, with the boys discovering the heat insulation properties of pizza.

In the next act, matte black painted Porsche 996’s drove around trailing flames…This was honestly enough to make any Porsche purist wince. The sound of the flat 6 wailing as they slid and drifted around was sad to hear, like the uncomfortable screams of a crying puppy dog. I guess it’s just a reflection of used 996 values in the UK these days.

The game of car soccer was widely advertised, and to be honest I didn’t think it would be a particular highlight for me. But I was surprised, it was actually a lot of fun to watch. And it actually held all the suspense and action of a real soccer game.If you squinted your eyes you almost could have been at a real match.Three Reliant Robins and a Land Crab on the English team, three Robins and a HQ ute on the Aussie team. Unsurprisingly the Robin’s rolled often……but there were plenty of staff on hand to roll them back over.Australia won. Staged or not, it was good fun to watch.Clarkson commentated whilst James jumped in one of the Robin’s for the game.

In the final act of the show, The Stig stole ‘The Prototype’ (get it, the name of the show…) and evaded capture by the security guards who were driving Fiesta’s.I’m not sure what ‘The Prototype’ was, but my guess is that the chassis would be one of the new generation of British track day specials, something like a Radical.It was powered by a rather angry sounding 4 cylinder, and it was transparent. Not quite sure about that roof line, however…It freaked the hell out of me when some of the Fiesta’s split into two. It’s an old trick, but it was executed flawlessly and it was very effective.I saw the jockey wheels under the car and figured they were to help it slide. I didn’t see the split coming.

All up I found the show to be an interesting mix. It’s certainly not a targeted niche show for car enthusiasts – it’s a mass market performance much the way Crusty Demons or Australian Idol is. It was very ‘Hollywood’, but at the end of the day it was exactly like it’s television counterpart – it was entertaining and relaxing to watch. And what’s more, it was fun to watch. Would I go see the next Top Gear show? Probably not, I guess I’d spend the time and money seeing some proper racing or attending a car show. But I’m certainly glad I saw it this time as it was a really enjoyable way to spend an evening. I’m all for experiencing as many different aspects of car culture as possible, so with this mindset I recommend it to anyone.

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