28 Jan 2013

Top Gear is back, which is good because...

The British Motoring scene can be a very staid one so it was good to see the return of Top Gear to our television screens last night.

Most UK motoring magazines and websites present motoring as a nerdy, technical subject in which facts and figures and feel through the butt-cheeks and fingertips are the be all and end all of motoring journalism.  Indeed, with the honourable exceptions of www.sniffpetrol.com (itself written by one of the Top Gear team) and Car Throttle the vast majority of mainstream UK motoring content wouldn't recognise fun if it bit it on the arse.

The magazines, and their subsequent websites, such as Car, Auto Express and Evo each present a different outlook to their readers, which is rarely diverted from.  Auto Express - CO2, mpg, tax bracket; Evo - feel, feedback, steering (and not in a millions years electric); Car - a mixture of the two with slightly more emphasis on bhp over CO2.

The websites are more difficult to analyse purely because of the dominant nature of Pistonheads - mainly due to their vast forum.  A subject is presented and then either idolised or torn to shreds by the forum like some kind of modern day gladiatorial combat zone, that actually takes place in people's bedrooms.  Subjects idolised on Pistonheads include the BMW 1M, Chris Harris, rear wheel drive, the ability to never ask a question because you already known everything about every single car ever made,  Porsches, owning a supercar, boasting about owning a supercar, nastiness.  Subjects torn to shreds on Pistonheads include Top Gear (because it's 'fake'), Wheeler Dealers (because it's 'fake'), Haldex four wheel drive systems, owning a car that doesn't have much steering feel, asking a question when it was already answered on the forum 15 years ago.

Other UK motoring websites not attributed to magazines tend to be smaller affairs often run by enthusiasts.  Speedmonkey would count itself in this band.

UK motoring TV programmes include Top Gear, Wheeler Dealers and several reality programmes that involve people shouting at each other whilst they attempt to 'do up' classic cars, and make a complete hash of it.

We should be glad of Top Gear (and Wheeler Dealers, although it is on a satellite channel) because it injects the one ingredient missing from the UK motoring scene - fun.  With occasional flashes of journalistic brilliance, genuine appreciation of cars for what they are rather than something to boast about or analyse and dissect to the nth degree - plus some epic photography and camerawork.

Last night's Top Gear was much anticipated because it was the first one in such a long time, we've all come to know and love the format and because it's reach has gone mainstream - much beyond the standard fare of such shows.

And it didn't disappoint.  The Pagani Huayra piece was lovingly shot and a genuinely heartfelt ode to a wondrous machine that (almost) none of us will ever get to experience.  The rallying Bentley Continental was a typically absurd Top Gear segment that showed what 2.5 tonnes of luxurious supercar is capable of - and again it was wonderfully shot, and injected with just right amount of humour, wonderment at the subject, appreciation of the car - and budget.  It must have cost a fortune to put together, and shows what clout Top Gear has with car manufacturers.  Finally, the P45 piece was 20 minutes of wonderfully silly and typically Clarksonian mucking about that had most viewers in stitches.

Most, that is, except for the Pistonheads forum, who thought it was silly and stupid and a waste of 20 minutes of their lives.

Top Gear is back.  Long may it reign.  Never may it change.  The world will be a greyer place when Clarkson, Hammond and May decide to one day retire.