The sixth episode of the fourteenth series of Top Gear aired on the 27th of December, 2009. It features James, Jeremy, and Richard travelling 1,600 km through South America from the rainforests of Pacific coast of Chile. The presenters used second hand off-road vehicles, bought locally off the internet in Bolivia for less than £3,500 each.
Richard bought a tan 1974 Toyota Land Cruiser which had been converted into a convertible by the earlier owner. However part of top was set alight when Jeremy used an angle grinder to cut air vents in the bonnet of his Range Rover to cool the engine. Despite the Toyota's reputation for durability, it turned out to be the most unreliable car, suffering multiple drivetrain and suspension breakdowns right from the start. The car underwent modifications towards the end of the trip, but none of the modifications made the car more reliable. It was eventually converted to front-wheel drive after the rear prop shaft broke off, damaging part of the rear drivetrain. It was damaged beyond repair on the sand-dune descent. His car was nicknamed the "Donkey."
Jeremy bought a red 1984 Range Rover which he believed had a 3.9 litre fuel injected engine. However, when he showed his co-presenters under the bonnet, James noted it had carburettors, making it the 3.5 litre model. It became notorious for overheating and stopped working on some occasions, but it was very capable of dealing with the rough terrain. However, during the trip, none of the Range Rover's features were shown to be working, "apart from the de-mist!" Like Richard's Toyota, it underwent modifications to handle the high-altitude part of the trip. Unlike the Toyota, however, it survived the trip, and was declared the winner, much to the amusement of the presenters, who had previously deemed it the most unreliable car, hence Jeremy's conclusion that "the most unreliable car in the world is the most reliable car in the world."
James bought a 1991 Suzuki Samurai which "...was blue in the picture", but red when delivered. The Suzuki Samurai had a 1.3 litre engine, the smallest of the three vehicles, and the most mocked. Despite this, it did not undergo modifications, and broke down the least (the main reason for it breaking down was when water entered the fuel tank while fording the jungle river). One disadvantage of this vehicle was its broken 4-wheel drive system, which made it a "3-wheel drive system"; James had not engaged one of the free-wheeling hubs to the lock position. Another major problem was the alternator was broken requiring his car battery to be swapped with Richard's. It was still a very capable off roader, especially when its small engine and size are considered, though Jeremy's Range Rover was still declared to be the ultimate winner.
The three presenters started at a riverside in the Amazon jungle where a towed river raft left their cars: a Range Rover, a Suzuki SJ 40, and a Toyota Land Cruiser (the presenters were supposed to have been helicoptered in to the location, but Jeremy said that the helicopter had crashed before filming, necessitating a boat trip up the river). The trio were originally left on the bank with nothing. Richard remarked on the other two's inappropriate clothing and they all revealed their phobias. Richard is terrified of insects, James James is scared of heights and Jeremy, manual labour, something James says is just 'bone idleness.' After doing nothing for a long time, a raft finally arrives with their cars. The driver of the raft only parks it vaguely near the bank, so, at that point, they cannot disembark.While trying to move the raft, Jeremy started to sink into the mud in the river and so Richard had to pull him out with Jeremy's Range Rover. They had trouble getting the cars off the raft, as Richard's car wouldn't start and the raft was too small for Jeremy to give him a push-start. It was not until the next morning that James realised that some of the planks were long enough to make a ramp off the raft. James tried to get off the raft first, but got stuck up a small hill just after the ramp. As James was blocking the path, they had to get a third plank to get Jeremy off the raft. He managed, and also pulled James's Suzuki up the hill, and into a log. Jeremy also had to tow Richard off the raft, and then give him a pull-start. For the first section of the journey, they were forced to make a route by slashing undergrowth and went along logging trails, encountering snakes and insects. During this segment, several fan blades were broken off Jeremy's engine fan, later leading to him cutting holes in the bonnet for additional ventilation. Jeremy tried to drive across a small gully, but failed. James tried to winch him out, but ended up pulling his own vehicle into the gully, so Richard had to winch both of their vehicles back to the starting point. A chainsaw and rope were used to make a bridge out of the trunks of four young trees to complete the crossing. For the next section, the cars underwent minor modifications to cross a river, including non-standard use of certain products: Tampax tampons to waterproof a fuel tank cap, and Vaseline and condoms to waterproof parts of the engine. Richard got through the river without problems. Jeremy, however, stalled, so James had to drive around him, and he got stuck. As Richard was winching James out, Jeremy got his car started without any problems, which seriously annoyed James. In the director's cut, they encounter a tree fall in the middle of the road, which Richard and James work at with machetes for 'two hours.'Jeremy promptly comes in with the chainsaw which gets stuck. After sawing through the log, he starts to saw at James' car. James threatens him with his machete which almost starts a chainsaw-machete fight between them, at which point, the chainsaw falters.
They then climbed into the Andes to La Paz along the Yungas Road, a road also known as the 'Death Road' due to its narrowness and sheer drops. Due to James's fear of heights, he warned the other two not to perform their usual running gag of running into the back of his car (Richard had repeatedly rammed James several times before the warning). Jeremy then sarcastically asked him if he (James) would like him (Jeremy) to hit the back of his car, to which James said no and told him "That he would cut his ******* head off" if he did. Unfortunately, just a few miles up the road, a momentary lapse in concentration caused Jeremy to hit the back of James' car by accident. James stopped and angrily told Jeremy that he is about to be "Macheteed to Death", holding a machete near Jeremy's face. Jeremy was able to pacify James and walked back to Richard to regale him with the tale of how James almost killed him. Further down the road, James stopped with a mechanical problem and, keeping in with the code of the 'Top Gear brotherhood', Jeremy left James and Richard to fend for themselves. With Jeremy far ahead, Richard drove into a ditch to avoid a passing bus, and found out that James's car's winch was broken, and required the assistance of some angry locals. Elsewhere, Jeremy was placed in extreme danger when he met a car coming the other way on a particularly narrow section of the road, and the edge of the road ledge started to crumble under his wheels. Near the end of the section, Jeremy held a brief memorial service for Richard and James, jokingly suggesting that they must be dead. He put two makeshift crosses up, labelling one 'Ted Nugent' and the other 'Ray Mears'. Jeremy had a near-death on Death Road.They modified their cars in La Paz. Jeremy and Richard fitted much bigger wheels and tyres on their cars, which had a negative effect on their performance, because it geared up the cars too much for their gearboxes. Richard also got rid of the roof, and replaced it with a lighted rollbar. James simply 'mended' his car. Afterwards, they crossed the Altiplano. They had a portable GPS with an altitude readout. They tried to take a straight route into Chile over the Guallatiri active volcano; the green parts on this volcano landscape are volcanic deposit, not vegetation. This attempt was defeated by weakness and a drunken-type feeling after about 16,000 feet caused by severe hypoxia, the result of being at such a high altitude. They had each taken a Viagra tablet to try to prevent high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) from altitude hypoxia. Altitude hypoxia also much reduced the cars' effective power, which meant James's car could produce less than 20 bhp. On the way, they passed at least two active volcanic steam vents. At 17,200 feet altitude (5.243 km, where the air pressure was about half an atmosphere), they stopped and appraised their current medical state. All three were displaying clear signs of altitude sickness and as the road was continuing to climb, Jeremy indicated plainly that he highly doubted that either the cars or the three of them would survive climbing any higher. The trio decided to turn back and take a lower route. During the climb, they used a pulse oximeter to read their blood oxygen saturation, which sometimes was down to 84%, a value which in normal life would recommend admission to hospital.
A few miles from the end of their journey, the route took them down a very steep sand dune to reach the Pacific coast, on Caleta Los Verdes, some 20 km south of Iquique. They initially decided to practise on a less steep dune. Just prior to starting their practice run, Richard got out to talk to Jeremy, 'forgetting' that his handbrake was broken and that he had left the Toyota in neutral. A hand can be seen through the Toyota window letting go of the car at the rear, causing it to begin moving forward. The Toyota began rolling down the dune driverless and rolled over, losing a wheel in the process. The broken wheel hub meant the end for the Toyota, but Jeremy and James completed the dangerous descent to the coastline. During that, The tailgate on the Range Rover opened because it was bent. Luckily nothing fell out because the stuff was held on with green rope.
Although Richard was forced to admit the defeat of the Toyota Land Cruiser that he lovingly referred to as "The Donkey", he still argued that he had chosen wisely. Jeremy observed that James's Suzuki James have completed the journey, but it had been a very rough ride; James agreed, saying, "The ride is rotten". Due to the Toyota's failure and the Suzuki's hard ride, Jeremy declared that although the Range Rover was the most unreliable car in the world, it had proven itself to be the most reliable car in the world.
Although it was not mentioned on the show, the three can be seen passing along Lago Chungara (approx 4600 m in elevation), and the Parinacota volcano was seen near this lake in the National Parque Lauca. These came into view just before the three began their drive up the Guallatiri volcano. This episode is regarded by the presenters as the best in show history.