In an argument with the producers of Top Gear, the presenters, Clarkson, Hammond, and May, claimed British Leyland did produce some good cars after all. So they were given £1200 pounds to buy a British Leyland car in which they would face a series of challenges, for which, instead of points, they would earn money back towards the cost, with the aim being to earn back more than they paid. The film aired as part of Top Gear's Series 10, Episode 7.
Introduction & Choices
The presenters began the challenge at Warwick Services on the M40. Jeremy was the first to arrive in a 1982 Rover SD1, while Richard bought a 1974 Triumph Dolomite Sprint using an extra £50. They talked about the Dolomite's arm rest being made of floorboards (since it was made of real wood that had not been sanded) when James turned up in a 1979 Austin Princess - which was derided by the other two as a poor pick.
Test 1 - Reliability
Instead of telling the presenters what the first challenge was, the producers told them to travel 40 miles to get it. They suffered a few problems along the way, with one of them (showed by Richard via camera) being Jeremy accidentally getting his finger stuck in a hole for an aerial in his front wing. None of the locations they went to, though, worked - the old Morris factory in Oxford had been taken over by BMW, the old Triumph factory in Canley had been turned into a hotel and the old Austin factory in Longbridge had been bought by the Chinese and then razed. Eventually, the three arrived at a suitable testing venue - the MIRA test track in Nuneaton on the A5, described by James as an "automotive torture chamber." The journey to the old factory sites and to MIRA served as a reliability test, but no presenter earned money because none of them had managed to complete the journey without pulling over and opening the bonnet.
Test 2 - Power
The power test consisted of timed laps on the handling circuit, with the mark to beat set by the Stig in a Datsun 120Y - as James said, "the little Japanese car that showed our dads that they didn't need to have a flaky Austin 1100 that broke down all the time." The benchmark was 1:11, and despite having more powerful cars, none of the presenters was able to beat it. Jeremy came closest at only a second behind in the Rover, while Richard ended up five seconds slower. James missed a turn and then got lost on the track, with the other two not even bothering to read out his time after that.
Test 3 - Handbrakes
The test that followed called for each presenter to drive up a 1-in-3 (33.3% grade) hill, stop at a specified stopping point, put on the handbrake and get out, with £100 awarded for a success. James went first and succeeded, while Jeremy raised a cloud of smoke from wheel spin while trying to get to the stopping point. He claimed he had done it - a claim that neither Richard nor James contested. Richard then tried it, but the Dolly's handbrake failed to hold it, sending James and Jeremy into fits of laughter at the sight of it rolling back down the hill, whereupon it hit the grade sign.
Test 4 - Ride Comfort
The presenters were shocked to find that the fourth test, designed to test ride comfort, called for them to drive on the rough road at 30 miles per hour (new cars are typically tested on that road at 25 miles per hour) - with a colander of eggs attached to the roof lining of each car above the driver's head. Each would earn £10 for each gram of egg left in the colander at the end but lose £10 for each trim piece that fell off.
James went first, and though he wound up looking "like a spaniel that's crashed into the back of a hen" according to Jeremy, he only had his glove box lid and radio panel dislodged while having 4 grams of egg left in his colander, giving him £20. Richard was at a disadvantage with the Dolly's sports suspension - and it showed as he lost six trim pieces and had no egg left in his colander, leaving him £60 down. Jeremy, like James, retained 4 grams of egg in his colander but lost 2 trim pieces - but one of those trim pieces was an entire rear door.
Test 5 - Water Test
The final test called for the presenters to return to the Top Gear Test Track - in dry suits. The challenge was even more incredulous than the previous one and stipulated that each car would be filled to the brim with water (with a snorkel stuck through the roof allowing each presenter to breathe) and then driven around the track until they drained below the bottom of the steering wheel, with 20 pence earned for every yard covered. Each presenter recognized that this would be a thorough test of both performance and build quality.
Richard went first and completed more than half a lap (1500 yards) in the Dolomite Sprint before James stunningly lapped him in the Princess and covered 4500 yards before bowing out. Jeremy's SD1 didn't even fill even after a third fire hose was brought in, so he set off with not nearly as much water as the others - and he lasted just 10 yards before a rear door fell off again.
Results & Conclusion
When the results were tallied back in the studio, the presenters found that they had succeeded because James, with his great performance in the water test, had gained back 20 more pounds than he had paid for the Princess - though, Jeremy conceded, though British Leyland had made a good car, they had only made the one good car because the SD1 and the Dolomite Sprint had done badly.
|Car||Spending||Reliability||Power||Handbrakes||Ride Comfort||Water Test||Total|
|Richard||Triumph Dolomite Sprint||-1250||0||0||0||-60||300||-1010|