Controversy surrounding an episode of BBC Top Gear is hardly a new thing, especially where the destruction of rare classic cars is concerned. In the past we’ve seen Marinas destroyed by pianos, a Beetle dropped from a plane and even the Matra Bagheera S press car subjected to the rigours of Borneo. But despite an inevitable feeling of déjà vu, we had hopes that the iconic Series One Peugeot 106 Rallye and a very tidy Renault 4 used for the Top Gear’s Christmas Special in Nepal might suffer a better fate.
The episode saw the three presenters, Paddy McGuinness, Freddie Flintoff and Chris Harris, drive the distance between capital city Kathmandu and the Forbidden City of Lo Manthang in so-called ‘city cars’. Paddy drove the 106, Chris opted for the Renault 4 and Freddie went for something rather larger by choosing a locally built Hulas Mustang.
Almost straight away, the 106 got stuck in the mud and subsequently pushed by the Hulas, denting the tailgate. Later, we see the car being rolled on its side so that a broken anti-roll bar can be snapped off – something that also revealed a large sheet of checker-plate under the car presumably fitted to protect it ahead of the drive. In pushing the car on its side, the nearside wing was also dented. Later, the Hulas was used to push the car again, smashing the rear window, and over the course of the episode the 106 became more and more damaged. It did successfully reach the finish line, however.
The Renault 4 initially looked like it would survive in better condition, but the rear was similarly damaged when it had to be shunted out of sticky situations. It met its end just 10 miles away from the final destination, when Chris positioned the car to be towed by the Hulas and hopped out before the sticky handbrake finally failed, apparently jumping out of gear. The car ended up rolling backwards down the steep incline, before rolling over and expelling some of its fluids. It couldn’t be restarted and had to be abandoned.
So, was it wanton destruction of a pair of rare cars, or fair game in the name of entertainment? Chris Harris took to Twitter to explain that cars are for using and being involved in adventures, stressing that the 106 had done 160,000 miles and its MoT history was patchy. A previous owner also tweeted to say that he couldn’t ask for a better send off than Top Gear. Nevertheless, it still prompted a mixed reaction from fans.
Another tweet from Chris stressed that the Renault 4 will live another day, insinuating that he’d bought the car himself. That certainly offered a silver lining, and it had to be said that a road trip in Nepal is a memorable legacy for the 106 should it not come home. Stranger things have happened of course – the 2000 Mini Cooper used in the India Special has since been returned to UK roads and is a regular at shows.
While we were disappointed that the cars took a hammering, there’s no denying the episode was beautifully shot and the scenery breathtaking. And let’s be frank, a prime time show dedicated to cars was very welcome in what was hardly a vintage Christmas TV schedule.
In any case, such debates don’t look like they will end anytime soon. The trailer for the new series, which is expected to begin at the end of the month, begins with Freddie attempting to bungee-jump a bright red Rover Metro Cabriolet off a 500 foot-high Swiss dam…