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The Grand Tour: we review Episode 3

Brief synopsis

Before we get into the nitty gritty, let's very quickly review what we've seen. This third episode, once again, fills its virtual space with cars, specifically three (well, two) perfect examples of 'piston-powered' vehicles: an Aston Martin DB11, a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, and a Rolls-Royce Dawn. The trio makes a journey from Siena north to Verona, before ending up in Venice. Along the way, the convoy passes through Florence, the Mugello circuit, the city of Vicenza, and the Modena region: home to three of the world's most famous Italian manufacturers. In between the two segments of the main course of the show, we heard another round of news, watched from a distance the death of another guest (Simon Pegg), and were left wanting to see some on-track testing of the cars that passed through Italy.


Towards the end of the show, Jeremy comes out of the tent, which this week is in the fishing port of Whitby in England, demonstrating his non-autonomous car, piloted by a Romanian immigrant. It is then, as our reader Francisco Ruiz told us in a commentary, that James and Richard flatten the plot of land occupied by Jeremy Clarkson's house.

A recipe already known

While I was mentally preparing the storyline with which I would draw the letters for this article, I imagined that the third chapter would come out in two ways: it could drastically improve the third, without reaching the level of the first, or it could be worse than the third. I didn't get it right.

I consider the episode to have been better than the second, but for me, in many ways, it was a huge disappointment. The reason why I tolerate Clarkson and company's disagreements is precisely because of those episodes in which the three of them travel together in different cars discovering, and above all, enjoying, incredible roads while I, from my sofa, say: "one day, I'll do that". These are episodes in which as soon as you start watching the end credits, you get up, go down to the garage, look at your car, and say: "today we're going for a drive". It's one of those experiences that reminds you why we love the car so much, and why this passion for an object that some see as inert, brings us together so much. It makes us feel like family; "there's someone who understands me!" we shout silently into the air. It is the same experience that I began to live, when I started as a reader of Pistonudos in its stage as Autoblog Spain.


But today we have not enjoyed one of those episodes. Unlike the magical journey in France aboard the Ferrari F430, Pagani Zonda and Ford GT, to reach the Millau bridge in France, or the trip in search of the best road in the world (which, by the way, has turned the Stelvio pass into a tourist attraction), in today's episode, that explosive mixture of cars that we would like to drive, unforgettable landscapes, breathtaking roads, and passion for the car, has not been seen. Instead, the trip to Italy serves as an excuse for May and Clarkson to spend half an hour trying to escape from Hammond through Italy, to the sound of his burning tyres and his Dukes of Hazzard bugle.

Touring Italy in three supercars, with the purpose of doing a Grand Tour, should be an adventure, not a flight in fear of the sound of a HEMI engine.

The big problem, really, is not that the team has decided to film in Italy; I'm the first one who is dying to see another great video of these three in the transalpine country. There's a lot of land in this country yet to be seen and exploited in the context of a car show. But on this occasion they could have replaced Italy with Montenegro and it would have been all the same. The scene in the museum? Let's use another one. The alleged doughnuts in Michelangelo Square? Let's go to another location with a panoramic view of a city. The Mugello circuit? I don't know if there's a good circuit in Montenegro, but I'm sure we can find a solution, just like for the show at the Arena di Verona.


Venice, of which we didn't even see the cars cross the beautiful bridge over the lagoon? Dubrovnik also has access to the sea, and it's close by. But Italy has been virtually untapped. And Richard, we live in 2016, not 2006; you no longer need to communicate with your fans via TV to get them to know you. Next time you go to Sant'Agata Bolognese just to tell on TV that they put the scissor-opening doors on you, tell these things on Twitter. Or better yet, use Snapchat, which is where all the "cool" people are these days. Likewise, an authorized Wikipedia user will be able to find that preference and add it to the "Sexual Likes" section of your page.

As good as the episode had started, and how much I was enjoying those sounds, those sights in the background, and the simple idea of accompanying these three presenters on an incredible journey through Italy discovering their cars, along winding roads and exceptional scenery. What a disappointment.

A lot of script and not a lot of nuts

Another aspect that I found disappointing is the incredible lack of improvisation that we have seen throughout the episode. What do I mean by this? Well, over the years that Clarkson and co. have presided over Top Gear, they were famous for improvising what happened on the show. And failing that, acting in such a way that the staged scenes didn't take us out of the illusion that nothing had been staged. Instead here, going to a museum or attending an event at the Arena di Verona serves as an opportunity for Richard to arrive and spoil Clarkson and May's day of culture. It's funny the first time, but that the rest of the show is an excuse for a second and third time completely negates the value of this trip.


After leaving him stranded surrounded by masses of people in downtown Vicenza, what are the odds that Richard, completely unaware of his companions' plan, would go to Venice, leave his brand new Dodge, hop on an outboard boat, and manage to find Jeremy and James' gondola to do doughnuts around? There's no surprise; as soon as the viewer thinks, you can see it coming. And it's clearly been orchestrated on the premise of the silly laugh, like a Hollywood blockbuster, where the aim is not to make something new, but to make sure as many people as possible like it. The irony is that the exact opposite is what made this trio famous.

And speaking of thinking; does anyone want to explain to me why Hammond cut the frame in two, and tied it to the side of his muscle car, having a couple of trucks following him? Because after destroying a couple of sets of rubber, I think there was enough room. And if not, I can think of other solutions that don't involve trucks, like calling a cab and mailing it home. But what's the reason not to do that? That grace has been scripted, a script that has sometimes ignored common sense.

This is most clearly seen in the show's final segment, when James and Richard cash in on Jeremy's failed bet from the first episode. The segment begins with both showrunners standing outside the house, announcing their intention to take it down. Next, Richard climbs onto the roof with a ladder to start knocking the shingles to the ground, one by one, because there's a bat on the roof. And by regulation, they are to "give it a chance to move" by removing the tiles. James, of course, can't stand heights and can't help his partner. When they finish, they wait until the next day for the bat to leave, so we see night-time footage of the house, including the flight of a mammal with the moon in the background. Am I to believe that The Grand Tour film crew stayed up all night trying to film the bat's flight, and that it worked so well? I don't think so, but let me know if I'm wrong.

As dawn breaks, Richard bursts onto the scene with a bulldozer, and starts smashing the building to smithereens uncontrollably. James tells him he's doing it wrong, that it needs to be done in a more engineered way, but what he does is be horribly slow. When neither of them can bring the house down, they appear at a safe distance from it with a detonator like the one in the movies, before watching the house turn to ruins with an explosion worthy of the latest James Bond film. The explosion is so extremely real and so well realised that it leaves the computer explosions of American TV series as low-cost filler for the TV grid.

And such is the preparation needed for such a detonation, that one wonders why it was necessary to try to demolish the house with bulldozers, if they were going to dynamite it afterwards. The answer is obvious: to take up minutes in the episode and provoke more easy laughs, nothing more. In fact, if Hammond and May wanted to learn how to demolish a house in a funny way, they only have to look at their navels a bit.

By the way, what I said in my review of the first two episodes last week is evident: this isn't a car show. If it had been, the first thing James and Richard would have done would have been to go to Jeremy's garage, to see if by any chance Gary is still around. Instead, James and Richard found Jeremy's mono-artistic music collection, a portrait of him on the back of a horse, a voodoo doll of James, and a book full of photos of Richard.

The cars

But let's leave that, and focus on the cars. And because I like to save the best for last, we'll start with the Rolls-Royce Dawn in which James May made the journey.

We all understand Jeremy's comment about how the Dawn is a 7 Series convertible, but on this occasion I'd say the Rolls-Royce is much more than that. I see much more pertinent this criticism of the Maybach 57 and 62 when it was sold as such, because just by looking at them, you could easily imagine the S-Class inside. However the Dawn, like the rest of the Rolls-Royce range, has managed to differentiate itself enough from the BMW range to not look like one. The technology and platform it carries may be born in Munich, but the car's target audience is very different; in the opinion of yours truly, opulence is what would describe a Rolls-Royce. It's one of those cars that isn't meant to be driven by you, it's meant to be driven by you. And I said earlier that I didn't consider it a "piston" car because I can hardly imagine choosing the Dawn for a Grand Touring trip: a car with that weight and that absolute disconnection from the road, it would throw all my desire to attack any twisty stretch down the exhaust manifold.

I have absolutely nothing against the Rolls; it's aimed at a particular audience, and I'm glad that a brand with such a history has managed to survive in BMW's hands and be profitable. But of course, it's the kind of car that James falls in love with: extremely refined, English, and intended to be a rolling work of art (on the level of exclusivity, not design) rather than a car.

But James' Rolls-Royce wasn't the car that made me smile over and over again during the show.

No, that honour belongs to the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat that Richard Hammond brought along. And boy did it sound; that's two episodes in a row now that the show has treated us to the sights and sounds of it. It's not the car I would have particularly chosen to make the journey, but there's no doubt that the excitement and happiness of watching Hammond was one of the most positive things about the episode. Richard was also able to put himself in Jeremy's shoes, forced to constantly stop for petrol, just like Clarkson did with his Ford GT.

Funny that they didn't remember that during the episode. But whatever, because it was a religious experience watching Hammond sideways his Dodge around the Mugello circuit. Which reminds me that throughout the episode, it was also never mentioned that, although Dodge is an American manufacturer, it's owned by the FCA group, and therefore the Challenger has been financed with Italian funds.

But the most balanced car of the three, in my opinion, is the Aston Martin DB11: beautiful, over-steering when you turn off the traction control, adept in fast corners, and a real missile on the motorway. The ingredients that define a true Gran Turismo. It's not perfect? Of course it isn't. There are GTs that are more adept at cornering, like your favourite flavour of Porsche 911, but it's certainly not a bad companion for a trip like this. It's no track monster either, but it managed to maintain the British marque's dignity in the face of the Michigan bodybuilder on a fast lap. And yes, its color is orange and not brown; specifically, it's Cinnabar Orange, which is how Aston defines it. When they have an identity crisis, at least these DB11s can go to the Golden Gate, and ask him how he's put up with being called "the red bridge" all these years, when it's actually International Orange.

But hey. Hey, what GT would you guys have taken? I'd love to know. For me it's clear, a Mercedes-AMG GT: rougher, more agile and more fun, but I'm not complaining; the DB11 was a good specimen. And who knows, maybe the 'R' variant of the Affalterbach will appear in the remaining episodes. What I do find strange is that Jeremy didn't take advantage of the trip to test the new Ford GT... Maybe he asked for it and they couldn't let him have one?

The closure

Not my favorite topic, but there are a couple of moments that happened throughout the episode that, I feel, should be mentioned during a review article. The first is Jeremy and Richard's childish gesture that you can see in the GIF above.

Did you think it was funny? I didn't; I thought it was extremely childish, and it's not because I think it's wrong to mock the stereotypical Rolls driver, I don't care about that. It's the same as someone saying that "everyone who owns a Leon is a quintuplet" - well, good for them! I think it's more sensible to judge people by how they drive and not by the car they drive it in; let's see if one day we buy that car we think is perfect, with our sweat and toil, and now because we have a Leon, an MX-5, a GT86 or an M240i we're not a pistonudos but sons of daddies. But seeing two English adults in their 50s (or close to it) making sexual jokes about the drivers of a Rolls doesn't arouse any kind of humour in me.

And speaking of perversions, there are those of Clarkson and his painting with his naked torso making (what I suppose is) reference to the propaganda of the current President of Russia, Vladimir Putin. I'm not going to stick my feet in here, because what I like are cars and I still have a lot of episodes to comment with you.

There was much more to cut from this episode, like the theory that Hammond's donuts are a reference to the scandal that caused the shooting of a Top Gear scene, the donut in the center of London aboard the Hoonicorn, with Ken Block and Matt LeBlanc. But that's all I wanted to tell you about today.

I haven't mentioned much the town of Whitby, from where the episode was filmed, because it looks like the crew will be there next week, presumably with the intention of giving us a segment in that location. Maybe with the cars we saw them arrive at the studio with? We'll find out soon enough.

Episode rankings

There are still no less than 9 episodes to go, and in order not to lose sight of what is the best that this first season of The Grand Tour has given us, let's keep a small ranking.

  1. Episode 1: It has absolutely everything; cars, good humour, and more cars. It features the Holy Hybrid Trinity (918 Spyder, LaFerrari and P1) accompanied by a hypnotic BMW M2 introducing us to the show's test track.
  2. Episode 3: Pulls from the skull trio's recipe book; exotic cars (DB11, Challenger SRT Hellcat and Rolls-Royce Dawn) with Italy in the background, but focuses more on Jeremy and James trying to get rid of Richard rather than enjoying the cars more and making the most of their time in Italy. The episode concludes with James and Richard dynamiting Jeremy's house.
  3. Episode 2: Saved by the Aston Martin Vulcan and the Audi S8 chase towards the end. It's not boring at first glance, but if I were to watch it again, I'd skip everything in between.

See you next week!

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