25 Things You Never Knew About Top Gear

Top Gear has been through a number of different versions over the years. It started off as a BBC Midlands car programme, before reaching its peak in the 2000s, when Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May were at the helm.


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The long-running BBC series is known for its daring stunts, amazing car tricks and the high-profile celebrities who have driven on the Top Gear track. Not to mention fan favourite the Stig and his high-speed racing!

However, behind the scenes there’s a lot going on and in the list below, we’ve compiled ten things you never knew about Top Gear. Most of these facts are taken from the popular Hammond/May/Clark version of the series, because …you know!

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Scroll on down to find out 25 fascinating facts about everyone’s favourite car programme!

25. The Stig was originally going to be called ‘The Gimp’

That’s right, everyone’s favourite mystery stunt driver was actually supposed to have a very different name back in the early days of the series! And we’re not sure that we’re a big fan of it at all.

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Ex-Stig driver Perry McCarthy was approached by Clarkson to be the infamous white helmeted racecar driver for Top Gear who would only be known as ‘the Gimp’.

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, McCarthy only agreed to joining the series if the name was changed to something less sexual.

24. James May was sacked for hiding rude messages in AutoCar magazine

People used to love Top Gear in the Hammond, Clark and May days, mainly thanks to the presenters’ childish sense of humour. This has clearly been a huge part of their personality for most of their lives, if the following incident with James May is anything to go by.

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In the early 90s, May was working at Autocar magazine, helping to compile their end of year supplement entitled the ‘Road Test Year Book’.

Clearly he was bored stiff by the job and decided to arrange it so that the first letter of every article spelled out: ‘So you think it’s really good, yeah? You should try making the bloody thing up; it’s a real pain in the arse’.

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After the supplement was printed, somebody noticed the rude message and May got the sack. Oops!

23. A Bolivian drug lord threatened to kill the Top Gear guys

Richard Porter was the Top Gear script editor and in 2015 he wrote a book entitled ‘And On That Bombshell’.

Porter included some juicy behind-the-scenes stories about the filming of Top Gear, including one involving a Bolivian drug lord.

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In 2009, the crew were producing a South American special and were  understandably exhausted after a long day filming in Bolivia. However, they were all kept awake by the drug lord who was having a massive house party at the time.

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The producer went over to the house and asked him to be quiet because the cast and crew were trying to get some sleep after a long day.

The drug lord informed him that if the producer so much as tried to turn the music down, then the drug lord would kill him. That seems fair!

22. Hammond, Clarkson and May voice a video game together

Are you a fan of the Forza racing game series as well as being a Top Gear viewer? Well if so, you might have noticed that some of the in-game voices sound strangely familiar – and you’d be right.

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The three presenters Clarkson, Hammond and May have all lent their voices to the game, starting with Forza Motorsport 4. They did such a great job on the first game that all three were asked to come back for the 5th instalment too.

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However, after Clarkson’s very public sacking from the programme, he was also removed from the Forza games. The company later ditched Hammond and May too!

21. Clarkson wanted to chauffeur a tiger

We all know that the guys get up to some pretty crazy stuff during filming of the series, and it turns out that the presenters actually have a lot of input into how the show is run.

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Clarkson is so devoted to making each episode of Top Gear amazing that he was once willing to be shut inside a car with a Bengal tiger.

During one segment of the series, Clarkson was doing a test drive around Death Valley, when Andy Wilman (the producer) suggested that it might be funny if Clarkson was chauffeuring a tiger around, rather than a real human.

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Clarkson was fully on board, but sadly the other producers weren’t into the idea. They were probably thinking of the inevitable lawsuit…

20. The show raised over £250,000 for air ambulance

Richard Hammond famously survived a horror crash during filming in 2006, when he was trying to set a land-speed record in a jet-propelled car.

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Unfortunately one of the tires blew and Hammond was in a coma for two weeks, which left him with minor brain damage. However, something positive did come out of the accident – Hammond was so grateful to Yorkshire Air Ambulance for saving him that he encouraged Top Gear fans to donate to the cause.

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Nearly quarter of a million pounds was raised for the charity, which allowed them to buy a helicopter outright. Nice work!

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19. The Top Gear track was designed by Lotus

The track used for the filming of Top Gear is notoriously hair-raising to drive around – many celebrities have felt a bit nervous cruising around in a sports car, and the segment is often when we get the most bleeped-out swear words on the show!

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Fans of the series will understand just how important the Top Gear track is to the show – presenters, the Stig and even celebrity guests are all taken out onto it to show off their driving skills.

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However, it was designed by some serious professionals – Lotus provided the template for the track and created the ‘Chicago’ corner, a steady state corner that is one of the hardest parts of the track to get round.

18. The first ever presenter was female

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Top Gear has a reputation for being a bit of a macho, testosterone-fuelled car series, designed for men only. However, the first ever Top Gear host was actually a woman. Angela Rippon hosted the series for two seasons from 1978 until 1979!

17. The track has been in a Bond film

Fans of the show might be surprised to learn that the Top Gear track has actually been featured in some amazing Hollywood blockbusters!

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The track and neighbouring Dunsfold Aerodrome both appeared in Casino Royale in 2006, as well as the Tom Hanks thriller The Da Vinci Code and a host of other films.

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Some of the films have depicted the location as a racing track, whilst others have made use of the space to film different car chase scenes (rather than having to use public road, which would be much more dangerous).

16. Top Gear was the world’s most-watched show in 2013

This is pretty unbelievable considering that Top Gear started life as a minor car programme on BBC Midlands, but it has smashed viewing figures around the world and is consistently watched by millions of people every single week.

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The show appeared in the 2013 Guinness Book of World Records as the most-watched factual TV series in the entire world. At its peak, Top Gear was watched in more than 212 territories around the world, with an estimated global audience of 350 million!

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Since Hammond, Clark and May have left the series the viewership has plummeted, despite efforts to revive the series with presenters such as Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc.

15. The main producer thinks that the viewers are childish

Normally producers don’t make a point of annoying their viewers, but that wasn’t the case for Andy Wilman, who executive produces the series!

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He caused an upset in a 2014 Radio Times interview when he came out with some less-than-complimentary remarks about the Top Gear viewership. At the height of the programme’s success, Wilman stated of recent episodes that  ‘almost everything we’d filmed was, once again, aimed at people with a mental age of nine’. Not the best advert for the show – or is it?!

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Wilman later clarified that this wasn’t meant as an insult (OK!) but that Top Gear was designed to provide a bit of escapism from the harsh realities of life, because ‘modern life for adults is, after all, bloody hard’.

14. 40% of fans are female

Top Gear has previously had a bit of a reputation as a boys club – fast cars, lots of testosterone and a giddy male excitement about anything with four wheels. However, did you know that over 40% of Top Gear fans are actually female?

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That’s right, nearly half of all viewers worldwide are women, which certainly bucks most people’s expectations. You can often see women in the studio listening to the (mainly male) presenters talking about the latest cars. In fact, in 2006, the programme’s Sunday viewing slot received 36% of male viewers between the ages of 16 and 34, but 40% of female viewers in the same range!

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So there you have it – women like banter, fast cars and celebrities too! We imagine this has only increased with the introduction of Friends star Matt LeBlanc, who gained himself plenty of female fans in the 90s and 2000s.

13. Clarkson met the producer of Top Gear at the school he was expelled from

Jeremy Clarkson has always been a bit controversial, and fans of the series probably won’t be that surprised to learn that he wasn’t exactly a model student as a teenager. The opinionated Yorkshireman went to a private school in Repton, Derbyshire, and ended up getting into a lot of trouble.

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Apparently Clarkson was kicked out for ‘drinking, smoking and generally making a nuisance of himself’ – to be fair, it doesn’t sound like he’s changed much in the last fifty years. However, before he was expelled from private school, he became good friends with Andy Wilman, who would later become the executive producer of Top Gear. And that’s not the only connection to the Repton school.

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The Stig’s name derives from a nickname that new kids at Repton were given, whilst Adrian Newey – who acts as the chief technical officer of the Red Bull F1 team – also attended the school at the same time as Clarkson and Wilman.

12. Clarkson is nearly a foot taller than Hammond

Regular viewers will know that Top Gear has a lot of running jokes, and one of the biggest ones might well be the difference in height between Clarkson and Hammond (who is often referred to as the ‘Hamster’).

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However, did you know that Clarkson is nearly a foot taller than his diminutive co-presenter? Clarkson stands at six foot four inches, whilst Hammond is a measly five foot five in comparison. Therefore Hammond is eleven inches shorter than his co-host, which probably explains all the jokes at his expense.

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Just for the sake of interest, James May stands at an average five foot nine, which means that he slots in rather neatly between Clarkson and Hammond.

11. The presenters don’t get any free cars

Whilst you’d assume that the success of Top Gear would mean that the presents would be able to bag themselves some free motors, sadly none of show’s hosts are able to profit from their endorsements of various vehicles (as much as we imagine they’d love to receive a free Aston Martin in the post!).

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Sadly, due to the BBC’s strict regulations, they can’t receive any free perks (such as amazing motors) as part of the broadcaster’s policy, despite the fact they spend hours each week carefully choosing which vehicle they’re going to pick. We’re fairly sure that, considering how much the presenters make for their time working on the series, that they can afford some seriously cool rides anyway.

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It’s probably best that the BBC has such strict regulations anyway – people might protest if they were paying a license fee that allowed the likes of Clarkson and May to keep Ferraris and Jaguars!

10. A negative Top Gear judgement can completely ruin a car’s reputation

We already know that millions of people around the world are glued to the screen whenever Top Gear is on, and many of those viewers are heavily influenced by the judgements and opinions of their favourite car show presenters.

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But did you know that one bad word on the series can ruin the lives of thousands of people who have spent time designing and producing a particular vehicle?! For example, in 2009 Clarkson was test driving a Ford Ka. In fairness, Clarkson has always admitted that he doesn’t have the best technical knowledge about the cars he drives – he skips the 2 hour long technical press conferences about his vehicles, whereas Hammond and May attend them.

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However, he does this so he doesn’t have to think about the person who designed them and can be as rude as he wants on screen (nice). As soon as Clarkson judged that the Ford Ka ‘looks like a frog’ sales of the vehicle completely plummeted and his comment made headlines around the world!

9. Top Gear was temporarily replaced by a programme called 5th Gear

This generation of Top Gear viewers might not realise that the first edition in the 90s was scrapped in 2001. Soon after, a new series was in the works that would be able to capture those viewers and take the Top Gear mantle once and for all.

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Channel Five’s answer to Top Gear was the similarly-named 5th Gear, a motoring series that was designed to be basically the same thing as Top Gear. It even had three of the same presenters from the old series – Quentin Willson, Tiff Needell, and Vicki Butler-Henderson.

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However, sadly the show never performed to the same level as its predecessor and it was cancelled, only to make way for the revived BBC series led by Clarkson, May and Hammond. Apparently the series really wanted to use the Top Gear name, but the BBC refused and the series was cancelled in 2012.

8. It’s actually easier to win the lottery than it is to get tickets to the studio recording

OK that might be a slight exaggeration, but it’s certainly extremely difficult to get into the studio (and consequently up-close-and-personal with the Top Gear presenters and cars).

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Apparently, the waiting list to become a studio audience member on the popular car programme is longer than any other show in history, with an estimated 336,000 people waiting to live their dream and stand in the background whilst the likes of Matt LeBlanc talk about the latest motors! This totals 21 years of waiting, which people at the end of the list will be a little bit worried about.

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Yep – your newborn baby could be attending their first freshers week at uni by the time you manage to bag a place on the studio recording. It might be time to think about pursuing a more realistic dream – like winning the National Lottery.

7. James May wasn’t meant to be on the show

Some people might not realise this, but May wasn’t actually in the first season of the 2002 reboot at all! He wasn’t interested in co-presenting alongside Hammond and Clarkson, despite the fact that the latter really wanted him to join the line-up.

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Instead, the BBC hired Jason Dawe. Dawe was possibly doomed to fail from the start – he wasn’t in many segments of the show and in the ones that he did appear in, viewers complained that he was boring! After demand for the show increased following the end of the first series, May unsurprisingly decided that he did want a slice of the Top Gear pie. He remained on the show until 2015, when all three presenters departed.

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On the other hand, Dawe had a mixed career following his appearance on the show. He began presenting the Used Car Roadshow in 2005, but it was cancelled after two years due to poor ratings.

6. They can afford to abandon expensive cars

Fortunately, even though they can’t keep any of the cars, the programme presenters can definitely afford to ditch them when needed! One example of this occurred when Richard Hammond needed to get home on time for his daughter’s 4th birthday. He was driving a Porsche 911 Carrera when floods hit between London and Herefordshire.

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He was stuck in dreadful traffic 16 miles away from his home and had already suffered a 12 hour long journey by the time he reached the deadlock in Cheltenham. Hammond decided to ditch the motor in the Gloucestershire town at 03:00 and put on his running gear ready to finish the journey on foot.

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He raced home for 16 miles and managed to get back to his house in the early hours of Saturday morning! That’s fatherly dedication right there.

5. Clarkson, May and Hammond earned a fortune on Top Gear

OK so this one might not be a complete secret! Top Gear was hugely successful when the familiar line-up of May, Clarkson and Hammond was at the helm of the programme. They brought in millions of viewers to each episode and were compensated in return.

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The show broadcasts in 212 territories and the magazine has over 1.7 million subscribers. Clarkson has been there the longest (since 1988) so he gets paid the most. In fact, in 2014 he earned $890,000 for his presenting duties on Top Gear.  His salary was set to jump to $12.3 million after he left the BBC and joined Amazon for The Grand Tour, but in reality Clarkson says he gets paid less than that.

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He once stated that “the numbers aren’t much higher than they were at BBC; we just have to waste a lot less on health and safety.” No wonder they’re always laughing!

4. Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason once leant them a Ferrari Enzo 

Regular viewers of the series will know that Top Gear has a lot of celebrity fans amongst its audience, a fact which can sometimes come in very handy when the producers are trying to source fancy vehicles for presenters to drive.

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In one episode, they needed to road test a Ferrari Enzo, but Ferrari refused to loan them one. Clarkson called Jay Kay (the lead singer of Jamiroquai) up and asked to borrow his instead, but the singer refused as well. Instead, it was up to Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason to come to the rescue – he agreed to lend Clarkson the Enzo if they advertised his new book on Top Gear.

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Clarkson accepted the deal and ended up making some not-so-subtle references to Mason’s new book throughout the episode in question!

3. The audience has to stand up for a whole hour

If you do manage to get through the waiting list for the studio recording, then you’ll have to be prepared to stand up for quite a while!

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Unlike most other studio audiences who appear on TV shows, the Top Gear audience has to stand up for the entirety of the 60 minute show, as no seating is available inside the room.

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2. About A Boy actor Nicholas Hoult was the last ever actor to drive the ‘reasonably priced car’

Nicholas Hoult shot to stardom as a child actor in the classic comedy film About A Boy and has since appeared in Marvel films, amongst other projects. The British actor appeared on Top Gear in 2015 and had the honour of being the last ever person to drive the ‘reasonably priced car’.

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There have been several celebrity winners of the Reasonably Priced car challenge, and some of these include: 2002: Jay Kay; 2003: Jodie Kidd (who beat Jay Kay’s time); 2004: Simon Cowell (who beat Jodie Kidd’s time); 2005: Jimmy Carr (who beat Simon Cowell’s time) 2005: Ellen MacArthur.

1. The BBC still refuses to confirm whether or not Ben Collins was ‘The Stig’

Everyone knows that the true identity of The Stig is a closely-guarded secret. However, in August 2010, HarperCollins published an unauthorised biography about ‘The Man in the White Suit’, which revealed that the current Stig was racing driver Ben Collins.

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Unfortunately, the BBC was unable to prevent the publication of the book and instead, to this day, the corporation refuses to deny or acknowledge whether Ben Collins is, or ever was, “The Stig”.

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Did you know any of these Top Gear facts? Let us know in the comments section below!