A while back, three blokes on the telly would grab a car and go on ridiculous adventures. Sometimes, they would dedicate their entire show to that adventure. Having secured bigger sponsors, more freedom and better cars, they are at it again for The Grand Tour’s first special. They’ve actually branched out a step further and made it into two episodes. For some reason, they’ve gone with the Volkswagon Beetle to prove that beach buggies are a good idea. This is already going badly.
Part 1: Namibia
What should a beach buggy be able to deal with? Sand. So bags have been packed and the Grand Tour sent to Namibia. James is first to arrive (possibly from 1964) having renovated his Beetle into a buggy with plenty of authentic Beetle parts. From the blindingly purple 70’s comes Jeremy wearing tinted spectacles and a denim jacket. Playing the relatively young man is African explorer Richard Hammond in a safari beach buggy. Although he might have started with a Beetle, very little appears to have been kept. Not that Jeremy can talk, having smashed a V8 into the backside of his vehicle. Together, they are going to drive to Namibia/Angola border roughly a thousand miles away.
But having stripped out all the rides to the bare essentials, nobody has a map. Thinking logically, they decide to follow the coast north to find a town for directions. An hours driving reveals no town but a beached cargo ship. That would be impressive enough but it is half a mile inland. Stopping to gather their thoughts, plans of a warm coast road come to the fore and they head inland. When night falls, they turn to astronomy enthusiast Clarkson for navigation. Eventually, they decide to huddle under their cars to sleep. Morning then brings the grim realisation that they have somehow circled back to the sea. Being called a ‘big C’ himself, Clarkson recovers some credibility after suggesting they stick near the ocean to prevent getting lost again.
Mother Nature refuses to play ball with the Grand Tour. After basically driving into a dead end, trapped by dunes, the boys are forced to undo their progress of the morning. Perhaps learning from a certain Bolivian incident, the Namibian government refuses to allow them onto the salt flats on the other side of the dunes. With no other recourse, the three idiots are forced to brave the desert dunes. After their previous mishap in Bolivia, I honestly thought they would have expected the plunging depths of the sand mountains but apparently not. At one point, Hammond literally drops out of sight.
Spending two full days in the desert, a road is eventually found. Much like their crossing of the Bolivian salt flats, greenery and civilization eventually start emerging. Sadly, the good news ends there for Jeremy. Various parts of his car break down and he is abandoned. Luckily, Richard and James are able to find plenty of medicinal beer at their hotel, having abandoned their friend to his fate.
Having nursed his car to his friends, Jeremy is quick to grasp the significance of being in the capital city of Windhoek. They now have the opportunity to buy maps, camping equipment, and supplies. A schism quickly forms between camper Hammond and the sophisticated Clarkson/May duo. To avoid arguments, they go their separate ways before rejoining the road. As well as preparing for the journey ahead – with two trucks of items for Clarkson and May – they have mended their cars. But – again not thinking things through – Clarkson undoes most of his work when challenging Hammond to a race and wrecking everything.
After seeing a protected and de-horned rhino, May and Clarkson decide to hunt down poachers in a preemptive strike to protect nature’s unicorns. It is definitely a brave idea but also a stupid one. They have tranquillizer guns and the poachers real ones. They also have no idea of what they are doing. So their attempts to track rhinos – to track the poachers tracking the rhinos – fall flat. Then a night operation goes horrifically wrong when Clarkson mistakes his little colleague for a target and shoots him with a dart.
Wisely deciding that a drugged Hammond is unable to drive, they have his car helicoptered after them. Unwisely deciding to save the cost of renting a seat in the helicopter, they have him strapped in his car. Whilst dangling him several hundred feet in the air might endanger his life, it at least spared him the torture of the roads below. Dozens of problems have been cropping up on their cars and lead James to the radical idea of abandoning the road in favor of off-roading for a smoother ride. But then they run into fesh-fesh, a type of sand as fine as talcum power and get stuck.
Eventually getting back on track, they reached the tribal areas of Namibia which Clarkson dubs ‘picture book Africa’. So much so that – when Hammond breaks down – he finds himself surrounded by dancing topless ladies. At times like this, you have to wonder – what does Mrs. Hammond say when she sees it? At their next pit stop, revenge besets James as his vintage gearstick is swapped for a dildo. I understand the joke but does the Grand Tour crew carry around plastic penises on the off-chance they are needed?
As revenge for the revenge prank, May waits until nightfall before modifying Clarkson’s buggy. Unfortunately, a crack in his own fuel tank has saturated his bonnet in fumes and petrol. When using a circular saw, the sparks set his bonnet on fire. The next day of traveling is uneventful but has a wonderfully dangerous evening – the road is causing their headlights to short-circuit in the final stretch. Every bump causes them to jostle around and risk darkness.
Unable to see where they are going, they decide to postpone their arrival until daylight. Instead of a gentle drive, they discover a series of waterfalls and a long river are before them. Doing what any rational group would do, they decide to construct a car-cable-car. Sadly, the engine runs out of fuel right before Hammond can land, leaving him dangling above a crocodile infested river as the first Grand Tour special comes to a close.
- Beach buggies was certainly a novel idea. And it certainly worked well enough for most of the journey.
- Though Grand Tour is technically a different show than Top Gear, the Namibian government isn’t fooled and it’s good they denied access to the salt flats. The Botswanaian ones were heavily damaged.
- Where did Grand Tour source a helicopter from? I know Amazon gave them a large budget but last minute helicopters are hideously expensive.
- If they really carry dildos around all the time, how do you think they explain it to border control?