“They took too long to bring them back, man!” my sister said as we watched the all-new episode of Top Gear on History tonight. This is still the third season even though it’s been almost four months since Monument to Moab. Is it a case of better late than never? We’ll see when the ratings report comes out, but for now it looks like the show has been granted a budget increase because the boys went international in College Cars. Their mission was to see who had the best car during their university years and naturally began at the University of California, San Diego. Tanner Foust was first to arrive in a 1991 Eagle Talon TSI and was in a reminiscent mood. Adam Ferrara once again contributed an old-man car to the test pool. It even had its own old-man-car soundtrack. Yet, he was proud of his 1982 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham d’Elegance. Then, Rutledge Wood completely stole the scene with his lime green 1972 Volkswagen Transporter aka The Bus. Just let that sink in for a moment, eh?
After the obligatory insults, the rules of engagement were established. Their first challenge took place at a nondescript parking lot, where they engaged in a tried and true Top Gear tradition: ball sports with cars. I was wondering when they were going to do this…and what took them so long? Of course, they wouldn’t start off with footballs soccer balls because this is the US version and they had to make it ‘murican. Three smart car-sized inflated footballs awaited their gentle, rough and clumsy touches. For once there was a clear winner or rather two clear losers and no obvious cheating involved. Okay, somebody did grab onto the ball and try to drag it along, but that’s just ingenuity, right? Well, it didn’t work anyway. The guys then headed out for a long road trip that took them beyond the US border for the first time. Their ultimate destination was San Felipe, Mexico but they had to drive through Tijuana, past Ensenada and across the peninsula in order to get there along the Baja race route. Oh yes, that Baja!
It’s funny how the trip across the border inspired sepia-filtered photography. As if the Mexican atmosphere has a continuous golden glow. The three amigos’ next task was to transport locals to the Caliente Casino from various parts of the city. Since they only possessed meagre Spanish-language skills, this was going to be pretty wild. They didn’t seem to run into too much traffic but everything went off-kilter after they finally found their passengers. At that point the pressure of dealing with unfamiliar roads, the language barrier and in-car distraction was very high. It seemed like Rutledge hit the jackpot with this challenge, while poor Adam just got hit; and Tanner learned that three girls and a cake take up much more space than three kegs of beer. In case you’ll be wondering, Rutledge’s song lyrics were “¿Donde estás mis, mis pantalones? ¡Necesito más cerveza!” which translates poorly to “Where are my, my pants? I need more beer!” Okay, Papa Bear.
“Get off the car! No! Don’t push the car!” – Adam Ferrara
The guys told funny stories that not only entertained but gave interesting insight into their wild and not-so-wild youths…until Adam’s craptastic Cadillac required some prayers roadside assistance. Tanner is usually the lead car for road trips and as a result, the trusted navigator. You would think that by now, the other two would realise they’re sometimes being led like lambs to the slaughter. However that’s only sometimes; and the fact that his shortcut on the Baja route wasn’t in their best interest didn’t become fully apparent until all three of them got smoked by two buggies from Wide Open Excursions. It was brilliant albeit brief display of off-road rallying and made my heart glad. The challenges kept coming as they went to a muddy lake bed for a Piñata Demolition Derby. Okay it was supposed to be a test of the cars’ turning radius and handling, but one of the vehicles didn’t survive and was left behind…along with its driver. Ferocity beat out finesse once again, but that’s just Top Gear all over.
“These two are about to see what seventy horsepower of fury looks like. Ready!” – Rutledge Wood
The other two arrived at the coastal town of San Felipe on the Sea of Cortez, for the very last challenge and were in for a big surprise. Their fallen (and abandoned) comrade returned and his auto had been transformed into the ultimate green machine, complete with a replacement naturally aspirated engine. Did this incredible change happen in just one afternoon? Doubtful but we’ve learned over the years that it’s best to abandon common sense at these moments. Reunited, they did one of the insanely ambitious stunts this series has ever done. Unlike the Ford Mustang named Peggy that was supposed to glide off a cliff face, they actually made a car defy gravity…until it didn’t. Then it became a “massive failure,” rather an epic failure and boy was it epic! The next stunt was also outrageous but leaned towards bombastic. Really, if you’re going to destroy your test subjects, then one of them simply must go down in flames. If there’s one thing that Top Gear’s good at, it’s making things go down in flames.
“Feliz Navidad” – Tanner Foust
This episode, on the other hand, didn’t go down in flames. In fact I’d call it a success, as the TV show finally resumed its third season and the producers have adopted the ‘go big or go home’ mentality. Although they (obviously) refreshed some classic Top Gear UK gags, each one successfully built up the excitement and lead to an explosive finish. At the same time, there were some new set-ups and reactions that suited the episode perfectly. On top of all that, it looks like the hosts have become a cohesive but simultaneously abrasive unit. These dudes play, compete, cheat, argue and have a grand time together, while we get to go along for the ride. They talk and react seamlessly to the onboard Go Pro cameras that not only make us feel like their passengers but accomplices as well. This just adds to the enjoyment we get from their interactions with each other even more. It also doesn’t hurt that they use social media to interact with fans as much as possible. The next episode, America’s Toughest Car, seems fully focused on automotive destruction via guns, bombs and gravity. If Top Gear on History is intent on knocking our socks off, then I suggest we let them. Top Gear…America!