HOW DOES Clarkson fit it all in? Not only has he presented The Grand Tour, his motoring show on Amazon Prime, and Who Wants to be a Millionaire? for ITV, but also started filming a forthcoming show about rural life called I Bought the Farm.
Let’s not forget his most coveted job, though: writing reviews for Sunday Times Driving, which he has also been sending over for publication through the year.
His televisual activities don’t seem to have blunted his written word a jot, thankfully, as this collection of quotes from 2019 attests.
The private life of snails
“When Sir Attenborough tells us about an interesting male snail he’s found under a rock in Indonesia, he always says the snail in question likes to spend its afternoons sunbathing and its evenings having sex with other men snails. And I always think he’s being a bit judgmental. Because it might be only the snail his film crew found that does this. All the others could be like James Hunt.”
Bentley Mulsanne review, January 6
He’ll take the low road
“The best bit, for me, was our trip to Scotland. The idea was simple. In these days of escalating classic-car values, even a Ford Escort Mexico will cost you more than £60,000. So we decided to see if there are any old, interesting and pretty cars out there that can still be bought for sensible money. Pretty soon we had a Fiat X1/9, a Lancia Gamma and an Alfa Romeo GTV6. And all we needed then was somewhere to test them out.
“We settled on Scotland because one of our producers is from north of the border. Which meant we could show the rain and the heroin and the midges and he’d be livid with us.”
The Grand Tour special, January 13
How to confuse a Peugeot driver
“We live in weird times, when the motorist is lower in the pecking order than the newt and the bat. Certainly we are far lower than the pedestrian …
“Our glorious leaders are even thinking of introducing Dutch-style roundabouts to make life better for the species at the top of the pecking order — the cyclist.
“This is foolish. There’s a double mini roundabout in the town where I live, and in theory it’s not complicated. You could explain how it works to a seven-year-old in less than 10 seconds. But, despite this, it completely flummoxes everyone who encounters it. People in Peugeots just sit there for hours, rendered catatonic by bewilderment and confusion.”
Mercedes-AMG G 63 review, January 20
How to get a selfie with Clarkson
“A word of advice. If you see me in the street, ask crisply and efficiently for a photograph. I will then tell you to eff off and we can both go about our business with minimal disruption.”
Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio review, January 27
How to save the world
“If you want to save the world for future generations, you can’t dress up your new life choices in butter and tinsel and hundreds and thousands. If you want the world to work for your grandchildren’s grandchildren, then you have to be cold, hungry, smelly and uncomfortable until the day you die.
“No, you can’t use shampoo, and, no, you can’t use soap either. You must give up everything that’s made of plastic, which means you must also give up cleaning your teeth and shaving and wearing clothes. Remember Cambodia after Pol Pot came along? Yes, well, it has to be like that, I’m afraid.”
Suzuki Jimny review, April 28
“The Vietnamese have developed a new system for getting about. It’s called ‘anything goes’ and the rules are simple: if you do something that doesn’t cause a fatal crash, it’s fine.
“Traffic lights, for example. If they are green, you go through them as normal. If they are red, you go through them as well, but to make sure there’s no fatal crash, you blow your horn.”
What’s the point?
“A couple of weekends ago I took part in a tennis tournament. I turned up with a sore head from the night before but, despite this, couldn’t help noticing that in the car park was a new Volvo XC40 with its engine running.
“No one was in it and no one was about, so when I got to the court I asked whose it was. ‘Mine,’ said a friend. ‘I picked it up yesterday.’ I explained that its engine was still running. ‘I know,’ she said. ‘I can’t work out how to turn it off.’
“Further probing revealed that she had picked it up from the dealership, driven it home but not worked out that you had to put the gearlever in Park before the engine would shut down. So she’d left it running, gone into her house, had supper, gone to bed and the next morning driven to the tennis tournament. In her head, the engine was designed to stay on for ever.
“Which raises a question. What is the bloody point of reviewing cars for people who think that an engine simply stays on for the life of the car?”
Volvo XC40 review, May 19
A sore point
“Quite often, when I sit down at a party, the person next to me will turn and say sternly: ‘You’re not going to talk about cars, are you?’
“It’s odd. When they find they’ve been seated next to a merchant banker, they don’t say: ‘You’re not going to talk about merchant banking, are you?’ This is because they’d be happy to spend the evening talking about merchant banking. Or golf. Or weeping sores. Or the joys of animal cruelty. Or anything. Just not cars.”
Renault Mégane RS Trophy review, May 26
“Many years ago, on old, old Top Gear, I was asked to review the then new Vauxhall Vectra and I couldn’t think of anything to say about it. Well, it’s happened again. The Seat Tarraco is not just dull, it’s criminally dull. It’s Jane Austen dull. Double maths dull. And it costs about £3,000 more than the Skoda Kodiaq, which is exactly the same car.
“Volkswagen, which owns Skoda, bought Seat because it wanted to add a bit of flair and Ibiza lounge music to the mix. But there’s no flair in the Tarraco. It’s like sitting under a desk. So if you want a boring seven-seater car, buy the Skoda and let me move on to something more interesting. But not much more interesting.”
BMW X5 review, June 2
The quiet life
“Man has never been this fast this quietly in all of history. You can reach a fair old lick on a horse but all you can hear is the damn thing snorting and panicking and thudding. You can reach big speeds on a bicycle, too, but then all you can hear is your own heart and the wind. And if you fall off a cliff, the peace and quiet is normally shattered by the sound of your screams.
In an i8 Roadster, there’s none of that. Its eco-tyres are thin and stealthy, and the electric motor is nowhere near as loud as the wood pigeons and the skylarks.”
BMW i8 Roadster review, June 9
“I’m so deaf that last weekend, while a bit over-refreshed at a 50th birthday party, I took to the dancefloor and, with my head basically inside one of the speaker stacks, spent a happy hour throwing dad shapes to tunes from my youth.
“This was a mistake, because for the rest of the weekend, noise and speech were no longer an underwater fog of bass — there was a whole new descant of what sounded like a dentist’s drill being used to shut down an old- fashioned alarm clock. Or maybe an adolescent bee having its little testicles pulled into place.”
Bentley Continental GTC review, June 16
A cure for insomnia
“There are many ways of getting to sleep. What I do is imagine that James May is explaining how electricity works or talking me through the achievements of TE Lawrence. However, as you’ve never really seen James May unedited, this wouldn’t work for you. So how’s this for a suggestion? The Audi TT.
“It’s the most unexciting exciting car yet made. As faultless and as exquisite as a diplomat’s handshake, it comes at you with a beaming smile and a superb suit, but it is completely incapable of ruffling feathers. Were it a person, it would agree with everything everyone says.”
Audi TTS roadster review, June 23
A quick word on Brexit
“Both of the dismal candidates vying to become Tory leader and prime minister are saying they will deliver some form of Brexit, but they won’t, because it’s not possible. It is too complicated.
“If you’d had a vote asking people if they’d like to be billionaires with a yacht in Antibes and a supermodel girlfriend who’s allergic to clothes, everyone would have hurried off to the polling station to say, ‘Yes, please.’ But no politician could have delivered such a thing. It’s the same story with Brexit. It really is.”
BMW 840d coupe review, June 30
Years ago, I borrowed a Ferrari…
“I wasn’t expecting much from the F355. It looked very similar to the 348, and I didn’t really understand at the time why the fitment of five valves for each of the eight cylinders would make much difference. I didn’t even know what valves were, if I’m honest. Or cylinders.
“But, oh my God. That Ferrari opened my eyes to a world that I didn’t know existed. A blurry world. A world of G-force and curious sensations in the seat of my pants. ‘Wow,’ I shouted at the camera. ‘This car has five valves per cylinder.’ I then paused, dropped it down a cog and yelled: ‘And you can tell.’
Ferrari 488 Pista review, July 7
I doubt you’ve heard of Andy Wilman, but he’s a genius. He was the boss of Top Gear, when it was good, and he’s the boss of The Grand Tour now …
His first car was a Datsun Sunny and things went downhill from there. He even had a Mini Countryman at one point. He can now borrow press demonstrators whenever he wants, so he could swan around in Lamborghinis and Aston Martins. But these companies are unable to offer him what he really wants, which is a 1.2-litre paraffin stove. So he’s usually to be found in a Hyundai.
He surprised everyone in the office recently by buying a BMW M3. But after he’d kerbed every inch of all four wheels, which took about a month, he sold it. And we were all keen to see what he’d buy next. Perhaps it would be Boris Johnson’s old Toyota Previa. Or a Rover 75. But no. He went for a Macan.
Porsche Macan review, July 21
“A private detective needs to blend in, but, that said, Jim Rockford drove a golden Pontiac Firebird and Thomas Magnum had a red Ferrari. And I’ve just remembered that in an early 1990s private-eye show, the heroine, played by Imogen Stubbs, drove a Sunbeam Alpine. She also wore a very short skirt, and stockings, which is probably why, for the life of me, I cannot remember what it was called.”
VW Golf GTI TCR vs Mercedes-AMG A 35, July 28
That’s milking it a bit, isn’t it?
“It’s a mega-powerful new version of the Range Rover Velar called the SVAutobiography Dynamic Edition. And I like it.
“Not all of it, mind. I’m not quite sure who designs the seats for Land Rover these days, but I suspect their idea of a relaxing sit-down is a milking stool. The bench fitted to the back of a Discovery is hilariously uncomfortable. This is definitely the car to buy if you don’t like your children.
Polo so slow
“For the family holiday this year, I rented a house in the Dordogne and we all decided to drive. That wasn’t so bad for my son, who has a Fiat 124 Spider, or my elder daughter, who has a Ford Fiesta ST. But my younger daughter has a nine-horsepower, base-model Volkswagen Polo.
“Her passenger called in a state of some distress when they were half an hour south of Calais. ‘This 130mph speed limit is ridiculous,’ she wailed. ‘We’ve been trying ever since we got on the motorway and we just can’t go that fast.’
Ford Mustang GT review, September 15
U CRZ M8? LOLZ
“My dad used to listen to the music I played as though he were being tortured. And he would often point at the crotch on my extremely tight loon trousers and explain that unless the scrotum was allowed some room for movement, I’d never be able to father children of my own.
“But I did, and it’s as though I’ve brought aliens into the world. I have less in common with them than I do with an earwig. I listen to them and recognise that the words they’re using are English. But they don’t seem to make any sense.”
Mercedes-AMG GT 63 review, September 22
Engineering bright sparks
“I know some people can look at a laptop or a steam train or a lawnmower and know instinctively how all the components go together, but I cannot. I look at a plug and a socket in the wall and, even to this day, I’m filled with pride and wonderment when I successfully join the two things together.”
Ford Focus Active X estate review, September 29
Daniel Craig’s Bond is crap
“If you actually stop and think what he’s done in the past, you’d have to conclude he’s completely useless. In Casino Royale, he didn’t notice that the woman he’d fallen in love with was spying for the other side, and then, despite his best efforts, he let her drown in a lift. The next woman he lurved, in Skyfall, got shot in the head by a former colleague. Oh, and then he took an old woman who needed to go into hiding to his own bloody house. Where she and 007’s gamekeeper wandered about on a darkened moor, with a torch, just in case the baddies needed even more help locating her.
“Before that happened, though, Bond went to interview someone in Shanghai and ended up throwing him off a skyscraper. And in an earlier scene, he was shot by Miss Moneypenny. I’m telling you, Johnny English is better at espionage than this guy. So’s Inspector Clouseau.”
Aston Martin DBS Superleggera Volante review, October 13
Achtung, baby Porsche
“Porsches do not break down. Ever. A Porsche makes a Swiss watch look sloppy and haphazard. If you explained to a Porsche engineer that Japanese train drivers are punished if they arrive in the station more than seven seconds late, he would be staggered by the leniency.
“And yet there I was, coming home from a short Sunday morning test drive, when I was told via a message on the dashboard that the coolant was so low, I needed to stop driving immediately. It didn’t say “Achtung”, and there was no imagery of a soldier in a greatcoat with a Schmeisser sub-machinegun, but the tone was similar. So even though it wasn’t my car, I did as I was told.”
Porsche 718 Cayman review, October 20
A tall story
“Tall people are never comfortable at the theatre, and on an aeroplane we are forced to pay thousands of pounds for business-class seats, because if we sit among the straw and dead dogs in economy, the blood supply to our legs is cut off and we get gangrene.
“Oh, and then there are houses. You, with your Ken-doll measurements, can live wherever you please. I cannot. I know this because I grew up in an Elizabethan farmhouse, where, because of the beams, I could only ever walk east and west in a room. Never diagonally, or north or south.”
Toyota GR Supra review, October 27
A message from the Swedish Tourist Board
“I once went to a town called Kiruna in the north of the country and, I’m not sure, but I think it’s the worst place . . . in the world. Built around an iron-ore mine, which makes the snow a sort of mottled dark grey, it is filled almost exclusively with miners, who are very large and are in the pub, looking for someone to punch in the face. Only after they’ve done this, and thrown a bar-stool through a window, do they go home to give all their money to the government. It’s a long way from Abba, that place.”
Volvo XC90 T8 review, November 3
For the Trump enthusiast
“I have a Range Rover. I have two, in fact. And I have never wanted a pick-up … Despite the fiscal advantages, I’ve always thought pick-ups were a bit Richard Hammond — for the sort of Donald Trump enthusiast who flies a Confederate flag above his house, even though he lives in Basildon. Plus, I’ve always figured if I put my shopping in the back, it would be stolen immediately when I pulled up at a set of red lights.”
Ford Ranger Raptor review, November 17
Destroy the Tories
“Levels of NO2 [in London] have indeed fallen to a point where they are still massively above the legal limit. Why is that? Well, naturally the people who worry about this sort of stuff have an immediate answer. It’s because of all the filthy right-wing Brexit bastards in their diesel-powered black cabs, which are exempt from the charge. And because of selfish tossers like me who continue to drive their Range Rovers to Jermyn Street for a haircut. Tories. Yes. They’re to blame and they must be destroyed as soon as possible.”
Mercedes EQC review, December 1
Am I a rent boy?
“I have eight jobs. I know this because it’s what I always tell people. But the funny thing is that I’m so busy, I actually can’t remember what the eighth job is. Am I a rent boy at night? Do I have a county lines gang? Am I the foreign secretary? No idea.”
VW T-Cross review, December 8