ON JANUARY 18 the television programme known in Yorkshire as The Pretty Good Tour returns for its third and definitely not final series.
This is, however, the last one to feature the studio tent and all of the shenanigans contained therein, so if you’re a fan of those bits where the presenters sit around a table chatting or squabbling next to a large, patently homemade scoreboard then you’ll want to savour this series.
And what a bumper one it is too, featuring an extended, two-part Colombia special that was meant to appear last year. Filming was delayed because Hammond proved unable to keep a car the right way up and Clarkson had a lot of crisp, dry, French pneumonia in his body.
As if that weren’t enough for fans of those extra-long road trips, three other programmes have morphed into mini-movies too, and the others are so crammed with content they might well burst your streaming pipes.
Here are some of the things you can expect from the new crop of 14 programmes.
Detroit was once the centre of the US car industry and therefore the centre of gravity for the motoring world, but the city is now a shadow of its former self. As high priests in the church of petrol, Clarkson, Hammond and May make a pilgrimage to this most holy of places to see what is going on.
They discover that the car factories are largely derelict, the centre has been hijacked by hipsters and the most thriving industry is urban organic farming. Clearly this won’t do, so the three presenters set about making Detroit into the place it should be; a petrolhead playground featuring streets where you can drag race, old theatres you can rattle with the sound of your revving V8, and abandoned factories you can race around to your heart’s content.
To undertake this important mission, Clarkson gets hold of a Ford Mustang tuned by a company called RTR (short for Ready to Rock) while May has a Hennessey Exorcist Camaro and Hammond picks a Dodge Challenger SRT Demon, making this a true battle of good versus evil, with Jon Bon Jovi in the middle.
Episodes 2 and 3
You may have noticed when you pause your Amazon television viewing device that it enters a screensaver mode showing delightful photos of dramatic and interesting landscapes from around the world.
Recently, the Grand Tour’s overlords decided to introduce some new photos depicting interesting animals, which was a good idea, and of getting the Grand Tour presenters to take those photos, which maybe wasn’t.
Naturally, when they were first asked, our trio said “no”, because they couldn’t be bothered to spend nine months sitting in small canvas hides next to midge-infested swamps, but changed their minds when they realised they could cheat. First of all, they could do it all from cars, and if they found the most biodiverse place on earth, they could mop up the entire project in just a few days.
So Clarkson, Hammond and May buy a Jeep Wrangler, a Chevrolet Silverado pick-up and a Fiat Panda 4×4 respectively and then head for a country so groaning with wildlife it’s amazing there’s any room for trees and buildings and lampposts – Colombia.
What happens next is an adventure of such size and scale that it’s been split into two parts for your viewing pleasure, as the trio embark on a journey of incredible beauty, majesty, peril and wonder. And also a thing involving donkeys that’s a bit weird.
What the truck?
The pick-up truck is the backbone of the developing world and it’s a vital market that the Japanese have dominated for years. However, some European car makers have decided to get in on the action with pick-ups of their own.
They are no doubt hoping to capture the rural vet, and painter and decorator market but if these new machines can’t survive the rough and tumble of developing world conditions, from toppled dictators to all-out civil war, they simply aren’t tough enough to face their established rivals.
To find out if they’ve got what it takes, Clarkson, Hammond and May gather a VW Amarok, a Ford Ranger and a Mercedes X-class and discover which copes best in a brutal simulation of harsh, lawless life in a subsistence existence. Which may also be handy if this whole Brexit situation takes a turn for the worse.
China in their hands
If you’re a Chinese business magnate and you want to create a good impression, you can simply go and buy a Mercedes S-class or a Jaguar XJ and the job is done.
But what if you’re a Chinese business person on a budget? Then you’ve got a problem, because your version of capitalism is all rather new and your car market didn’t really open up until recently, the result of which is that in China there is no ready supply of 20-year-old luxury cars at bargain prices.
But hang on a minute; Chinese people come in droves to places such as Britain’s Bicester shopping village to snap up clothes and watches and so on. Why couldn’t they also pick up a used luxury limo and ship it home?
Armed with this brilliant business idea, Clarkson, Hammond and May travel to Chongqing, the biggest city you’ve probably never heard of, to demonstrate the wonders of an old Mercedes S 600, an ageing BMW 750iL and a Cadillac STS. And also to get attacked by fire drones.
Och aye the views
As three of the world’s leading motoring journalists, Clarkson, Hammond and May wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they weren’t keeping a beady eye on car trends and here’s something they spotted straight away: classic cars are quite expensive these days. Sought-after stuff such as Jaguar E-types, Aston Martin DB5s and even old Minis are worth a lot more than they were 10 or 20 years ago.
But there are some rare, desirable cars that have yet to climb the giddy upward curve of appreciation. Cars such as the Alfa Romeo GTV6, the Lancia Gamma coupé and the Fiat X1/9.
So the presenters buy examples of those and then, to see who has chosen most, and indeed least, wisely, they head to the top of Scotland where, after a bit of a slow start, they end up on some spectacular roads.
Warning: this film contains scenery that some viewers may find stunning. And cars they may not.
For many people in Britain and across the world, the idea of hiring an RV and touring the southwestern US sounds like an excellent holiday. For Clarkson, Hammond and May, however, it sounded like a living hell where you must spend your days piloting a sluggish lorry and your nights being forced to sleep on a child-sized bed with your head inches from a tank containing someone else’s most recent defecations.
Unfortunately for them, the Grand Tour producer and one-man sartorial smartness vacuum Andy “Mister” Wilman said they were being unreasonably grumpy and sent them to Nevada to find out more.
Having quickly had their worst suspicions confirmed, the presenters decide to abandon their shared RV and buy one each, which they can modify to suit their preferences and prejudices. Because what could go wrong with that? Apart from many things.
Hot hot hot
Jeremy, Richard and James love hot hatchbacks because they’re affordable, practical and zoom about like deranged wasps. That’s why they were so excited to test the newest versions from Volkswagen, Ford and Toyota.
Sadly, however, it was pointed out that these were young people’s cars and the opinions of three middle-aged men in bad jeans were irrelevant. So, after a bit of fun on the Grand Tour rallycross track, the three are told to stop mucking about and get out there to see which of them can make their car seem the most appealing to millennials using slogans, stickers and the power of social media.
A Grand Tour
Do you know how many letters The Grand Tour receives asking for advice on the best car to buy if you habitually drive 600 miles from the shores of the salt-water Black Sea in Georgia to the edge of the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan to satiate your desire for fresh-water fish? That’s right, it’s zero.
But that doesn’t stop our presenters from gathering the new Aston Martin DBS, the new Bentley Continental GT and the even newer BMW 8 Series for a true grand tour across the Caucasus to answer the question that’s on the lips of no one.
The flat pack
In a full-length special, which is Grand Tour speak for one of those episodes where they don’t come back to the tent for that bit where they make bottom jokes and look at a picture of a new McLaren, Jeremy, Richard and James are dropped into the wilderness of Mongolia and told to await a delivery.
The air is rent asunder by the thwock of heavy-duty rotor blades as a military helicopter heaves into view and drops some boxes. Unfortunately for the presenters these do not contain something immediately useful, such as a Toyota Hilux or another, smaller helicopter, but are instead packed with basic rations and all the flat-packed parts they need to assemble a small off-road machine in which to escape to civilisation before they starve to death or strangle each other.
What follows is an incredible quest for survival against the backdrop of an extraordinary landscape rarely seen on our screens. Will the presenters make it out alive? Well, you can probably guess the answer. It probably would have made the papers if they’d perished horribly.
But it was touch and go at some points. Just putting the damn thing together was enough to make James want to bludgeon Jeremy with an exhaust manifold and it went downhill from there.
Funeral for a Ford
Rumours persist that the Ford Mondeo is on borrowed time and when it dies there will be no direct replacement, as is happening in America, where the medium-sized Ford saloon is already on death row.
Few tears are being shed about this and The Grand Tour thinks that’s wrong because, for British people at least, the Ford family saloon is as much a part of our national DNA as the royal family or the BBC. Everyone knows someone who had a Mondeo or a Sierra or the daddy of them all, a Cortina. Most likely, it was your actual daddy.
Certainly, Jeremy’s father had a Cortina. As did James’s. Richard’s dad . . . he didn’t, for reasons that will become clear as the presenters set off on a warm and nostalgic journey through the life of the medium-sized Ford saloon, celebrating the subtle yet profound effect it has had on life in Britain as we know it.
It’s not all three-presenter road trips and challenges in this series because Clarkson, Hammond and May have been off making some films on their own.
Stand by for Richard bravely stepping into another ultra-high performance electric supercar despite what happened last time.
Get set for James testing, and rather enjoying, the Alpine A110 at the Grand Tour track.
And seasoned international travellers may enjoy a Clarkson/Hammond joint project to speed up air travel using motorised hand luggage.
Plus, for those who enjoy The Grand Tour’s occasional forays into serious history films, there’s good news as James guides us through the cars of the Apollo astronauts and, in a separate feature, gives a potted history of the Porsche 917, while Richard pays tribute to arguably the greatest racing driver of all time, Jim Clark.
Richard Porter is script editor of The Grand Tour
Series 3 of The Grand Tour begins on Amazon Prime at midnight tonight, with new episodes released every Friday.