If you’re a car nut, it’s nice to occasionally kick back, slide onto the sofa and watch a bit of motoring content on the telly. But what to watch, especially now that there’s no new Top Gear?
Well, we’ve had a dive into the depths of the digital listings and the streaming services to pick out the best car and motoring programmes to watch. Some you’ll need a streaming subscription for but many are free to view, or at least free to view with adverts.
The newest car show around has been described as The Repair Shop for cars, with owners bring their beaten up vehicles to a workshop for some much needed TLC.
Workshop host and award-winning classic car journalist Charlotte Vowden (who started out writing about cars for Driving.co.uk and is the subject of a feature in The Sunday Times Magazine this weekend) greets the owners to find out a bit more about the provenance of the cars before a selection of engineers and craftspeople set about restoring the models.
The payoff is when the cars are handed back but, as with the BBC’s The Repair Shop (which focuses on antiques), watching the experts at work is the most beguiling part.
- Watch The Repair Lot on UKTV Play (free with adverts)
The Car Years
Former Top Gear and Fifth Gear presenter Vicki Butler-Henderson joins TV and radio presenter Alex Riley on this show, in which they try to pick the best or most important car launched in a specific year. It’s a really fun series in an engaging format, with plenty of interesting facts about some of our most beloved classic cars.
- Watch The Car Years on ITVX (free with adverts)
Speed with Guy Martin
Channel 4’s motoring output is dominated by one man — Guy Martin. The garrulous former motorbike racer and engineer created three series between 2013 and 2016 called Speed with Guy Martin (Guy Martin on Speed was surely an early title, given his enthusiastic style), in which he tried out a number of fast vehicles on land, air and water, learning about the science of what makes them fast in the process.
- Watch Speed with Guy Martin on Channel 4 (free with adverts)
Martin’s output continues and there have been a number of other has two programmes on Channel 4’s streaming service (formerly known as 4OD and All4):
- Guy Martin — The World’s Fastest Electric Car (free with adverts)
- Guy Martin Vs The Robot Car (free with adverts)
- Speed with Guy Martin: F1 Challenge (free with adverts)
- Guy Martin: World’s Fastest Tractor (free with adverts)
- Guy Martin’s Great Escape (free with adverts)
Carjackers is like a cross between Pimp My Ride and Changing Rooms, as people’s cars are “borrowed” and returned in jazzed-up form. As ever, the best bit is when the poor person’s face falls as they see what a dog’s dinner their car has been turned into.
- Watch Carjackers on Channel 4 (free with adverts)
Channel 4 also hosts the excellent Car S.O.S, in which Tim Shaw and Fuzz Townshend help to restore classic cars belonging to people who’ve not been able to complete their projects, whether through illness or just being broke. Warning: some crying may occur.
N.b. At the time of writing there was just one episode available on Channel 4, from series 10.
- Watch Car S.O.S on Channel 4 (free with adverts)
James May’s Cars of the People
As the former Top Gear presenter explains, James May’s Cars of the People is all about how motoring came to “the shuffling masses”; how “dictatorships and democracies alike pursued the dream of cars for all.”
It’s a limited-run show produced by the BBC, with only six episodes available to watch on UKTV Play, but they’re in-depth and absolutely fascinating, exploring everything from the VW Beetle, which really did change the world but had a dark inception, to the failed bright ideas (what May calls “motoring cul-de-sacs”) such as the Sinclair C5.
May does a brilliant job of putting each car in the context of the societies in which they were created, and explaining why they were important. It’s a car show that even people who don’t care about cars will enjoy.
Arguably the king of the “Can we restore this rusty old wreck to a shiny show car?” format is Wheeler Dealers, in which Mike Brewer buys a rotten old car and tries to restore it before selling it on for (he hopes) a profit.
Some fans of the early shows believe Wheeler Dealers has never been the same since co-presenter and mechanic Edd China left the show after series 13, but he was replaced by the excellent Ant Anstead for a few years and objectively speaking it was still a terrific watch for car enthusiasts. Anstead left the show after three series and Brewer brought in Marc “Elvis” Priestley to replace him.
If you leave prejudices at the garage door, whichever series you go for Wheeler Dealers is always very watchable.
Watch Wheeler Dealers on Discovery+ (subscription required)
Ant Antead Master Mechanic
Anstead made a name for himself in 2014 with For the Love of Cars, a Channel 4 series fronted by Philip Glenister (Life on Mars). Since then Anstead been prolific in his TV mechanic work. After his spell on Wheeler Dealers he branched out with his own show in which he aims to build a replica 1950s Alfa Romeo 158 from scratch in just 12 weeks. Anstead’s knowledge and skill are matched by his likeability. It’s a terrifically watchable series.
Watch Ant Anstead: Master Mechanic on Discovery+ (subscription required)
Formula 1: Drive to Survive
The glossy stylings of Formula One fly on the wall docuseries Drive To Survive almost single-handedly made F1 fun again. Until Red Bull made it boring.
The groundbreaking show has now racked up five series, with the sixth being recorded during the 2023 F1 World Championship and due to be aired in March. That means the newest series are retrospectives of the previous year’s racing, but they’re always amazing insights with unprecedented access to teams and drivers, and use of long-distance microphones to “spy” on conversations we’d never hear on live TV.
There’s also uncensored use of in-car radio communications, and hearing the drivers and team members swear is a revelation. In fact, that’s largely what has made Haas boss Guenther Steiner a legend among F1 fans. No doubt the Italian (who grew up in South Tyrol, so has a German-twinged accent when speaking English) will feature heavily in season six as it’s reported he’s current fighting Gene Haas in court over the over ownership of the team. That kind of soap opera drama is right up DTS‘s strasse.
Watch Formula 1: Drive to Survive on Netflix (subscription required)
The Grand Tour
Through Amazon, you can buy an almost endless series of car-based films and programmes, which would take more space than we have here to list, but the best known of these is The Grand Tour, which is the programme Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond built after they left the BBC.
The first couple of series are hosted in front of an audience in a tent near Clarkson’s home but the trio soon gave up that format and The Grand Tour now focuses solely on occasional road trip special episodes. There are plenty of available to watch, and they’re of varying quality, but the best of them do recall some of the magic of mid-2000s Top Gear.
Watch The Grand Tour on Prime Video (subscription required)
The BBC is arguably home to the biggest car show of them all — Top Gear. The archive available on the iPlayer goes right back to the early 2000s and the revival of the show with Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond.
Sadly, you can’t go further back and see the William Woollard and Chris Goffey (and indeed early Clarkson) days, but you can watch all the way through the unfortunate season with Chris Evans, and the much improved later versions of the show with Chris Harris, Matt Le Blanc, Rory Reid, Freddy Flintoff and Paddy McGuinness.
It’s the only Top Gear you’ll get for now as the series remains ‘on hiatus’ following a still-mysterious accident that saw Flintoff suffer serious injuries while filming.
- Watch Top Gear on BBC iPlayer (included with BBC licence fee)
Top Gear is far from your only motoring option on the Beeb. Other options include:
- Gassed Up, in which celebrities take on car-related challenges
- Yianni — Supercar Customiser, a reality series following Yianni Charalambous, car customiser to the stars.
- Car Girls, in which presenters Jen and Georgia try to break down the gender wall of car enthusiasm.
- A Friday Documentary from 1989 commemorating 30 years of the original Mini.
- A programme called The Big Car Con investigated a fake dealership ripping off unsuspecting car buyers.
- Some episodes of Top Gear America, the US version of the show with Dax Shepard, Rob Corddry and British motoring journalist Jethro Bovingdon.
- An excellent documentary on the lethal 1950s Ards TT sports car race in Northern Ireland, called Race to Disaster.
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