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Top Gear/Season 10 Episode 8
Episode Eight of the tenth season of Top Gear, and is episode eighty-nine overall.
Guest Stars: James Blunt, Lewis Hamilton
Jeremy Clarkson reviews the Vauxhall VXR8. Like the BMW M5, the VXR8 is a spacious, five-door sedan and can be both a quiet and completely mad car. Clarkson remarks that for such a big and comfortable car it is very easy to drive very fast. The VXR8 has a 6.0 L V8 engine producing 414 hp and pushing the car from 0-60 in less than five seconds with a top speed (with the limiter off) of 175 mph. All that for only £35,000 (roughly $72,100). For that kind of money you'd normally be looking at a 3.0 L BMW 5 Series, a 3.2 L Audi A6 or a 2.8 L Mercedes-Benz E-Class. They're all really nice cars, but not in the same league as the Vauxhall VXR8's big V8. In a drag race, the VXR8 completely trounces them. Yet the VXR8 also outperforms them in the corners. It delivers similar performance to the BMW M5 at £30,000 less. So what are you missing out on? Well, you're missing the BMW badge. The interior isn't quite as nice and its big engine isn't very economical. The exterior is also very flamboyant rather than understated. But the reason why the Vauxhall VXR8 is £30,000 less than the BMW M5 is that it's about 30,000 times less complicated. In an M5 there are seven different settings for the gearbox, two for the differential and you can even choose how much power you want from the engine. In the VXR8 you push the middle pedal to slow down, turn the wheel to go around corners and push the pedal on the right when you want it to make more noise. Clarkson loves it, but wouldn't have it over an M5.
Search for the Modern Day Car's Predecessor
Clarkson and James May head to the National Motor Museum to search for the first car that had the same layout as the cars we drive today. The very first automobile was the Benz Patent Motorwagen from 1896, but it's nothing like the cars of today. It has tiller-style steering and only a single front wheel. Performance? It has a one cylinder 1 L engine producing a top speed of 9 mph. Its range is also only five miles due to its 1.5 liter gas tank. Three years later the British came up with the Royal Enfield. Its controls were hideously complicated, but it had twice the power of the Benz Patent Motorwagen and four wheels. What they came up with, however, was really the world's first quad bike.
One of the problems with early cars was getting them started. The starter engine hadn't been invented yet and there was no ignition key, so the driver had to use the starter handle. Clarkson points out that the great thing about the 1904 De Dion-Bouton Model Q was that its starter handle could break your wrist, which is what happened to seven staff members at the museum. As the De Dion-Bouton Model Q was one of the first cars sold in great numbers and must be test driven, Clarkson volunteers May to operate the starter handle. With the car started, the two get down to figuring out how to operate it with a copy of its French operating manual translated to English. They find it very complicated to operate.
Would the first car to get everything right be the first car to be mass produced: the Ford Model T? By the time it went out of production in 1927, half the cars in the world were Model T's. However, the Model T was very complicated to operate. To get it to move you have to up the revs by operating the accelerator on the steering wheel, then move the handbrake to the middle position to put the car into neutral and then depress the left pedal. But to keep the car moving, you have to keep your foot down on that left pedal which feels like a very, very, very heavy clutch pedal. The only way around that is to put the car into top gear by going faster and putting the handbrake all the way down. Now you're traveling at about 40 mph on wooden wheels which is terrifying.
Clarkson and May then stumbled upon the Cadillac Type 53 from 1916. Its handbrake and gear level are in the middle of the car and it has three pedals on the floor in the right order. It has no starter handle and was the first car to come with an ignition key. The Cadillac Type 53 was the first properly modern car, but nobody knew it would be the template for the modern car. Sir Herbert Austin, however, came along and copied the ideas in the Cadillac and incorporated them into his car, the Austin 7.
The Austin 7 cost £125 (roughly £4,700 or $9,700 today), four times less than the Cadillac Type 53. It was built under license by BMW in Germany and copied by Datsun in Japan. The Austin 7 took Cadillac's bright idea, showed it to the world and made it stick.
Star in a Reasonably Priced Car
This week's Star in a Reasonably Priced Car is James Blunt, a British singer-songwriter. James Blunt races the Chevrolet Lacetti around a wet test track in 1.48.3.
Formula One Challenge
Richard Hammond is challenged to go find out how hard it could be to drive a Formula One race car. The F1 car Hammond will be driving is the Renault R25, the car entered by Renault in the 2005 season and won Fernando Alonso a World Championship. It's the last of the V10 era where the cars were producing nearly 1,000 hp. Hammond's challenge is to pilot the R25 for two laps around the Stowe Circuit at Silverstone. The fastest road car Hammond has ever driven was the Bugatti Veyron which has a power-to-weight ratio of 530 horsepower per ton. The ratio for the Renault R25, however, is 1,500 horsepower per ton. Due to all the power in the car, Hammond has to go back to school.
Hammond's first lesson is in a Formula Renault race car, which he promptly stalls while trying to exit the pit. The Formula Renault car has a 2.0 L engine from a Renault Clio, so Hammond believes it should be rather simple to get around the track. However, he discovers that's not quite the case. The car has only 1/5 the power of its Formula One counterpart and Hammond realizes how far he has to go. Just as he's getting used to the Formula Renault car, Hammond is thrust into the next one.
Next comes a car from the World Series by Renault with twice the power of the Formula Renault car. Hammond can cope with the straight-line speed, but has trouble thinking fast enough to react in the corners. He can't drive fast enough to put heat into the brakes and thus has little to no braking power. Summoned to look at the telemetry from his car, Hammond is informed he's been severe on his down shifting. If he had done that in the Formula One car, then he might have spun it and wrecked the engine. An engine rebuilt is about £150,000 to £200,000 (roughly $310,000 to $412,000). Hammond goes back out to get more time in the World Series car, but his neck has trouble coping with the cornering forces and stops.
Moving onto the Renault R25, Hammond puts the car into perspective through money. The engine costs £170,000 (roughly $350,000), the gearbox casing with no gears in it is £60,000 (roughly $124,000), the wing is £20,000 (roughly $41,000), a wheel is £500 (roughly $1,000) and the socket to remove it is £1,000 (roughly $2,000), a side view mirror is £800 (roughly $1,600) and the steering wheel is £30,000 (roughly $61,800). The entire car is very fragile and highly strung. The engine tolerances are so fine that it can't be started cold but must be heated up by constantly pumping 80 degree warm water around it while in the pits. The oil also must be warmed and fed into the car.
Pulling the Renault R25 out of the pit, Hammond attempts to set off but stalls it. And stalls it again. And again. Five more stalls later, the car is rolled back into the pit. The car is reset and Hammond is sent onto the track. Half a lap later, Hammond spins it as he isn't going fast enough to put heat into the brakes and is sent back to the pit. Looking at the telemetry, a race engineer informs Hammond that he has too big a gap between letting off on the accelerator and applying the brakes. This big gap is just half a second. Going back out onto the track, Hammond manages to get the R25 around the circuit twice.
Back in the studio, Clarkson informs everyone that he found out the Renault F1 team had to pull the R25 back to the pit to reheat the tires because Hammond was driving so slowly that no heat was getting into the tires. Hammond retorts out that he did go full throttle in the Formula One car, but May points out it was only for 0.2 seconds.
F1 Star in a Reasonably Priced Car
This week's F1 Star in a Reasonably Priced Car is Lewis Hamilton, a British Formula One racing driver with the Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes team. Lewis Hamilton races the Suzuki Liana around a wet test track in 1.44.7.
Clarkson takes a look at a car that can drive itself — a four-door BMW 330i. The car is driven once around the test track and, using satellite navigation, can drive the exact same lap on its own. Just in case something goes wrong, Clarkson will be behind the wheel. The BMW 330i successfully drives around the track at full tilt.
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