Why Can’t Top Gear Get Old Cars Right?

Top Gear remains one of the better explainers of what is so good and bad about modern cars. Few others even try to explain how something like a new Rolls Royce or Jaguar fits into our social context. So why can’t the show get old cars right?

This week’s TG had a couple different sections: it opened with a review of a new British lightweight sports car that I’m sure won’t be bankrupt in ten years, then it did a whole review of the new Rolls Royce Dawn droptop, Chris Harris explained why the new M2 brings the ‘90s back without getting high on ecstasy, some British celebs got interviews, Rory made a Jaguar ad, and then the show returned to Rolls.

Chris Evans argued that you can’t sensibly own a new Rolls Royce, which is dreadfully shouty. Instead you should own an old Rolls Royce instead. They have to age, Evans explained, before they go from flashy to classy.


That’s both a good and bad argument. On the one hand, it’s completely correct. If I see someone of stature driving a vintage Rolls, I know immediately that they have a bit of a sense of humor and style. On the other hand, it’s completely incorrect. Owning an old Rolls Royce basically takes over your entire existence with endless repairs and costs, all for a car that looks like it came from Liberace’s estate sale.

That’s something that Top Gear itself explained years ago, once with James May talking about how his mechanically-identical Bentley S2 ruined his life, and once with Clarkson and May being ridiculous together. Hell, go beyond even the Rolls Royce experience and you get to something like Top Gear’s old film on buying a cheap old Italian supercar. Nobody explained the car enthusiast urge to buy one of these things better than TG did and nobody explained better how terrible and wonderful it turns out in the real world.


That’s the thing. Owning a vintage car is a ridiculous proposition. It’s a bad idea, but it’s one that’s so bad that we all sort of applaud it. Evans never really expressed that. He just went on about how the car had a nice engine and good smells, but left out how he’s almost certainly on a first name basis with his mechanic.

It’s weird to see Top Gear forgetting. A whole industry has popped up in recent years covering the real-world experiences of old car ownership, likely spurred on by astoundingly strong old car auction prices. It’s weird to see Top Gear forget the simple ridiculousness of owning an old car, particularly as there are a dozen Petroliciousclones out there now, and Top Gear itself used to get the whole old car experience so right.

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