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Upside-down in a Reliant Robin – it’s Top Gear Live 2009


Top Gear Live, the stunt-filled live-action version of the BBC TV show, launched its 2009/10 tour at Earl’s Court on Bonfire Night. Title sponsors Shell V-Power invited Brits on Pole to the launch, so we scrambled roving reporter Scott McCarthy and sent him into action. Here’s his review.

Top Gear Live: heed the warning...
Top Gear Live: heed the warning…

Some say it “features the fastest cars in the universe” and that it’s full of “trademark smashes, crashes and customised cars”. All we know is that it’s Top Gear Live!


The venue for all this mayhem is Earls Court in London, as part of the MPH Prestige & Performance Motor Show powered by Shell V-Power. The show moves to the Birmingham NEC next week as the second venue of a world tour that takes in Ireland, the Netherlands, Australia, South Africa and Hong Kong.

Cars to dazzle your senses
Cars to dazzle your senses

Upon arrival onto the exhibition hall floor you’re treated to a vast open space filled with all manner of supercars and exhibitors ready to dazzle your senses – either with the amount of polish on their cars or the sheer beauty of the machinery on display.

Earls Court is a massive venue so there’s plenty of room to walk around and look at (but not touch) the amazing cars on display. Some of the stands are peddling experience days in the cars they have on show, while other are simply there for us to ogle at.

Tucked away in the side stalls are some of the more specialist exhibitions, such as someone who’s created everything from a Terminator to a full size H.R. Giger Alien entirely out of used motorbike parts – surely a must for every living room?

'Beautiful Astons...'
‘Beautiful Astons…’

So the overall format is mainly a vast array of cars you could never afford unless you’re a lottery winner or a Premiership footballer, from beautiful Astons to a somewhat garish gold Lamborghini.

In fact, about the only affordable commodity on display would be a tank of petrol, as showcased on the large Shell stand right in the centre – being the title sponsor clearly gives you first dibs on your stand’s location.

And even there, keeping with the ‘out of my price-range’ theme, it did have a 2008 Ferrari F1 car parked in it to mark the link-up between the two brands.

A visitor could easily spend hours happily wandering around all the stands, admiring the cars. I even enjoyed looking at a set of police cars from the past few decades and imagining the Sweeney tearing around corners in the Rover SD1 they had on display. However, without a doubt the Top Gear Live show was the reason most people were there.

At around 7:30pm you’re invited to wander over to Earls Court II to take your seat for the show. I’m sure the fact that tonight is Bonfire Night wasn’t lost on the organisers as we were treated to an amazing display of pyrotechnics, not to mention two mobile bonfires in the form of a pair of Imprezas with flames flying out of the back window, doing synchronised slides around the arena floor.

'Heavily scripted but often hilarious...'
‘Heavily scripted but often hilarious…’

I must admit, I wasn’t sure how the TV show would translate to the stage. Most of the entertainment on the TV comes from their outdoor activity and the studio is only used for interviews and to link between features.

Thankfully the emphasis of the show was on stunts and displays more than the heavily scripted but often hilarious banter between May, Hammond and Clarkson.

The arena was soon the showground for a set of very talented stunt drivers sliding within an inch of each other without making contact – despite the fact that an almighty prang is exactly was the audience were secretly hoping for.

The usual insane challenges were there too, including a race between cars powered by a lawnmower, a chainsaw and a hedge-strimmer, plus regular features from the show such as the cool wall.

For me, the most entertaining part of the show was the Reliant Robin race, which flipped so many times you’d think it was Pancake Day, not Bonfire Night.

'The usual insane challenges'
‘The usual insane challenges’

Looking around the audience, I’d say it was a fairly even spread of PR guests and members of the public. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the show, and there were various audience participation events such as holding up cards during the cool wall segment to decide where a car should be placed (subject to final approval from Clarkson, of course).

The only celeb spotted in the audience was Jay K of Jamiroquai, and sadly nowhere near where I was sitting. I later discovered that the Ferrari Enzo and the Porsche 356 Speedster used in the show belonged to him, so he was probably just there to make sure they were being looked after.

The finale of the show is the long-awaited appearance of The Stig in a Caterham R500. Jimmy Carr makes an appearance in a pre-recorded video to introduce “Carmageddon”, which is basically Robot Wars with real cars, but choreographed action. We’re treated to The Stig flinging the little Caterham around the arena until each “killer car” (such as an armour plated JCB, or a Dodge Viper fitted with a machine gun) is defeated by running over a firework.

For the final showdown, The Stig swaps the Caterham for a specifically modified stunt buggy and, in spectacular fashion, completes what we are told is the world’s first indoor loop-the-loop. Do let us know if this is a blatant falsehood – I guess it depends if Herbie doing it in the Monaco tunnel counts as indoor…

'Overall it was a great show...'
‘Overall it was a great show…’

Overall it was a great show and, given that the waiting list to appear in the studio audience for the TV version of Top Gear is several years, this is a far better way to watch Clarkson and Co in action. Not to mention the chance to drool over everything from an Audi R8 to a Bugatti Veyron.

Sadly I have no real moments of controversy to report on. In fact, the trio were remarkably well behaved. Clarkson did call Gordon Brown a “two eyed Scottish genius” which is hardly cause for complaint, although I may have detected a small hint of sarcasm in his voice…

And on that bombshell… (You know the rest).

The new series of Top Gear starts on BBC2 at 9pm on Sunday November 15th. For more information on the show see the Top Gear Live website and for details on how to attend see the MPH Show website. Scott’s photos from the event can be seen here – please don’t re-post them without asking his permission.


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