Whatever happened to the Top Gear challenge cars?

Love it or hate it, Top Gear is a great British success story. Messrs Clarkson, Hammond and May, along with the production team, have taken a little motoring show and turned it into a global brand. If I owned a hat, I’d doff it to them. But I don’t, so I won’t.

For me, Top Gear can blow hot and cold. The show is capable of moments of pure brilliance, but can also deliver periods of decidedly lukewarm output. For example, the ‘Star in a reasonably priced car’ feature is my cue to go and make a cup of tea and grab a Hobnob.

But some of the challenges have been brilliant and I was reminded of this during a recent and unexpected trip to the Beaulieu Motor Museum in Hampshire. The museum is currently hosting a World of Top Gear exhibition which includes a massive selection of cars featured in recent challenges. This includes the sports cars used in the Three Wise Men challenge and the stretched limos used at the Brit Awards. Remember the ‘Salfa Romeaab’, Fiat Panda and MGF ‘Sports Limo’?

Seeing the cars and the accompanying audio visual display reminded me that Top Gear can be brilliant. Here are my top ten sights from the exhibition. Enjoy.

Toyota Hilux destruction

They tried to kill it, but after floating it in the British Channel, slamming it with a wrecking ball and then blowing it up with a tower block, the Hilux stood firm.

Toyota Hilux from Top Gear on PetrolBlog

Austin Healey Sprite

I remember Clarkson buying this in the ‘Buy a pre-1982 car for less than £3k’ episode and thinking that it looked rather brilliant. I haven’t changed my mind.

Austin Healey Sprite from Top Gear on PetrolBlog

Citroen Ami

James May bought this in the same episode and took part in the classic rally alongside Page 3 model Madison Welch. He liked the car so much, he subsequently bought it. Allegedly.

Citroen Ami from Top Gear on PetrolBlog

And here’s Madison Welch and James May in the Ami.

Amphibious vehicles

Genuinely funny challenge. The Triumph Herald is understandably showing severe signs of rot, as is Clarkson’s ‘Nissank’.

Triumph Herald and Nissank from Top Gear on PetrolBlog

Suzuki Swift

As used in the ‘Car Ice Hockey’ Winter Olympics special.

Suzuki Swift from Top Gear on PetrolBlog

Austin Princess

From the British Leyland episode. I have to admit that seeing a Triumph Dolomite Sprint and Rover SD1 trashed in the name of entertainment left a nasty taste in my mouth.

Austin Princess from Top Gear from PetrolBlog

Class Dominator Snowplough

Although the feature was a little too forced and over the top, the actual thought of using a combine harvester as a winter snowplough seemed to make some sense.

Class Dominator Snowplough from Top Gear on PetrolBlog


The one fired off the ski slope at Lillehammer. It looked in remarkably good condition!

Mini from Top Gear on PetrolBlog

Land Rover 110 / Lotus Excel

The campervan challenge. The Lotus looked in very good condition.

Land Rover 110 and Lotus Excel from Top Gear on PetrolBlog

Renault Avantime

Saving the best to last, the Renault Avantime, now with the F1 rear wing, although the fixing holes are still evident. The Avantime is a guilty pleasure of mine and seeing one in the metal did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for this fabulous car. I’m off to search Auto Trader. Watch this space…

Renault Avantime from Top Gear on PetrolBlog

And on that bombshell…

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Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.


  1. May 10, 2011
    Chris Claydon

    I agree with you that the challenges are often the best part of TG. With the races, it is normally Clarkson wins with much gloating etc. The challenges are much better viewing, and there have been some classics.

    It is a great shame that the Rover and Dolly aren’t there with the Princess. But the Healey Sprite looks in stunning condition.

    What are you like, ‘saving the best till last’?! Love that.

    • May 11, 2011

      To be honest, if I saw the wrecked Dolly, I would probably feel quite depressed!

      Avantime – simply brilliant!

      • September 20, 2011

        I’ve been told that Hammond’s green Dolomite Sprint was subsequently bought by an enthusiast and is being given a ‘nut and bolt’ restoration. Don’t know about the Rover, sorry.

        • September 20, 2011

          Thanks for the info. Pleased to hear that the Dolly may have been given a new lease of life. It was one of the best cars to feature on TG…

  2. May 13, 2011

    If i’d seen the wrecked Dolly i would have cried, i know it wasnt a good example but it was still a piece of motoring history that didnt deserve to die like that, the philistines!!!

    • May 14, 2011

      My sentiments exactly…

  3. August 30, 2011

    The volkswagen camper that was converted to look like a canal boat is in a dis-used area at dunsfold aerodrome where the studio is, along with the crushed reasonably priced chevrolet, the white morris marina they used in the snow rallying, a green morris marina and a red fiat panda which had armour plating. Saw them there yesterday at the wings and wheels show.

    • August 30, 2011

      Ah, thanks for posting. I wondered where the Marinas went.

      Any sign of any pianos?!

  4. September 3, 2011
    Eric Stratten

    The Avantime is, alas, a much better car to desire than it is to own. Having set my mind to having one after seeing the protype photos in ’98 and a real-world prototype two years later, I eventually ended up with my name on the V5 of a V6 Auto. Big mistake! The Avantime looked great – and still does – but the driving experience was a major let-down. The handling was soggy, the gearbox even more so and the engine slothful. To cap it all, it was reliably unreliable.

    • September 4, 2011

      ‘Reliably unreliable’ – now that’s a winning advertising strapline! 😉

  5. January 14, 2012

    Love the show. As an American who absolutely loves British roadsters, this show is like car porn to me.

    Mentioning each one of the challenges was like going through a list of fondest memories. This blog after I just finished watching the Top Gear Top 40 that I had Tivo’d? Yeah, just brilliant.

    Thanks for the pics. And the Healey Sprite……..WANT!

    • January 14, 2012

      Ah, thanks for the comment! Nice to know that much like Top Gear, PetrolBlog translates okay Stateside!

      Agree with you re Sprite!

  6. March 14, 2012
    M. di L.

    Clarkson’s Alfa 75 has been restored, only it was left in bright green and with the dent on the front left door. Also, Clarkson’s Starion has been restored too.
    Anyone has some infos of The Red Alfa GTV used by James May in the Alfa Challenge?

    • March 14, 2012

      Good information. Delighted the 75 has been restored.

      Not sure about James May’s Alfa. Hopefully someone will confirm…

      • March 22, 2012
        M. di L.

        Other infos:
        Budget Supercars:
        Ex may’s Lamborghini Urraco: RESTORED! Bought by an Italian specialist, fixed and re-sold.
        Hammond’s Ferrari 308 GT4: Owned by Hammond, restored, damaged slightly in a transmission and then fixed again
        Clarkson’s Maserati Marak: Broken for spare parts

        • March 22, 2012

          Ah, thanks for the information.

          Shame about the Marak. That was probably my favourite of the three!

  7. April 4, 2012
    richard david

    i loave british leyland cars/ the princess /maxi/rover sdi/allegro/tr7/etc.i love watching the naff beige chocolate bl offerings getting smashed up .i especially like the extra time given to the morris marina. i actualy allways make a point of insulting owners of these horrors

  8. April 18, 2012

    ha ha the top gear cars! I get a warm feeling everytime a piano drops on a marina

  9. June 29, 2012

    I felt the same nasty feeling when they did the show in India. That Mini that Hammond showed up in was pristine, and to rip the front end out for no good reason was nauseating. The Jag and the Rolls couls have rolled over and died for all I cared, but I was hoping the mini survived.

    • July 6, 2017
      Keith Bagnall

      I thought the rolls was great that’s why I’ve bought it.

  10. September 15, 2017

    The india mini did survive. Im Now the proud Owner. It will be about for all to see next year 2018. All the original part haVe beeN soUrced

    • February 13, 2018

      do TheY sell the too gear cars once finished woth them on dispLay?


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