The point was made several times during The Grand Tour that cars are something that we become attached to and form relationships with. Despite this, the gang didn't really seem to bond with any of their vehicles during the past series. Even though they really enjoyed their bespoke beach buggies, they lacked a familial bond by the end of their adventure. Enter Oliver, a true car love story if ever there was one.
Back in episode four of series ten of Top Gear, the boys were sent to Botswana for a special. They were each given 1500 pounds and told to find a car in Africa. The only caveats being that they could not be four-wheel-drive or be made to go off-road in any way. The whole point of the special was to prove to people in England that you don’t need an off-roader because you “live up a lane which sometimes has leaves on it,” by driving 1,000 miles across the spine of Africa.
When they met up at the starting line at the boarder of Zimbabwe and Botswana, James had a 1985 Mercedes 230E, Jeremy a 1981 Lancia Beta Coupe and Hammond had a 1963 Opel Kadett. After only a few miles of driving, Richard was completely besotted with the little car and decided to call it Oliver, much to the amusement of his colleagues. It seems that the bond of man and vehicle stops at giving it a name.
Still, Oliver and Richard soldiered on through the harsh landscapes and rally stages of Africa, and aside from being completely drowned in a river, the little Opel didn’t let him Hammond down. Still, at the end of it all, their backup car, a VW Beetle was named the best non-four-wheel-drive vehicle for the people of Surrey. Even so, Richard arranged for Oliver to be transported back the UK, where he was restored and became a part of the family. Hammond even taught his eldest daughter to drive in it last June.
After that lengthy and extensive restoration, Oliver made a few more appearances on Top Gear, including helping Hammond win the best sound in motoring for his “OOOOLLLLIVER!” shout when he botched the river crossing in Botswana. He also made an appearance during an episode where the boys learned to drive lorries. They were challenged to do a tricky hill start and for extra motivation, something they loved was placed behind their truck. For Hammond, it was Oliver, and rather than risk damaging his car, Richard backed out of the challenge.
Oliver also starred with Hammond on another television show called Richard Hammond’s Blast Lab, which aired its final episode in 2011. Unlike Top Gear, this was a science-based game show for kids that took place in his secret science lab. We can see in that little Oliver was still going strong, vanity number plate and all.
So, where is Oliver now then? Well, the last we saw of him, he had survived his driving lessons with Hammond’s daughter and was out for a nice fall cruise. Richard posted pictures of him last November on DRIVETRIBE, saying “Woke from a dream about gritting lorries with teeth and realized today is one of the last before the salt goes down and turns the roads into acid baths for small cars made of thin tin.”
Seems Richard’s love for the little Kadett is still going strong, and let’s hope Oliver is as well!