Richard Hammond and Oliver: A Short Top Gear History

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 border 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 to 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 a secret science lab. We can see in that, 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 has now been featured in a DriveTribe video where Hammond is looking at giving the old boy some attention.

It turns out, Oliver’s original restoration was a bit rushed when he first came to the UK. And, actually, he’s not looking so great under the shall right now after someone borrowed the car for a wedding. Hammond said in the video that someone had reversed the car next to a tree with the door open. We can only guess that this didn’t leave the car looking so golden.

So now it’s been set in motion that this little Opel is going to get, at the very least, a full restoration. But there could be plans for something further. It’s possible that the car could be hot rodded, or slammed, or even converted into a retro rally car. We don’t know what future Oliver is going to have, but rest assured something is happening. And it’s even likely that this could turn into a series of some kind.

Last year, Hammond said the following on the DriveTribe YouTube channel.

“I’d like one day to maybe do a show using him for as many different things as I can. I’d like to take him stage rallying, drag racing, take him circuit racing…”

He admits that he will have to “customise the car heavily” to be able to do this, but he’s very interested in taking the car through several evolutions.

“I can drop a small block V8 in him for a bit. That would ask questions for the rest of the transmission and drivetrain, yes.

“He’ll tear himself to bits so he’ll need new everything underneath, but I’d quite like to take him through various evolutions. I think that could be fun.”

It seems as though Hammond’s love for Oliver is still strong, and I’m very excited to see where the journey will take them in the coming years. But just know, we haven’t seen the end of Oliver. If anything, they’re just getting started.

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