Alex Harrington reviews The Grand Tour… Lochdown before its release July 30th on Amazon Prime Video. Starring Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May, they travel across Edinburgh in three classic American cars.
I’ve been watching, enjoying, and writing about Clarkson, Hammond, and May for a long time now. But as others have made clear previously, something changed for the worst when the globe-trotting trio left the BBC to go to their new home in the hills of LA: Amazon Prime.
It was difficult to pinpoint exactly what had changed. After all, The Grand Tour still had the popular tent to replace the hangar, they still chatted to celebrities, and they still waltzed around in cars like they ruled the world. And this was brilliant. But not the same.
Eventually, I realised what this difference was. Moving to Amazon had given them financial freedom, whereas during the days of Top Gear, if they told the camera they’d run out of budget, the majority of the time they weren’t joking. The Grand Tour was free to do whatever it wanted, wherever it wanted, and while this became a brilliant excuse to go to some of the most amazing places in the world, it sometimes didn’t produce the best content for the viewer.
Producer Andy Wilman told me that sometimes the team leant on these incredible backdrops too much. “Madagascar, we didn’t quite do enough because we thought that road, which did give us an amazing amount to show on TV, kind of… didn’t give us the whole show,” he admitted.
Last year COVID struck, and The Grand Tour inevitably came to a standstill. But as fans became restless for another episode, the show’s crew was forced to plan a tour a little closer to home in Scotland instead of the planned venture to Russia.
“This promises to be one of the most beautiful drives we have ever done,” James assures us as the trio, standing in the most northern town of England, tells us their mission. It is, simply, to drive across Scotland with three rather large, classic American “land yachts”. And while this sounds like one of their more restrained ideas, it is quite brilliant. And there’s one reason behind that.
Thanks to Amazon, The Grand Tour has unlimited resources, but there’s one thing they can’t buy: freedom during a lockdown.
Their speeding F1 car of a show was suddenly shown a roadblock. And just like how in Top Gear they had to push to make the most of their dwindling budgets, Lochdown shows us exactly how dangerous these guys can be when they’re backed into a corner.
The first fifteen minutes consists of the standard introduction to the hero cars, a Lincoln, a Buick and a Cadillac, and follows Jeremy, Richard, and James as they drive into Edinburgh. That’s it. And yet I howled with laughter as the trio bickered and ridiculed each other’s cars in a familiar infantile fashion. Their friendship glows during this episode, and it’s a pleasure to watch.
The story continues as we’re shown clips of bewitching scenery partnered with Clarkson’s voiceovers as they drive to Knockhill Racing Circuit. Abbie Eaton joins the show again where she shows off her skills behind the wheel of an Avenger. It’s good to see an old face. Or helmet. But after this, we sit down with Jeremy and the gang to watch YouTube clips of motor racing at the Goodwood Revival in the back of a caravan.
It feels personal as they crack jokes, eat deep-fried food cooked by resident chef May, and enjoy some close racing. And this sense of intimacy continues throughout the episode. They later modify these caravans, do a bit more racing in different cars, and then drive yet more cars – a Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, a Chevrolet Camaro Z28, and a Dodge Charger RT. There is so much content in fact, that it feels like a number of different episodes slotted into one large run time of almost 1 hour 30 minutes.
So, after several of these new special episode formats, a few near misses and a real failure, they’ve finally perfected the structure, and feel, of these episodes. And while jokes about Prince Andrew, the Chinese, and even a boat crash from Richard Hammond were laugh-out-loud hilarious, it’s the moments where the boys are simply chatting which are the best.
This episode isn’t Top Gear. It’s much better than that. This is Clarkson, Hammond, and May at their best.
Confined to the UK by Covid, Jeremy, Richard and James embark on a Lockdown Special to celebrate the great 70s American cars they saw in TV shows as kids, and to find out just why it was, given their Dads were all driving terrible Austin Allegros, that these amazing vehicles never took off in Britain.
At the wheel of a Cadillac Coupe De Ville as driven by Elvis, a Lincoln Continental as driven by Jock Ewing of Dallas fame, and a Buick Riviera as piloted by Clint Eastwood, the three hosts take their iconic Detroit machines on a road trip across the stunning scenery of Scotland. And even though they are on home turf this lockdown journey turns out to be one of their funniest, most action packed and most charming adventures in years.
Along the way they cause chaos on the ancient streets of Edinburgh, enjoy a hilarious, tyre torturing, high octane showdown with Abbie on the racetrack, before heading off to stage an epic Cold War shootout between the worst Soviet and American cars ever made. They also find themselves homeless in the Highlands after a series of housing-based crash bang wallop catastrophes, but still find time to use classic muscle cars to put an infamous Pizza Express journey to the test. After receiving a text from Mr Wilman, Richard, James and Jeremy modify their cars and head to the Outer Hebrides for one of their toughest challenges yet. At the far reaches of Scotland, they must build a homemade floating bridge across the Hebridean sea, capable of supporting them and their massive cars on a perilous journey to their final destination.
The Grand Tour Presents: Lochdown will launch Friday 30th July on Amazon Prime Video