Charlie Turner,Editor-in-Chief, Top Gear Magazine
As ideas go, building a car in the office intially seemed a good one. To be honest, none of us ever thought the request would be taken seriously. But several weeks later, when a Caterham truck arrived at security with the many parts and many tools required to build a 160, the reality of our undertaking kicked in. And significantly cramped the working space at Top Gear HQ. After wading through countless boxes and hundreds of packets, and finally accepting, that a working office wasn’t exactly the optimum place to build something we actually wanted to drive, spannering started.
To say that our 160 was quite possibly the worst-built Caterham in history when it left W12 would be an understatement. But fortunately Caterham still had an F1 team back then, and our botched car was dispatched to Leafield for the professionals to respanner into what would became known fondly as the “mighty” Caterham. Its presence at PCOTY and the image of the Stig manhandling it round the Parcmotor Castelloli will remain with all of us who had a hand in its creation for years to come.
As contrasts go, standing at Fiorano with the tyre pressures being checked on a LaFerrari in advance of hot laps round the iconic proving ground in the 950bhp hypercar served as a wonderfully privileged counterpoint. And the pressure was definitely on: my track session had been split in half to allow me to fit an interview with Luca Di Montezemolo into his preposterously busy schedule. As I left the pitlane in this parameter-redefining car, I knew it was inevitable that LDM would ask me what I thought about his ultimate creation. I really didn’t want the answer to be “it’s excellent Luca, but sadly your mechanics are just scraping what’s left of it out of the gravel at turn 2”. Sometimes the responsibility can override the moment, but cars as staggeringly sublime as LaFerrari allow nothing to steal their limelight and the privilege of those hours at Maranello will remain etched in my memory until my dying day.
On the subject of mortality, standing under a £230,000, 2649kg Rolls Royce Wraith, staring at its underbelly, pulling a guide rope attached to its wheel and ushering it onto the top of a container 20 feet from the ground certainly gets your attention. That was for our Best Cars in the World Cover, which looked fabulous. But the back story was even more dramatic than the cover it produced.
What the cover image didn’t show was the moment the Wraith was lowered onto the top of the container, missed its mark, and promptly buried itself into the container’s roof, trapping the lifting gear. With no other option than to lift an unbalanced Wraith back to the ground as swiftly as possible, I was left holding the rope confident that my hi-vis hard hat would make everything ok. Several agonising minutes later (time slows down the you’re flying a £230k, two and a half ton kite) the Wraith touched down and we could all breathe again. Ambitious, nearly spectacularly rubbish, the motto very much lives on.
Other moments that stick in the mind from the last 12 months include the brilliant insanity of driving the new Mustang from Seattle to Ketchikan, Alaska, then from Alaska to Las Vegas. The road-trip of a lifetime, undertaken with one of my greatest friends in the world, who also happens to be our Associate Editor. Other highlights include our own Piers Ward doing 116mph on a lawnmower and claiming the Guinness World Record. The first proper drive in the utterly brilliant BMW i8. Or a recent trip to Bloodhound SSC where I was tasked with grinding the titanium panels of the top fuselage flat. By this time next year they’re aiming to break the 800mph mark, and there’s no doubt that my OCD grade sanding will be largely responsible for their achievements.
But it’s hard to imagine a more fitting end to such a memorable year than the moment I arrived in a nondescript carpark at the bottom of an Italian B-Road. I was in a McLaren P1, had a Porsche 918 in my rearview mirror, and parked myself next to Associate Editor, Tom Ford, in a blood red LaFerrari. The sense of achievement of getting these three staggering creations together for the first time wasn’t lost on anyone. This ultimate hypercar test had taken months of negotiations and hundreds of phonecalls to turn from a dream to a reality. But as the three gathered in that carpark the realisation that we now had 48 hours in the company of these three ultimate expressions of speed began to dawn. As did the responsibility. Two days later, and with each car safely returned to their respective manufacturer, we had a winner. The results of those truly jaw dropping days can be enjoyed in the latest issue of the magazine, which you can download here…
As 2014 draws to an end, and I work my way through the back catalogue of memories from another amazing year in this amazing job, it’s hard to see how 2015 could better the last 12 months. But we live in incredible times. The pace of development, ingenuity and creativity in the automotive industry has never been greater, and as I begin to plan our coverage for the next twelve months it’s clear that pace shows no signs of diminishing. 2015 is going to be another extraordinary ride. Thank you for your continued support and I wish you all a very healthy and happy new year.