Thoughts on The Grand Tour, Top Gear, and the state of Automotive Television

This started out as a pretty simple facebook thing, but then it got… long. Raise your hand if you’re surprised.

No one? Fuck. Well, I am who I am.

Ok, so first off, here’s a bit of automotive history – Clarkson on the History of Japanese Cars:

Opening with the bombing of Hiroshima may be a tad insensitive, but it is historically accurate. So, I’ll allow it.

BUT.

This is pretty much the definition of what’s wrong with The Grand Tour. I’ve kept my mouth shut to this point – the car guys (and girls) love it so far but I’m having the same misgivings as I had with the last few seasons of TopGear under Clarkson, May, and Hammond.

And, because I am who I am, I’m going to tell you why. At length. Buckle up, buttercup.

So, did you watch that bit on youtube? Yeah, the image quality isn’t great, but he’s telling a story. Unlike the last ten years, where history has been the domain of James May – That’s fine, May’s a serious historian, and tinkerer, but Clarkson also has a huge (or had, at least) interest in histry. And that’s basically been gone for five years now. He just shouts. He’s the Trump of the automotive world. SHOUT THINGS! REACT TO PEOPLE! SHOUT MORE THINGS! LISTEN TO THE CHEERS!

And that’s the problem.

The Grand Tour isn’t thoughtful in the way TopGear has always been. They used to interview people, now, they “kill” them. They used to test cars, now they slide them. They used to have adventures. Now, they go to other countries and irritate people.

Now, they were already doing that on BBC TopGear. But the BBC was obviously keeping Clarkson in line.

But Clarkson is running the asylum now. And it’s worse for it.

The other side of things, is that the Grand Tour is fully aimed at the US market. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a different market, and it’s one that doesn’t necessarily appreciate what TopGear used to do really well – Be British.

It’s a shame. The British stoicism brought something to the show that you wouldn’t get elsewhere. Yes, Clarkson is an ass (and he really is) but he’s turned it up to eleven now, and it’s very obviously Spiderman 3 syndrome: “If one villian makes a good story, then four villians will kill them!” Except it doesn’t does it? It just irritates, and suddenly, there’s not enough time for the depth, and thoughtfulness that had TopGear appealing to a lot more than car people (My mom used to watch TopGear, because it was, actually, entertaining, beyond the cars).

At the same time, TopGear (the new one) has gotten a bad rap. Matt LeBlanc, especially, is a fantastic presenter. He’s got exactly the right tone and presence on screen for it. Chris Evans, especially, got pummelled for his style in teh first two episodes, but after that, he quieted down a lot and started to deveop his own voice, rather that shouty Clarkson imitation. I feel bad for Evans, I really do. He was set up to fail on this one, because they were going to need a scapegoat for lower ratings when TopGear came back. But the show itself, beyond the fanboi “THERE’S NO TOP GEAR WITHOUT CLARKSON” shit, has actually been pretty good. In fact, if you watch it back to back with The Grand Tour you start to see…

That Clarkson and crew really haven’t done anything different with The Grand Tour, except try to be… more irritating. Again, I think Clarkson got a lot of help, and was really kept from doing the truly stupid stuff, by the BBC. And at the same time, Clarkson (and May, and Hammond) did bring something very special to TopGear.

And the thing is, fanbois, that’s never coming back.

Ever.

In fact, it hasn’t been there for the last two or three years at TopGear, anyway.

The Grand Tour is what Clarkson wants to make. And it’s inferior. Top Gear is what BBC needs to make, because the franchise makes money for them, and, it’s currently inferior. But they’ve got a good cast and they’re playing with how they do things – they’re evolving.

Clarkson’s Grand Tour, however, is a dinosaur. I wouldn’t expect it to last long, unfortunately.

Just from what I’ve seen on social media, there was massive buzz about Episode 1, huge interest in Episode 2, and no one has said a word about Episodes 3, 4, and 5. There’s good reason for that. The show is lackluster at best. It’s a shadow of its former (Say, Top Gear Season 15 or so) glory. Now, that said, the latest episode (ep 5) has been pretty good, all in all. They got back to what they’re good at, a bit. Still fell back onto “how funny is it that we’re British and we don’t understand foreign cultures?” (ie. irritate the locals) but still, they were actually back on form.

This whole “kill the famous guests” thing has to fucking go though. It’s so old and played out, already. Just. Stop.

But all the fanboi’s care about is that things never change. And that’s a problem inherent in the automotive community, not just in terms of Top Gear: “If it’s not my way, it’s shit”.

Literally none of the fanboi’s could see that we won, overall.

Yeah, Clarkson, May, and Hammond? THey left (a stagnant) Top Gear.

But Top Gear continues.

They started Grand Tour.

At the same time, in the interim, we got a revival of Fifth Gear online, and we saw a huge growth in really solid youtubers doing good things with cars – Matt Farah and the Smoking Tire, Chris Harris, Might Car Mods, Roadkill, Petrolicious, /Drive, Regular Car Reviews, and the list goes on.

And these guys, they all have something going on? Why? Because they’re doing something different, something new, and it’s interesting.

As an aggregate? We totally won. I mean, we REALLY won. We went from one real car/lifestyle show, to dozens, in any style you might like. And that’s awesome.

But no.

The Fanboi’s only want TopGear, circa season 21. Forever. And Ever. Because change is scary and they are scared, scared little menboys.

Which means we’re more likely to just get more of the same, than what the boys are really good at, which is telling interesting stories around cars, not just around tire smoke. And that’s a shame. But it does keep the dollars coming in, and the cameras rolling. So, I’m torn. But I don’t look forward to The Grand Tour. I watch it because it’s there. I used to really look forward to Top Gear (and I am looking forward to seeing where the next season of new Top Gear goes, as well, with LeBlanc at the helm).

Embrace the new. It’s pretty awesome. And you still have your thing.

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Car Stuff – Wherein My “Season” Ends Early

Last week was awesome. I finally got the car to the point where a] I could have the spacers on and b] only scrape the tires on the liners/tabs on the most major bumps. That’s actually a win. I think if I push the stiffness a little further, I can eliminate it altogether. The scraping, not the stiffness.

Which means my summer set-up is currently:

F: 19×8 +15mm 245/35R19
R: 19×9.5 +15mm 275/35R19

It’s very nice. Ride height finally, is probably in the range of two inches of drop (rather than the nearly 3.5″ I had to start with) and I’ve gotten the pre-load almost sorted out too (although a little more, especially in the front, probably has worth).

Last Sunday (the 16th of August) was Torque Modified in Bowmanville. At the same time, @thirtyyearhouse needed to be at her family’s cottage in Carnavon (where I was joining her after the show). So.

Friday – 160km roundtrip to drop the dog off at the dogsitter
Saturday – 360km to Carnavon from Ottawa, 160 to Bowmanville from Carnavon
Sunday – 7am out to Torque Modified, 10 hours in the parking lot, 160km to Carnavon
Monday – nothin’
Tuesady – 360km Carnavon to Ottawa, 160km roundtrip to pick up Dog
Wednesady, Thursday – Nothin’
Friday – 360km Ottawa to Picton
Saturday – 80km roundtrip to Sandbanks
Sunday – 360km Picton to Ottawa

Hunh. So, that’s actually over 2000km. With more accurate measures, probably exactly 2000ish. Yes. Exactly, ish.

The show was fantastic fun, I’ll admit. Not because I won (I was never gonna win anything, my car is NOT show level, by any means). But it was fun to hang with a ton of guys I talk to online regularly, and see rarely. The show itself was a fantastic mix of Hotrod, classic restoration, resto-rod, Modern Muscle, Tuner cars, and Import modified. No hate from anywhere and some truly amazing vehicles. But, it’s easier to show you, right?

020 - asses for miles//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

021 - MiniTruck 1988 Mazda//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

024 - Genesis Bagged//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

027 - The Beaumont//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

034 - Partial line-up//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

The run back up to the cottage was amazing too, and so was the run home. I just love DRIVING the Genesis, still, after six and a half years.

So, what’s the issues?

Well, a portion of the lip is cracked now. I think I can fix that, but it’s going to take me some time, and I’m gonna have to pull the front end off to get at it. Not a big deal these days, but it’s still a bunch of work.

The rear tires are still scraping on the tabs inside the fenders where the bumper cover joins the body. Again, not often, and not badly, but it’s still there. I think just a little more adjustment (some more pre-load, a little more stiffness, and another turn of height) will do the job. It’s primarily happening when the car is loaded down, so the pre-load will definitely help. And doing all this will put me closer to next years goal of going to the track.

At the same time, I did the front brakes with some nice, but affordable, parts from R1 Concepts, a few years back. At the time, we looked at the rears, and there was no real point doing them: they were pristine. Now, after 6.5 years of spirited driving, they are less so. A little grindy when you get aggressive, and the rotors are visibly scored. I’ve had the parts sitting around for three years, so it’s a matter of doing them. But I don’t want to go far, until I do them, for safety’s sake. As I’ll have the wheels off to mess with the suspension, I might as well do ’em then.

On top of that, the clutch is finally getting really bad. I think.

But here’s the thing. At this point, it might be the clutch (and again, I have one waiting, a stage 2 Competition Clutch. I just need a good clutch line (might as well do it while I’ve got everything apart) and a throwout bearing (a definite must do while the clutch is out). But it also might be the exhaust. The car is six and a half years old, and the stock engine/tune runs rich, and, due to turbo, blows some oil. Nature of the beast, not worried about it. BUT. I have feeling the stock catalytic converter is almost done, and is causing issues of restriction: the hesitation I can feel when I got wide-open with the throttle could be the clutch, except I’m not seeing the revs jump and then fall, except at high-gear, high load. So I’m wondering if it’s the back pressure building up behind a jammed up catalytic converter, that’s just not flowing as well as it used to. At the same time, I KNOW I’ve got an exhaust leak at the gasket between the catalytic and downpipe, and I think that’s a combination of a downpipe flange that wasn’t as well manufactured as it could have been, and worn catalytic converter studs.

Which means it’s time for a new catalytic converter.

The options there are … very few, actually. I could go with a stock one: as I want to tune the car next year, finally, I’d need to have it modified with a wideband sensor bung. Smarter is aftermarket, high-flow: still emissions compliant (which was always my goal) but comes with the necessary sensor bungs (stock O2’s, Wideband), and flows more, faster. That means more power. I like more power. The options there are incredibly limited, because most people just ditch the catalytics completely, and run an open, catless O2 housing. I don’t wanna do that. Technically, CPE makes a high flow stock replacement, but the only place I can find it is Uniq performance. The other (cheaper) option is out of Toronto as well: Ultimate Racing makes a high-flow replacement for the stock cat on the 2.0T Genesis, and it’s affordable. Thing is, despite them being Canadian, I don’t know how affordable, because their pricing is in US Dollars. I understand why: most of their business will come out of the states, online. But it does mean I have to contact them directly to get a price on what I need. Still, looks to be about 2/3 to half the price of the CPE unit, which is dandy by me!

What this means, is, in the TL-DR version I currently have issues with:

-Brakes
-lip/body
-clutch
-suspension rubbing
-exhaust
-and nearly worn-out tires

Which means I’m done for the season. Which takes the

Friday Wants

Well, nothing here since the last “Friday Wants” eh?

Lets do it again anyway, just so you can see how materialistic I am, yes?

It’s March. That means a car-geeks thoughts are turning to his or her car. I’m no different. As with last week, I’m looking at exhausts, but I’m also looking at detailing equiptment.

1] AutoGeek Foam Gun. Turn your hose into exactly what you get at a $15/wash touchless car wash. I’d definitely like to start doing this stuff in the driveway (or parking spot) rather than sitting in line in the sun when I could be doin’ stuff.

2] After you wash, you wax. These days, it’s more like “compound, shine, and wax” which is basically doing the same job three times over. I’ve done this by hand the last two summers, and it takes me four to five hours. It’s a really satisfying four to five hours but OW. So, a good polisher is definitely up on the want list. The problem is, I have two crappy cheap ones. Don’t buy cheap ones. Go with something like the Porter Cable DA 7424 kit, and save your ass in the long term. Much as I’d love a Cyclo dual-head buffer/polisher the price is … painful.

And that’s that. Soon as this snow is gone, you’ll be able to find me in the driveway waxin’ the Blue Meanie.