After two decades of ribbing, racing and recovering in the odd hospital bed, Richard Hammond, James May and Jeremy Clarkson are preparing to bid farewell to the world of motoring TV.
The trio have already filmed their final scenes for Amazon’s The Grand Tour having spent months cutting about Africa in the latter part of 2023 – their penultimate special Sand Job drops on February 16 while their final ever foray filmed in Zimbabwe will be released later this year.
For The Grand Tour fans, the final ever episode will be a sad occasion. For Clarkson, May and Hammond fans, it will be even more heartbreaking. But for fans of motoring TV as a whole, it will be truly earth-shattering.
Clarkson, Hammond and May have been synonymous with the idea of racing cars on TV this side of the millennium and a departure from prime time on the BBC couldn’t even stop that.
The three are so much more than a trio of car enthusiast presenters hosting a show, they’ve become pals to petrolheads across the globe for over 20 years.
They created a genre of its own when it came to motoring TV when they took on Top Gear, nursing it into a ratings smash that the BBC managed to deflate to nothing more than a former gem that now sits on the shelves of the archives alongside Poldark and that show with Nish Kumar that told everyone how amazing it was to be a leftie.
Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May return in the penultimate The Grand Tour later this month
One of the most impressive and near-impossible feats they managed to do throughout their tenures on both Top Gear and The Grand Tour is make motoring TV accessible.
For instance, I drive a Nissan Juke and made a recent dash to Halfords because my oil light was flashing. Once there, I was informed I’d need a 5w30 fully synthetic oil but it must also have a specific number between one to nine on the bottle.
I returned sheepishly from the shelves to then be told the coolant levels were low and would need topping up. I nodded and said I would, refusing to embarrassingly admit I wouldn’t know where the coolant went, what its purpose was and that the man helping may as well be speaking French.
And yet I love The Grand Tour and I love old episodes of Top Gear.
Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May have been the faces of motoring TV for decades
The three made motoring TV much more than just reeling off an ad out of Auto Trader – they connected with millions each week.
And, to be fair, the new Top Gear was in the process of gaining some ground on the lofty heights of yesteryear before Freddie Flintoff’s horror crash – but it’s hard to say it would ever hit the same gear Clarkson, Hammond and May reached.
The reason The Grand Tour’s imminent ending hits so hard is because much like its genre-defying content, the genre itself is an outlier in the world of television.
In most cases, if a show is canned, a glossier, sexier, woker duplicate takes its place.
But motoring TV isn’t a new genre and for decades, it’s proven there is nothing that can come close to what Clarkson, Hammond and May delivered.
The Grand Tour: Sand Job sees the trio head to Mauritania
Fifth Gear – remember that? – is still going but in a desperate attempt to stay relevant now goes by Fifth Gear Recharged with an emphasis on electric vehicles on Quest.
Guy Martin still gets behind the wheel every now and then for the odd bizarre Channel 4 special while Formula 1: Drive to Survive all feels a bit too Netflix-y and unrelatable.
Most other attempts have fallen by the wayside even though the trio proved there is an appetite for the burning of tire rubber, TV bosses just have to get it right.
The only consolation of The Grand Tour’s ending is that the trio are going out on their own terms.
The Grand Tour ending doesn’t just mark the end of Clarkson, May and Hammond’s time on-screen – it’s the end of motoring TV
Clarkson told The Times is was ending as it “is immensely physical, and when you’re unfit and fat and old, which I am” it becomes harder.
The Clarkson’s Farm star also added: “I’ve driven cars higher than anyone else and further north than anyone else. We’ve done everything you can do with a car.
“When we had meetings about what to do next, people just threw their arms in the air.”
We’ll still get to see each star in their respective solo projects at least – Clarkson’s Farm returns in May, May just released the latest in his Our Man In… series, and Hammond is still hard at work in his workshop.
And yet while you can’t help but smile watching the trio speed around Saharan dunes, knowing what lies ahead when the sand has settled leaves you feeling deserted.