For years now BBC Motoring show Top Gear, featuring the diminutive Richard Hammond, the cynical James May and the blustery, forthright Jeremy Clarkson, has been accused of not doing ‘proper’ car reviews. They have also had the slight thrown at them that they only ever cover insane supercars which would cost the average Joe their house, first born and pet goldfish. As a direct response, the motley trio of motorheads decided to restore balance by doing a ‘proper’ review of the then brand-new, reasonably priced Ford Fiesta - by racing it and a Corvette (purely for the purpose of comparison, you understand) through a popular Shopping Mall in Hampshire, England.
The review starts as any would; they go over the car’s features and details - It is reliable, with no issues with breaking down. Being a City car, they also test out how easy it is to park the car - all good so far. In the next part of the review, they wish to test some of the real-life situations you may face while driving the car, such as what would happen if some ne’er-do-wells in a sports-car decided to chase you through a shopping Centre. I am certain we can all relate!
So Jeremy heads to the 2-level Festival Place Shopping Centre and drives all the way into the Mall. The corvette wakes up, in the outside restaurant section of the Mall between the main entrance and Wagamama pan-Asian restaurant, and gives chase to the modest Fiesta. The Fiesta proves more nimble as the pair get to the Mall’s large, airy main atrium and the Corvette takes out the lovely outdoor seating area of the Costa Coffee Shop. Unfortunately, the insane horsepower of the Corvette gives it no edge in the windy halls of the great Basingstoke Centre, which then takes out some innocent teddy-bears minding their own business outside the ‘Birthdays’ greeting-card store.
The Fiesta tries to shake the Corvette by heading into the BHS department store - the Corvette attempts to follow it inside but becomes stuck as the Fiesta makes its way out of the rear entrance. Then, the Fiesta makes its first mistake and heads to the roof parking of the Mall, allowing the Corvette the space it needs to let its V8 monster engine rip. It almost gets to the poor Fiesta until the little car can get away and return to the safety of the stylish 2nd floor of the Centre. The Corvette tries to keep up but, alas, finds itself crashed face-first into the Birthdays. A tragic end for the Corvette fans!
Unbelievably, the car review in this hilarious episode does get even crazier after the Mall scene, as the elite UK Royal Marines get involved in the show’s quest to do the ultimate sensible car review!
The episode first aired on UK televisions on December 7th, 2008 and was filmed over 12 hours in the Mall, finishing a mere 4 hours before the Mall’s opening. We were lucky enough to be in the Centre the day after the filming, and the tire-marks could still be seen. It was completely coincidental that we were there, because the show managed to somehow keep the entire filming a complete secret, with only management staff aware of what was happening. Needless to say, rumours erupted all over the place and some eventually managed to figure out that the Top Gear gang were responsible before the show itself aired.
Knowing the Mall extremely well - Festival Place is the, well, place in which I spend the most of my Mall time while in the UK - it is such a thrill to see this crazy car chase! It is all so familiar, from the stores to the bendy upper-level bannisters. Even to this day, almost 10 years later, the Mall’s interior is still very much the same. The exterior of Festival Place has just undergone major refurbishment and now looks a much sleeker, modern Mall - but the interior is still familiar, cosy and wonderful!
We recently reviewed this great Hampshire Mall, which you can check out by clicking here. You will also see some pictures you may find familiar having seen these images of the Mall car chase! The Top Gear gang did go on to terrorise other Malls; most famously they drove a tank into a Dubai Mall’s wall - but that’s a story for another time…