Top Gear (1977 TV series)/Series 23/Episode 2

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Episode 2
TG 1977 S23E02 End Card.jpgA Lotus Elan drives through a puddle.
Prod. code NBMN307T
No. 200
Runtime 29:39
Prev ep. Series 23, Episode 1
Next ep. Series 23, Episode 3
Airdate 3rd April, 1990

Series 23, Episode 2 of Top Gear aired on the 3rd April, 1990. It was the second episode of Series 23; the 200th episode of Top Gear overall, including compilations. It was the 191st episode since Top Gear entered national broadcasting in 1978, and was the 2nd programme to air in 1990 out of a total 18. Series 23, Episode 2 was originally broadcast in 576i at a 4:3 Standard aspect ratio on British television channel BBC Two. The episode was primarily presented by William Woollard, Chris Goffey, and Tom Boswell, with additional segments presented by Beki Adam.

Synopsis[edit | edit source]

As narrated by William Woollard:

  • Lotus' new sports car: is this the best front wheel drive car yet?
  • Power from the sun: can it replace petrol and stave off the Greenhouse Effect?
  • And a new form of motorcycle sport, combining motocross and road racing.

This week, Top Gear finds itself in Norfolk, the home of Lotus Cars. This episode is dedicated to the company's engineering and sporting innovation, as he presents the opening segment from a Lotus Elan. Woollard states that a car like this could not be made to this exact specification due to increased safety regulations, though the newly-launched Mazda MX-5 has found a way. Woollard had previously tested the Mazda in an earlier episode, but now it has found its way home to British shores, where it meets competition in the form of the relaunched Elan.

Lotus Elan[edit | edit source]

The Lotus Elan had been out of production since 1974, and there was always a likelihood it would be brought back. During the time in which Toyota owned a quarter of Lotus, they had launched the similar MR2[1] which grew on to become a success, but now General Motors has control of the company. There was some apprehension regarding using the Lotus name for a front wheel drive car, but on the whole Chris Goffey is satisfied with the design. Isuzu in Japan helped build the engine with Lotus, outputting 165 BHP. The Elan also has a set of interesting pop-up headlamps, a rather spacious boot, and an easy-to-use cabriolet roof. In testing, the roof was airtight and did not flap at speed, a crucial deciding factor in choosing roadsters. The steering is satisfactorily heavy despite a power steering unit, but Goffey takes umbrage with the braking system, where Lotus is not planning to offer the car with ABS. Otherwise, the driving position, road-holding ability and interior design is very good, but Goffey is not a fan of the red lettering on the instrument panel. The car is well-equipped for 1990, with a good stereo, power windows and power mirrors as standard. Chris also doesn't like the position of the handbrake console, as it makes shifting into 2nd gear difficult. Overall, the Elan is very manageable on a day-to-day basis, and so he takes the car to Lotus' test track so he can gauge an accurate assessment of the car's performance.

On the track, the Elan fared rather well, and despite lots of noise from the Michelin tyres, decent grip was retained throughout. There is some body roll but it does not affect over control of the vehicle. With a 0-60 time of 5.7 seconds and a top speed of 137 MPH, the Elan is also quick, thanks in part to its cd=0.34 drag co-efficient[2] with the roof up. Chris really enjoys the car, but informs prospective buyers that they will have to wait until the Summer of the following year, as the first 4,000 cars have already pre-sold. In closing, Goffey evaluates the Elan as a refined, well-built sports car with the only measurable drawbacks being poor interior design and reputedly 'difficult' door locks.

Car Theft Prevention[edit | edit source]

Back at Team Lotus headquarters, William Woollard informs those watching that open-top cars such as the Elan are the most vulnerable to car thefts, and that as of 1990, 25% of all thefts involve those of vehicles. He briefly presents an updated estate version of the Ford Sierra, which comes equipped standard with an anti-theft device[3] that triggers even if the owner's key is used to start the engine without disabling the device first, which can be achieved by unlocking the driver's door. Tom Boswell then demonstrates, using a glass breaker against the rear side window of a car that it is the preferred manner in which thieves steal cars, with 46% of the 1.5 million car thefts reported up to 1989 being conducted in this manner. He states this is because laminated glass is not yet mandated, meaning the rear windows are significantly weaker than those at the front, which he demonstrates by trying to break into the car through the front side windows to little effect. Such a mandate would only necessitate the cost of a new car rising by £80, but would go a long way to deter future thefts. Boswell mentions that opposition to such a rule raises concerns that a car would be made more to difficult to get out of in a major crash, but a situation in which every door and window would be simultaneously jammed is very slim.

In 1989, around 400,000 vehicles were stolen in total, with a third involving a car's door lock. Vauxhall have instituted a deadlock[4] system which prevents the door opening even if access is gained to the inside of the car, whereas Ford have devised a theft-proof security lock which is more difficult to pick, but the problem still remains. The BSI Group has proposed BS AU 209[5] which sets manufacturers a challenge to ensure that their locks remain impenetrable after a minimum of four minutes. For owners concerned about theft, Boswell presents a few options new for that Spring; the first of which is the Sonix portable lock, which clips on to a car's steering wheel and can be taken from car to car without the need for installation. Two ultransonic sensors detect motion within a car, and battery life is a measly 5 hours, but a lead is provided to connect directly to a car's electric system.

False alarms are a problem, with the traditional 'pendulum' alarm system[6] susceptible to passing cars or gusts of wind, which is not a problem for this new system, which can differentiate between these and more direct "attack" signals. However, such a system isn't cheap, costing around £2 - £300 and must be fitted rather than self-installed. In addition to these, Boswell also shows a microwave-based car alarm, which instructs a would-be trespasser to step away from the vehicle prior to arming. These work through an aerial and control unit stored within a car's roof, and can be sensitivity-tweaked so that it only sets off around the perimeter of the car. It also allows an owner to partially disable the system if they keep a pet inside, or if a door becomes faulty so as to prevent false alarms. If a car is tampered with while the owner is away, an LCD screen informs the driver where said tampering took place, and also features a panic button if an attempt to break in is made while the driver is inside the car.

Alternative Energy Sources[edit | edit source]

With Lotus having worked closely with industry giants such as Toyota and now General Motors, they have imparted experience and technology on to the smaller manufacturer. This includes catalytic converters, which were not mandatory in the UK at the time, but had been in the United States[7] since 1975. As Lotus sells some of its cars there, it has felt compelled to fit them to their UK market models as well. Catalytic converters work[8] by reducing the more potent by-products produced from internal combustion such as carbon monoxide (CO) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) into carbon dioxide (CO²), at the expense of engine power and fuel consumption. The latter cannot be avoided, as it is a natural by-product of burning hexane, and can only be eliminated if cars took up another source of energy altogether. Chris Goffey has been to Switzerland, where the Swiss company Fridez Solar[9] is offering a small battery-powered car that draws energy from the sun.

GM have already proven that a solar-powered vehicle is possible thanks to their 1987 Sunraycer[10] concept, but such a design would not be practical for daily use. Fridez Solar have instead created a microcar with solar panels on the bonnet and roof, which draw power from the sun largely when the vehicle is idle, feeding a maximum of 80 watts of energy from the four panels into the 4700w battery as a trickle charge. That said, the car isn't very impressive, being slow, noisy, and only capable of a 50 mile range despite its £8,000 price tag. After just 15 kilometres of driving, Goffey has had enough and determines the Euromobil is not practical for everyday use.

Woollard therefore surmises that solar-powered vehicles are not a feasible solution in the short term, and proposes an alternative; electric power, and introduces the GM Griffon[11], a modified Chevrolet G-Van engineered by Lucas Chloride EV Systems Ltd. However, whilst an electric vehicle may appear clean, it depends on where one draws the line in terms of the energy source it ultimately derives that electrical energy from. Though such a vehicle can be clean at face value, it purely depends on the power source that the vehicle it draws from. In 1990, when the episode was made, fossil-fuel derived sources accounted for 79%[12] of the United Kingdom's power grid. There is also the lead-acid battery technology to consider, which requires a tonne and a lot of storage space for roughly 50 miles of range. However, sodium-sulphur batteries are a new technology that could boast further efficiency. At Geneva, there are also some new electric and hybrid cars being showcased by several major manufacturers, including the GM Impact, Audi duo, and Volkswagen Golf Elektro-Hybrid concepts.

Supermoto[edit | edit source]

Finally, Beki Adam has been to Lydden Hill Race Circuit to investigate the latest new motorcycling craze; Supermoto racing, a sort of rallycross comprised of half-tarmac, half-dirt action, but for motorbikes. Created around 10 years prior as a means to determine the best racer across all disciplines of motorcycling, the sport has now been sold to the UK by Bernard Conche, and has already attracted some big names from the world of two wheels, such as Billy Liles and Wayne Lamb. Vic Allan then takes his own motorcycle out to give a demonstration of how to race in a Supermoto event, using a helmet-mounted camera. As his bike used normal road tyres, he found it very difficult. However, after using a set of specially-cut wet weather tyres which had had more grooves cut into them, Vic's grip improved. Motorcycling journalist and future Top Gear presenter Paul Blezard also went over the modifications made to the motorcycles in order to adapt them for Supermoto racing, such as higher gearing and more powerful brakes. Surprisingly, the financial barrier to enter this sort of motorsport is very low, with a capable machine costing £600, with around £50 - £100 in modifications. Further enhancements such as a tricked-out suspension and wider rims still only cost around £1,200 in total, making the sport very affordable to those on a tight budget.

Rally Quest '90[edit | edit source]

However, aside from one successful meeting, Woollard states that the season might be cancelled due to low crowd turnout. For those more interested in four wheels, Top Gear is once again running its Rally Quest programme, which allows a viewer of the show to enter in the Lombard RAC Rally completely free, with a car provided for them. Details on how to enter, including a multiple-choice quiz, are contained on page 80 within the then-current issue of Radio Times, and must be returned by the 5th[13] of April, 1990 in order for an entrant to be eligible. Question 3 must be skipped due to a fact-checking error. The top 20 candidates will then go on to partake in a driving test at Donington Park on the 30th of April to determine who will get the chance to drive.

Soundtrack[edit | edit source]

Series 23, Episode 2 contained the following tracks:

▶️ The Allman Brothers Band - Jessica: Plays during the title sequence.
▶️ Elton John - Out of the Blue: Plays during the closing sequence.

Trivia[edit | edit source]

  • Oddly, this episode features no licenced music tracks outside of the opening and closing sequences.
  • The final car alarm system Tom Boswell demonstrates is very similar, if not the same, to the one fitted inside future presenter James May's BMW Z3 during the relaunched show's Middle East Special in 2010, 20 years after this episode was first broadcast.
  • The episode survives in a wholly intact form thanks to early digitisation efforts made in the mid-2000s.

References[edit | edit source]

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