The Grand Tour’s "Sand Job," Nothing to See Here, I’m Afraid


the grand tour s sand job nothing to see here i m afraid

Just short of the eight-month mark, Amazon’s expensive The Grand Tour is back for its penultimate episode. Following last summer’s “ Eurocrash,” the maturely titled “Sand Job” sends the trio of presenters to an all-new location to tread upon content ground they’ve crossed many times previously. And though the special is sparse on content, it’s certainly coming with length.

the grand tour s sand job nothing to see here i m afraid

It’s perhaps because of this length that one feels a bit ripped off at the end of “Sand Job.” On the tails of “ A Scandi Flick” in September 2022 which expanded the standard hour and a half runtime to an hour and 39 minutes, “Eurocrash” upped the ante to an hour and 47 in June of 2023. “Sand Job” inexplicably runs for two hours and 16 minutes. Two hours that will never be returned to yours truly, but at least I can share the handful of things you’re definitely not missing if you’ve never seen it.

(Warning: Intensive and detailed spoilers lie beyond this point. If you’re not about that, turn back now.)

“Sand Job” takes the presenters to the remote and little-viewed country of Mauritania, located in the northeast corner of Africa southwest of Algeria. It’s a French speaking nation of the Muslim faith, which is referenced throughout the program as a punchline. There’s simply no alcohol here, and we don’t speak any French!

the grand tour s sand job nothing to see here i m afraid

The challenge is to create a rally raid car and then sorta-kinda follow the route of the old Paris-Dakar rally, the challenging race that you might think has run from Paris, France to Dakar, Senegal since its inception in 1977. In reality the race ran its initial course until 2007, then was canceled in 2008 due to intense security concerns in Mauritania. Renamed Dakar, from 2009 to 2019 the race ran in South America. Since 2020, Dakar has been held in Saudi Arabia. 

The real race requires meticulous off-road driving preparation and heavily modified vehicles of 4×4 persuasion. Our presenters are challenged to see if they can complete this partial route of a thing that doesn’t exist anymore in production convertibles which have been modified by unseen experts somewhere. The cars are to be cheaper dupes of the very expensive “rally spec” production cars from the likes of Lamborghini (Huracan Sterrato), Porsche (911 Dakar), and Morgan (CXT).

the grand tour s sand job nothing to see here i m afraid

To that end, Clarkson selects a Jaguar F-Type V6 S convertible, Hammond picks an Aston Martin V12 Volante, and May chooses a Maserati GranCabrio. Each of the cars cost around £25,000 ($34,542 USD). The cars are transformed off camera for an unknown sum before arriving via train to the hosts at the small city of Choum, Mauritania. 

It would’ve been nice to share the expense of modifying the cars since budget rallying was the challenge here, but oh well. Some jokes about not speaking French ensue, and eventually all three cars are off the flatbed rail car and on the sand. It’s worth mentioning that this special is a cross of two specific Top Gear specials you’ve seen before: The “Africa Special” (Season 9, Episode 5-6), and the “Middle East Special,” (Season 16, Episode 1). This episode isn’t half as interesting as either of those, even though the latter was made well into the TG decline.

the grand tour s sand job nothing to see here i m afraid

The production crew did a great job on this episode as expected, with many wide panoramic shots of the desert and appropriately serene drone footage. However many shots of an empty desert you might need, this special is sure to satisfy. It becomes apparent pretty quickly that there’s not a lot to show otherwise. 

At around 25 minutes in the journey is just underway and Hammond has his first breakdown, a theme of the show. The complicated V12 Aston is from the Ford era but is also of an earlier archaic electronics era, a troublesome combination. The theoretical “backup car” is introduced, a very old Mercedes cargo van. This vehicle serves as a prop chest for the episode, and is filled with many items that wouldn’t actually fit in there together.

the grand tour s sand job nothing to see here i m afraid

A 1960s tunnel is encountered thereafter, presumably once used for mining. At its far side is our first set piece, a hastily assembled “mine field” with a wooden barrier Clarkson manages to swerve into even though he’s only driving about 35 miles per hour. The recently painted signs indicate danger, and the presenters are very surprised! But their mobile fuel tanker (moving set piece) drives right through the barrier like a maniac, and encounters nary a mine. 

The group turn around and climb the mountain the tunnel cut through, before encountering a work crew with a backhoe and a van which is, we’re told, building a road. The road clearly curves around to lower elevation in the near distance, but Jeremy concocts a complicated pulley system using the backhoe to drive down the sandy mountainside. It doesn’t make sense.

the grand tour s sand job nothing to see here i m afraid

Following the Jaguar down is the fuel van, which does not tip over at intense angles on the mountainside because there isn’t actually fuel in it. May and Hammond drive down and meet Clarkson at the bottom, declaring they noticed the road off to the side was there all along. 

There’s more desert driving (on a road this time) before the trio arrive at the larger city of Chinguetti, a place being consumed rather quickly by the sands of the Sahara because of global warming. James goes to a library and handles a book that’s 500 years old. Returning, Hammond and Clarkson have filled his Maserati with sand.

the grand tour s sand job nothing to see here i m afraid

James is neither angry or surprised at the sand, and we see that he will empty the car with a shovel and nothing else. May sort of disappears conveniently for about 25 minutes, so Clarkson and Hammond can use their set pieces from the “back of the van.”

A field plough and two snowmobiles are produced, and magically mounted (with included hydraulics) to the front of the Aston (plough) and the F-Type (snowmobiles). These kooky inventions are planned to smooth the washboard sand road surface in front of the cars to make it easier to drive. But lo and behold they don’t work! One of the snowmobiles inexplicably breaks free from a mounting that was loose to start, and drives off into the sunset. 

the grand tour s sand job nothing to see here i m afraid

At about an hour and 10 minutes, May ties the fuel tanker’s line to the roof tent of Hammond’s Aston Martin, which Hammond doesn’t notice because he’s apparently blind. It rips the roof off, but Hammond can only feign surprise. This special is now half over, but already long out of juice.

More desert driving occurs, the team finds an oasis (one of the more interesting moments), and there’s a drag race. But oh no! The team forgot the drag race was on a city street, and there are carefully choreographed “traffic” cars crossing the runway. Close call, you guys. More feigned surprise.

the grand tour s sand job nothing to see here i m afraid

There’s also a visit to an ambassador thrown in the mix, which is conducted like an awkward interview and has some Ferrero Rocher jokes. Did you know there’s no alcohol here? They also speak French, and everyone is poor. Off they go for more desert driving.

The border of Mauritania and Senegal is reached, but there’s no bridge anywhere! The trio pull out a tired trope from previous Africa and Vietnam experiences: build a car raft as a boat/ferry! There’s one modern update: Flotation is provided by empty plastic bottles in a very realistic way. The rafts don’t work but somehow they manage to get across to a very recently cleared bit of land on the Senegal side.

the grand tour s sand job nothing to see here i m afraid

Arriving in Dakar it’s bad news! There’s some civil unrest which is shown via phone screen. The team are on the beach where they don’t see or hear any of it. However, given the Dakar airport is stated as closed, they’ll have to go back and finish the race in Mauritania. Thankfully the runtime is filled, and “On that terrible disappointment, it’s time to end.”

That statement should be the tagline for this special. With no new ground to cover and super-scripted set pieces littering an otherwise empty landscape, there’s just nothing left for our trio of hosts. Whether you believe they decided to hang it up a while ago or they were canceled due to a host’s statements (the narrative has changed a couple of times there), it’s very clear the format is past its expiration with these three presenters. Having said that, the three will be back for one final episode to finish out their lucrative contracts. Look for that some time later this year.

[Images: Amazon Prime]

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