July 30th saw the streaming release of the third installment in The Grand Tour Presents series, Amazon’s installment rework of the formerly tent-based automotive series. Following up their “Seamen” premiere (which I liked) and “A Massive Hunt” (which I didn’t), Clarkson, Hammond, and May get back to their basics of years ago with “Lochdown.” And there’s not a lot wrong with that.
Before you read any further, be advised this article contains major spoilers of the episode. You’ve been warned!
The premise of Lochdown is a simpler one than the prior episode, an answer to a question: Why didn’t American cars catch on in Europe? The question itself is enough for any viewer to anticipate the era of cars the old Top Gear crew would target. The Seventies, of course. Big chrome, big engines, big trim gaps, The Grand Tour is going to have some Brougham Time. Clarkson’s pick is a Lincoln Continental Mark V, Hammond goes for a boat tail Buick Riviera, and James selects a Cadillac Coupe de Ville. All three cars are from the early Seventies, have enormous V8s, and are in various states of trim disrepair.
To find an answer to their question, the team travel from the northernmost city in England, Berwick-upon Tweed, to an island in the Scottish Outer Hebrides. The journey itself is around 360 miles, and there will be a series of challenges along the way – though Clarkson doesn’t use that phrase as the show goes out of its way not to use phrases from former careers and employers.
The first 25 minutes of the hour and a half runtime are the most enjoyable. Unlike “A Massive Hunt,” Clarkson, Hammond, and May spend time talking about the cars they’re driving and have chummy conversations about their American iron before the journey begins. The way they talk about their Detroit steeds in the beginning smacks as false, like someone at Amazon HQ called for a bit of pandering to their large American audience. While I believe Clarkson lies his Lincoln and Hammond enjoys his Buick, not an ounce of me believes May likes the Deville. The car is a result of the show’s production, as James is expected to drive a Cadillac as established in the Top Gear trip to New Orleans episode of 2007.
The first hurdle the team faces is a drive through Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh. Ancient cobbled streets (which are closed to traffic and pedestrians in advance of the show) are not fit for American luxury barges. But you knew that, and the show’s used this trope many times before with various cars. Clarkson opens his Continental’s door only to find the inside door panel is still shut, which you’ll recall from the British Leyland challenge of 2007. A conclusion “unsuitable for cities” is reached quickly, and the team is onto their next Scottish real-world test.
It’s a track race on a circuit with many tight turns! Up against the American cars is the sportiest Scottish car ever made, a Hillman Avenger. Surely it will be slower with its puny engine than the American luxury cars with their V8s. Lap times go as you’d expect, though May makes no attempt to drive urgently around the track and proceeds like he’s headed to work. Conclusion: Enormous American cars aren’t suitable for tracks. But we knew that already, too.
COVID is mentioned as a reality after the track portion, and it’s indicated the presenters can’t stay in hotels as they’re all closed. So they get caravans which they “must sleep in,” but clearly don’t. Around this time the episode becomes more gag-focused and less enjoyable to watch. May’s caravan is filled with water, Hammond drives too fast on a dirt road and runs off the side with his caravan, and Clarkson’s lodging becomes unhooked and falls off a hill into some woods. It’s all very scripted, throwaway stuff.
Next up is a race to see who built the worst cars ever. Was it the Soviets or the Americans? This segment is a dirt track race with a PT Cruiser, a Dodge Caravan, and a Pontiac Aztek against a Yugo and a Zastava and something else. The Russian cars are barely shown in the race. The team acknowledges the 2000s were a very bad time for American cars (not untrue). The race proceeds with lots of body contact, and it’s determined the PT Cruiser is the best worst car because it lasts longer than the Soviet-produced vehicles. None of it means anything, just filler.
The team is invited to go to a traditional British hunting party, in a contrived segment where some new classic cars magically appear for the team to drive. These represent their favorites from the American breed. “You see, not all American cars were like those 2000s ones.” As far as I can recall, this is the only time fresh temporary substitute cars were delivered for any segment of any show the trio has done since 2003. Our hosts wax poetic about the classic Shelby Mustang GT500, Camaro Z/28, and the Charger R/T as they drive to a fake hunting party where the parking lot has only green Range Rovers in it. Hammond doesn’t make it as his Charger destroys itself in an unexpected (and big) way which is clearly unscripted. Nice to see reality creeping into the show after the last episode’s methodically scripted antics.
Somewhere along the line, the producers deliver news of an American-flavored town in the Outer Hebrides, filled with American car lovers and car culture. The team head this direction to enjoy their cars, which they’ve now modified and made worse. There’s no rhyme or reason the modifications occur, specifically with May turning his Deville into a “low rider” with side exhausts. Time to head to this mythical Scottish island settlement that’s like America.
After the last two dud segments and the dud modifications, the show wraps up its final 20 minutes or so with a well-used set piece: The team must build a bridge across a river, the other side of which has this American town on it. This segment doesn’t really make sense but is rather an opportunity for some goofing around, sinking a boat, and for May to get his very lowered car pretend-stuck on the bridge.
The team makes it across to this American town, which is a set done up to look like an out-of-place American strip mall. There are no people, and only one MG parked outside. The team parks and goes to a bar, only to find that everything about the modern American culture is actually Chinese. One Korean reference is shown amongst the Chinese things, but that seems like an editing slip. The team sips a Tsingtao (decent beer by the way) and concludes there’s really not much America left. The initial prompt and reason for the journey are forgotten.
Overall, “Lochdown” is a decent episode that feels comfortable to long-time fans of the three hosts and the work they do. Unlike “A Massive Hunt,” the script is slightly more concealed, and unexpected events made it past the editing room floor. The hosts spend more time together than in their prior voyage and seem to enjoy their schtick much more. As always, the cinematics are very well-presented, and the accompanying Seventies tunes are nice as well. The initial question on American cars was a throwaway, but that’s what you want with a show like this. The adventure’s in the journey, not digging up a treasure chest at the end. I found myself smiling through at least the first third of the episode. The runtime is a bit unnecessary, but this one’s worth a watch.