From the Top Gear Team
On reach-for-the-stars Top Gear, Richard and James tried to make a Reliant Robin boldly go where no three-wheeler has gone before, the latest incarnation of Porsche's 911 flagship was put through its paces, and the impossible happened when Jeremy found a car that actually had too much power.
It's unlikely, but should you find the standard Mercedes SL600 wanting in the power department, mentalist German tuning firm Brabus may have the answer. By throwing away most of the standard Merc's motor, adding new turbochargers and fiddling with the many onboard computers, it's created the most powerful convertible car ever. But, as Jeremy pointed out, making an engine with 730bhp and 811 lb/ft of torque is pretty easy, compared with making a car that can transmit that sort of power to the road. As it turned out, in the case of the Brabus, absolute power really does corrupt absolutely.
Supercars are traditionally, huge, overblown pantomimes on wheels. But the Porsche 911 Turbo does things a bit differently. It's quite small, you can see out of it, and there's even somewhere to put your designer man-bag. But, as Clarkson discovered, it's still properly supercar fast.
Space, so we're told, is the final frontier. And since Top Gear has done pretty much everything you can do to a car on Earth, we decided that Richard and James should try to put one into space. What followed was a simply massive undertaking that combined cutting edge amateur rocketry, British grit and determination, and truly intergalactic levels of cocking about.
Using the scientific principle that 'it's a bit pointy at the front', a Reliant Robin was selected as the shuttle. Our old friends from the British Amateur Rocket Society were bribed with the promise of unlimited tea, and set to work on the launch systems and providing the 8 tonne of thrust needed to power the craft. What followed was the largest non-commercial rocket launch attempt in European history.
As the timer ticked to zero, everything seemed to be working perfectly. But at the last moment the Robin failed to release from the main booster, spiralled out of control, and crashed into a hillside. On the bright side, what was the biggest non-commercial rocket launch in Europe became Top Gear's biggest ever explosion.
Also in the studio, Jeremy talked to Simon Pegg about his new film Hot Fuzz. It turns out that all the low-speed Astra Diesel-based car chases he was involved in while making the film translated into a pretty impressive lap time around our test track.
First shown on: 18/02/2007
Production Notes: Reliant Robin Space Shuttle
What could possibly be so difficult about building a space shuttle? Quite a lot, as it turns out. This was easily Top Gear's most ambitious film and, while everything didn't go quite according to plan, we're still very proud of the results. Here are just a few of the things that happened when we tried to put an ageing three-wheeler into space.
• The solid fuel that powered the whole craft was a mixture of nitrous oxide and rubber. Who'd have thought that a bit of laughing gas and a few old tyres could produce such spectacular results?
• We only had a two-day launch window and weather conditions had to be perfect. In fine Top Gear style, our boys finally got the green light to launch mere moments before our allotted time ran out.
• As Richard and James explained in the film, the military base we used as a launch location is littered with unexploded bombs. As if this wasn't scary enough, the Army was also using the site to test some new 1000-pound bombs while we were filming.
• Cleaning up the wreck of the space shuttle didn't actually take very long. This was because the vast majority of it was embedded deep underground. However, one badly scorched wing, complete with Union Jack sticker, was recovered intact and now has pride of place in the TG office.
• It's well known that the test facility we filmed at is under almost constant surveillance by foreign spy satellites. Perhaps seeing our craft sitting on the launch pad will have convinced a few spies that the UK is preparing some sort of Reliant Robin-based super weapon. Let's hope this doesn't prompt an international arms race involving high-explosive Ladas and jet-propelled Trabants.
• Due to the fact that nobody really had a clue what the shuttle would do once it was in the air, every cameraman had somebody with them to act as a spotter. It's hard to imagine a rocket-propelled Reliant Robin creeping up on you, but you never know.
• And just to emphasise the point, because it's so damn cool, this really was the largest non-commercial rocket launch in European history.
- Jeremy Clarkson
- Richard Hammond
- James May
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