At the end of Season 3, Episode 14 of The Grand Tour, Jeremy Clarkson announced that the series as it has been for 3 years will be ending. Fortunately, Jeremy, Richard, and James aren't leaving us in the lurch. There will still be new road trips, new episodes and more seasons of the show. But nevertheless, when Jeremy gave this announcement, he broke down. And I felt his sadness at a deeper level than I would have even one year ago. I felt more than sympathy for the stalwart-if-problematic Clarkson, I actually felt empathy. What I saw was a man mourning the loss of his creation, a loss that he may not have been fully able to process as he was - deservedly - pushed out of Top Gear and the BBC as a result of his own actions. No matter how anyone might personally feel about the three men, there can be no doubt that Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond created modern car media. After 16 years, they are putting their own creation aside and choosing to do something else, and all three of them have now lost their own IP twice in five years. I can feel their pain. Even at this early stage in our growth, I understand how hard it must be.
What makes this announcement even sadder is that The Grand Tour was just hitting its stride. The content in seasons one and two went from extremely rough to decently polished. There was the terrible Celebrity Brain Crash segment, the somewhat less-bad Celebrity Face-Off segment, the drippingly lush Amazon cinematography, the ultra-high production value, and always underpinning it all, the incomparable relationship between the three main hosts. Season 3 kept everything that was good about seasons one and two and cut away the fluff, making the show tighter and more focused. Yet moving forward, there won't be any more car review segments. There won't be any studio segments. Just road trips. And that's fine, but I need to say a proper goodbye to what we're all losing.
Top Gear was the first car show to inject true personality into car culture and have it stick. Their car reviews always carried more weight than others I read because they always seemed more realistic. We - the audience of Jeremy, Richard and James - grew to know cars and car culture through the host's direct opinions; through the lens of their personalities. That is the mark of truly gifted reviewers. Every story and review should feel like it strings to the last, every feeling should be connected, even and especially when you end up contradicting yourself. That's relatable. That's life. Cars can be perfect and still bad, and the hosts showed us that. Cars can be terrible and wrap themselves around your heart, and they showed us that as well. Beyond review scores and test numbers there is a feel to cars, a connection, and Clarkson, Hammond, and May always put that front and center. And now, so does pretty much everybody else.
The influence of the way the three presented car news can also be seen everywhere. Long before Twitter, Clarkson, Hammond, and May were giving short, gut reactions to car news. Heck, most car coverage for the past decade or more has roots in The News (eventually Conversation Street), including this little podcast. Again, it all comes down to the personalities of the hosts. It's the personalities that lead, that generate the traffic, and when it works, it really works. Mr. Regular I think is a good example in the vein of old Top Gear, and even Jalopnik has moments, though by and large they try to be far too SFW while also having an edge, and you can't have it both ways.
The death of the celebrity interview is also rather sad. I believe I'm right in saying that Star in a Reasonably Priced Car was a Jeremy Clarkson idea. His concept was to have celebrities do race laps and then give interviews, in the hopes that some compelling nugget of information would be dislodged. Over the years, it produced a lot of memorable moments, and the competition for the to spot on the lap board was always extremely entertaining to me. Is it any wonder that The Grand Tour tried to re-create a celebrity spot in their show when that was taken away? What else could they do?
And all of that, all those segments, are now gone. Or rather, the pioneers of those segments are now gone from them. It's a loss for all of car culture.
There's no point in pretending otherwise: Nick, Tristan, and I created The Check Engine Podcast because we wanted - and still want - to be like Clarkson, Hammond, and May. The reality of old Top Gear and The Grand Tour is that they were shows about friends that like cars, not car shows. Because the original cast joked so relentlessly about hating each other, the friendship is something that every single drab American reboot of Top Gear has missed, and something that new Top Gear misses out as well. Ditto Netflix's sad attempts at car shows. Ditto every show ever put on Speed and/or Velocity, and/or whatever other car show channel which might be the same channel but maybe isn't who knows not me. What I learned from watching Top Gear was that the relationship between Clarkson, Hammond, and May always mattered to me far more than whatever they were driving. I believe that was the core of the pitch I made to Tristan and Nick as I piloted the TrailMcBlazer away from VIR and into the pooling night of the Blue Ridge Mountains: We need to make a show about us, and we need to talk about cars.
Maybe that comes across as selfish. Maybe it's braggadocious. Maybe it was arrogant to assume that three Wonderbread Wisconsin boys would be interesting to listen to. Only somehow, we are. Thanks to every single listener, reader, and supporter, we know that we have a worthwhile product. The three of us have genuinely created something that works, something that connects with an audience, and because of that, when I saw Jeremy Clarkson wiping away a tear, I suddenly realized how I would feel if we lost what we have built, even in its fledgling state. Rental Car Reviews, Pace Laps, this blog, Show and Tell episodes, the social media accounts, all of that has been created by the three of us. And if any of it were to be taken away, I would be shattered.
We aren't going away. Of course not, we have too much to do, too much to accomplish, too far to grow. Next week we'll put out what we're calling Episode 50, even though it might not actually be number 50, eh, whatever. Along with that, we're rolling out a new content schedule. First, we're moving blogs to every other week, but the rotation will stay the same. So Nick will post a blog next week, then it will be an off week, then Tristan, than an off week, then me, and then an off week. Really, it got to a point where the blogs were getting so good, I wanted to be able to talk more about them in episodes. This will allow us to do that. Second, on the blog off-weeks, we're going to bring back the live videos, so there will still be fresh content in the weeks where there is no blog. Third, we're going to add in more open-format episodes, because we all enjoy them and they keep the creative juices flowing while also allowing us to cover things in more detail. Fourth, we're aiming to get more focused with our episodes, so we get better lead-up to and after-impressions from our races, and other events we go to. And finally, we are aiming to make it easier for us to schedule and record interviews. Because between the three of us, we have half the average person's ability to organize, so creating this schedule will allow us to plan more effectively and be more accountable to our fans and to our content.
We will start recording video and create a YouTube presence, and that's in the works. We've had a lot of failures, but success is within our grasp. We will add a soundboard, and we're so close on that, we just need the quality to match what we have already established. We will continue to step up the content in our blogs. We will keep pushing ourselves to create the best content we can in our episodes. We will keep manning the social media accounts to expand our reach. We will keep growing. We will keep getting better. And it's all thanks to every single person who has ever tuned in to an episode or read a blog. And no message of thanks from us will ever be enough to accurately portray how grateful we are for each and every of you.
To close, I want to share with all of you a message that ranks as a personal life highlight: An Instagram message from user joeroy15. Joe wrote to tell us that he likes our podcast. He wrote to tell us that he just found us three weeks ago, and only has 4 episodes left. He said that he's been listening to us all day while he's at work. I teared up a bit when I read Joe's message. I never thought that I would make anything that would be binge-worthy. I never thought to create something worthwhile enough to become a daily part of a stranger's life, something that other people would be excited to get more of. It makes me want to work harder. It makes me want to grow this podcast and this content more than I ever have before. It makes me dream bigger, and even bigger than that. So, here's a thank you Joe, just from me to you: Thank you for your inspiration. And Happy early Birthday. Welcome to CEP Nation. Here's to the next 50.