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Original Issue

Thrill Ride

TAKE A trio of irrepressible pranksters, hand them the keys to the world's fastest and most exotic vehicles, and set them loose on a private airfield, and you have the essence of Top Gear, the ridiculously entertaining BBC import that's like Road & Track meets Monty Python. In addition to zooming around their test course in absurd hypercars such as the $1.7 million, 1,001-horsepower Bugatti Veyron, the three hosts—bombastic crank Jeremy Clarkson, boyish charmer Richard Hammond and cerebral stick-in-the-mud James May—take part in goofball challenges (piloting a Toyota pickup across the English Channel), crazy stunts (sending a Mini Cooper off a ski jump), offbeat races (Jaguar versus speedskater) and madcap road trips (up the coast of Vietnam on old motorbikes, across Botswana in a trio of beaters). It's all done with an erudite irreverence that's distinctly British—we'll take Clarkson's word that driving a Lexus is like "sitting in a bucket of warm wallpaper paste, reading a Jane Austen novel"—and an utterly infectious joy. At the end of their muscle-car trip from San Francisco to the Bonneville Salt Flats, during which Clarkson progresses from disdain for his Corvette (made, they joke, by two fat blokes in Kentucky named Bud and Bob) to grudging respect and finally to infatuation, Clarkson declares the whole thing "just fantastic fun." Top Gear in a nutshell.