British days out: Getting straight into Top Gear at Beaulieu

There’s an official-looking horizontal line about 3ft off the ground as you enter the new exhibition at the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu. The notice alongside says: YOU MUST BE THIS TALL (to be bigger than Richard Hammond).

And that sets the tone for the World Of Top Gear section that opened last week, coinciding with the start of a new series of Top Gear today (June 21st).

The motoring programme has a huge following in 80 countries but this will be the only place in the world where you can see some of the vehicles that featured in Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May’s best-known stunts.

Cars such as the Reliant Robin Space Shuttle, Suzuki Swift that played ice-hockey and Toyota Hilux driven to the North Pole are almost TV stars in their own right and are expected to attract thousands of visitors to the museum in the New Forest.

Seen up close, the modifications to vehicles from the world’s most popular motoring show look amazingly crude. It’s easy to see why the 1,000ft stretch-limo Fiat Panda built by Jeremy to taxi Chris Moyles to a red-carpet celebrity event in London broke in half on the way there.

And you wonder why anyone would want to take to the water in the homemade ‘Dampervan’ and ‘Toyboata’. No wonder they drenched their occupants on the Top Gear amphibious car challenge. Other highlights include the humble Mini that was fitted with rockets and sent down an Olympic ski jump, and Richard Hammond’s Suzuki Vitara ‘police car’ with a DIY stinger device made from a rubber mat with nails hammered through it that hopelessly missed its target.

The Top Gear section is a refreshing change from the ranks of historic cars in the rest of the museum. Unlike the gleaming pristine classic cars in the main part of Beaulieu, many of Top Gear’s vehicles appear to have been simply cut up with an angle-grinder, then stuck back together with rivets.

One of the highlights is the Mercedes S-Class Cottage. Peep inside and you’ll see the driver sits in a wing-backed armchair (I seem to remember Hammond toppling over when it went round a corner). It also boasts stone tiles and rugs, bookcases, a fireplace and a fringed lampshade hanging from the ceiling.

Visitors can wander round a mock Top Gear TV studio complete with ‘fastest lap board’ – where the racing achievements of the show’s celebrity guests are recorded – and Cool Wall, where new cars are rated.

Big screens show a ten-minute film specially made by the Top Gear team. True to their irreverent form, it starts with Clarkson knocking James May’s elbow so his tea pours down his shirt.

After a fit of giggles, Jeremy announces: ‘We’re really sorry we can’t be there – but we literally couldn’t be bothered.’

From The Daily Mail