Hooniverse Asks: Living or Dead, Who Would Be Your Top Top Gear Hosts?

Top Gear Intro
This just in: Jeremy Clarkson has quit Top Gear. Wait, I’ve just been handed an update… no he hasn’t! Maybe he quit along, long time ago? We’re not sure… 
You know what, all this kerfuffle over whether Jezza is leaving the show or not really doesn’t interest me. I’ve actually found the show to be a bit tepid the last few seasons as they’ve dipped more into staged buffoonery than into the actual cars and driving aspects of the show that once made it great. The dust up however has got me thinking as to who might actually be better hosts than the ones we’ve have – or don’t have.
Consider if you will the luminaries of the Automotive World – from any era or any age, living or dead. Now, how would you match up three of them to make for an unimpeachably bad-ass presenter line up for the greatest automotive program… in the world? I had to throw that in there, I just couldn’t help myself.
For me, it’s one living individual, and two who have passed on. First and foremost it’s British journalist and hirsute beard-wearer L.J.K. Setright. Next up, his humorous American counterpart, Henry N. Manny III, who wrote most notably for Road & Track, but also for some British pubs in the ’60s. I should pause at this point and note that I sourced my fractured writing style from Manny, and he remains to this day one of my heroes. For my third presenter, I choose someone who is very much still with us, and whose work in CAR in the ’90s I very much enjoyed, and that is Rowan Atkinson. There you go, Setright, Manny, and Atkinson.
Okay, top that.
Image: MisterSlimm

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  1. Mallomar Avatar

    Marc Bolan, Tiff Needell, and Harry Dean Stanton.
    I would absolutely watch that show, no matter what it was about.

  2. Batshitbox Avatar

    Second on Rowan Atkinson. I’d also choose P.J. O’Rourke (author of ‘How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink’, and ‘High-Speed Performance Characteristics of Pickup Trucks’) even though he’s a Yank. And Brian Johnson. Definitely Brian Johnson.
    (Does Nearly Dead count? I mean, can I choose these three circa 1987?)

    1. JayP Avatar

      I second O’Rourke.

    2. IronBallsMcG Avatar

      Of course O’Rourke gave us my absolute favorite snippet of automotive prose, “ass-engined Nazi slotcar.” So yeah, I third that one.

  3. irishzombieman Avatar

    Living or dead, who would I love to see hosting?
    Hunter S. Thompson. Though I don’t think he’d last very long.

    1. irishzombieman Avatar

      Also, Murilee.

      1. irishzombieman Avatar

        Hmmm. Unconscious theme there to my picture selections.
        Maybe Top Gear could use more guns. . .

  4. 0A5599 Avatar

    Since Atkinson and Johnson were already taken:
    David Letterman is legendary for his collection of speeding tickets, his race team ownership, and his possession of a Paul Newman gifted Volvo wagon with a supercharged Mustang engine. He might know a thing or two about hosting a TV show that does goofy stuff between talking to guests.
    Even if Hal Needham had never come up with the idea to soup up an ambulance to cross the country at above the legal speed limit, he gave the world Smokey and the Bandit. That’s all the qualifications anyone needs.
    Steve McQueen.

    1. GTXcellent Avatar

      Why not the man who did – Mr. Brock Yates?

      1. 0A5599 Avatar

        Though I am willing to give Yates equal billing with Needham for the ambulance, and I like him in print, he isn’t really camera-ready.

        1. GTXcellent Avatar

          Man I really disagree on that. Brock has done quite a bit of television work back in the day. Remember American Cavalcade of Motorsports and Diamond P Motorsports on the old Nashville Network? He and Steve Evans (and Army Armstrong). He was a long time pit reporter for CBS – especially the Daytona 500, and he did some things on the old SPEED network as well.

  5. PotbellyJoe★★★★★ Avatar

    The problem we have with every attempt since is that the presenters are typecast, intentionally to fill the role of whatever they are to be for the show. American Top Gear has the racer, wrecker and eccentric. It doesn’t work because they can never break character, or evolve. They just constantly do what is expected.
    What we need are guys who are fundamentally solid in being on TV, good writers, AND big into cars. I don’t want comedians, the comedy will happen when they do the fun stuff with vehicles. Comedians will feel to pressured to be funny, see Adam Carolla and Adam Ferrara. Therefore I need Leno, Letterman and Seinfeld out, despite their car chops. And that’s unfortunate because Letterman’s interview skills would be great for the sitdown with celebrities.
    What we need are guys like Dan Neil, or Andrew Del-Colle to be thrown in the mix with some regional writers, bloggers, or on air reviewers.
    The only way to make it work is to have organic interaction between the hosts and that can only happen if we don’t cast them into molds, but instead bring them in to be honestly car guys with no pretenses on being funny.
    To quote Johnny Russel and Voni Morrison:
    Well, I hope you come and see me in the movie
    Then I’ll know that you will plainly see
    Biggest fool that’s ever hit the big time
    And all I gotta do is act naturally

    1. Maymar Avatar

      I wouldn’t automatically rule out Leno, Letterman, or Seinfeld, just based on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, because it shows that all of them can step back from forced comedy if the moment doesn’t call for it. The important thing would be letting someone of that clout to tell the network to back off and let them do their thing, instead of letting some suit dictate that it needs to be 58% whackier.

      1. PotbellyJoe★★★★★ Avatar

        I would argue the painful Leno appearance on Overhaulin’ is evidence he isn’t cut out for the gig. Seinfeld has his shtick, so I don’t see him wanting to work for a producer. Letterman’s asset in interviewing would be ideal, but then you need others to be equal to the task of working with him.

        1. Tanshanomi Avatar

          Leno tries too hard. There’s always an edge of self-conscious affectation whenever he’s on camera. He never knows when to turn it off and just be himself. It’s like he’s always spectatoring, no matter his activity.

        2. Maymar Avatar

          Believe me, I’m not putting them forth as ideal candidates, just that in that specific context, they can work well on screen, with cars, they can be funny, but don’t have to at all times. You’re not wrong though, that hiring a comedian, especially on US television, would force them into being funny with pretty much every line they get.

      2. 0A5599 Avatar

        Agreed. CiCGC works because it features funny people doing unscripted routine activities, instead of trying to be funny. One of the best episodes was also the least funny: Michael Richards.

  6. Drzhivago138 Avatar

    The Stig would secretly (or not-so-secretly) be Steve McQueen.

  7. Mike Avatar

    I totally agree with regards to Rowan Atkinson and Steve McQueen. I’d also like to offer the man whom I consider the automotive port lauriet. Mr. Peter Egan!

    1. Tanshanomi Avatar

      I would make a two-wheel version of the show with Dave Edwards, Peter Egan, and Kevin Cameron. …maybe Bruce Finlayson? …Barry Sheene?

  8. Tanshanomi Avatar

    I have no idea, but I want a Dennis Gage, Roy Wort and & Jeff Glucker 3-way Celebrity Death Match.

    1. engineerd Avatar

      If they have to drive a manual, we know one of them will be eliminated off the bat.

  9. FastPatrick Avatar

    Mike Spinelli, Ray Wert, and Matt Hardigree.

    1. irishzombieman Avatar


  10. Maymar Avatar

    More than anything, whoever gets hypothetically picked needs a naturalistic screen presence, enthusiasm, and good chemistry with their co-presenters. There’d hopefully be excellent screenwriters behind the scenes, even if you got someone with decent writing chops as it is, and technical knowledge is almost irrelevant.
    In the highly unlikely scenario that the CBC decided it wanted to try its hand at Top Gear Canada, I could see something like Don Cherry, Ron McLean, and George Strombolopoulous working well, between having already worked together, Cherry is already good at the opinionated loudmouth role, and they all have a bit of gearhead in them (Cherry loves his big old Lincolns, McLean still has an early Fox-Body, and Strombo does continent-wide motorcycle trips).

    1. GTXcellent Avatar

      I like your dream scenario, but only if they get to use the old Hockey Night in Canada theme song.

  11. Manic_King Avatar

    There’s 1m signatures to keep Clarkson and 5400 to replace him with the Alan Partridge, moronic local radio host played by petrolhead Steve Coogan. I think TG needs 1 opinionated guy and comedians like Jimmy Carr or Coogan are possibility but that all important chemistry, will it be there? Probably not.

  12. Tomsk Avatar

    I’d be inclined to keep May, but match him up with Graham Hill (who certainly would have had the quick wit and gregariousness to excel at being the ringleader/celebrity and F1 driver interviewer) and Michael McIntyre. Oh, how the laughter would flow…
    Oh, and hire a certain Scottish world champion and Indy 500 winner (who was fairly soft spoken and spotlight-averse anyway) to serve as His Stigness.

    1. Stu_Rock Avatar

      I’m with you regarding May. He’s the reason I keep watching the show.

  13. Guest Avatar

    Chris Harris,Sabine Schmitz and Quentin Wilson.

    1. crank_case Avatar

      You know I would have been with you on Quentin Wilson from memories of the old days of Top Gear until I saw Channel 5s “Classic Car Show”. Maybe it’s over scripted or poor chemistry with his co-host, but he and Jodie Kidd are slightly painful to watch, which is a shame because Top Gear/Fifth Gear style show based round older cars instead of new ones had a lot of potential.

  14. Vavon Avatar

    Chris Harris, Sabine Schmitz and Quentin Wilson.

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      Yeah, Chris Harris could definitely use the publicity, poor little mite. Nobody pays him any attention…

      1. Vavon Avatar

        Not sure…

    2. engineerd Avatar


  15. Tanshanomi Avatar

    Okay, having had several hours to think about it…three that I think you’d have a real chance of putting together: Tori Belleci, Scottie Chapman & Matt Le Blanc. A good mix of backgrounds and experience, all casual and sincere on camera, and none of them would have to be “THAT one.”

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      Johnny Knoxville, Tim Allen and Charlie Chaplin.
      No, Laurel and Hardy and Ayrton Senna.
      Scratch that, Spike Milligan, Douglas Adams and Stephen Hawking.
      To be honest, I think it would be better to have intelligent people who know nothing about cars than screen personalities who pretend they do. Knowledge is good, understanding is better.

      1. Tanshanomi Avatar

        I mostly disagree. People who know nothing about cars probably lack that knowledge because they don’t have a passion for them. And nobody wants to watch anybody go through the motions of something they don’t personally care about. Just throwing a smart, witty person into something they would otherwise consider a random environment is not going to make good TV for viewers. If you ever get a chance to watch Tom Snyder’s interviews from the old Tomorrow TV show, he tried to discuss every guest’s area of expertise as a “learned audience,” and often came across with embarrassingly misinformed questions and inane anecdotes.

        1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

          Yeah, you’re exactly right.
          My worry is seeing more of what I’ve seen on other channels who “must have a motoring show”. They’ll assemble a bunch of aesthetically pleasing camera feed, put them in flashy cars and let them yammer through a script that they probably don’t understand. I heard a pneumatic blonde of this description tyring to convince the audience that she knew all about negative scrub geometry. She failed.
          I’d rather have people who confess to knowing nothing than ones who pretend they do. Of course, better still would be to have excellent presenters who know what they’re talking about and share their knowledge in an accessible, easily digested way. And that’s pretty much what TG gives us right now.

          1. Tanshanomi Avatar

            There is a certain skill and talent to being personable on video. People like Vicky Parrott leave me conflicted. She is obviously knowledgeable and passionate about cars. I would genuinely love to have an opportunity to sit around in a pub booth bench-racing with her. but her Shatner-esque delivery and general woodenness on screen limit how long I can watch and listen to her with enthusiasm.

          2. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

            I wonder if what you’re seeing is an insight into how personable they are. Sometimes a vlogger will deliver something factual and accurate as if it’s the most important thing in the world. Vicky’s doing that right here. But I think our own Jeff, for one, presents as if there’s more to life. As if he can see way beyond this one story. A laid-back demeanour helps. Ms Parrot is quite full on, though her boundless enthusiasm is noteworthy!

        2. crank_case Avatar

          It’s funny, because that’s the exact approach that the “highbrow” Beeb channel, BBC 4 often takes. Getting a passionate subject matter expert on something and sticking them in front of the camera, and y’know what, it totally works. They’ve made documentaries about everything from science to biscuits to motorways that have been utter fascinating. Stuff is only boring if you choose to view it as such.

    2. Vairship Avatar

      Judging by Tori Belleci’s prowess in jumping bicycles, he might need some driving lessons… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYxa7fj1DJ0

      1. Tanshanomi Avatar

        Yeah, but that’s good television there, buddy!

    3. Juliet C. Avatar
      Juliet C.

      I would vote Tori just for the eye candy. He’s got a great smile and he’s JUST pretty enough to be sexy without looking like he should be in a boy band or a gay bar.

  16. wunno sev Avatar
    wunno sev

    for my hypothetical Top Gear America, i’m picking Ezra Dyer, Jamie Kitman, and Murilee Martin.
    Dyer is the Hammond stand-in, Kitman is our not-May, and Ms Martin is…certainly not Jeremy Clarkson. i think i’ve just gone and picked a team of people i like rather than a group of people who would mesh well together. perhaps we need an antagonist, someone to play the Clarkson role, but i don’t know whom i’d pick.

  17. engineerd Avatar

    I’m still thinking of who I would pick. I know for sure I wouldn’t pick Jonny Lieberman. He would just ruin it.

    1. Tanshanomi Avatar

      I can imagine Poncho Barnes would be fantastic…as long as it it was on premium cable.

  18. mad_science Avatar

    Hey, as long as we’re fantasizing, I’ll go with Me, Jessi Combs and Bertha Benz.

    1. Tanshanomi Avatar

      I can imagine Poncho Barnes would be fantastic…as long as it it was on premium cable.
      [Oh, bother. I accidentally posted this to engineerd’s comment, when I meant to put it here. And I forgot that “deleting” a comment simply deletes the attribution. Sorry for the double post, people!]

  19. Tanshanomi Avatar

    There of few of us who know it, or why, but building a show around Bob Lawrence would’ve been positively EPIC.

  20. spotarama Avatar

    i’ m kind of happy with things they way they are now but if we must have change then make sure it’s none of the pillocks that did the australian version of TG, woeful, hopelessly derivative television (even for a franchised show)
    but on the other hand….yes to Sabine Schmidt

  21. Dr. D Avatar
    Dr. D

    Living or dead? If we get to pick a fantasy dream team I’m gonna say James Hunt, Burt Reynolds and Adolf Hitler.

  22. stigshift Avatar

    David Letterman, Rachel Maddow, and myself. It would be brilliant. Perhaps…

  23. Cool_Cadillac_Cat Avatar

    It’s unfortunate Leno’s time at the Tonight Show made him so self-conscious with the need to be “on” whenever he’s on-camera, because he didn’t used to be that way. I’m talking back in late-’81. His stand up was pretty damned good.
    It’d have to be on cable, too, because these people need to be themselves.
    So, Leno (if you can un-script him), Tom Ford from old Fifth Gear, and David Freiburger from Roadkill.

  24. CSM Avatar

    I dispute the show is “about” cars. The car talk is the catalyst for the chemistry between Clarkson, Hammond, and May. The show is about them. Without Clarkson, there is virtually nothing.

  25. dogleg special Avatar
    dogleg special

    Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman and Douglas Adams