Actor Allusion: All the presenters take jabs at each other based on their other TV work:
Hammond got a lot of stick from Clarkson and May firstly for 'selling out to day-time television' with Richard Hammond's 5 O'Clock Show, and secondly for presenting mindless programmes like Blast Lab and Total Wipeout. He plays up the amoral Money, Dear Boy image, for example putting adverts for those shows on his car instead of moralistic anti-drugs messages in the Bolivia special.
May presenting James May's Toy Stories.
Clarkson: We really need James May for this test, but he's busy. He's probably building a nuclear submarine out of LEGO or something.
During the Romania trip:
Hammond : [voiceover] James was merrily tootling along, apparently under the illusion he was presenting his wine programme. May : ...good place to stop for grapes, this. There's a person holding up a bag of grapes, and two more holding up similar bags, a fourth, a fifth, a sixth. [pause] I think we're well covered for grapes, then.
Clarkson and May take the piss out of Hammond for hosting Planet Earth Live during their search for the source of the Nile.
Clarkson: This is strangely familiar, you telling me about animals you've just seen that I haven't...
Backed By The Ministry Of Defence: Top Gear frequently has appearances from members of the British Army, Royal Marines or Royal Air Force, taking part in all sorts of hijinks under the guise of car tests. This includes a tank/an attack helicopter/snipers from the Irish Guards hunting down Jeremy Clarkson as he drives a car or SUV, and more recently Clarkson reviewing the new Ford Fiesta in part by using it in a Royal Marine beach assault and playing a motorised version of British Bulldog with various armoured vehicles and a Mitsubishi, Richard Hammond racing a British Army parachutist or RAF pilot flying a Eurofighter Typhoon (Hammond's first shot at driving the Bugatti Veyron), and a BAE Sea Harrier doing a Power Lap.
In 2009, the MoD revealed that since 2004, the Armed Forces were involved in filming for the equivalent of 141 days and civilian officials spent 48 days working on items for the programme. Although there was a bit of snarkery over this, the MoD insists that it was an excellent way to boost support for the Army. Clarkson notably supports the troops, and he is a patron of Help For Heroes
Doing It for the Art: For all the flack the show gets about being bawdy and offensive, deep down you know that the trio really love cars (especially Clarkson; see the last scene of Series 13) and it's really just sixty minutes of gushing about them with gorgeous imagery.
Dueling Shows: With Fifth Gear, which is much less popular than Top Gear (and is based on the original, more straightforward-review format) but is often name-dropped because its presenters include several of Clarkson's old colleagues and rivals from the original Top Gear. Disasters such as the Cool Wall burning down are often ascribed to Fifth Gear's nefarious schemes.
Rather clumsily, to make room for ad breaks, on Dave (a UK channel that shows reruns of many BBC programs) — ironic, as sitcoms and panel games are generally unedited, taking up an awkward 40-minute place in the schedules. UKTV, Dave's parent company, often also comes under criticism for editing documentaries on their other channels.
Also edited for ad breaks on BBC America. The News and Cool Wall segments are generally cut, presumably because they're relatively short and involve topics with which American audiences are likely unfamiliar (and, in the case of the News segment, possibly because the topics discussed are no longer "news" by the time the episodes appear across the pond). However, they keep Star in a Reasonably Priced Car... which is relatively short and involve topics with which American audiences are likely unfamiliar. As an example: episode 13x02 edited out the news, including a part about a car sounding like it was having a "crisis", which made future references to having a "crisis" look like an inside joke. Also, a line from Clarkson about "separating the men from the Grindrs" loses its humor since the part where Stephen Fry shows Clarkson the Grindr app was edited out.
Subverted in 2010 where the episodes are shown in full in special 90-minute slots* They still have to show 20+ minutes of commercials. on their first airing (and a handful after that), possibly since it had more stars recognizable to Americans. BBC America tried this after success with similar time-slots for Doctor Who.
Dave and BBC America also occasionally makes additional edits, such as beeping out swears that weren't beeped in the original BBC version. The most egregious example being during the £25,000 classic car challenge, when James's "Cock!" upon seeing Jeremy's time in the slalom is bleeped.
Due to rights issues, some of the music is also changed after the BBC airings, which can completely kill a moment in some cases. In at least one case they edited the music on the iTunes distribution of an episode: in the Vietnam Special every shot of the "alternate transportation" (a gleaming motorcycle sporting US flags and painted in a red, white, and blue US flag motif) was accompanied by Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" as background music. In the iTunes release, the BGM is changed to "The Star Spangled Banner". This can cause some problems if there's a running joke in an episode.
Executive Meddling: One of Clarkson's pet peeves, often lampshaded with snarly references to Health & Safety.
Hey, It's That Guy!: Car enthusiasts will recognize Edd China from Wheeler Dealers in the first series.
McLeaned: The original Stig, as a result of the driver revealing his identity. Black Stig was launched off of an aircraft carrier and never seen again.
The Pete Best: Jason Dawe, who was a presenter on Top Gear for one season and then was replaced by James May.
Promoted Fanboy: Richard Hammond was a diehard fan of Top Gear, a fan of Jeremy Clarkson even, back when he was still on satellite Television. How diehard? Well, he read every single Top Gear magazine, watched Top Gear every week, and he envied everybody working for Top Gear. Needless to say, he Jumped at the Call when the current format of Top Gear started auditioning for presenters, although the last thing he expected was to actually be chosen for the job. Well, look where he is now.
Recycled Soundtrack: Being made by The BBC (who can effectively add any music they want) this pops up a lot throughout the show; although that itself can be a pain because it doesn't extent to repeats on other channels or oversea markets.
Series 10: Episode 9 of Top Gear uses the song "Peril" from Halo 2 while James is testing the Jaguar S-Type.
Series 21, episode 5 features the Mass Effect 3 song "An End Once and For All" when talking about the fall of custom built frames.
The Red Stapler: Inversion; for a show which spends most of its time talking about unaffordable supercars, Top Gear has a reputation as being able to destroy an everyday car's sales with a single negative word. Manufacturers will occasionally refuse to provide a car for the show to review, fearing they will hate it, but this tends to rile the presenters more, and they will often name and shame such cars before going on to review them "covertly" anyway.
One notable case is the Vauxhall Vectra (Opel in Europe). The Vectra was trashed roundly by Clarkson and Vauxhall/Opel actually blamed him for their poor sales. BTW, for American car fans, the Vectra's American mutation is the Saturn Aura. Clarkson (in a 90s article): "There are only three objective reasons for not buying any particular car. It is unreliable; it is hideously expensive; it is a Vauxhall Vectra."
The presenters spent an entire series mocking the forthcoming Dacia Sandero before it had even been finished. By the start of the next series, Renault had cancelled the UK release; of course, this was probably for "unrelated reasons". And who was complaining three years later in Romania that the Sandero was not sold in the UK? I'll give you three guesses but you'll need only one, if you read the Cargo Ship entry above. Poor guy wanted to take it home with him.
Lampshaded in the American Muscle Cars special (San Francisco to the Bonneville Salt Flats); Richard Hammond noted that Chrysler refused to loan him a Dodge Challenger on the grounds that Top Gear always criticizes their cars. Hammond got around this by going to a local dealership and buying one. (Ironically, Hammond loved it.) During one episode May joked that certain dealerships have started asking "Do you know Jeremy Clarkson?" and denying entry to anyone who does.
On the other hand, when the team demonstrated the durability of the Toyota Hilux pickup truck, Toyota released a new model, named in honour of the achievement, called The Invincible. In fact, there's a television commercial in the U.S. for the American version of the Hilux, the Toyota Tacoma, which features footage from that episode. They don't mention that it's Top Gear, only that the stunt was done by "some automotive experts in Europe" (grossly underestimating Top Gear's American fanbase and its ability to recognize the scene).
Screwed by the Network: An inadvertent example. The late-2009 season was put up in its usual Sunday evening time slot, despite the fact that it would be competing against The X Factor's results show and I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. Result? The season got utterly torn apart in the ratings, posting audience figures that would have been considered embarrassing for the original version of the show, and helped fuel reports that it was on the verge of being cancelled. As a result, the BBC have announced that there won't be any more seasons broadcast in the autumn, and that in future, there will be one season just after the turn of the year, and one in the summer. This was demonstrated further when series 19, which would have been aired in the summer, got pushed to winter 2013 due to conflicts with the 2012 Summer Olympics.
What Could Have Been: James May was originally planning to present the Vampire rocket-car segment but had to back out due to a schedule conflict. Particularly frightening because Hammond said he only survived the car sliding upside down at 280 mph because when the roll cage dug in, his short stature reduced the forces on his head and neck. Hammond is 5'7". May is 6'. On the other hand, if May had been presenting that segment, he probably wouldn't have taken the car for an additional last-minute run.