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Series / Top Gear (US)

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Adam "The Wrecker" Ferrara, Tanner "The Driver" Foust, and Rutledge "The Expert" Wood.

"I know, the rest of the world thinks Americans are arrogant. And, to be fair, fuck you."
Adam Ferrara

Take a British show about cars, all kinds of cars, especially cool cars. Then transplant it to America, where the car isn't just a vehicle, but a part of the national identity, a symbol of personal freedom and expression, and an integral aspect of daily life for most of the country. What do you get?

The United States version of Top Gear.

The show was originally to be developed by NBC (with help from BBC America) but spent years in Development Hell before changing hands from NBC to The History Channel and finally premiered in September 2010. It is hosted by rally-car driver Tanner Foust, racing analyst Rutledge Wood, and comedian Adam Ferrara.

Season 1 was a near carbon-copy of the BBC show it is based on with in-studio news segments, Stig power laps, and "Big Star, Small Car" (the US version of "Star in a Reasonably Priced Car"). By Season 2, however, most of the studio segments were dropped in favor of spending more time on field segments (only "Big Star, Small Car" and the accompanying interview remained). Beginning from Season 3, all studio segments were dropped in favor of full episode-long challenges, or a competition between the three hosts for the right to test a cool car. The Stig would only make occasional appearances, mostly to set a standard for the hosts to beat in challenges.

The show was cancelled after six seasons when its contract with the History Channel ran out in 2016. BBC America announced, in 2017, that it would be launching its own version of Top Gear with William Fichtner, Tom Ford and Antron Brown as the presenters. Top Gear America (as this version was called) aired its eight-episode first season from July 30 to September 17, 2017, but in 2019 it was announced that it would be rebooted with Dax Shepard, Rob Corddry, and Jethro Bovingdon as the hosts. This rebooted version of Top Gear America, whose production was delayed by the COVID-19 Pandemic, began airing on the Motor Trend network's app on January 29, 2021.

Not to be confused with yet another adaptation of Top Gear that was short-lived on Discovery Channel (a re-edited version of the original's episodes with Jeremy, Richard and James filming new, America-specific interstitial segments). Compare to other American automotive magazine shows: Car and Driver, Motor Trend and MotorWeek.

This show provides examples of:

  • Abnormal Ammo: One of the items that Adam had put on his anti-moron concept car is a squid gun.
    • The catapult Adam has attached to the Camry in "Apocalypse Car" can technically fire anything, but the only ammo they have for it is watermelons and soup cans.
  • The Ace: Rutledge and Adam see Tanner as this, since he's actually a professional driver and they're not. The seventh episode of season 2 (appropriately titled "Beating Tanner") has them put Tanner through a series of crazy challenges in an attempt to prove that he's not as good as he thinks he is. Tanner succeeds at most of the challenges and in the process, sets the new world indoor speed record and gets to put his car (a rally version of the Ford Fiesta) atop the lap time board.
  • Actually Pretty Funny:
    • In the Continental Divide episode, when Rutledge says that the elevation is making him woozy, Adam comments that it's the only time Rutledge will ever feel light-headed (the size of Rutledge's head is a Running Gag on the show), and both Rutledge and Tanner think the joke is funny.
    • In the Death Valley challenge Tanner's vehicle is a Jeep with an abbreviated version of the classic soft-top known as a Bikini Top, when the first challenge turns out to be a drag race Adam asks Tanner if he's glad he brought his bikini-top which Tanner admits was actually funny.
  • The Alleged Car:
    • In the Alaska Special, Tanner's Chevy allegedly had a diesel engine. The fuel gauge even said "diesel fuel only." It turned out to be a Chevy Small Block. He still won, and it was the only truck to finish.
    • The show has had some variation on "get a car for cheap/really cheap/obscenely cheap" as the central premise of an episode several times.
      • Rutledge got a Fiero/Ferrari mash-up kit car for a "$5000 luxury car" challenge that had a leaking problem and struggled to reach 55 mph in the speed test (not shown was a computer glitch causing it to run rich, which clogged up the catalytic converter until it glowed).
      • The "obscenely cheap" version saw the hosts buying cars for just $500. Adam's puke-and-blood stained taxi cab (Tanner and Rutledge's cars had their fair shares of bodily fluids as well) had what he described as "a several minute delay between steering input and actual turning."
    • Rick and Chumlee from Pawn Stars talked about the bad cars they had, including their first cars. Rick had a VW Rabbit. Chumlee had a '93 Geo Metro, which he says "three months later, I left it on the side of the road."note 
    • When the hosts are required to buy each other crappy cars in the aptly-named "Worst Cars" episode, Rutledge buys Tanner a Yugo, which, for the unaware, is one of history's worst alleged cars. They made the above examples look like luxury supercars.
    • A Running Gag on the show is that Land Rovers begin to fall apart as they roll out of the factory. In the Mammoth Mountain episode, Tanner's brand-new Range Rover with a six-figure price tag started to leak through the front windshield, and had the computers controlling the rear suspension fail. In the Desert Trailblazer episode, his Land Rover stalls five times going up a steep rocky hill.
  • Alternate Company Equivalent: There is some debate about how the three hosts match up to their British counterparts, but the most generally-agreed upon is:
    • Adam = Jeremy
    • Rutledge = James
    • Tanner = Hammond
      • That said, some would argue that not only is that list incorrect in every particular, but that one of the things that makes Top Gear US work is the fact that there's no attempt made to specifically mirror the UK presenting team.
  • Ambiguously Gay: One of Adam's favorite pastimes seems to be trying to paint Tanner as this.
  • A-Team Firing: In the Apocalypse Car episode, Adam is tasked with researching weapons to put on the car. He tries to shoot some bottles and cans with a pistol, a shotgun, an assault rifle, and a light machine gun, but doesn't hit any of them. This causes him to abandon the idea of putting guns on the car in the first place.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: In the Hollywood cars episode, Rutledge cuts the steering wheel on his Trans-Am to emulate KITT. He later discovers this makes it harder to steer through a race course. Subverted in that he wins the challenge anyway.
    • Adam's modifications to the Camry in the Apocalypse episode. Adam's weapons are circular sawblades, a cowcatcher, and a catapult; of these, only the cowcatcher proves remotely useful.
  • Big "NO!": In the "Worst Cars" episode, Tanner lets one out when he finds out Rutledge got him a Yugo.
  • Blatant Lies:
    • Tanner has a Verbal Tic of talking really fast when he's lying, and Rutledge and Adam have called him out on it.
    • In "Worst Cars," Adam attempts to drive up the auction price of his Mustang 2 by claiming that Eric Clapton had owned it. That allows him to come in second place behind Rutledge's still-late-model Pontiac Aztek. Unfortunately, Tanner, whose Yugo came in last, told the buyer that Adam was lying about Clapton owning the car, and the buyer demands his money back, meaning that Adam actually ended up finishing last.
    • Rutledge gets shades of this when he buys a Corvair for the Dangerous Cars special. See Dan Browned below.
  • Bring My Brown Pants:
    • Two near examples in the Muscle Cars episode, both from Rutledge. First, during the slalom challenge, he had the electric muscle stimulator hooked up to his stomach. He was sure the shocks would cause him to soil himself. Then, when the hosts' cars ended up on a NASCAR track with several stock cars, Rutledge noted that he was so scared he nearly soiled himself.
    • Rutledge (again) mentions this when the hosts see the cars they're competing against in the demolition derby in the Dangerous Cars episode.
  • Captain Ersatz: Several vehicular examples.
    • In the Luxury Car challenge, Rutledge couldn't get the real thing so he bought a Fiero kit car made up to look like a Ferrari. His attempts to pass it off as a real Ferrari fell quite short.
    • In the Hollywood Car challenge, neither Adam nor Tanner could get their real cars (a Dodge Charger and a DeLorean respectively) on their afforded budget, so they bought a Plymouth Duster and a Nissan 200SX (respectively) made up to look like their more famous counterparts. Rutledge, on the other hand, was able to get an actual Pontiac Trans Am, though it wasn't the right model generation.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Rutledge's Members-Only Jacket he traded his Lexus for in the Used Car Salesman episode from season 1 makes a reappearance in the Hollywood Cars episode in season 2.
    • In "Limos", the obstacle course in the third challenge uses cars from "The $500 Challenge" (Tanner's Mercedes 190E, Rutledge's Ford Fiesta and Adam's ex-taxi Ford Crown Victoria), "Death Valley" (Rutledge's Chevrolet K5 Blazer) and "First Cars" (Adam's Dodge Aries K). Also, Rutledge's limo for that episode is the very same VW Rabbit Pickup from the latter.
    • In "Adam's Show", Tanner's car for the car football game is the Saab he used in "150 MPH cars"
  • Cool Car: The premise.
  • Cool Plane: The very first episode features Tanner and Rutledge attempting to evade an AH1 Cobra attack helicopter while driving a Dodge Viper SRT10.
  • Cutting the Knot: In the $500 car episode, there was the breaking in challenge. While Tanner and Rutledge used the coat hangers given to them to break into the other host's cars, Adam just got out a crowbar from his trunk and broke Tanner's window to break in.
  • Dan Browned: Rutledge buying a Corvair for the Unsafe Cars special. While it was ridiculed because it was perceived to be unsafe, it turned out to be one of the safest cars of its time once anyone actually bothered to test it.
    • The perception of the Corvair as unsafe has more to do with Americans at the time being unfamiliar with its rear-engine layout and its characteristics than any design flaws; both the ever-ubiquitous VW Beetle and the ever-desirable Porsche 911 use exactly this configuration. Unsafe at Any Speed was lambasted by both Car and Driver and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for ignoring exactly that, as well as relying almost exclusively on second and third hand anecdotes.
      • On top of that, it was the first-generation Corvair that received those complaints, whereas Rutledge's Corvair was of the second generation that addressed most of the (real) issues. And while it did have the handling issues highlighted in the episode, it was mainly because "poor handling" was mainstay of '60's American car engineering.
  • Day in the Limelight: "Rut's Show". Guess who takes the spotlight.
    • Adam gets his spotlight in season 3.
  • Death from Above: The Cobra attack helicopter in the first episode; it had a laser emitter with a receptor in the car; the receptor would emit an alarm tone when the Cobra got a kill shot on the car.
  • Down to the Last Play: "One Tank" ends with a mad dash for the finish between Adam and Rutledge. Rutledge wins.
    • In "Adam's Show", Adam has Rutledge and Tanner play a game of "Car Football" with him against Utah's best demolition derby team. Adam's team is down by 2 points with 2 seconds left in the game and Tanner has to "kick" a long field goal he makes it.
    • "Fast In Florida" comes down to a mad dash between Adam and Tanner. Adam wins by about one second.
  • Drives Like Crazy:
    • Adam is actually subtitled "The Wrecker" in the opening sequence. Notably, the actor/comedian is the only one of the hosts for whom cars and driving are a hobby, not a job. The sobriquet comes from the fact that Adam's solutions to the various challenges the hosts face tend to involve the most direct solutions, brute force, or both.
    • Tanner's competitive nature and his love of flashy driving make him prone to this trope. He prefers to rush through challenges that require patience and careful driving and loves to showboat around his co-hosts, mainly by doing burn outs and donuts. Drifting is such a habit for him that he'll whip the backend of pretty much anything he drives without thinking about it.
      • Adam and Rutledge have taken advantage of Tanner's love of donuts by proposing a hill climb challenge, knowing that he's completely worn out his tire treads and won't be able to make it up the slope.
  • Donut Mess with a Cop: In the cop car episode, the first stage of the ultimate challenge is spinning donuts for as long as it takes to eat two donuts.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The first season tried to adapt the British format to US TV. After the second season, several aspects were gradually dumped in favor of a sweeping car challenge that would nearly encompass the episode. Most notably; the studio set, car reviews, Power Laps, Big Star Little Car, have gone missing.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: In the trucker special, the hosts give each other call signs. Tanner is "Tiny Dancer," Rutledge is "Bearded Lady" and Adam is "Mother Trucker."
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: The Dangerous Cars episode contains three notoriously dangerous cars, one of which is an actual Pinto. The main challenge of the episode was driving the three cars in a demolition derby. Adam's Pinto ended up bursting into flames.
  • Gas Chamber: The second challenge of the Cop Car episode basically turns the cars into a mild version of one, with each host having to survive in his car for five minutes in a specially made bubble with a detonated tear gas canister.
  • Golden Snitch: In some episodes, the final challenge is "winner takes all". This means that whoever won the final challenge would be declared the overall winner of that episode, regardless of his performance in previous challenge.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: Adam and Rutledge's attempts to beat Tanner in "Beating Tanner" mostly failed. Not only was Tanner able to successfully drift several supposedly-undriftable vehicles (including a limo with Rutledge in the back) but he also set the world indoor speed record and achieved the fastest lap time on the track.
  • Handicapped Badass: In "Blind Drift", where Adam and Rutledge challenge Tanner to a drifting competition but ban him from actually driving, forcing him to teach blind comedian Brian Fischler how to do burnouts, donuts and handbrake parallel parking. Much to Adam and Rutledge's amazement (and dismay), Brian ended up winning two of the three events.
  • Hiroshima as a Unit of Measure: Rutledge used his head as a unit of measurement for the suspension travel of his Dodge in the Alaska special. Naturally, the other hosts never let him live it down
  • Impossible Task
    • The second-to-last episode of season two (see The Ace above) has two examples:
      • Rutledge and Adam challenge Tanner to drift a series of unlikely vehicles, including a limo (with Rutledge in the back seat) and a bus. Tanner (debatably) succeeds in drifting all of them.
      • Rutledge and Adam then challenge Tanner to a race between them on Forza Motorsport 4 and Tanner driving the real thing. Adam, being the crazy driver that he is, somehow manages to flip his virtual car over, something that isn't supposed to even be possible with all the driving assists he was using.
    • During the Big Rig special, Tanner's trailer contains a set banquet table, complete with wine in the glasses. Tanner delivers the table with most everything upright, despite the tables migrating towards the front of the trailer, and one being rotated ninety degrees.
      • The Adam and Rutledge's trailers contained, respectively, bowling balls and shelves of open paint cans, and fireworks and lit grills. They, uh, didn't do as well as Tanner.
  • I Need to Go Iron My Dog: In the coast-to-coast episode, the final challenge involves getting a celebrity to let the hosts take their picture in the passenger seat of their car. Adam tries to call his Rescue Me co-star only to have this trope pulled on him.
    Your kid's bar mitzvah? Your last name's Leary!
  • Insufferable Genius: Rutledge can lapse into this from time to time, except it's more insufferable than genius.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Invoked in "Amphibious Cars" — as Adam mocks Tanner's gradually sinking car, his own car suddenly goes under. Tanner describes it as "proof there is a God."
  • Loophole Abuse: In "American Supercars", there's a challenge pitting the hosts' cars against top-of-the-line European supercars in a race. Adam has the bright idea of having the Stig drive his Rossion Q1 instead of the Ferrari, reasoning that the challenge is about the quality of the cars, not the drivers. Rutledge thinks it's such a great idea that he does the same, having the Stig drive his Saleen rather than the Lamborghini.
  • Masked Luchador: Adam has to transport a bunch of unruly luchadores to a charity event as part of a challenge in Mexico.
  • Mid Life Crisis Car: Subverted. When Rutledge asked Patrick Warburton why he bought a early 90's Dodge Viper, Patrick said he got it for a very good deal and thought it might be nice for the weekends. It wasn't until he realized that his head was higher than the windshield did he realize what he bought.
    • The season 4 finale was about midlife crisis cars — Adam had a Corvette, Tanner a Porsche, and Rutledge a hot rod. Challenges included impressing hot girls.
  • Multi-Track Drifting: Tanner has been shown to drift limos and buses.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • When Rutledge drove a Dodge Challenger in "Muscle Cars", he covered the grill with duct tape to make it go faster, just as Richard Hammond had earlier done in the British version.
    • The presenters also have an engine block table and car seat chairs.
    • Adam declared "I am the god of hellfire!" while in Texas, much as Jeremy had done in South America. Adam's usage of it was quite a bit more appropriate, though.
    • Tanner welds two more tires onto his Samurai in a manner similar to how Clarkson fixed the Reliant Robin's roller issue.
    • Rutledge yelled "Power!" while trying to get his Ford Festiva to keep going.
    • In the Limo Special, Rutledge's limo was two cars put back-to-front, just as James May's was. Tanner's limo was a ridiculously long red thing, just as Jeremy's was.
    • In the first episode, Adam explains the name of the Gallardo LP560-4 Superleggera the same way Richard explained the name of the Murcielago LP670-4 Superveloce, including being unable to remember what LP stands for.
    • The UK Top Gear had Soccer and hockey played with cars. US Top Gear has American football played with a pair of nets and an air cannon.
    • Adam's concept car uses paint against people who cut which is windshield wiper proof.
  • Not Bad: During the most dangerous cars episode, Tanner solves the problems caused by the '88 Suzuki Samurai's rollover issues by welding two metal support beams to the side at odd angles and stuck a tire on the end of them. When it works, Adam praises his unique approach.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • In the "Dangerous Cars" episode, when Tanner flips his Samurai:
    • Later in the same episode, this is the hosts' collective reaction when they see the cars they'll be competing against in the demolition derby.
  • Pimped-Out Car: Goes hand-in-hand with Cool Car.
  • Product Placement: A subtle invoking is done with Tanner Faust and most Ford products on the show. Given Faust is a factory-backed driver for Ford, it's only "natural" for him to drive any Ford product seen on the show.
  • Put on a Bus: The Stig disappeared for a lot of Season 3, although several promos for the show show him and the store has shirts of his likeness. He then reappeared in the Apocalypse Car show in Season 3.
    • In Season 3 episode 4, "Backwoods Stig"(with torn sleeves) was introduced to race a modified off-road vehicle against a kayak in the Colorado mountains.
    • He also parachuted out of a helicopter onto a car in "America's Biggest Cars"
    • He also became Adam's designated driver in "Big Bad Trucks".
  • Recycled In Space: The Big Rig driving episode is revisited on Washington's Olympic Penninsula with logging trucks. They realize just how hard it is to do that particular job and how dangerous it really is.
  • Rule of Cool: The reason why most of the show happens. Why should you hold a race between a Ferrari and an airliner from Los Angeles to Las Vegas? Because it's cool, that's why.
    • In episode 9 of season 3, the USA team had to modify cars into better R Vs. Tanner's solution for his Porsche? "Yes, it has a giant rocket strapped to the roof. Because that is awesome."
  • Rule of Funny: The reason why the rest of the show happens.
  • Running Gag:
    • The size of Rutledge's head.
    • Rear-endings performed on junk cars.
    • Rutledge mentioning how he may have soiled himself when he's scared.
    • Rutledge's weak stomach.
    • Adam wrecking cars.
    • Tanner's height relative to the other two.
    • Tanner receiving disadvantages during a challenge to balance the fact that he is a racing driver.
  • Scenery Porn: Both the Alaska Special and the Continental Divide episode provide countless examples of how amazing the scenery in their respective locales are.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: When the three of them are (apparently) stranded in the middle of Lake Ontario, Tanner calls a buddy to pick him up, leaving Adam and Rutledge behind.
    • In the Luxury SUV episode, Rutledge gets his Jeep stuck on a ski slope. Rather than digging it out, he walks to the lodge to eat breakfast.
  • Serious Business: The hosts treat the trucks in the Alaska Special as this. The first host whose American-made truck failed (it was Adam) would be forced to drive a Toyota Tacoma (also known as the invincible Hilux from the British Top Gear), which is not given the same regard as it is across the pond. Being forced to drive the Tacoma is referred to as a "national disgrace."
    • The Tacoma is very much Lighter and Softer compared to the international Hilux, designed for a market that uses "small" pickups primarily as car substitutes. On the DVD commentary, the presenters make it clear that it really wasn't a very good truck.
    • Also happens in "Viking Trucks" and the hosts take 30+ year old trucks and trek across part of Iceland where the snow could be up to 15 feet deep to prove that American trucks were still the best in the world by being the first to step upon "virgin rock" by the crater of an active volcano!
  • Shortcuts Make Long Delays: In "Luxury SUVs", Tanner takes off-road shortcuts on two separate occasions and is the last to reach his destination both times.
  • Shout-Out
  • Why Won't You Die?: Tanner says this word-for-word, stomping angrily on the roof of Rutledge's Corvair, when the Corvair somehow manages to survive the demolition derby in the Dangerous Cars episode.
  • With Friends Like These...:
    • During the Big Rig challenge the guys are tasked with performing a hill start without rolling backwards, and as a motivation they place their watches, phones and sunglasses behind the wheels of their respective trucks. Tanner manages to pull away without damaging any of his property, which prompts Adam to use his walkie-talkie to smash Tanner's phone into pieces.
      • Similar to how Jeremy's drum set was trashed by Richard and James in the Big Rig challenge of TGUK.
    • During the race in the Dangerous Cars episode Tanner rolls his Samurai several times while taking a turn. Rutledge and Adam make sure to finish the race before going to check on him.
  • Wiper Start: In the Trucker episode, Tanner of all people has trouble figuring out the controls of his truck.
  • Women Drivers: Both played straight and averted.
    • Buzz Aldrin was the first celebrity to appear on Big Star, Small Car and had the slowest time through all of season one and most of season two. That was until Playboy model Bridget Marquardt came along and set a time 11 seconds slower.
    • On the other hand, for a good portion of season 2 and the beginning of season 3, American actress Arlene Tur had the fastest time on the board. However, while she placed first, in the course of doing so she drove over the checkered flag, a camera, and almost a cameraman. However, come season 3, she was bumped down by Patrick Warburton...

Alternative Title(s): Top Gear America, Top Gear USA