Top Gear Australia is an Australian motoring reality television series, based on the British BBC series Top Gear. The programme first premiered on SBS One on 29 September 2008. A second season was ordered following the high ratings for the premiere episode and positive comments from advertisers, and the second season began broadcasting from 11 May 2009. After acquiring the rights to broadcast the UK version in 2009, the Nine Network started airing their own version of Top Gear Australia in September 2010. Top Gear Australia returned for a fourth season in 2011. The show was cancelled on 28 April 2012 due to declining ratings.
Top Gear Australia is also the name of a licensed version of the British Top Gear magazine. The Australian magazine is produced by ACP Magazines (Australian Consolidated Press). The magazine features articles from many writers including Steven Corby, Craig Jamieson, Bill Mckinnon, James Stanford, Ben Smithurst, Jason Barlow, Sam Phillip, Ollie Marriage, Dan Read and Paul Horrell.
Prior to filming SBS made an open casting call for presenters, resulting in over 4000 applications. The original hosts chosen for Top Gear Australia were cartoonist and motoring columnist Warren Brown, MotoGP commentator Charlie Cox, and race driver / driving instructor Steve Pizzati.
Marketing prior to the first episode stated that the presenters would be joined by The Stig's "Australian cousin", but in the first episode the driver was introduced as just "The Stig". Steve Pizzati suggested that The Stig have an "Australian" name, such as "Stiggo", but the other presenters refused. The season 2 opener clarified that Top Gear Australia's Stig is not intended to be the same Stig from the UK series.
On 19 December 2008, Charlie Cox announced he was leaving the program as he felt he was unable to offer enough time to the show. SBS subsequently announced that trumpeter James Morrison would be his replacement, joining Warren and Steve for season two. Morrison had previously appeared as a guest in the sixth episode.
For the third season, early reports claimed that former Australian cricketer Shane Warne would take over the hosting of the show alongside original Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson, although the BBC ultimately ruled out Clarkson's involvement in the Australian version. On 20 June 2010, it was announced that actor and comedian Shane Jacobson and Top Gear Australia magazine editor Ewen Page would join a returning Steve Pizzati to present the show for the Nine Network, which premièred on 28 September 2010 with a 75-minute The Ashes special, in which the hosts faced off against their Top Gear UK counterparts in a series of motoring-related challenges. The UK presenters won after cheating in the final challenge by using a professional race driver instead of James May.
Mirroring the UK series, the studio segments were recorded at Bankstown Airport in Sydney. An exact copy of the UK studio at Dunsfold Park was constructed in a hangar (Hangar Building 581). The power laps and "Star in a Bog Standard Car" were recorded at Camden Airport with parts of the runways and taxiways used as a test track.
Top Gear Australia uses the same theme music as the UK series, a version of The Allman Brothers Band's "Jessica".
Top Gear Australia features segments that mirror those seen on the BBC series, including build challenges and test drives. A significant difference is that speeds and power are quoted in metric units and prices are quoted in Australian dollars.
A test track around Camden Airport is used for power laps. The initial track used in the first two seasons consisted of nine corners running in an anti-clockwise direction. The first corner was The Question Mark followed by Clarkson Corner then The Crest and Turn 4 which was followed by the Main Straight before coming to a series of Chicanes then 06 Corner (named after the direction of the runway) then the Short Left Hander and the Bus Stop Entry and Exit followed by the finish line.
At the start of Season 3, Top Gear Australia revealed a new test track. Still situated at Camden Airport, the new course built upon the old one by adding a new section, thus looping into a figure of eight. It contains twelve corners, a total length of 2.3 km and moves the Start/Finish line from between the Bus Stop and The Question Mark to the end of the Back Straight, ahead of the Bus Stop. The direction of the course is now clockwise, turning the main runway into the first straight. The first corner leads into a Hammerhead-like corner called The Blowout, followed by another straight which crest a small hill into a couple of Left Handers, turns 3 and 4. Exiting turn 4 leads back to the main runway and turn 5, Brocky's Corner. The track then crosses over The Blowout into a right then left hander called The Flipper. The next turn is the Question Mark hairpin from the old track. Finally, after a short straight, the course reaches the signature Bus Stop which is then followed by two right hand corners (including the old 06 Corner) back into the Start/Finish.
New Track Lap Times
The Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car segment is mirrored with the name "Star in a Bog Standard Car". It is identical in execution. The car used in the first two seasons on SBS was a Proton Satria Neo, the third season on Nine used a 2nd hand Ford XG Falcon ute, manufactured in 1995.
Season 1 and 2: Proton Satria Neo
Season 3 and 4: Ford Falcon Ute
In the first season, the presenters discuss "stupid" ideas in motoring history and put pictures of them on a board. The board was later destroyed in the first episode of the second season when the shark cage Mini Moke was dropped on top of it.
Every episode in the second season of Top Gear Australia, an old car commercial was shown.
Imitating its BBC counterpart, the show includes features where the hosts undertake various stunts some of which may antagonise members of the public. In October 2008 it was reported that Pizzati and Brown caused a traffic jam in Toorak, Victoria when they drove a tractor through the Melbourne suburb — a reference to the colloquial expression "Toorak Tractor", Australian slang for luxury SUVs. The stunt featured in episode 5 of series 1, which aired on 27 October 2008.
In series three, a new segment called V8 to the Rescue, was introduced. It saw the presenters attempt to solve the world's problems by fitting a V8 engine to an everyday item, including a see-saw and cricket bowler. The segment appeared in every episode of the fourth series at the end of the episode.Series 3, Episode 1: Life-saving device
Series 4, Episode 1: Cricket bowling machine
Series 4, Episode 2: Kebab cooker
Series 4, Episode 3: See-saw
Michael Idato of the Sydney Morning Herald described the first episode as "unsteady on some of the corners" and "a little too tricked up for its own good", noting "a distinct lack of detail, presumably to position the show away from car geeks". Stuart Martin, motoring writer for the Adelaide Advertiser said a franchise was "always going to have a tough job living up to the UK original" but noted that Top Gear was not an overnight success and urged viewers to "give the locals a chance to find their niche". In retrospect Philip King said that the first season "received lukewarm reviews and couldn't get close to the ratings success of the original".
The first episode debuted with an audience of 933,000 viewers, SBS's highest ever ratings for a locally produced television programme. Top Gear Australia came third in its time slot and beat an elimination episode of Australian Idol. The figure was slightly higher than any season premiere of the BBC version aired on SBS, up until that date. However, subsequent episodes failed to match this figure, and the first season averaged around 650,000 viewers an episode. In comparison, viewing figures for the previous three Top Gear UK episodes shown in the same timeslot averaged around 903,000 viewers, though during this period Top Gear Australia still remained the highest rating program on SBS. Series one has since been repeated on SBS Two.
For the second series SBS attempted to address some of the criticism brought up against the first series. The second series of the show debuted with 689,000 viewers, averaging 576,500 viewers across the series against the high rating MasterChef Australia. Ratings dropped throughout the second series, leading to speculation that SBS would not buy a third series.
Jeremy Clarkson has commented on the Australian version, saying "We're loving it, even though your funny accents make you hard to understand".
The third series premiered on 28 September 2010 on the Nine Network, pulling in 1,538,000 viewers, making it the second most watched television programme that day. The 75-minute The Ashes special, which featured the Top Gear UK presenters facing against the Australian presenters in a series of challenges, also won its timeslot against competing programmes.
The Nine Network renewed the series for a 4th season in 2011 before being cancelled after three of the six recorded episodes aired due to declining ratings. The remaining unaired episodes were eventually burnt-off on Nine's subchannel Go! in April 2012.
An Australian version of Top Gear magazine titled Top Gear Australia (published by Park Publishing, a partnership between ACP Magazines and the BBC) was launched in June 2008 and features an amalgam of original Australian articles together with licensed content from the British and other international versions of the magazine.
The third series of Top Gear Australia was released on 3 March 2011, and contained the first three episodes from the series, as well as The Ashes Special. Series four was released on 1 March 2012, and also contained episode four from the third series.
Channel 9 had not shown the final episode of the third series, or the final three episodes from the fourth. The remaining episodes from series four began to be shown in April 2012 on GO!. The episode from series three was going to be included in the first DVD release, but was removed at the last minute. Images from this episode appear on the case and discs, and the episode is included in the running time. All of the unaired episodes were included in the second DVD release.
Every episode of Top Gear Australia has been broadcast in New Zealand on Prime, excluding the final series. The show is also broadcast on BBC Knowledge.