In Search of a Great American Car (Summary of Jeremy Clarkson’s The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Movie)
Once in a blue moon—usually when one of my own vehicles is out of commission (ok, so in the case of the MG, this is more than once in a blue moon) or I need to rent a car while traveling—I wonder if I’ve been too hard on American automobiles. Sure, the Big Three (and American Motors) had not produced a single car in the 1970s worthy of anything but jokes about how the new 55-mile per hour speed limit was actually faster than what Detroit iron could go without consuming all of the oil in Kuwait in three minutes, and even in the 80s American cars were still steerable with one finger and would almost flip over whenever you rounded a 90-degree corner. But in recent times?
Some good-looking machines have been coming out of Motown lately. Witness the Chevrolet Corvette and the Pontiac Solstice. I’d even say the PT Cruiser and Chevy Cobalt are well-executed, stylish cars (ok, I can hear laughter). Yet I have yet to own an car made by a good ol’ U.S. manufacturer, clearly favoring those from England, Germany, and Italy.
I took great interest, then, in a 1.3-hour movie produced by Jeremy Clarkson—the host of the U.K.’s wildly entertaining Top Gear auto review T.V. show—entitled Clarkson: The Good The Bad The Ugly. Basically, he came over to the U.S.A. to find some truly world-class American cars.
Much like Top Gear’s programming, comparison tests are a little unconventional and considering Clarkson’s British bias should be taken with a little bit of a grain of salt. Yet, after viewing the video, I couldn’t help agreeing with many (most) of his points including his jingoistic observations about American culture.
Here is a list of the comparo-tests undertaken in the movie:
- Corvette Z06, solo
- Toyota Prius vs. a Wild West “Marlboro Man” with lots of guns. (Never mind that the Prius is Japanese and Clarkson drove the first-generation one, even though later in the movie you can see second-generation Priuses motoring along the streets.)
- Ford Mustang vs. a real mustang around a race track. (Spoiler: the car loses by a significant margin to the horse. However, the competition loses some credibility as Clarkson referred to the Mustang as having a 300-hp V8 even though the car driven around the track was clearly the V6 version. Also, the test results don’t seem that bad when you consider that last year Top Gear pitted the outstanding Mazda MX-5 Miata against a greyhound dog, and the car also lost.)
- Rousch Mustang vs. Lotus Exige
- Cadillac Escalade & Hummer H2 vs. Range Rover. (Spoiler: quite comical! The three vehicles race up a mountain in Death Valley. Clarkson takes his time, even going downhill to show off the Rover and stopping to pick up litter. Yet, the Range Rover easily won as both the Escalade and Hummer got stuck or had problems. I wish he had used something like a Jeep Wranger or Grand Cherokee, though—everyone already knows that the Escalade and H2 are poseur SUVs!)
- 1989 Lincoln Town Car vs. 1989 Jaguar XJ6. (Spoiler: the test included cutting a hole in their roofs and filling up the cars with water to test body panel fit and tightness. The Town Car sprung way more leaks than the Jag despite the latter being “one of the worst British cars ever made.”)
- Chrysler 300C SRT8 vs. BMW M5 in the 1/4-mile.
- The V8 sounds of a 60s Corvette and Plymouth SuperBird vs. the melody of a modern Ferrari engine.
- Cadillac XLR, solo. (Spoiler: Clarkson ends up calling the car “amazingly awful,” “it is foul,” “built to last 3 years,” etc.)
- 1994 Buick Park Avenue, solo. (Spoiler: “This is the worst [car I’ve ever driven], without any question or shadow of a doubt.”)
- Dodge Ram vs. Ariel Atom. (Spoiler: The Ram “looks good if you’re 9” and consumes so much gas that “every last drop of oil produced by the Middle East is gone in the corner.” The Atom comparison was just to show how slow the Ram is around a racetrack, though of course this is a pretty ridiculous comparison because no one buys a truck to go fast.)
- Viper SR10 vs. BMW Z4 M roadster in a race around the Willow Springs Raceway. (Spoiler: despite the Z4 M having 167 less horsepower—343 hp vs. 510—and being in Clarkson’s words “a middle-of-the-pack European car” and “not Europe’s best effort,” they finish in a dead heat.)
Clarkson ends the movie by driving a $150,000+ Ford GT. Clarkson actually really loves—and owns—the GT, but points out that it is made up of many European parts and engineered largely by Europeans. “It’s America’s best car because it is as American as the national anthem—which was written by a Brit,” he claims.
In fact, says Clarkson, “I came here to see if the Corvette C6 was the only decent American car and… it is.” Sad.
[August 2017] It looks like streaming video for the DVD was taken down. Below is a trailer for it. You can find the DVD on eBay.