Top Gear: Bolivia Special

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Top Gear: Bolivia Special
Presented by Jeremy Clarkson
Richard Hammond
James May
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of episodes 1
Running time 76 minutes
Original network BBC Two, BBC HD
Picture format 16:9 576i SDTV, 1080i HDTV
Original release 27 December 2009
Related shows Top Gear
External links

Top Gear: Bolivia Special is a special 76-minute episode of the motoring series Top Gear, originally broadcast on BBC Two in the United Kingdom at 19:45 on 27 December 2009.[1]

It features the presenters James May, Jeremy Clarkson, and Richard Hammond travelling 1,000 miles (1,600 km) through South America from the rainforests of Bolivia to the Pacific coast of Chile. The presenters used second hand off-road vehicles, bought locally in Bolivia for less than £3,500 each.[2] Unlike previous Top Gear Specials, a backup vehicle was not featured (usually one which is disliked by the presenters).


The three presenters started at a riverside in the Amazon jungle, dropped off by boat (the presenters were supposed to have been helicoptered in to the location, but Clarkson said that the helicopter had crashed before filming, necessitating a boat trip up the river). After Clarkson remarked on Hammond's clothing, and Hammond made fun of May's clothing, all three then revealed their phobias: Hammond is terrified of insects; James May is scared of heights; Clarkson is afraid of manual labour (something May says is just 'bone idleness'). After doing nothing for a long time, a raft finally arrives with their cars on board, which the driver of boat bringing it to them parked vaguely near the bank. All three, after boarding the raft, remarked on the vehicles they had bought: Clarkson had bought a Range Rover Classic (which had been described as having a 3.9 L engine when bought, but was actually found to be a 3.5 when inspected), May had a Suzuki SJ413 (which not only had flat tires, but also was meant to be blue not red when bought), and Richard had a Toyota Land Cruiser 40 (with a broken side window, and an amateur effort to make it a convertible with a canopy roof).

While trying to move the raft closer to the shore, Clarkson moved around it for a better position and soon began to sink into the mudflats within the river, leading Hammond to pull him out with Clarkson's Range Rover. They then had further trouble getting the cars off the raft, as Hammond's car wouldn't start and the raft was too small for Clarkson to give him a push-start. It was not until the next morning that May realised that some of the planks on the raft (one of which they had used to board it) were long enough to make a ramp to get off it. James tried to get off first, but got stuck up a small hill just after disembarking. As May was blocking the path, they had to get a third plank to get Clarkson's Rover off the raft. When he managed this, he first pulled May's Suzuki up the hill, and into a log, then towed Hammond's Cruiser off onto the shore, before then giving him a pull-start. After the trio had gotten their cars off, they were provided with a supply of items to help them with their journey from the rainforest to the Pacific coastline, including a chainsaw, car winch, Tampax tampons, Durex condoms and Viagra tablets.

For the first section of the journey through the rainforest (which took three days), they were forced to make a route by slashing undergrowth and travelling along logging trails, encountering snakes and insects, and coping with the heat; Hammond suffered a poor first night, thanks to Clarkson reading him stories about insects, and being unable to cope with the insect noises. During this the second day in the rainforest, several fan blades were broken off Clarkson's engine fan (caused by bamboo), which led to him cutting holes in the bonnet for additional ventilation when they camped; this unfortunately resulted in the roof of Hammond's Toyota catching fire. When the group encountered a small, steep gully, Clarkson tried to drive across it, but failed and got his Rover stuck. May tried to winch him out, but ended up pulling his own vehicle into the gully, so Hammond had to winch both of their vehicles back to the starting point. Using the chainsaw and some rope, they made a bridge out of the trunks of four young trees to complete the crossing. For the third day, the cars had to undergo some minor modifications to cross a river they encountered, including non-standard use of certain products: Clarkson used Tampax tampons to waterproof his fuel tank cap, and Vaseline and Durex condoms were used to waterproof parts of the engine in each presenter's car. Hammond got through the river without problems, but Clarkson, however, stalled, forcing May to drive around him, and promptly getting him stuck. As Hammond was winching May out, Clarkson got his car started without any problems, which seriously annoyed May. In the director's cut, they encountered a fallen tree in the middle of the road, which Hammond and May worked at with machetes for "two hours", with Clarkson promptly using the chainsaw which got stuck. After sawing through the log, he starts to saw at James' car, but this resulted in the chainsaw breaking down, leaving Hammond and May thinking this was possibly a message from god, that the ever technical handicapped Jezza should not play around with it. After journeying out of the rainforest, the group finally found a road, though both Hammond and May suffered from their vehicles' poor ride a few minutes later.

The next day, the group prepared for the next leg of the journey: to travel to Bolivia's capital, La Paz, by driving along the Yungas Road, which was also known as the 'Death Road', due to its narrowness and sheer drops that had claimed lives. Due to May's fear of heights, he threatened to cut anyone's head off if they bumped into him, later waving a machete near Clarkson's face when he bumped him by accident, after failing to pay attention to him when letting a taxi pass by (As per the running gag in Top Gear, Hammond had been repeatedly bumping May before the warning, as his car had no brakes). Later, Hammond drove into a ditch to avoid a passing bus, and found out that May's car's winch was broken. Elsewhere, Clarkson, who had left the pair behind after May's car broke down (dirt from the river had gotten into the fuel and passed through the engine as a result), was placed in extreme danger when he met a car coming the other way on a particularly narrow section of the road, and the edge of the road ledge started to crumble under his wheels. Near the end of the section, Clarkson held a brief memorial service for Hammond and May, jokingly suggesting that they must be dead. He put two makeshift crosses up, labelling one 'Ted Nugent' and the other 'Ray Mears'.

After all three were reunited, the trio modified their cars in La Paz for the next leg of the journey: to climb over the Andes, during their border crossing between Bolivia to Chile. To do so, each modified their cars as so: Clarkson and Hammond both fitted much bigger wheels and tyres on their cars, the added weight had a negative effect upon their performance, due to it gearing up, these modifications proved too much for their drivetrains; Hammond got rid of the roof, and replaced it with a lighter rollbar (though exposing himself to the cold altitudes proved a bad idea); May simply 'mended' his car. During the trip to the mountains that day, the group stopped at a service station in the evening and bought a special, local sweet designed to help them cope with the effects of altitude sickness, which Clarkson commented that it would also make them talk a lot afterwards; Hammond enjoyed several as a result and rambled on about past experiences. On the next day, they crossed the Altiplano while using a portable GPS with an altitude readout. They tried to take a straight route into Chile over the Guallatiri active volcano (the green parts on this volcano landscape are volcanic deposit, not vegetation). This attempt was hampered by weakness and a drunken-type feeling after climbing to about 16,000 feet (4,900 m), which caused severe hypoxia, the result of being at such a high altitude; each had taken a Viagra tablet before the climb, to try to prevent high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) from altitude hypoxia. Altitude hypoxia also reduced each of their cars' effective power; May's car could produce no more than 20 bhp as a result. On their climb up the volcano, they passed at least two active volcanic steam vents. During the climb, they used a pulse oximeter to read their blood oxygen saturation, which sometimes was down to 84%, a value which in normal life would recommend admission to hospital. At 17,200 feet altitude (3.26 miles, 5,240 metres, where the air pressure was about half an atmosphere), they stopped and appraised their current medical state. All three were displaying clear signs of altitude sickness and as the road was continuing to climb, the trio decided it was too risky, and so turned back and took a lower route.

After travelling to lower altitudes and passing the Andes, the group began travelling upon the Pan-American Highway, were the modifications on Hammond's cruiser caused serious issues; having already suffered a sheered front spring earlier, the prop shaft had come apart and the diff had been broken. After repairing and reuniting with the others, they found out, just a few miles from the end of their journey after driving off the highway, that their route would take them down a very steep sand dune to reach the Pacific coast, on Caleta Los Verdes, some 20 kilometres south of Iquique, Chile. They initially decided to practice on a less steep dune. Just prior to starting their practice run, Hammond got out to talk to Clarkson, 'forgetting' that his handbrake was broken and that he had left the Toyota in neutral (A hand can be seen through the Toyota window letting go of the car at the rear, causing it to begin moving forward). The Toyota began rolling down the dune driverless and rolled over, losing a wheel in the process. The broken wheel hub meant the end for the Toyota, but Clarkson and May completed the dangerous descent to the coastline.

Although Hammond, after descending to the coastline, was forced to admit the defeat of the Land Cruiser that he lovingly referred to as "The Donkey", he still argued that he had chosen wisely. Clarkson observed that May's Suzuki may have completed the journey, but it had been a very rough ride; May agreed, saying, "The ride is rotten". Due to the Toyota's failure and the Suzuki's hard ride, Clarkson declared that although the Range Rover Classic was the most unreliable car in the world, it had proven itself to be the most reliable car in the world.

Although it was not mentioned on the show, some of the images show them passing along Lago Chungara (approx 4600 m in elevation) and the Parinacota volcano near this lake in the Lauca National Park. These came into view just before the three began their drive up the Guallatiri volcano. This episode is regarded by the presenters as the best in show history.[citation needed]


Each of the three presenters was allowed a £3,500 budget which they could use to buy second-hand cars online via the Internet, without being able to inspect the cars before purchase.

Richard Hammond bought a tan Toyota Land Cruiser 40 which had been converted into a soft top convertible by a previous owner. However, part of the soft top was set alight when Clarkson used an angle grinder to cut air vents in the bonnet of his Range Rover to cool the engine. Despite the Toyota's reputation for durability, it turned out to be the most unreliable car, suffering multiple drivetrain and suspension breakdowns right from the start. The Toyota, already in terrible condition, underwent modifications towards the end of the trip and was made a lot heavier than before- these additions put considerable stress on the drivetrain and made the car even less reliable. It was eventually converted to front-wheel drive after the rear prop shaft broke off, destroying the rear differential. It was damaged beyond repair on the sand-dune descent. His car was nicknamed the "Donkey."

Jeremy Clarkson bought a red Range Rover Classic which he believed had a 3.9-litre fuel injected engine. However, when he showed his co-presenters under the bonnet, May noted it had carburettors, making it the 3.5-litre model. It became notorious for overheating and stopped working on some occasions, but it was very capable of dealing with the rough terrain. However, during the trip, none of the Range Rover's features were shown to be working, "apart from the de-mist!" Like Hammond's Toyota, it underwent modifications to handle the high-altitude part of the trip. Unlike the Toyota, however, it survived the trip, and was declared the winner, much to the amusement of the presenters, who had previously deemed it the most unreliable car, hence Clarkson's conclusion that "the most unreliable car in the world is the most reliable car in the world."

James May bought a Suzuki SJ413 which "...was blue in the picture," but red when delivered. The Suzuki Samurai had a 1.3-litre engine, was the smallest of the three vehicles. Despite this, it did not undergo modifications, and broke down the least (the main reason for it breaking down was when water entered the fuel tank while fording the jungle river). One disadvantage of this vehicle was its broken 4-wheel drive system, which made it a "3-wheel drive system;" May had not engaged one of the free-wheeling hubs to the lock position. Another major problem was that the alternator was broken, requiring his car battery to be swapped with Hammond's. It was still a very capable off-roader, especially when its small engine and size are considered, though Clarkson's Range Rover was still declared to be the ultimate winner.