Top Gear: Botswana Special

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Top Gear: Botswana Special
From left to right: "Oliver" the 1963 Opel Kadett (Hammond), 1981 Lancia Beta Coupé (Clarkson) and 1985 Mercedes-Benz 230E (May) crossing the Makgadikgadi Pan post stripdown modifications
From left to right: "Oliver" the 1963 Opel Kadett (Hammond), 1981 Lancia Beta Coupé (Clarkson) and 1985 Mercedes-Benz W123 (May) crossing the Makgadikgadi Pan post stripdown modifications.
Country of origin United Kingdom
Producer(s) Andy Wilman
Running time 60 minutes (66 minutes director's cut edition)
Original channel BBC Two
Picture format 720x576, anamorphic 16:9
Original release 4 November 2007
Related shows Top Gear
External links

Top Gear: Botswana Special is an episode of the popular British television series Top Gear, first broadcast on 4 November 2007 on BBC Two, as episode 4 of series 10. In this full-length film, the three presenters, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, travel to Botswana to buy a car for less than £1500, and use it to travel from the Zimbabwean border to the Namibian border, a trip of 1,000 miles.


Challenge 1: Buy a used car for up to £1500. Mocking the use of "Chelsea Tractors" for delivering children to school and driving up leafy lanes, rules for the challenge stipulated that the car purchased to cross the spine of Africa had to be two wheel drive, and not designed in any way for off-road use. Clarkson bought a 1981 automatic Lancia Beta Coupé, May a 1985 Mercedes-Benz 230E and Hammond a 1963 Opel Kadett A, which he nicknamed 'Oliver' (all three cars bear South African license plates, specifically those of Gauteng Province). Starting from the Botswana - Zimbabwe border, they then had to drive 1,000 miles (1,600 km) to the Namibian border. James, who was 'mechanically confident', accidentally drove towards Zimbabwe, a place where the BBC is not allowed, much to Clarkson and Hammond's amusement.

If at any time a presenters' car broke down and could not be restarted, he would have to complete the journey in a Volkswagen Beetle - the presenters' collective least favourite car of all time. This was the first time in a challenge that a backup vehicle would be available, albeit one that the presenters had no desire to use.

Challenge 2: Cross the Makgadikgadi Pan successfully. The first section of the Makgadikgadi salt pan has a thin solid crust, under which lies a mud like substance (Which Clarkson refers to as "rotted prehistoric fish"). Almost immediately, May and Clarkson's cars began to break through the crust, despite shedding a lot of weight to start off with. Desperate to shed even more weight, they each stripped down their cars to the basic shell, removing most of the interior trim and the panels. (At this point, Clarkson refers to his car as a "Lancia Beta Coupe - superleggera!") Hammond, who had by now grown attached to 'Oliver' was reluctant to remove anything. However the car was light enough to cross the salt pan, only removing the spare tyre and an unclarified "...something else!". On the second day, dust became the major problem, so May and Clarkson had to re-dress to cover their faces and avoid choking, as both were now open to the elements. Hammond did not have to take such measures which caused some irritation. After the rough going on the second day, Clarkson's car broke down twice in the Salt Pans, but managed to repair it with the face of 'certain death' or using 'that Beetle.'

Shortly before beginning their trip onto the Makgadikgadi Pan, the Top Gear trio informally encountered Botswana's then-Vice President (now President), Seretse Ian Khama, who displayed no qualms regarding the trio's journey across the flats. However, he did seem taken aback by the fact that the trio were attempting this in their old, used, two-wheel drive cars.

Challenge 3: Time trials round a rally course by "The Stig's African cousin". Hammond's Opel achieved 1:12 before being beaten by May's Mercedes-Benz with a 1:06. Clarkson's car however, failed to start as it caught fire, so The Stig walked away. The presenters were then confronted with another problem: the team had completely run out of leaded fuel. As both Clarkson and Hammonds cars ran on leaded, the presenters had to travel to a filling station "as the crow flies" offroad to conserve fuel. All three cars suffered on this journey; May's Mercedes became stuck in sand, Clarkson summarised the Lancia's situation as "everything's broken", and the alternator for Hammond's Opel stopped working, leaving him unable to use his headlights. Hammond resorted to having one of the production team responsible for lighting riding with him in the car to illuminate the road.

Challenge 4: Cross the Okavango Delta. The presenters were told to make their cars 'wild animal proof'. May was able to replace several Mercedes-Benz parts, due to the car's popularity in Africa. Clarkson however could not find any spare parts for his Lancia so he jury-rigged new doors from soft drink cans, wood and corrugated iron, and attached a megaphone. May painted 'All Adders Are Puffs' on Hammond's Opel, and 'Lite Bite Cafe' on Clarkson's Lancia. At the same time, Clarkson and Hammond were hiding a cowbell as well as several cuts of meat (including a cow's head) inside May's car, to attract wildlife. Despite having no problems so far, Hammond's Opel sank while attempting to ford a river, necessitating repair of most of the car's electrics. Both Clarkson and May were astonished to discover that Hammond had successfully repaired Oliver during the night, although he could now only use the handbrake to slow down.

Final results: Both Hammond and May made it to the border before Clarkson, who had suffered one breakdown at the end of the reserve when removing the 'animal proofing', and another on the road to the border (only he and two crew members stayed behind to fix the final breakdown after it had annoyed everyone with the constant issues). Although Hammond's Opel had survived relatively intact (the only major repair being the car's electrics), and May's car had been the only not to suffer any major malfunctions, both Clarkson and May, to Hammond's horror and bewilderment, declared the winner to be the Volkswagen Beetle, which had completed the trip with no documented mishaps at all.

On the next episode after the airing of the special, Hammond announced that he had retained his Opel and had it restored and shipped to the United Kingdom. He remains in possession of it and it has appeared on at least one further episode of Top Gear (the lorry driving challenge) and multiple episodes of Richard Hammond's Blast Lab.

Similar to the 2007 Polar Challenge Special, the show's credits included each crew member names with the words "Archbishop Desmond" (e.g. "Archbishop Desmond Clarkson, Archbishop Desmond Hammond, and Archbishop Desmond May...") attached to the start, in homage to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1984.


The Environmental Investigation Agency criticised the BBC for allowing Top Gear to film in the Makgadikgadi pans, which were claimed to be environmentally sensitive.

Responding to accusations by conservationists of "leaving scars across the Makgadikgadi salt pans by driving vehicles across them", the BBC denied that they had gone near any conservation areas, and had followed the advice of environmental experts.[1]


  1. ^ "Top Gear 'damaged African plains'". BBC News. 8 July 2007. Retrieved 28 July 2007.