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Top Gear: Botswana Special

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Title: Top Gear: Botswana Special  
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Subject: Opel Kadett, The Stig, Top Gear: Vietnam Special, Richard Hammond's Blast Lab
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Top Gear: Botswana Special

Top Gear: Botswana Special
Makgadikgadi Pan post stripdown modifications.
Format Motoring
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 airing 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 most of 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!". Clarkson's car broke down frequently, seemingly with electrical issues. For day two on the salt pans, dust became the problem, rather than the "gunk" underneath the salt crust. May and Clarkson had to cover their faces and re-dress to avoid choking on the dust, as each driver was now open to the elements due to having a bare shell. Hammond did not have to take such measures as he did not drastically modify his car earlier. Clarkson's car broke down twice in the Salt Pans. When he thinks the Lancia will not get going again he seems to be torn between '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 a time of 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.

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 Beta 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 Beta. 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. Hammond's Opel sank while attempting to ford a river, necessitating repair of most of the car's electrics.

Final results: Both Hammond and May made it to the border before Clarkson, who had suffered two more breakdowns during the final run. Although Hammond's Opel had survived relatively intact (the only major repair being the car's electricals), and May's car had hardly broken down at all, 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 self-appointed 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]


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