This is part three of our interview series with the Top Gear hosts, where we speak with Chris Harris.
Harris needs no introduction really; he is the man who forced a massive audience online to watch his reviews, a pioneer among car journos on YouTube, proving that car reviews can be insightful and entertaining at the same time.
Of course, being sideways everywhere while speaking to the camera with extreme clarity also helped. All we say is that Harris was destined for Top Gear glory for quite some time now.
[CS = CarScoops | CH = Chris Harris]
CS: The second season of Top Gear is here, how do you feel compared to the last year’s series?
CH: Like any new job, the more experience you have, the more comfortable you are with your surroundings and with the people you work with. We’ve got a new home, it’s a fantastic set and to feel comfortable here, to know the people I work with even better -my co-presenters and also the big team behind this show- is great.
We got all the right materials in place now, I feel, confidence is the wrong word -I never walk around feeling confident about stuff because I’m not like that- but I feel comfortable that we could make really enjoyable car-based television. That’s what I’m here to do.
CS: Tell us about the differences in the format of this year’s show.
CH: There’s no great reinvention going on, because if you sit down and deconstruct a television show based around cars that lasts an hour -as we have done, we’ve all done that-, what you come up with is a studio-based format that has some beautiful videos that are interspersed, probably as fronted by three people and a couple of other elements, maybe a celebrity and another voice to come in. It’s not rocket science.
So you can try and reinvent it, but you still come back with the fact that the original format that’s been run for 10 years is there for a reason: because it works. So we shouldn’t be ashamed of doing that; we’re not copying anyone, that’s just the sensible format.
We got rid of the Rallycross track, because it didn’t quite work visually and it didn’t extract the kind of exciting language from the car that we wanted. If you want to make someone go really fast sideways on dirt, that requires a lot of skill. If you want to go big slip angles, you kind of need to be good at big slip angles. That didn’t work.
I think we’ve all felt that we are very lucky to have this place; this is the best place on the planet to make a car show: we’ve got this massive hangar here as our studio and then you walk 30 yards and we’ve got a test track! Why not celebrate that? Why change it?
CS: What about the new studio?
CH: The studio is also quite different: any studio that has a Countach Quattrovalvole over my head when I’m presenting is a good place to be and I think we own this space now; last year we were kind of in the space that was owned by the previous presenters. The way that the celebrity guests will interact with us as presenters on the show is slightly different; we’ve basically teased everything and I think the end result will feel actually quite a bit different.
We also know each other better, the films are great, the film-making team is ridiculously talented, I don’t have to do much, I just turn up, skid the car, smile, and they make me look good. What’s not to like?
CS: Is that your car? (Pointing at the Ferrari Testarossa hanging over our heads)
CH: No, you know, you used to work at Evo Greece, they are both Harry’s [Harry Metcalfe, founder of UK’s Evo Magazine]. That’s Harry’s Countach and that’s also Harry’s Testarossa. I’ve got a 512TR, the later one, and I said to my boss “can I have my car up there?” and he said “yeah, but Monkey don’t forget it’s going to be here until the end of April and you might want to use the car”, and actually I do want to use the car, so we phoned up Harry and borrowed his.
CS: In an older interview you said that your top speed record with a car is 227mph with a Bugatti Veyron. Are we going to see this record broken this year?
CH: I’m not going to tell you that.
CS: It was worth the shot! What was the most disappointing car you had to review this year?
CH: The Porsche Cayman 718. I love the Cayman, you love the Cayman, we all love the Cayman. It’s a great car. But part of the Cayman’s personality is in that normally aspirated flat six engine, the induction noise, the way the throttle response really matches the dynamics and the behaviour of the chassis.
This new engine is uncouth, I don’t like the sound of it, it’s personality is wrong for the car and it also alters the personality of the chassis as well, because that heavy torque kick you get early on means the car now wants to get into oversteer much earlier. [The engine] places demand on the chassis that can cope with but it has changed the whole character of the car. The car itself is selling really, really well and I can’t believe it, because it’s shit!
CS: That’s the merit of downsizing…
CH: Well I hear that the VW Group now says that downsizing is now over, and they are upsizing again.
CS: That’s right.
CH: The turbocharging thing as you know is a fallacy. It’s a lie. Because on an EU drive-by test, they can just knock the car, so effectively its turbochargers are not even boosted, and can they just do 56mph and just roll it past the meter. And then the car achieves 30 percent, whatever, better efficiency that an N/A engine. But the moment you use any boost at all, I mean the turbo Cayman I had was doing 21mpg. Useless!
CS: Which one of your co-presenters is the most fun to work with? You can only pick one!
CH: I love Rory to bits but I have to say Matt. Because I pinch myself. I’m of an age that means in the mid-90s, when he was at the peak of his fame in Friends, I was a student on a sofa, with a hangover the whole time, watching him on television. It feels totally bizarre to be working with him.
He’s the ultimate professional. I learned so much from him about the way that you work a room, the way that you work a set, I mean the guy is super-bright. He sees stuff, subtle little things and then just changes them and it makes such a difference. He looks for the joke and we have a right laugh together. He’s sort of become my friend, which is a bit weird. But in the end, they’re both great guys.
Top Gear Season 24 Debuts in BBC America this Sunday, March 12