Wind back to October and reports coming out of Argentina suggested all was not well with the team’s latest shoot. The crew, along with Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond, had to abandon filming amid angry protests over a car numberplate that appeared to refer to the Falklands War. A Porsche used by the team had the registration H982 FKL, which some suggested could refer to the conflict between the UK and Argentina which took place in 1982.
Clarkson and the BBC producers insisted that it had been an unfortunate misunderstanding. That did little to appease the Argentine ambassador, who described the response she received from Danny Cohen, the BBC’s director of television, as “inadequate” and accused the Beeb of a “cover up”.
The row hasn’t quite gone away and there are those who would have liked to see Clarkson’s head on a plate alongside the Christmas turkey, but tonight there will finally be a chance to see what the trio got up to as they made their way across Patagonia on a 1,600-mile trek using three V8 sports cars .
The usual habitat for a Porsche 928, a Lotus Esprit and a Ford Mustang is the civilised world of tarmac, but in the hands of Clarkson, Hammond and May, these three sports-bred machines face swamps, deserts, forests, beaches and ski slopes as they try to get to the southernmost city in the world, in order to stage an epic game of car football against Argentina.
Along the way there are broken bones, epic backdrops, mechanical calamities and cows, plus that climax which they will always maintain wasn’t exactly the one they expected. As the team departed the country three days early it was reported that the cars were abandoned by the side of the road and the crew pelted with stones.
After arriving back on home soil, Clarkson said the controversial registration plate had been removed after a Twitter user highlighted the potential insensitivity. He said that by the time they reached Tierra del Fuego, the car “had no plate at all on the front and a meaningless jumble of letters and numbers on the back”.
“And no, it wasn’t W3 WON. Which it would have been if I’d been trying to ruffle feathers,” said a typically defiant Clarkson. “The numberplate then wasn’t the issue, but something was causing more and more people to arrive at the hotel. Twitter was rammed with messages from locals saying they wanted blood. One said they were going to barbecue us and eat the meat.”
Clarkson has already described the trip as “the most terrifying thing” he’s ever been involved in.
Top Gear Patagonia Special, BBC2, December 27, 8.30pm