THUMP… [what was that?]… BEEEEEEP… I'd accidentally leant on the horn whilst peering out to see what had happened. Buggar. Not the smoothest arrival.
We’d driven over a cattle grid, or more specifically, a lump of cast iron sticking out the middle of it. In one way or another, we had arrived at the Hammond household. “I took the front off a Porsche on that”, Richard told us, mercifully.
We didn’t know what we were going to do with the collaboration thing… and that was kind of the point. No over-complicated shoots; just a chance to get down to brass tacks and dig into the wheres and whys of being a car or bike person. Trying our best not to fan-girl our way through the day, we arrived with camera batteries charged and heads full of questions.
Richard showed us through to the bike barn. Inside was the warm smell of oil and polish. The Lagonda sat proudly - surrounded by swathes of bikes from the 20s, 50s, right up to 90s carbon fibre ‘straddle-me’ rockets. A full size Airfix-style template made from a Honda Cub served as the bannister for the mezzanine floor, a resin ‘rug’ painted below, both strokes of beer-fuelled artistic genius.
Outside, each garage was a tease for what lay within. One set of wooden doors creaked open. After a bit of spluttering, Oliver (the Opel Kadett) wheezed into life with a quick clear of the throat before running smooth as ever - his exhaust pipe blowing raspberries at us as if to say, ‘look, it’s me, and I’m back!’
"We piled in and trundled off to find some charming local roads. But first... fuel."
Visiting a petrol station with Richard Hammond and Oliver is an interesting affair. Watching the penny drop as people realise who and what has just pulled up to the pump; it’s like watching corn popping in a pan. It was only when a man wielded an iPhone for a selfie (and I took it) that I was forced to really pinch myself. The thing is, Richard is a bloody nice guy. For us, all of the jesusf*ingchristit’srichardf*inghammond had gone in the first five minutes of meeting him. We were just three car people, driving around, talking about cars.
SO WHAT’S OLIVER ACTUALLY LIKE IN PERSON?
Well, he’s quite boxy, oddly proportioned but with good clean lines. He also has very small wheels (12x5” I think) and there’s no passenger seatbelt in the front. This becomes interesting when combined with slippery vinyl and quite primitive suspension, especially when you’re a bit of a lump like me. The speedo is like a cartoon thermometer - a red line that grows excitedly with every added mile-per-hour. The entire car just feels light and airy, a happy retro-summer vibe. Honestly, Oliver is just a 1963 Opel Kadett - only this one just happens to have starred in the largest TV show… in the world.
The true story behind Oliver goes beyond that road trip on Top Gear though, beyond a love for old stuff and into the real reason why Richard Hammond loves cars in the first place:
RICHARD “I’m a car person before I’m a journalist. It’s come together for me because I’m a presenter and combining that with my biggest passion, which is cars and motorcycles, is perfect.”
TOM Your collection is quite...
RICHARD ... You’re gonna say eclectic
TOM Yeah I was - you must have a huge library of experience with cars?
RICHARD “Yeah, but I think I’m still very childish about it, which I view as a good thing. My collection of cars and bikes - each and every one of them is something that matters to me. They’re my toys, and when you’re a kid your toy box has all your favourite toys. It might be an action man, an Evel Knievel bike, a box of Lego or an Etch-A-Sketch. Now, they’re all completely different but you love them all each and individually, and it’s the same with my cars and bikes.
TOM The connection you’ve got with Oliver - is it something that you can or can’t explain?
RICHARD “I can’t explain it. I really can’t, but I’m not gonna say there’s anything mystical or magical about it, I just really really like the car and have done since moment one!”
OTHER TOM *muffled fumbling with door*
RICHARD “Give it a good wallop! … He responds well to that treatment.”
TOM It was interesting what you said earlier, he’s not just a token from Africa…
RICHARD ...“No, no he’s a car in his own right. Yeah ok I found him in Africa but that was just where he was, he could equally have been in Spain, Birmingham, America, wherever, it doesn’t matter... It still makes me smile and think ‘oh funny little thing’ as I drive around here as well as anywhere else. I’m still captivated by the business moving from one place to another without my legs doing all the work, I’ve never got past that. Take that GTR I drove home in…”
Richard points at an orange press Nissan GTR posing on the driveway.
“…It’s brilliant, it’s an amazing machine. It turns the business of moving from one place to another into something else entirely. With Oliver, simply you get in, you sit down in one place, move some controls about and you get out in another place. That’s what reconnects you with what it was when you were six - watching your Mum or your Dad drive and thinking ‘God I wanna be able to do that!’ I didn’t grow up wanting to be a racing driver, I grew up wanting to be able to drive."
RICHARD “It’s primal. I’m standing here as an animal thinking, ‘What’s going on over the other side of that hill […] and that’s all there is on offer in Oliver, that's all that car can do. It’s not quick, doesn’t corner well, doesn’t make you look cool, you can’t use it to tell the world how rich you are, it sends no powerful signals beyond: ‘I was here, and now I’m gonna go over there.”
[A Discovery pulls into the driveway]
RICHARD “My wife’s gonna get cross that we’re blocking the driveway taking pictures… Although they are back with lunch”
We sat on the garden bench, picnicking, a million miles away from anywhere. We shared our enthusiasm for the new Porsche Sport-Turismo whilst a Collie eyed up our food from the conservatory.
Richard’s collection is a real spread: from the Mr Toad style Lagonda (as he calls it) to the Porsche GT3RS or trusty Defenders. Each car has it’s own role; whether part of the family or simply an itch that needs scratching.
What’s clear about Richard is despite all the TV stuff; Top Gear, The Grand Tour, anything - he’s someone who at core, is a car person like you or me. There’s nothing complicated about it. The bond Richard has with this little 60s Opel is the purest example of that. It was so refreshing to whittle time away musing about stuff that, on a basic instinctual level, we can all relate to.
So, for now, in our hardly expert opinion, we can confidently say that this ‘ere motoring website is in safe hands. But you knew that anyway.