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Top Gear: Polar Special was an episode of the popular series Top Gear, first broadcast on 25 July 2007 on BBC Two. It was an attempt by the BBC's Top Gear crew to be the first to drive a motor vehicle to the 1996 location of the Magnetic North Pole.

The project was co-ordinated by the car manufacturer Toyota and Top Gear, with the help of Arctic Trucks, an Icelandic vehicle modification company. The vehicle used was a modified Toyota Hilux. Toyota promoted the event under the name Hilux Arctic Challenge.

The UKTV channel Dave has broadcast this episode in an edited 46 minute version for their one hour broadcast slots,<ref></ref> as has BBC Canada. The special has also been released on DVD as one-half of the Top Gear: The Great Adventures set, along with the Top Gear: US Special.


The episode showcased a race between presenters Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May to the 1996 magnetic north pole.

The idea was originally proposed by the BBC to coincide with the Polar Challenge race, an annual event where competitors race to the 1996 location of the magnetic north pole by trekking and cross-country skiing. The attempt would be shown as a one-off Top Gear special in 2007. As part of the challenge, the car would be racing against a dog sled, the traditional means of transport around the Arctic. Top Gear presenters James May and Jeremy Clarkson would drive the car, and Richard Hammond traveled with the dog sled, accompanied by driver Matty McNair.

Clarkson and May ultimately were the first to reach the finish in their Hilux, thus winning the race and achieving their goal of being the first to do so in a car. At one point the Hilux was sinking into the ice and had to be towed out by another vehicle therefore it is reasonable to conclude that without assistance, Clarkson and May would not have completed the journey.

The episode was largely scored with compositions by Clint Mansell and performed by the Kronos Quartet, particularly the pieces "Lux Aeterna" and "Death is the Road to Awe", from the soundtracks of Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain, respectively.

Until 15 November 2009, this was the only episode of Top Gear that had been broadcast in high definition.


The vehicles used in the challenge were two 2006 Toyota Hilux double cab 3.0l diesel pickup trucks and one Toyota Land Cruiser 120. A trailer on 38" tyres was also used to carry part of the equipment and fuel. One Hilux was used by the presenters and was fitted with camera and sound recording equipment, the other two were used by the film crew, two driver/repair experts and one polar expert. All vehicles underwent the same extensive modifications to make them suitable for the Arctic conditions. The major modifications to the trucks included:

  • The standard wheels and tyres were replaced with bespoke Arctic Trucks wheels and 38" studded snow tyres. The tyres were able to run at pressures as low as 0.2 bar (3 psi) for better flotation over snow. The tyres are called Arctic Trucks AT405.
  • The wheel arches were raised and extended to protect the larger tyres.
  • The standard 3.0-litre D-4D engine was modified to cope with the very low temperatures. Heaters were added to increase fuel and coolant temperature, a large heavy-duty battery was fitted and the air intake was modified.
  • A 90 litre auxiliary fuel tank was fitted.
  • The gearing ratio was lowered to 1:4.88.
  • Two winches that could be fitted either to the front or rear of each of the vehicles were carried, in case they got stuck in the snow.<ref name="invinciblehilux">Template:Citation/core{{#if:|}}</ref>

The Hilux was chosen because it had proven itself to be exceptionally durable. The car had featured in various Top Gear challenges, being floated out to sea, set on fire, and finally being placed on top of a high-rise tower which was then destroyed in a controlled demolition. After all this, the Hilux was still able to be driven away. The Hilux was therefore the obvious choice for this test of endurance.<ref name="invinciblehilux"/>


Work began on the vehicles in December 2006, at Resolute, Canada, from where the expedition would begin. Over 240 man-hours of labour were spent completely refitting the two vehicles in preparation for the journey. Testing of the vehicles began in February 2007, after which some further modifications were made to the vehicles — the suspension was altered and the original 29" tyres were replaced with 38" ones.<ref name="4x4offroad">Template:Citation/core{{#if:|}}</ref> Testing of the vehicles continued until April 2007 with repeated cold start evaluations being taken to make sure that the vehicles would start in all conditions. On 20 April 2007 the Top Gear presenters arrived and began their cold weather training. This intensive training involved a two-night expedition camping on sea ice, where the presenters learned how to erect a tent, build a makeshift aircraft runway, pull a sled and deal with polar bears. As well, Clarkson was pushed into the frigid water by their trainer, a Special Air Service|SAS veteran. With help from satellite images provided by the BBC, the support team plotted the route that the expedition would take.

The expedition

The expedition set out from Resolute, Nunavut at 1300 on 25 April 2007. The destination for this day was Bathurst Island, an uninhabited island where they would make camp. After leaving Bathurst Island, the team had to rely on satellite navigation to plan their route.

Travel on the first three days was fairly easy, as the ice was smooth and the expedition was able to make good speed. Things got more difficult on April 28, however, as the terrain became more difficult to cross, with sharp-edged ice covered in thick snow making it difficult to obtain traction, as well as posing a danger to the tyres. At this point, the team were relying on their guides to scout ahead for a safe route, demolishing outcrops of ice with axes when necessary. The terrain became even more perilous further north, with the team having to cross a field of very thin ice. There was a real danger of the ice cracking and the car falling through due to the weight, so the vehicles had to be driven very slowly.

On the morning of 2 May 2007 the GPS system confirmed that the team had reached the 1996 location of the magnetic north pole at Template:Coord (or at least at Template:Coord, the reading showing on the GPS in the program, which is 0.7 miles SSE of it), making them the first people to reach within a mile of the magnetic north pole location of any year in a motor vehicle. From there, the Top Gear presenters were evacuated by plane, while the team drove on to the disused Isachsen weather station, where they made camp and checked the vehicles to make sure they were in good enough condition to make the return trip to Resolute.

Richard Hammond never made it to the pole, as it "seemed cruel to make him go the extra distance just so Clarkson could gloat".<ref> (3rd bullet)</ref>


During the Polar Special, Jeremy Clarkson was seen to be drinking a gin and tonic whilst driving through an ice field in the Arctic. Despite the producer's claims that they were beyond the jurisdiction of drunk driving laws in international waters at the time, the BBC Trust found that the scene could "glamorise the misuse of alcohol", and that the scene "was not editorially justified in the context of a family show pre-watershed".<ref>{{#if: Top Gear rapped for alcohol use

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DVD and Blu-Ray release

In 2008, the BBC packaged an extended version of the Polar Challenge, along with a cut-down version of the American East Coast Challenge on a twin DVD box set entitled Top Gear - The Great Adventures (also known as The Great Adventures: Polar and U.S. Special). This "Director's Cut" includes an extra ten minutes of previously unseen footage and various other changes, including new voice-overs and an alternative soundtrack to the original BBC broadcast release.

The BBC released the extended Polar Special as a stand-alone Blu-ray disc on 20 October 2008.<ref></ref> The extended version included scenes of frostbitten extremities during the training in Resolute, and Clarkson & May discovering the abandoned Isachsen weather station (left vacant since 1978), among others.

External links

Template:Top Gear