Top Gear: Polar Special

Top Gear: Polar Special

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 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 episode showcased a race between presenters Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May to the 2006 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 2006 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.

The episode was largely scored with compositions by Clint Mansell, particularly the pieces Requiem for a Dream, Movement 4 and Death is the Road to Awe, from the soundtracks of Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain, respectively.


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 3psi 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 get stuck in the snow

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 tower block which was then demolished. After all this, the Hilux was still able to be driven away. The Hilux was therefore the obvious choice for this test of endurance.


Work began on the vehicles in December 2006, at Resolute, Canada, from where the expedition would begin. Over 240 man-hours of labour was 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. 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 teacher. 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 the 28th, 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, making them the first people to reach 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".


Further reading

External links

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