'Top Gear': Tim Allen Is the Big Star in a Small Car
(All photos mine unless otherwise indicated)
As you all know from this blog post and this feature story, I visited the set of History's "Top Gear" in October, but some of what I saw isn't airing until right about now.
Next Friday, Zap2it will post a story and a video interview I did with rock star Bret Michaels, who is the last celebrity guest in the show's first season.
His episode airs Sunday, Jan. 9, when he can be seen running the test track in the little red Suzuki SX4.
But in the episode for tonight, Sunday, Jan. 2, "Home Improvement" and movie star Tim Allen is the "Big Star in the Small Car." Like Michaels, he's a lover of all things with wheels that go fast. And he did go fast, which was a little unnerving for those of us -- cameraman, publicist, me, etc. -- standing near one corner of the test track, which was right in the direct line of danger if Allen had lost control of the car (not likely, but you never know).
"I told the guys," says Allen in his trailer afterward (at left), "the fire marshal's going to have to get involved in this. You can't let people sit that close. He said, 'That's their decision.' 'Yeah, but it will be one of those classic TV-turned-tragedy...'
"It's natural to look at you, and then I'm aiming right at you, so I end up going where I aim."
(FYI, when the show's tame racing driver, The Stig, felt the need to move, we all did as well. Picture at right is the Stig with Allen and a crew member).
Along with being an actor, Allen is also a trained racing driver.
"I took lessons in early '96 or '95," he says, "and then I raced for Ford, as much as I could, doing a TV show and movies at the same time. ... It's just a pit, racing. There's no end to how much money you spend on it."
If you look at the "Horsepower" page of Allen's official Web site, it's evident that he has a well-stocked garage, but it definitely doesn't include a little red Suzuki (photo below from "Top Gear"). On this day, he won't know how his time stacked up against the other celebrities until he heads back to the studio for his interview segment, but the Suzuki did prove a bit of a surprise.
"The interior's dumpy," Allen says, "but it goes pretty well, considering what it is. It's got tiny little tires and tiny little brakes, but it doesn't do bad. It's a front-wheel-drive car. All of those things I don't like, but it goes pretty good. It's not bad.
"The Scourge or the Stick or Schtick, the man with no face, he's a very good trainer."
(For the record, he means The Stig.)
Allen did get to try out a couple of other cars on the "Top Gear" track.
"The Lotus was the most interesting of them, overall," he says. "I don't like the looks of it -- it seemed a little underbuilt -- but on the track it does things beautifully, better than any car out there. And the Chevy Camaro and the Dodge Challenger (photo below at right) are American cars -- big, safe, comfortable.
"They're nice cars. They're for the road. GM doesn't make race cars; they don't do that. They make cars that mimic it, have some attributes of a race car, but they don't do that. Their Corvette ZR1, which I owned for a while, is as close as it comes. It really is startlingly close to the race car that it mimics, as close as any car I've ever been in.
"The new Corvette, if it had better seats, is a race car, the way it sits. It's got race-car brakes, race-car suspension. I had one, sold it for a Cadillac CTS-V, the Corvette-powered Cadillac."
But don't assume that Allen's mixed reaction to the Suzuki means he'd never own a small car.
"I have a Mini-Cooper," he says. "I added another 111 horsepower to it; I dropped it, put big black tires and wheels on it, big exhaust. It's fast now. My oldest daughter, if she graduates well from USC, it might be hers.
"I have motorcycles, too. I'm a complete gearhead. I love big trucks, too, and bulldozers and tanks."