The Grand Tour

Clarkson, Hammond or May: Who Built the Best Dune Buggy for the Namibia Special?

No matter what the original challenge was, when the boys go head-to-head in a special, the argument always boils down to one thing: whose car was the best? The holiday special in Namibia was no different. Each of the presenters thought that their beach buggy was the best, and as usual, they never really came to a consensus.

In order to put this question to bed for good, we first must meet the builders. Kingfisher Kustoms, the Smethwick, England-based custom car shop, is responsible for taking the trio’s specific designs and bringing them to life as the amazing buggies we saw in Namibia.

James May 


After a long day of collaboration, the crew from KK went to the drawing board to begin designing all of the buggies. James’ design was, of course, very traditional and true to the design first laid out by Bruce Meyers in the 60’s.

James’s buggy was designed to look very classic, with the use of lower suspension, VW Beetle rear lights and front indicators, classic mirrors, extra wide steel 5 stud wheels with stainless steel hubcaps and road pattern BF Goodrich tyres. As with Richard’s buggy, a huge amount of Empi accessories were used on the 1776cc engine, dash board and suspension. Cobra made us a great pair of classic bucket seats in James’s choice of and a matching rear seat.

Jeremy Clarkson


As Jeremy put it, “James has built what a beach buggy was, what I’ve built, is what a beach buggy can be.” The defining characteristic of Clarkson’s buggy is the engine and that metal-flake purple paint job, which were both chosen by KK to fit his personality.

Jeremy Clarkson’s Kingfisher Sidewinder simply had to be metal flake chocolate wrapper purple (you know the brand we mean), with loads of gauges and of course the biggest engine of them all. A V8 3500cc Rover engine was mated up to a hand built 6 rib VW aircooled van gearbox, beefed up by Cogbox and with our own ratios, for this we used a Kep V8 to VW adaptor and solid mounted and supported the gearbox where possible to take care of the 230 + brake horse power the engine will produce.

Richard Hammond


Hammond refers to his buggy as a “Daktari themed off-roader” and with its rugged outfittings and zebra-stripe paint job, this seems like a pretty accurate description.

To get Richard’s Kingfisher Predator to look and perform like a true dual sport buggy, we used a 6” wider front end (Empi) with a 3” body lift kit, these modifications led to loads more like longer drive shafts, bigger CV’s etc, we used Empi bead lock rims with BF Goodrich all terrain tyres and a full roll cage linked into chassis and suspension. A 1915cc VW air cooled motor, modified with a custom built gearbox and the extra wide rims.

So, who built the best buggy?

The others were quick to point out that, as Hammond had almost completely removed all the Beetle bits from his buggy, his could no longer even be called a beach buggy. And in face, KK did refer to it as a “dual sport buggy.” So, maybe they’re right, but Hammond specified that he wanted a location specific vehicle. He knew they were going to Africa, and having experience there, and being familiar with past Top Gear specials, he knew he would need something more robust. Maybe it’s not a traditional beach buggy, but it was by far the best vehicle for the job.

Jeremy’s buggy seems to have retained all of the traditional Beetle parts aside from the engine, which rather predictably, ruined it. While his V8 was able to propel him along successfully, so did Hammond’s traditional engine and chunky tires. Thus proving that his engine was completely unnecessary, and really only there to reinforce Clarkson’s love of ridiculously overpowered vehicles. Keeping the other Beetle components was overshadowed by the issues the engine caused.

Seeing as the ultimate challenge was to prove that beach buggies are still cool, and James is really the only one who had a true beach buggy, it seems he who shall be last shall be first. It naturally took his buggy a little longer to get places, probably as a combination of the driver, more traditional tires and the lower-powered engine, but nothing ever went mechanically wrong with it. James’ buggy completed the journey as a classic beach buggy, and thus, it was the best.

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