Fifth Gear was first broadcast on 8 April 2002 as 5th Gear, and as a continuation of the original incarnation of the BBC show Top Gear, which was cancelled in 2001. Top Gear was relaunched later that year; Channel 5 originally wanted to carry on using the Top Gear name, but the BBC refused. Several of Top Gear's ex-presenters, including Quentin Willson, Tiff Needell, and Vicki Butler-Henderson were hired by Channel 5 to present the series. The show was renamed as Fifth Gear in 2005.
Repeats of Fifth Gear also started being broadcast on UKTV channel, Dave in April 2008 and later on Discovery Turbo.
The first seven series consisted of a 23 minute programme, not including approximately 7 minutes of adverts. The eighth series returned in the autumn of 2005 in a longer format of 45 minutes, and the ninth series (which went to a 13-week run) was increased to a one hour airtime slot (approximately 46 minutes excluding adverts). For series 17, the show has reverted to the original format of 23 minutes, which including adverts, takes the show to half an hour. In Series 21, the show reverted to the previous one hour airtime slot.
At the start of series 10, the show introduced between-feature links filmed at the Ace Cafe in London. In previous series, these links were filmed at the production company offices in Birmingham. Originally produced by Chrysalis Television, the Birmingham offices were situated on the top floor of the headquarters of 100.7 Heart FM (also, at that time, a Chrysalis Radio company), near Birmingham's Five Ways area. The team moved out when Chrysalis sold their Television Division to All3Media in September 2003 (the section which currently produces Fifth Gear is now known as North One Television, part of the All3Media group).
In series 14, a location change from the Ace Cafe meant link sequences were filmed instead at the Millbrook Proving Ground, along with some of the vehicle testing features.
In 2005, the show's producer, Jon Bentley, also became a part-time presenter. Bentley later stopped being a presenter and went back to being the producer. Tim Lovejoy was hired in September 2006 for series 10. In August 2008, Tim Shaw became a presenter on the show for series 14. In October 2010, Ben Collins, formerly The Stig on BBC's Top Gear, came to Fifth Gear for series 18.
Fifth Gear has also been broadcast on the Speed Channel in the USA for a short period in 2004 to early 2007. It began airing on Velocity on Wednesdays after Wheeler Dealers as of October 3, 2012.
Fifth Gear started Canadian broadcast on Discovery Channel Canada in 2008, began with 2006 series. This version ran in half-hour format.
2009 cancellation and return
On 18 October 2009, the Mail Online reported that the show had been cancelled. Up to then there had been no official announcement or confirmation. Although, Channel 5 executives had been quoted as saying, "Five is proud of Fifth Gear's contribution to the channel but after 16 series, feels it's time to try something new."
In late December 2009, however, presenter Jonny Smith suggested via Twitter that the show could return for another series early in 2010. On 8 January 2010, Smith tweeted: "Fifth Gear IS coming back!", and in his next tweet, he said "Wow, such quick responses! Basically, we all know there's room for 2 car TV shows. FG will simply be a reviews based visual car magazine." Tiff Needell also tweeted saying "Home to the news that, after much negotiating Fifth Gear looks like it will after all be returning to your screens sometime in the Spring!" and also hinted the show will have a new format in his next tweet "Glad so many of you are delighted by the Fifth Gear news — and, yes the format will be moving away from the stupid ... but still having fun!".
On 17 January 2010, Vicki Butler-Henderson and Tiff Needell confirmed at the Autosport International Show that Fifth Gear will be returning in Spring 2010. The pair featured a car shootout in Fifth Gear style in the live arena show and said several times to the audience that the show would be back on air in Spring and to ignore the cancellation rumours.
The series started on 3 June 2010. The series ran for 10 episodes and the first one had Lewis Hamilton as a guest. On 1 October 2010, it was announced that Ben Collins (who played the original White Stig on Top Gear) would join the show as 'The Stag', a race car driver wearing a reindeer suit with antlers.
During Series 12, Episode 7, two accidents took place while on set.
Tom Ford broke his foot and lost several toes when he crashed a modified Bedford Rascal van. Ford was recording a piece about drifting. He and co-host Jonny Smith were racing each other in a D1 Grand Prix style around a private track. After winning the event, Ford was performing a victory drift that went wrong, put his van (painted to resemble the A-Team GMC Van) up on two wheels and into a safety barrier.
BTCC driver Jason Plato suffered multiple burns when a Caparo T1 he was driving at Bruntingthorpe proving ground burst into flames. The car, capable of 200 mph (320 km/h), burst into flames at an estimated 150 mph (240 km/h). Plato said: "There was a slight loss of power, I looked in the mirror and saw some smoke, there was a slight smell of oil and then suddenly there was this intense heat. The car spontaneously erupted into a ball of flames and I was sat in the middle of a fireball." The presenter was initially taken to Market Harborough and District Hospital by former BTCC driver Phil Bennett before being treated at Kettering General Hospital. He later received specialist burns treatment at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. The incident was mentioned during Top Gear's discussion of the Caparo T1 the next year.
Both accidents happened on the same day of recording.
The Fifth Gear Awards
Each year, the programme gives out various awards:
Fifth Gear claims to be 'world renowned' for their 'infamous' shoot-outs, between similarly priced, similarly powerful cars, or, recently, cars versus bikes. These shoot outs take place at the Anglesey Circuit on the Isle of Anglesey close to Aberffraw. During the refurbishment of Anglesey, shoot-outs were switched to Castle Combe Circuit.
Week 1: The presenters conduct a 120 mph (190 km/h) crash test. They also compare two of the most powerful Jaguars ever made. They also take a look at the Range Rover Evoque.
Week 2: Tiff chats to British rally legend Mark Higgins. The presenters take a look at a new Mercedes convertible. Vicki races a new Ford Mustang around Le Mans. Jonny begins a journey of a lifetime in a very unlikely car.
Week 3: Tiff test drives the Lamborghini's new Aventador hypercar. Vicki makes her way through Italy's snowy mountain roads in Mini's brand new Coupe. Jonny finds out about car culture's biggest phenomenon, vehicle wrapping.
Week 4: Vicki makes her way to Italy to drive a new convertible version of the Ferrari 458. Tiff takes part in a shootout between two ultra-powerful coupes. The team test drive the most economical car available.
Week 5: Tiff takes a look at the last ever Porsche 911. Vicki travels to Portugal where she takes on the role of a beach lifeguard in a brand new VW pick-up truck. Jonny attempts to make Renault's battery powered car go as far as possible on one charge.
Week 6: Jonny finds the best driving road in the world. Vicki takes the new VW Amarok pick-up for a test drive on a beach in Portugal. The driving skills of Roy Keane are tested by Tiff at the Nurburgring. The presenters take a look at the new Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet.
Week 7: Tiff takes a drive through France's Champagne region in Aston Martin's newest convertible. Vicki is the umpire in a race between two England cricket stars. Jonny takes a look at two off-road bargains to help see us through the winter.
Week 8: The presenters get the chance to drive the latest version of the Jeep. Cricket legend Jimmy Anderson is put through his paces around the gruelling Nurburgring race track by Tiff.
Week 9: Vicki drives through the Pyrenees in the new BMW M5. Jonny travels to Barcelona to take a look at the SEAT's new city car. Tiff is joined by rally ace Mark Higgins to test drive Renault's new hatchback.
Week 10: Jonny takes a look at some exciting cars at the LA motorshow. Ian Botham is taught how to drive around the legendary Nurburgring racing track. Vicki learns some evasive driving techniques from the police who chauffeur the Royal Family.
2012 (Series 21)
Week 1: Tiff tested the Porsche 911 carrera S. Jonny gets a high speed truck rally driving lesson and the team also test a Volkswagen Beetle. Jason invite Suzi Perry to test, if you tweak ECU, change tires etc. have better time. Vicky is on a mission to refill during driving.
Week 2: Track tested convertible Mercedes SLS AMG against Aston Martin, Jaguar and Bentley. Johnny goes to Sweden to drive new Audi A1 quattro with Stig Blomqvist.
Week 3: Vicki tests the Dynamic Performance Management sysytem in the Lotus Exige S against Ex Lotus F1 driver Karun Chandhok. Tiff conducts an investigation into the advantages of Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and Jonny recommends some used cars with ESC fitted as standard. Team test of the Suzuki Swift Sport. Jonny tests sat-navs at three price levels. Vicki attends the Monaco Motor Show and drives the Fisker Karma on the grand-prix track as well as a Hunton XRS 43 powerboat.
Week 4: Tiff Needell takes to the Italian F1 circuit in the hope of qualifying for the Lamborghini Series, and the team reports whether different types of petrol affect a car's performance
Week 5: Team test: Mini Cooper convertible. Tiff tries drifting with new Bentley Continental GT. Vicky goes to Gordon Murray home to see his history of designing. And present his first electric car T27. Jason goes to Iceland to drive formula offroad with 2009 champion Hafsteinn Thorvaldsson aka Haf. Jonny learn how to wash Rolls-Royce Ghost EWB.
Week 6: Tiff Needell celebrates the Ferrari F40's 25th birthday, Jason Plato pits the Mercedes C63 AMG Black Series against its BMW rival and Vicki Butler-Henderson drives a new Land Rover.
Week 7: Jonny Smith takes a behind-the-scenes look at the Isle of Man TT motorbike race with John McGuinness, and the Subaru BRZ sports car is tested around the circuit
Week 8: Jonny Smith examines the new Ferrari California, while Vicki Butler-Henderson explores the world of motorbike speedway in Denmark
Week 9: Jonny Smith heads to Sweden for an American car show, Tiff Needell tests the KTM X-Bow R trackday car, and Jason Plato explores affordable ways to upgrade a car stereo
2013 (Series 22)
Week 1: Vicki in the new Porsche Boxster S against a Jet plane, Tiff tests the difference between used and new tires. Jonny goes to Trollstigen to test Ford Focus ST. Jason tests Audi S8.
Week 2: Jason tests the brand new Pagani Huayra, Tiff tests the new Porsche 911 cabriolet to find out if it's quicker than the Audi R8 Spider. Vicki tests a super car off roader. Johny reveals the three classic cars that could be a better investment than gold.
Week 3: Vicki in the brand new Porsche Panamera GTS against the all-new Mercedes CLS 63, both cars are tested to the limit. Jason tests a brand new supercar made in Holland. Johny spends a night in the Swiss alps to demonstrate how your car can keep you alive. Tiff tests the Frontline MG LE50.
Week 4: Tiff and rally legend Chris Meeke find the ultimate hot hatch (Golf GTI vs Renault Sport Megane vs Ford Focus ST vs Astra VXR), Vicki is in Germany to test the Audi RS4, Jonny finds out how the world's most powerful simulator has become F1's secret weapon. Jason reveals the ultimate secondhand sports car you can buy on a budget.
Week 5: Jonny jumps into the world of professional drifting, the team test the Audi S7 to the extreme, Vicki takes part in a world record attempt: the largest parade of Ferraris, Tiff tests filling tires with nitrogen and Jason tests the new Mercedes SL.
Week 6: Vicki races rally superstar Andreas Mikkelsen in three speed challenges, Jason tests the new BMW M6, Tiff finds out what the ultimate small car is and Jonny shows the essential DIY skills that will allow you to save money.
Week 7: Vicki tests the new Ferrari F12 Berlinetta, Jonny attempts to become the fastest drag race passenger, Tiff and Jason race each other in a dog fight find to find out which of the latest entry level hot hatches is the greatest, and the team test the latest car safety systems.
Week 8: Vicki visits Pininfarina headquarters in Italy and tests the Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale, Jonny tests the modern-day Morgan three-wheeler, while Jason looks for the best bluetooth gadget to use while driving together with Suzi Perry.
Week 9: Tiff takes on Sabine Schmitz in a battle between the Porsche 911 and the BMW M6, Jason tests the new Morgan Plus 8, Vicki goes off-road with the latest version of the Range Rover Evoque and Jonny is in the lab to test fuel saving gadgets.
2013 (Series 23)
Week 1: Tiff and Jason test the Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG, the Audi R8 v10 Spyder and the Maserati GrandCabrio to the limit to find out which is the best super cabrio on the market, the team test the new Range Rover Autobiography, Vicki races the BMW M135i against world super bike hero Chaz Davies on the BMW HP4 and Jonny drives 1000 km in Europe's cheapest car, the Dacia Sandero.
Week 2: Vicki and Tiff go head to head with the Renault Sport Megane 265 vs the Toyota GT86. Jason turns car doctor for the day as he tries to bring a tired engine back to full health. Jonny tests the Jaguar F-Type in Spain. The team test the Mazda6.
Week 3: Tiff tests the Mclaren 12C Spider, Jonny investigates the secret world of crash testing, the team test the brand new Volkswagen Golf, Jason and Finnish double world champion rally driver Marcus Grönholm pitch two brand new Porsche Caymans head to head in an automatic vs manual gearbox battle.
Week 4: Tiff is in Los Angeles to reveal the latest petrol head craze: "Restomodding" and tests Magnus Walker's 1972 Porsche 911 STR, an Icon Toyota Landcruiser FJ, and a Singer Porsche 911, Jason tests the new Aston Martin Vanquish with Brazilian race ace Bruno Senna, Vicki tests the latest safety gadgets: dashboard cameras and the team test the brand new Mercedes-Benz A-Class.
Week 5: Jason and Tiff test three brand new hot hatches: the Renault Sport Clio 200, the Peugeot 208 GTi and the Ford Fiesta ST, Vicki tests the new Donkervoort D8 GTO, the team test the brand new Jaguar XF Sportbreak, Jonny is at Bentley's HQ and tests the Bentley Mulsanne.
Week 6: Tiff and Sabine Schmitz test the Caterham 7 Supersport R, the Morgan 3-wheeler and the Ariel Atom 3.5. Jason tests the Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG, Vicki competes in a track day with a Peugeot 205 GTi and the team test the new Hyundai Veloster Turbo.
In Series 19, a new segment was introduced, called the Team Test. This is where Tiff, Jason, Jonny and Vicki all do a group test on an important new car. They all score the car out of 10, and add it together to get the score for the car.