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August 15, 2005

Top Gear Down Under 

I remember when Angela Rippon fronted the first and tested the Mk II Capri. Or Selena Scott at Motorfair ’84. Or Noel Edmonds, for that matter. I remember when Andy Wilman was involved in Siamese banger racing. Like Nigel Havers, I thought Vicki Butler-Henderson had a nice, um, well. Many years before it became The Show and got six million viewers a week.
   I used to be a sceptic to spawned off TV shows, not unlike the sceptics who felt a web title couldn’t jump to print. And for years, Top Gear did operate in a nice little niche of its own: while some publishers were forbidden to leap to telly, the could operate a nice little earner with a show-based magazine, building it up to be one of the country’s top sellers.
   But it has not been till this year that Top Gear had the right look to complement its editorial; until recently it played second-fiddle to Car or the slightly sycophantic Autocar, still a favourite of mine.
   To illustrate the strength of its brand, Top Gear spawns a issue next Monday, a development I am looking forward to. There are a few reasons: it is the first time, to my knowledge, that a British TV show has spawned a uniquely local edition here. It will end the kiss-ass editorial that the other car magazines in New Zealand put out. And we can find out just how effective translating a television audience to print is—because it ain’t easy from the web.
   It will also prove a point: if Top Gear is driven by viewer feedback, as it appears to be these days, then it will work more effectively than one that is in a single medium. It may show a real picture of the New Zealand motoring consumer, which has not been seen till now.
   Apart from the main magazine that I am involved in, I haven’t been this excited about a New Zealand-produced title. And it may prove me right on a lot of counts: that a market orientation, generally, works.
Well, it’s launched. I won’t go into depth here yet because I would rather tell the managing editor, who is a friend of mine, first. Good points: broad appeal, differentiation, approachable for either gender. Less than stellar points: I am meaner on cars than they are. Sum-up: kicks the domestic competition. If it does not become number one in its sector, it is at least a strong number two.  
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