There have been far too many attempts to create compelling television shows about cars. Few succeed, mostly due to a lack of vision, ambition, and budget. Not so with the BBC.

And so, a decade before Elon Musk shot a Tesla Roadster into space, the lager louts at Top Gear tried the same thing, albeit with a decidedly less sexy Reliant Robin. What could go wrong?

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My dad was a real-life rocket scientist, so I was transfixed by the idea of regular civilians giving rocketry a go. After all, how many times have you said “It ain’t rocket science” to explain solving a problem? Except in this case, it would be.

For those unfamiliar with the Robin, it’s an economy-minded, nose-wheeled commuter vehicle with a frightening tendency to roll onto its front shoulder. It was a bad idea when it was developed, and it was an even worse idea to drive one. But it might be a good idea if we launched one into space. At least it’s a start.

Enter Hammond and May, Britain’s answer to NASA. Clarkson sits this one out, perhaps preparing some intergalactic smugness.

“It’s light. It’s cheap. And it tapers to a point,” Hammond notes, by way of scientific logic for why the Reliant Robin would make a good space shuttle. Some actual scientists arch an eyebrow in disagreement, but there’s no stopping this plan.

Granted, Top Gear isn’t trying to place the Robin into orbit. Perhaps even more difficult, they’re going to launch it a few thousand feet and then try to land the thing—autonomously. Even that is a monumental undertaking, which, of course, Top Gear treats with typical English stout-heartedness.

Hammond tries his hand at model-airplane flying as a way to learn to pilot the re-entry Robin. It doesn’t go well. May and some engineers fabricate solid rocket boosters out of … well, empty beer cans, perhaps? (No, actually, there’s quite a bit of professionalism on this end.) There’s some wind tunnel “testing,” and of course, a bit with a dog.

They get the rocket assembled, and it actually looks rather impressive. Next, to borrow an RAF base where there’s lots of empty “downrange” land around. Finally, to launch the damn thing. The result is … predictable, and hilarious. Mission accomplished.

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