BBC Autos

The Roundabout Blog

The most audacious auto stunts ever performed

  • The stunts

    In an unending quest for bragging rights, those with driver’s licenses – and some without – have sought fame by performing wildly fantastic and downright idiotic tricks with automobiles.

    YouTube is rife with amateurs looking to make a name, and brand-makers hoping to sell an image. Consequently, the car-stunt well is in a perpetual state of replenishment. Even so, the greats tend to rise to the top – presuming they have not already been there for decades. Herewith, BBC Autos presents a survey of some of the most memorable automotive stunts ever performed.

  • Robbie Knievel jumps over the Grand Canyon, 1999

    The hero bike: Honda CR500 motorcycle, unmodified.

    The stunt: Robbie Knievel was predestined to jump the Grand Canyon. He was, after all, raised in the presence of daredevil father Evel Knievel, who devoted a significant portion of his life and career to facilitating this very stunt. In 1999, the pieces came together not for Evel, but for his son, to attempt the jump on an unmodified 500cc motocross bike. By closing a gap of 228 feet, Robbie edged out his previous record of 223 feet.

    Best known for: The TV announcer’s grave pre-stunt remarks that foretold “certain death” as a result of any mishap, which turned to ebullient post-stunt commentary. “That’s what it looks like to fly over the Grand Canyon.”

    Click here to watch.

  • Marx Madness at Muroc, 1932

    The hero car: a 1931 Duesenberg Model J Phaeton.

    The stunt: This epic race is also a cautionary tale. Hollywood royals the Marx Brothers, with a 1928 Mercedes-Benz S 26/180 Boattail Speedster, were keen to show up Phil Berg, owner of a 1931 Duesenberg Model J Phaeton. Unable to race on the streets, they postponed and chose a new venue: the dried-up Muroc Lake in southern California’s Mojave Desert – where the capable Duesy proved to be a dark-horse juggernaut. With actors such as Clark Gable and Mae West looking on, the Marx’s car was vanquished, and the brothers relieved of the wagered $25,000. The victorious car, pictured above, sold at auction in 2012 for $1.3 million. (Darin Schnabel/RM Auctions)

    Best known for: A costly gamble amid the Great Depression.

  • Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond crashes a dragster, 2006

    The hero: Richard Hammond

    The stunt: Hammond, the risk-taking foil to stodgier co-presenters Jeremy Clarkson and James May, accepted the task of driving the Vampire, a jet-powered dragster capable of 300mph, for a segment on the show. When the vehicle suffered a tire blowout, Hammond was trapped inside and rolled with the car into the grass. The crash was televised on a later season of the programme.

    Best known for: The Hamster’s remarkable, and full, recovery from the incident.

  • Doughnuts with Bibendum, the Michelin Man, 2010

    The hero car: 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sport Wagon.

    The stunt: The test driver gleefully circles the tire-bodied Michelin Man at a manufacturer-sponsored event – a love letter to rear-wheel drive and station wagons, writ large in tire smoke.

    Best known for: Humanising the Michelin Man, introduced in 1894 as the symbol of the tire maker.

    Click here to watch.

  • Chevrolet Sonic skateboard kick-flip, 2011

    The hero car: 2012 Chevy Sonic.

    The stunt: As part of a youth-centric campaign to launch the successor to the dull Aveo hatchback, Chevrolet devised a number of stunts starring the 2012 Sonic. Arguably the most impressive was the kick-flip, in which the economy car, piloted by skateboarder Rob Dyrdek, ascended a corkscrew ramp and spun 360 degrees in mid-air – relatively simple for a skateboard, unheard of for an automobile. The car landed, cat-like, on all four wheels.

    Best known for: Its part in a gutsy marketing strategy to give a new image to Chevy’s then-lowliest model.

    Click here to watch.

  • Gymkhana 5, 2012

    The hero car: 2011 Ford Fiesta, engine modified to 650 horsepower.

    The story: Rally driver Ken Block wields presidential powers. After four previous performances, including separate runs on an airstrip and a Hollywood set, Block was handed the keys to the city of San Francisco to execute his most outrageous stunts – powersliding up Potrero Hill, doughnuts in the Embarcadero – yet. The shoot forced the closure of the city’s major arteries, as well as the Bay Bridge to Oakland.

    Best known for: Burnouts, drifting and interruptions of daily life in the service of hooliganism.

    Click here to watch.

  • Double Loop Dare as childhood-toy wish fulfillment, 2012

    The hero car: Unidentified racecars in Hot Wheels livery.

    The story: At the 2012 X Games in Los Angeles, Tanner Foust, rally driver and co-presenter of Top Gear America, was joined by Greg Tracy, who turned children’s dreams into life-size reality when they piloted two cars simultaneously on a track that mimicked the iconic Hot Wheels loop-de-loop.

    Best known as: The follow-up to Foust’s 2011 stunt, Fearless at the Indy 500.

    Click here to watch.