Top Gear Patagonia special – what happened?

Max Hurst was part of the support crew on the infamous Top Gear Patagonia special, where the cast and crew had to make a dramatic dash for the Chilean border after being confronted by an angry mob.

Max, a mechanic for James May’s car in the show, spoke exclusively to the Toyota UK Magazine about his experience in Argentina. He shared some never-before-seen photos of the Toyota Hilux vehicles that were used to ferry some of the crew to the Chilean border during their escape.

Top Gear Patagonia special

“I was employed as a mechanic to look after the Lotus Esprit that James May had chosen to drive on the show,” Max explained.

During the second episode of the two-part Top Gear Patagonia special, Jeremy informed viewers that: “We received word that there was some kind of protest about our visit,” as the three presenters prepared to enter Ushaia.

As the situation escalated, the decision was made to make the 184-mile journey to the Chilean border in the town of San Sebastián. A police escort was employed to ensure the crew’s safety.

The Hilux was a fantastic vehicle and never missed a beat

While passing through a small Argentine town, the crew were ambushed by protesters.

“We were attacked with eggs, rocks and lumps of paving slabs (which smashed the windows of the crew’s cars) but had to continue our convoy regardless as the road which we were travelling on was the only one heading north.

“A decision was taken to abandon the Porsche, Lotus and Mustang in the hope that they would avert unwanted attention, but as we headed towards Rio Grande, we were receiving reports that an even larger mob was assembling.”

At this point, the crew decided to drive cross country, a brave decision were it not for the crew’s combination of Toyota’s pick-up and Land Rover Discovery vehicles.

“I have to say,” said Max, “the Hilux was a fantastic vehicle and never missed a beat.”

Top Gear Patagonia special

The decision to tackle the cross-country route represented something of a gamble for the crew as not only did it mean driving across inhospitable terrain, it would require the team to use a deep-water river crossing in order to reach Chile.

“The border crossing is only open when its use is arranged in advance,” explained Max. “We drove while negotiating with the Argentinian and Chilean authorities and could not be sure that we would be allowed to cross, but with the threat of more violence looming over us we had no alternative.”

The river border crossing was closed

“We arrived at the crossing in the early hours of the morning to find that it was closed – there was no sign of life at the border post,” said Max.

In what must have been an almost unbearably tense few hours, Max explained that some of the crew bedded down in their cars “…while others kept look-out to see if we had been followed.” He added: “Negotiations with the authorities (r.e. the opening of the crossing) continued.”

According to Max, there is an odd rule concerning the border. For instance, trying to import bananas or peanuts into Chile is prohibited. This is taken so seriously that making a joke about a banana – as one of the crew did – results in a search being conducted by border control officers.

“At sunrise, we were able to assess the damage to the vehicles and make temporary repairs to the many broken windows,” Max continued. The photo below shows the extent of the damage inflicted on the Hilux by the protesters.

Top Gear Patagonia special

Image credit: Jon Shepley 

The river crossing was very difficult…

“A while later – which probably felt a lot longer than it actually was – the Argentinian border authorities arrived and started the process of allowing us to leave the country.”

Later that day, after much wrangling, the crossing was opened and the crew made their exit.

According to Max, this was the hardest part of the crew’s ordeal. “The river crossing was very difficult. We had crossed the river before (in the second episode of the Top Gear Patagonia special, the boys cross from Chile back into Argentina via this pass) but on that occasion we had had the assistance of a local with a bulldozer and a large four-wheel-drive lorry – this time we were on our own. We ended up towing one another with four four-wheel-drive vehicles tied together, led by a Hilux.”

After a lengthy bureaucratic process, Max and the crew arrived at the Chilean border post. “We were made very welcome,” Max pointed out, adding: “The journey resumed and we drove for the rest of the day over predominantly unmade roads, eventually arriving at our Chilean hotel very late in the evening.”

Arriving at the hotel, Max and the crew enjoyed their first proper meal in 48 hours and “…A couple of well-deserved drinks!”

Reflecting on the Top Gear Patagonia special, Max says that his experience can be summed up by an off-the-cuff comment from Top Gear’s security advisor, who Max has requested remains anonymous. “He said that ‘You make your our own luck,’ laughs Max, “And that’s exactly what we did.”

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