Last month, I had the pleasure to pen a review of the Netflix automotive series, Fastest Car. I found it to be a highly entertaining show and came to acknowledge that these days, no one produces better original programming than the good folks at Netflix.
At some point, while I was taking in the show’s eight, season one episodes, I noted that there was another original series on Netflix that focused on cars entitled Paul Hollywood’s Big Continental Road Trip. Intrigued by the title, I took a moment to check out the trailer and read the blurb on what the show entailed. It looked to be a potentially fantastic show that deserved to be assessed in this publication.
So without further ado, here is my review of Netflix’s latest automotive series, Paul Hollywood’s Big Continental Road Trip!
A 2017 co-production between Netflix and the BBC, Paul Hollywood’s Big Continental Road Trip was produced by the Antique Road Show and Fifth Gear principle, Ian Bayliss. It was written, directed and co-produced by veteran television documentary and reality show helmer, Ewan Keil. To date, the show exists as a trilogy of hour-long episodes that originally aired on BBC2 and is now exclusively distributed via Netflix online streaming.
The show is hosted by the titular British celebrity chef, baker, television personality and part-time racing driver, Paul Hollywood, and before you ask, yes that is his real name and not some silly nom de guerre designed to be hip or edgy.
Hollywood is a gregarious, quick-witted and likable silver-haired host whose self-professed passions in life include food and cars and not much more. Seems like a guy I could have an excellent meal and a bottle of Burgundy with in a posh eatery while prattling on about our favorite cars!
Paul’s task in each episode is to undertake an automotive road trip of a car-loving European country. Italy, Germany, and France are the ones selected for the initial three iterations.
The first episode is set in Italy much to my delight, as aside from the good ol’ USA, Italy is just about my favorite place on earth. I adore its culture, history, fashion, food, and most notably its cars.
Things start off with a quick self-introduction in which Hollywood informs us that his love of cars began when, as a kid, he saw the James Bond film Goldfinger and its iconic Aston Martin DB5. He elaborates on what makes cars such an essential and overarching facet of his life. After just a few brief moments, it becomes apparent to the viewer that he is an unusually passionate, if not downright fanatical automobilista, in the parlance of Italians.
Having dispensed with the obligatory biographical dossier, Hollywood lays out his mission plan: a six-day, 1,000-mile tour of the country in a smattering of some of Italy’s “sexist, smallest and silliest cars.”
At that juncture, the show gets going. Beginning in Rome, Hollywood meets his co-pilot for the impending journey, Italian choreographer and celebrity talent judge, Bruno Tonioli. An eccentric and amusing Roman, Tonioli shares his opinions about the Italian relationship to cars throughout the first leg of the journey to the automotive Mecca of the world, Maranello.
To get there, the two men hop into an outrageous, orange Lamborghini Huracan Spyder, and wow, what a car it is. Looking like it’s doing 120 mph standing still, this beast seems incongruous within the milieu of narrow, jam-packed streets that predominate the Italian capital. It looks as if the car is almost begging the occupants to unleash it on a proper road.
On their way out of the city, they pass by many iconic structures such as the Coliseum, the Vatican, and so on. Quite a tour. The residents of Rome repeatedly react to the car, taking pictures, waving and so on as it winds through the city. It’s a simple, yet insightful glimpse at how thoroughly ingrained car culture is to the Italian spirit.
Leaving the city behind, Hollywood and Tonelli take their raging bull out on the autostrada to Maranello, but their fun is interrupted by the Polizia in, would you believe it, a Huracan Coupe police interceptor! Only in Italy…
Upon reaching Maranello, the home of Ferrari, Hollywood rents a Rosso Corsa Red Ferrari California T on an hourly rate at a business just outside the factory, drops the top and takes us on a tour of exotic automobile heaven.
I have been to Maranello twice and seeing all of the iconic factory buildings and the multitude of Ferrari devoted shops and restaurants made me long to go back again. It’s a magical place, aptly captured by the show, which every car nut should visit at least once.
An interview with the mayor of Maranello reveals the truism that no other marque means so much to and is such an indelible part of the fabric of a nation than the house of the Cavallino Rampante is to Italy. To say that Ferrari is Italy and Italy is Ferrari is no overstatement. Ferraris are a microcosm of everything that Italy is: beautiful, passionate, outrageous, exquisite in presentation and somewhat insane.
Leaving Maranello, Hollywood visits the incredibly beautiful and shockingly small Pagani factory in nearby Modena. We are given a fascinating tutorial on just how obsessive the company is about even the most minor detail on their multi-million dollar cars. Hollywood then gets the chance of a lifetime: to drive a positively ludicrous Huayra Roadster prototype at full tilt on the Modena racetrack. The all carbon fiber car is absolutely majestic as well as brutal, and the sequence is the single best moment in the episode.
The journey continues to Verona, where Hollywood takes a stab at being a dry cleaning deliveryman using a Piggio Ape, a three-wheeled, twenty-four horsepower bucket of bolts that nonetheless is one of the most important vehicles, for commerce at least, in Italian automotive history. If the Lamborghini, Ferrari, and Pagani represent the zenith of the Italian car than this rolling garbage can must surely be the worst.
Hollywood next takes on the road to Turin in a superb, 1938 Alfa Romeo 6C Mille Miglia worth more than $3 million. It must have been quite a treat to drive a car as robust and beautiful as the big Alfa.
Once there, Hollywood swaps the Alfa for a modern Maserati Quattroporte and visits the Pista Lingotto Fiat test track on the roof, yes the roof, of the old Fiat factory. It’s a fantastic thing to see the big Maser circle the track in the sky. Again, only in Italy would something like this happen.
The final two stops are Courmayeur high in the Italian Alps, where a hair-raising race on snow covered roads in a Fiat Panda Cross and a Ferrari GTC4 Lusso takes place, and a Sunday drive in Ivrea, where Hollywood pilots the iconic Lamborghini Miura along winding country roads.
The Italian episode of Paul Hollywood’s Big Continental Road Trip is exquisitely photographed, well written, supremely edited and immensely entertaining. Through Hollywood’s adventures, we are given a firm understanding of how the Italian motor industry so utterly mirrors the culture’s most prominent qualities. The passion, excitement and pure joy that Italians have for their cars precisely reflect how they embrace life itself.
And this is the real magic of the show. Almost all automotive shows feature lust-worthy hypercars and classics, but few give such a rich portrait of the people that designed and built them.
The other two episodes follow this same paradigm, and that is a perfect thing. Though not quite as fantastic as the trip through Italy, the next episode nonetheless invites us into the world of Teutonic motoring by taking us to Germany.
In another six-day journey, we find ourselves in Berlin with Hollywood where he pilots an imposing yet elegant Mercedes 600 Grosser limousine around the city with a local German comedian in tow. Perhaps the ultimate automotive expression of German precision and engineering, it is fascinating to learn about the 600’s revolutionary and mind-numbingly complex hydraulic system that powers everything from the suspension to the power windows.
Of particular delight to me owing to my obsession with Formula 1 racing, Hollywood visits the notorious, often lethal, and long closed AVUS race track, once home to the German Grand Prix.
Next up Hollywood drives the spaceship-like BMW i8 to Wolfsburg, the home of Volkswagen, stopping along the way at the Cold War relic of the East/West German checkpoint at Marienborn. Once in Wolfsburg, we learn about the long history of VW and are shown how the giant automaker influences everything around it. From soccer stadiums to boulevard names, banks to a sausage manufacturer (yes, Volkswagen makes sausages) the VW corporate brand envelops everything in Wolfsburg. Virtually every car in the city is a Vee Dub.
The trip continues with a drive to Braunschweig in a classic VW van and a lesson on how the German Vandevogel Movement of the 1800s was the historical genesis of the counterculture of the 1960s. Interesting, but I wasn’t too sure how it related to cars other than the fact that hippies liked VW vans.
The journeys stops keep coming: A visit to Eisenach yields a tutorial on the horrid cars of former East Germany. A trip to Frankfurt in an AMG GTS shows us what it’s like to go flat out on an autobahn, and how the speed limitless freeways grew out of a Nazi desire to have roads that could host land speed record attempts. In Stuttgart, we visit the Porsche factory and take a look at the 55-year-long gestation of its iconic 911. A final stop at the world’s longest and most lethal racetrack, the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife circuit, gives us a sense of just how challenging and perilous an endeavor driving it is.
Through all of this, the viewer has yielded an understanding of German car culture as rich as the one we had of Italy.
The final episode in France focuses on the peculiar, often brilliant, and undoubtedly quixotic world of French automobiles. Stops in Paris, Poissy, Chartes, Le Mans, Clermont Ferrand and Magny Cours in a wide range of French cars including the sublime, sexy Citröen DS, an Autolib hybrid commercial car-sharing vehicle, a Peugeot 205 GTI, a breathtakingly gorgeous Alpine A110, a Renault Espace “people carrier,” and the unforgettable ugly duckling Citröen 2CV are immersive to say the least.
A celebration of French motorsport is also on hand, with a fabulous look into the history of Le Mans and the 24-hour race that has made the town famous, as well as a visit to Magny Cours, the former home of the French Grand Prix, with a race between a 1977 Renault RS01 Formula 1 car and a helicopter.
In the final analysis, Paul Hollywood’s Big Continental Road Trip is a step outside the framework of what a typical car show is, instead of myopically focusing on a facet of car culture, it examines the nature of car culture itself. As educational as it is entertaining, Paul Hollywood’s Big Continental Road Trip is well worth the watch. I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy it.