Jonny Smith, Fifth Gear

Petrol-head Jonny Smith talks about Fifth Gear on HISTORY.

HISTORY (DStv channel 186) brings you entertainment at its fastest! On 10 September at 20:30, get ready to be blown away by Fifth Gear, the high-octane motoring magazine show – with a special visit to South Africa.

With presenters Tiff Needell, Vicki Butler-Henderson and Jonny Smith, you can expect head-to-head racing, the world’s newest supercars, crash-tests and more!

Dedicated petrol-head and motoring journalist Jonny Smith let us know what to look forward to:


How did you develop your interest in motoring?

I think the usual factors like watching influential TV shows (like A-team, The Sweeney, Dukes of Hazzard etc) had an effect, as well as watching my dad repair and maintain our obsolete family Hillman Avenger most weekends. My brother and I spent a lot of time having picnics in scrap yards in the good old days when cars were stacked up four high. Not to mention having a keen eye for how things worked and Tamiya radio control models.


What has been your most epic ride and why?

It’s hard to single one out. Doing the Mille Miglia in an ex-works C-type Jag was a pinch yourself moment. Driving an Ariel Atom 500 in a competitive hill climb was almost an out-of-body experience. Man, that's a fast road car. I've driven a Ford Capri with 1500bhp through quaint British villages. That was weird.


What is your favourite thing about your job and why?

My job allows me such a huge contrast of different journeys in different cars. I get invited inside factories, design studios, pit garages and even secretive car collector's sheds. I think the attraction is always knowing there are new cars out there waiting to be driven and reviewed, coupled with the fact that there are still dozens of classics from the history books begging to be experienced. I love meeting the people who own and drive interesting cars almost as much as the cars themselves.


What can viewers expect to see in Fifth Gear?

A good, honest variety of machinery. New, old, exotic, mass-produced and value cars. There are a few arguments, a few aeroplanes and even a return of Prost versus Senna in one episode.


What has been the biggest challenge so far?

The biggest challenge is usually learning to drive a car to a high standard within minutes of getting in it for the first time. I'm rubbish at remembering track corners so the Nurburgring is always nerve racking. Driving a full-on 800bhp World Rally X Citroen was a challenge, especially when the team owner was stood on the pit wall telling me through the walkie-talkie how much he'd hurt me if I damaged it.


Tell us what it was like to film Fifth Gear?

Fifth Gear is a show I've worked on now for 16 series. It's a small, tight-knit filming crew of about five and we always film on location regardless of weather. We always have a laugh, even if the weather wants to hate us. Lashing rain on a grey ex RAF airfield isn't too glamorous, let me assure you! Tiff, Vicki and I are all friends. They are a lovely pair of petrol heads. We don't actually film much all together so that's always a treat.


Sometimes the stunts can be dangerous. Have you ever been truly scared during filming?

We never take uncalculated risks, but yes some stuff is dangerous. The time I rode shotgun in a 3000bhp road legal Red Victor 3 drag car on the strip was scary, because some oil spilled onto one of the tyres and caused it to tank slap mid-track. We were going nearly 200mph at the time.


What haven’t you driven yet that you’ve always wanted to drive?

A Subaru 360. I had to turn down the opportunity to drive a Veyron in a hill-climb once because I was booked on the new Ford KA launch. That is a massive regret. I'd like to drive the very first General Lee, which is owned now by golf pro Bubba Watson.


What car do you currently drive?

I have about eight cars at present, ranging from a Chrysler 300 diesel estate for the family to an Austin Allegro V6 street sleeper, a 1968 Dodge Charger with bullet holes and an electric street legal drag car pushing out over 800bhp. Variety is the spice of life!


Complete the sentence:

I never leave home without… my U-Boat wrist watch. Or car keys.


My guilty pleasure is… wanting to own cars that are generally hated. I like the AMC Pacer, Austin Allegro and Leyland P76 for example.


In my down time, you can most probably catch me… looking after my tropical aquarium fish. Or mowing my lawn. I love gardening and nature, despite spending a lot of time hurting the ozone layer in fast cars.


See what else Jonny gets up to in Fifth Gear on HISTORY (DStv channel 186), Thursday 10 September at 20:30.