“Tiff Gear: the autobiography of Tiff Needell” reviewed


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Tiff Gear: The autobiography of Tiff Needell

Tiff Needell is best known for being a presenter of BBC’s Top Gear and, latterly, Channel Five’s Fifth Gear motoring programmes. Hence the title of his new autobiography, Tiff Gear.

The details of his Formula 1 career are less well-known – the stuff of obscure pub quiz questions.

He made two appearances with the one-car Ensign team at Grand Prix weekends in 1980. Needell got the call after Clay Regazzoni was paralysed in a crash at Long Beach.

Needell qualified on the back row of the grid at Zolder for the Belgian Grand Prix and managed 12 laps before the engine failed.

Two weeks later he missed the cut in qualifying at Monte-Carlo in circumstances that would have led me to title the book “Carlos Reutemann ruined my F1 career”. I’ll leave it for you to discover why when you read it.

And read it you should because it’s an entertaining story told at a rapid pace with plenty of amusing anecdotes.

Needell’s two-race F1 career takes up the first chapter of the book and the rest of it covers how he got there – starting off with him winning a racing car as a competition prize – and his career afterwards.

His other racing activities spanned sports cars and touring cars, including that memorable clash with then reigning world champion Nigel Mansell in 1993.

I have a minor grumble at this point – the repeated mis-spelling of Kieth O’dor, which I am particularly sensitive to as the late touring car driver used a different spelling of his first name to mine.

Needell finds room for some observations on how motor racing changed in the course of a career that spanned four decades.

His take on the subject will chime in with that of many F1 Fanatic readers: he acknowledges his good fortune fortune in staying safe throughout his career, but regrets the increasing sanitisation of racing circuits, such as the addition of chicanes to the famed Mulsanne straight at Le Mans.

The book may only qualify for a mention on F1 Fanatic thanks to a pair of races but there’s plenty here for fans of motor racing to enjoy.

As Needell puts it: “It may have been one of the briefest Grand Prix careers on record, but I’m still immensely proud that I made it to the ultimate level of my sport without ever having to buy my way into a drive.”

It’s hard not to agree with that.

RaceFans rating

Buy “Tiff Gear: The autobiography of Tiff Needell”

“Tiff Gear: The autobiography of Tiff Needell”
Author: Tiff Needell
Publisher: Haynes, 2011
RRP: 19.99 (UK)
ISBN: 9780857330895

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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29 comments on ““Tiff Gear: the autobiography of Tiff Needell” reviewed”

  1. £20? What the hell. I like Tiff, not as a racing driver of course but for being a Top Gear presenter (I don’t watch the terrible Fifth Gear).

    It will be a good read but could they not have chose a better picture of him? For some reason I just want to punch the cover.

    Is it half price in WHSmith yet? I have a voucher….

    1. Check the Amazon box :-)

      1. Aha I may just do that, I did the whole F1 Fanatic referral thing with Call of Duty when it come out.

        I’ll probably buy it from Amazon then, £11 is reasonable, plus I need to fill a space on my bookshelf.

        That’s right Tiff, that’s all you’re good for. =)

    2. Fifth gear wasn’t terrible, I’ll admit a lot of it was fairly tame and a poor copy of top gear, but there were some great bits between Tiff and Plato which make it worth watching.

    3. I just want to punch the cover.

      A similar reaction to the J.S. Blog?
      I have to admit, I get the urge too!

      1. Indeed. I had forgotten about that bloke…=/

      2. Subaru_600BHP
        18th May 2011, 15:46

        That is the worst cover to a book i have ever seen, certainly won’t be judging this book by its cover

  2. I’ve got this in my backlog of ‘stuff to read’ but I may have to bump it up the queue a bit. As I grew up watching Top Gear (and recording them and then re watching them countless times) it was Tiff who made an impression on me, not Clarkson. He’s a top bloke.

    1. Noel Edmonds made the biggest impression on me, even though I wasn’t born. But I watched a lot of re-runs.

    2. The foreword is by Clarkson and I must admit it made me chuckle.

    3. I miss Quentin Wilson the most, he was like concentrated James May

      1. He used to make me itch. Ugh.

  3. Oh Tiff! Such a top bloke, you don’t get many presenters like that anymore on TV. He always had such enthusiasm.

    It’s funny he refers to Top Gear in the title, come on Tiff, that was years ago! Or isn’t just a reference to the awful Fifth Gear?

    Tiff Needell, what can you say apart from: TOCA 2. He made that game come to life!

    1. “And its yet another pole position for…Rickard Rydell. And a strong performance from the new Honda driver, who will start from the third row of the grid.”

      1. “Bringing up the rear the new Renault driver will really have his work cut out to get a good result here”.

        His voice always sounded natural in that game, still one of the best racing games I have ever played.

    2. Without wishing to start one of these infuriating and interminable discussions: I believe Tiff is now back on everyone’s favourite BBC2 Sunday evening viewing…

      1. Songs of Praise?

      2. Bullseye?

        1. Newsnight?

  4. don’t forget tiff did the commentary on Toca 2:touring cars. really made it a great game

  5. Don’t understand the logic of publishing a new book without an electronic version. Haven’t they heard of the #Kindle #Nook #ipad?

    1. Same. I won’t be buying it until the Kindle version is out.

  6. Two weeks later he missed the cut in qualifying at Monte-Carlo in circumstances that would have led me to title the book “Carlos Reutemann ruined my F1 career”.

    Now I’m curious! Someone tell me!

    1. Reutemann blocked Needell during qualifying for the Monaco GP on (if I remember rightly) two consecutive laps – both were trying to find space for a fast lap. When Needell finally got a clear track he binned it and failed to qualify. Needell didn’t get another chance, hence Reutemann “ruined his career”.

  7. i like tiff and 5th gear – it’s a tv show about cars. i wouldn’t care if top gear fell off a cliff. that show is like taking a shotgun to your intelligence. when will people get sick of tricky editing and their “i’m an expert / i’m a nincompoop” routine?

  8. he did come to top gear this time to drive the V8 bullet against the motorbike.

  9. I miss seeing Tiff on my TV. I could tune into Fifth Gear but it bores me to tears.

  10. Looks like this will make the list of books to read. Thanks for the review Keith!

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