You have never seen the look of his face. You have never heard the sound of his voice. You have no idea of his true identity. Who could this mysterious character be?
The Stig, of course! According to Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson, his classmates at Repton School used to refer to new students as “Stigs.” When brainstorming a name for the full-helmet-headed racecar driver, someone suggested naming the character “The Gimp;” this was an allusion to gimp suits worn in role-playing. This name was hardly aesthetically pleasing to the ear and was vehemently rejected by Perry McCarthy. The character of the Stig was originally imagined to fill a speaking role, perhaps serve as another co-presenter. Jeremy Clarkson and Andy Williams were dead set on the idea of having a professional racecar driver in the show as a cast member. However, they struggled to find a racing driver that was adroit at speaking on screen. Then, a stroke of genius: why not make this racecar driver character an anonymous, silent Stig. This is how the infamous Stig was born.
One thing audiences know about the Stig is that his music pallet is quite robust. In nearly every episode the he is featured he is shown listening to the racecar radio; as the car drives the laps around the track, the music is made audible. Some of his favorite things to listen to are the following: Elton John, the Bee Gees, self-help tapes, National anthems, the Archers, Country Music, easy listening music, foreign language tapes, animal noises, and music from the Baroque Era.
The first Stig of Top Gear was dubbed the “Black Stig,” for his dark colored attire, clad in a black racecar jumpsuit and matching black full face helmet. After a series of anonymity, the identity of the original Stig was revealed to be racecar driver, Perry McCarthy. After the first season commenced a writing piece in The Sunday Mirror on January 12, 2003 disclosed that McCarthy, in fact, was the Black Stig. Then, after the second season finished airing; McCarthy released the second part of his autobiography in which he reestablished his role as the original Stig. This may have been the nail in the coffin for McCarthy, as shortly after he was “killed off” in the first episode of the third season.
“Top Gun vs. Top Gear,” was the James Bond-esque name given to the episode in which the beloved Black Stig was killed off. In this segment, the Stig was challenged to reach 100 miles per hour or 160 kilometers per hour while racing and then to come to an abrupt stop on the HMS Invincible flight deck. The Black Stig drove the classic Top Gear car, a Jaguar XJS that was equipped with nitrous injection to allow it to hit 500 bhp. Despite posting a 1:46 lap time in the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car segment, the famed Black Stig could not pull this feat off. This dramatic scene ended with him accelerating to 109 miles per hour before careening off the 200-meter long deck into the sea. Co-presenter Jeremy Clarkson unveiled in the final scene of the episode that only a black glove floating atop the sea was left of the Black Stig.
While McCarthy asserts that his departure from the show was a cordial one, rumors circulated that he had a disagreement with the show’s producers and they chose not to renew his contract for the third season; therefore, he was written out of the script with his staged plunge into the sea. At least he went out with a splash.
Following the Black Stig’s abrupt demise appeared the new White Stig. Decked out in pure white overalls and a white full face helmet, the White Stig proved himself to have an amazing capacity to do much more than the original Stig job titled had outlined; thus he truly expanded the role of the Stig on the show. Outside of merely Power Lap segments, he was featured driving different cars and in direct challenges with the presenters. What’s more, in the tenth season, the White Stig was required to take public transportation and had to handle doing things like riding the bus and answering a cellular phone call (he comically just stared at the ringing phone in utter silence).
Furthermore, the White Stig surpassed other drivers when he posted the fastest lap time around the Top Gear test track for the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car portion of the show. His record held until Rubens Barrichello outdid him; it is often quipped about on the show, framing it as a feuding rivalry between the White Stig and Barrichello. His true identity remained a mystery until the White Stig was revealed to be Formula 1 racing driver, Ben Collins. From 2003 until 2010, Collins served as the wild and wacky “ White Stig.” Then, on August 19, 2010, Ben Collins and BBC had a legal dispute over Ben Collins’ autobiography, in which Collins reveals his identity as the Stig. BBC tried to thwart Collins from publishing his book, claiming it to be a breach of contract. However, after a short fight in the courtroom, Collins’ autobiography, The Man in the White Suit, was published.
Michael Schumacher was also featured on the show facetiously pretending to be the Stig in June of 2009, where he raced a Ferrari FXX around the Top Gear test track and set a record at 1:10.7.
But the Stig family does not end with the Black Stig and the White Stig; there are many cousins who have appeared as cameos in various episodes. Among the long list of cousins, the “Stig’s American cousin” surfaced in the third episode of the ninth season; he was nicknamed “Big Stig” for his burlesque appearance. He was used by the co-presenters of Top Gear to set a lap time around a racetrack in the United States, where Clarkson, May, and Hammond were buying and test driving American vehicles. One of the show’s more controversial Stigs was the “Communist Stig,” who was featured in the kickoff episode of season twelve. He was dressed in a vibrant red jumpsuit and rode a red and black motorcycle while performing the stunt; this character was meant to parody Russia. Other featured Stigs have included the “African Stig;” the “Italian Stig;” the “Rig Stig;” “Janet Stig Porter,” a vegetarian and green-loving Stig; the “German Stig;” and the “Female Stig,” shown scantily dressed in a bikini with a full face helmet to mask her true identity.
However, not every Stig makes the show’s cut. On what is lovingly called the “Top Secret Top Gear Farm,” Stigs are supposedly bred and trained, lending a wild animal like characterization to the Stig population. According to Top Gear’s Wikia page, the members of this population are “bred free range, GM-free, and watched for potential Stigness.” Hence, only the best of the best are selected to appear in racecar driving challenges on the air. So, what happens to the sad Stigs who are not up to Top Gear standard? Well, topgear.wikia.com claims the “rejects are shipped around the world to be used as crash-test dummies,” insinuating that Stig farm rejects are less expensive than buying real dummies for these tests.
Originally, the presenters introduced the Stig with comedic presentations that were quite simplistic. However, at the start of the sixth season, the Stig began being introduced in a more structured manner with the presenters introducing two peculiar characteristics of the Stig. Some examples of these wacky characteristics include him having two sets of knees, a voice that is only audible to felines, never ever blinking his eyes, a heart that makes a ticking sound like a clock, having a fear of chiming bells, and being perplexed by staircases. But not all of the Stig’s characteristics are as loopy as those mentioned above; in fact, some characteristics mentioned by the presenters have served as a social commentary or covert criticism of current events. For instance, a commentary was made on the Arab Spring in 2011, when presenters explained the Stig’s passionate displeasure regarding his decision to buy “ his new holiday home in Cairo.”
He may come in many different shades of jumpsuits and he may have a voice that only kittens can hear, but all we really need to know is he’s called the Stig.