Tiff Needell Profile

Once rumoured to be The Stig, here's what we can tell you about the top telly petrolhead.

Tiff Needell

Jeremy Clarkson may have the bigger mouth, and Richard Hammond the bigger haircut, but Tiff Needell trumps them both with his CV. After all, he used to be a professional racing driver, even competing in the gruelling 24 hour Le Mans.

It must be said that Tiff Needell's a bit of a clever clogs. Not only is he a seasoned motoring journalist and all-round king among petrolheads, but he also happens to be a structural design engineer. In fact, he was building houses for a living when he made the leap to motorsports in the 1970s.

He worked his way up to Formula 1, although - how can we put this delicately - he wasn't exactly the Lewis Hamilton of his day. But sod the lack of wins - Tiff proved himself a very versatile customer by switching from F1 to sports cars and coming an impressive third place in the stupidly difficult 24 Hour Le Mans. He may have had a bit of accident with Nigel Mansell at Donnington race track back in 1993 but other than that, his career was safely in mediocre territory.

But, it was in 1987 that Tiff became a proper household name when he started hosting Top Gear - this was back when TG was a serious, dad-pleasing car review series, with a conspicuous lack of 'car darts' and exploding caravans. Not that Tiff doesn't enjoy taking ridiculous risks for our viewing pleasure. He once plumbed the watery depths in a prototype car-cum-submarine on Fifth Gear - a stunt that involved signing a declaration to promise nobody would sue if he happened to drown. He hasn't completely severed himself from Top Gear either, he still writes for the magazine and regularly joins the Top Gear blokes to host MPH forming an allegiance of driving greatness which basically blows our minds. He even starred on James May's Toy Stories, where he was involved in building a Scalextric in Brooklands, as you do.

So what does Tiff reckon is his career highlight? "Accidentally, ahem, ignoring the strict instructions Ferrari issued about not touching the traction control on their half million pound Enzo..." a trick he repeated with a Mercedes Benz on Fifth Gear, despite having received a letter from them asking not to. The old 'my finger slipped' excuse was used as he showed viewers the ever-so-serious note. Who cares if it's childish, it's exactly what we want to see when we watch a bloke mess about in cars that we could never, ever dream of affording.

Despite such tomfoolery, Tiff remains a refreshingly sensible and serious motoring pundit - the man to turn to when you want a sober assessment of a car, rather than a crazy race between a BMW and a gun-toting clown on a pogo stick, or whatever the Top Gear boys have lined up next. The other good thing about Tiff is that his name is actually his nickname. Born Timothy Needell, the 'Tiff' comes from his brother, due to their endless boyhood bickering. We applaud his professional use of his nickname, and urge Hamster Hammond to do the same.

The only question remains - is Tiff Needell really the Stig from Top Gear? They certainly share a number of traits, both having arms, legs, helmets and an unreasonably large amount of driving talent. Tiff's certainly a prime Stig suspect, and it certainly would be a sneaky way to return to his old Top Gear stomping ground. But the only way to find out for sure is to bribe a Top Gear executive, and frankly we're too cheap. So let the speculation continue.

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