Racing car driver Ben Collins talks to ME & MY MONEY

The name’s Stig: Ben Collins at a track day

Racing car driver Ben Collins earned significantly more from writing a book about his time as The Stig on Top Gear than he made appearing on the hit BBC show. 

The former Formula Three racing driver and European stock car champion worked as The Stig between 2003 and 2010 where his identity was never revealed and the BBC unsuccessfully tried to prevent publication of his autobiography, The Man In The White Suit. 

While the book was a success, he tells Donna Ferguson his best financial year came later – as a stunt driving double who drove Batman’s Batmobile and James Bond’s Aston Martin. 

Aged 48, he eschews pensions for investing in cars – with his latest an Arkonik Land Rover Defender for £200,000. 

What did your parents teach you about money?

Get a job. It was sound advice and I avoided student debt by working as a labourer on the roof of Exeter university library where I took my law degree. I learned more on the roof.

Both my parents were hard-working and comfortably off when I was growing up. After Dad left school he became an apprentice and worked his way up to a manager of a FTSE 100 company. He was very good at taking a struggling business and turning it around into something that was viable. Mum was a nurse in the Royal Navy and after she retired became a farmer. 

So from the age of ten, I grew up on a farm in Morchard Bishop, Devon. That’s where my love of driving began. Aged 11, I sped around on quad bikes, herding animals and moving hay bales. 

Then at 13, I went off to Blundell’s boarding school in Devon and loved it. But I’d come home and work during the holidays, which was good for me, and fun.

Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?

As soon as I flew the coop, I wanted to strike out on my own and to not be reliant on anybody except myself so there were lean times. I slept on a friend’s bedroom floor for a couple of months when I first moved to London and was job-hunting.

Did you earn a lot on the BBC’s Top Gear?

Top Gear was huge fun but it wasn’t entirely reliable. I never knew how many days a year I would be asked to work. They gave me anything from one-day contracts to five-day contracts, and I’d be asked to be involved at very short notice. I was also racing at the same time – I was part of the team that won the European LeMans series in 2010 – and working in movies as a stunt driving double.

Have you ever been paid silly money?

The success of my first book, The Man In The White Suit, in 2010, took me by surprise. I had never earned anything like that money before and it was the equivalent of several years’ salary on the show. Newspapers paid for serial rights and Harper Collins stood firmly behind me when the BBC tried to put an injunction on me and ban the book.

There was a battle about whether I could talk about my identity as The Stig. The BBC didn’t want anyone to know who The Stig was, even though it had already been leaked to the media.

Is racing cars well paid as a job?

It can be, but not always. Only a tiny percentage of drivers make it professionally and get paid. I was in that group but I rarely worked for the prize fund. There aren’t really big prizes in racing, but one thing you can try to get which the drivers rightly get excited about is winning a Rolex Daytona if you win Daytona. Sadly, I never did. In fact, my car broke down – so I never got my hands on one. The take-homes that mean something are the trophies.

What was the best year of your financial life?

It has to be 2013 when I took on a lot of well-paid speaking events, earned good money working as a stunt double. I was James Bond’s stunt driving double for some of the scenes in the Aston Martin in Quantum Of Solace, some scenes in Skyfall, one scene in Spectre and one scene in No Time To Die.

The four months I spent in Turkey working on Skyfall were also amazing. I drove a Land Rover, an Aston Martin and a Jaguar – which had some harsh treatment in London.

During filming of The Dark Knight Rises, I drove one of the Batmobile Tumblers, which was a pretty awesome ‘pinch yourself’ moment.

What is the most expensive thing you bought for fun?

An Arkonik Land Rover Defender for £200,000. It’s a bit of an investment but worth it. There’s a waiting list to get them. They’re pure joy to drive.

Engineers take a derelict vehicle – in my case a 1998 110 Defender – strip it down to its spare parts, restore everything and modernise it sympathetically, but with a 500 horsepower engine.

I purchased mine 18 months ago and it’s still being made.

Shaken, not stirred: Ben Collins as stunt driving double for James Bond star Daniel Craig

Shaken, not stirred: Ben Collins as stunt driving double for James Bond star Daniel Craig

What is your biggest money mistake?

Buying shares with no idea what I was doing. Five years ago, I invested several thousand pounds into a reputable fund with a well-known manager that went down 97 per cent. All you can do is laugh and learn. It is a painful memory.

The best money decision you’ve ever made?

In my 20s, I invested my paltry savings into one case of Chateau Lafite Rothschild wine. I bought six bottles for £2,500. I sold five years later and the price had doubled.

Do you save into a pension?

I don’t trust pensions because the laws keep changing so I’ve started buying cars instead. There’s no capital gains tax on the appreciation in value of a car because it is a deteriorating asset, unless you look after it, of course. New cars often fall in price unless they are highly sought after, in which case they can go up. After 25 years, I feel like I know what’s a good investment. As well as the Land Rover, I’ve got a Lancia Delta Integrale and 911 Turbo.

What is the one luxury you treat yourself to?

I get the same feeling skiing as when I’m racing around Le Mans but with utter freedom. I try to go once a year and Italy is a favourite as it’s good value.

If you were Chancellor, what would you do first?

We get taxed at ridiculous rates so I would cut the basic rate of income tax. I think we should keep more of what we earn.

Do you donate money to charity?

Yes and my time – I’m a fan of the Prince’s Trust for empowering young people, as well as Mission Motorsport, which supports our military personnel.

What is your number one financial priority?

I’m focused on growing my YouTube channel – Ben Collins Drives. The channel is very much a follow-on from my Top Gear life.

  • Ben Collins Drives (, where he reviews cars and gives driving masterclasses to celebrities.