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The secret behind the hit TV car show "Top Gear"

Steve Kroft profiles the iconic program and gets taken for an unforgettable ride

No one ranks the most popular television programs on the planet, but if they did, one of them would have to be "Top Gear." The British automotive show is seen by 350 million viewers in 170 countries every week - not including the clones it has inspired in Russia, Australia and the United States.

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All the conversations, crashes, and humor that didn't make the "60 Minutes" broadcast.

The original which airs here on BBC America is ostensibly about cars, but as Steve Kroft first reported last fall, it's really about the adventures of three clever, middle age blokes who travel the world conducting all sorts of elaborate competitions, races and challenges that push the boundaries of television and automotive acceptability. It is part reality show, part buddy movie, part "Monty Python."

With spin-offs and merchandising, "Top Gear" is a billion dollar global gold mine for the BBC, the same people who brought you "I, Claudius."

But it's not likely you will confuse the two after you've seen our story.

There's nothing on television quite like "Top Gear." What began as a boring automotive program in the 1970s has morphed into a global driving adventure.

In a recent episode, the hosts took three of world's highest performing cars on an expedition to find the best driving road in Europe, which they finally discovered in Romania.

Viewers tune in to watch extravagantly filmed segments, usually involving some kind of motorized vehicle. It could be driving the smallest car ever made through the BBC's offices, or testing the toughness of long haul trucks by smashing one through a brick wall.

Extra: "Top Gear" in Alabama
Extra: Top Gear's Clarkson on Cars
Link: BBC UK - "Top Gear"
Link: BBC America - "Top Gear"
Photos: Top Gear, Behind The Scenes

There's a news section, car reviews, and a talk show segment with international celebrities, who must agree to turn some laps in an underpowered Kia to demonstrate their driving prowess.

Last summer, Tom Cruise almost killed himself clocking the season's fastest lap.

We asked the executive producer, Andy Wilman, to try and define the show's appeal. "It's a journey into the male mind, which, I believe, is a really, potentially, very funny place. 'Cause, let's face it, nothing happens there," he joked.

Graham Messick and Michael Karzis are the producers.