Smith and Sniff - An Introduction
Without wishing to sound biased, Smith and Sniff is the funniest thing on the internet. It is presented by car journalist and all-round decent chap Jonny Smith (who you may know from his Car Pervert YouTube channel, and the interview he gave toDyler.com on future classic EVs) and Richard Porter.
Like Jonny, Richard is a car journalist and the co-founder of the rather excellent satirical car site Sniff Petrol . He too is a thoroughly decent and engaging chap.
Richard is also the Script Editor for The Grand Tour and Clarkson-era Top Gear, so if you’ve laughed at one of Clarkson’s torturous on-screen descriptions (“if you are clinically insane, by which I mean you wake up in the morning and think you are an onion, here’s your car” in reference to the BMW Z3 is a favourite that springs to mind) or giggled at one of the many knob gags (“does the River Penis run through the town of Penistone?” is another) on either Top Gear or The Grand Tour, it’s very likely that the joke you laughed at was one of Richard’s.
Oh, and one more thing that may come as a surprise - Richard is the “Sniff” and Jonny is the “Smith” of the Smith and Sniff pairing.
Given their combined talents, it would have been easy for Richard and Jonny to become Poundland versions of Clarkson, Hammond and May - after all, they both have decades of experience as motoring journalists and working in TV. Thankfully though, they’ve chosen to go their own way to create the slice of audio-visual magic that is Smith and Sniff .
Once upon a time in a world that was free of COVID-19, Smith and Sniff started out as a YouTube channel. Unlike most “content creators” on Car YouTube, they’re a refreshing contrast to the pervasive “HI GUYZZZZ, WELCOME TO MUH CHANNEL!” overly-bouncy, Car YouTuber.
Self-described by Richard as “car-based drivel,” Smith and Smith is the antithesis of fancy camerawork, drifting supercars and what’s oft-described on the Internet as “car porn”.
Old Money Cars and Harry’s Garage on Acid
If the three things above are what give you the automotive horn, it’s very unlikely that two middle-aged men talking about “Old Money Cars” or “Harry’s Garage on Acid” will be up your street. The bulk of the camera work on Smith and Sniff comes from dash and roof-mounted GoPros, and there’s a lot of talking car-based nonsense whilst sat in service station car parks between mouthfuls of Meal Deal sandwiches.
As COVID took hold, the Smith and Sniff YouTube channel morphed into the Smith and Sniff Podcast . However, the pair’s surreal-yet-observational humour has remained the same. In either podcast or video form, Smith and Sniff have without a doubt provided Car Internet with some of the 2020’s finest pieces of laugh-out-loud comedy.
Yes, they’re profane in that you’ll hear them drop some elaborate swearing such as “high merry fuck!”, refer to someone as an “utter fucking wand” or discuss the sort of cars driven by “utterly appalling people” - you wouldn’t talk like this or discuss these subjects in front of polite company, but this makes for laugh-out-loud, charming escapism in the sort of way that Dudley Moore and Peter Cook were charming with their foul-mouthed Derek and Clive sketches.
Similarly, the pair have created some of the most memorable characters through their love of language and gift for social observations. In a very early episode of the Smith and Sniff Podcast, they explain in detail how to pronounce Ford if you were born and raised near the Blue Oval’s Dagenham factory.
A Lesson in How to Correctly Pronounce Range Rover Sport
This spills into the verbal construction of a pant-shittingly funny caricature of the archetypal Range Rover Sport driver - he’s often a handyman done well from Essex or the South East of England. He’s recently claimed the VAT back on some recent jobs, and has used the money to put a conservatory on the house and to buy a Range Rover Sport, which as-per the character, is pronounced “SPOOOOOUUUURGHHHTTTTTT...AH!” in a wonderfully drawn-out, face-gurning, neck-shrinking Estuary accent. Bit ah clarse, innit?
Now close your eyes and picture this character in your mind. He’s wearing a Fred Perry polo shirt. He’s in his mid-50s, bald, a bit red in the face through years of moderately heavy lager consumption and smoking fags, which he’s since given up after a health scare. Under the “Perry” rests a sizable beer gut. Am I wrong?
“I don’t really know where these characters and expressions come from,” Richard tells Dyler.com with a big chuckle over the phone. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved words and playing with language, so that’s where the swearing comes from - it’s also because I’m mentally 12 and I think it’s funny. How language is used is something that used to really interest me when working on Top Gear and later The Grand Tour.
“As for the characters though, that’s mainly Jonny. He’s got a real gift for social observations. I mean, we can be driving down the street and he’ll say something like “see that bloke there, I’ll bet you that in 1995, he drove a facelifted Mark III Vauxhall Cavalier GSI.” You then take a look at the guy and the clothes he’s wearing and you’ll likely say “shit, yeah, you’re right”. That’s where a lot of these jokes about people and the sorts of cars they drive come from - a lot of it is Jonny combined with our life experiences of being fortunate enough to work with cars, I suppose.”
Day Drinking, Recreating the Thomas Crown Affair, and a Stolen Golf Buggy
As for how Smith and Sniff came about, it was more of a chance meeting at a Jaguar launch in Pebble Beach in around 2012 - neither Jonny nor Richard can remember the year exactly, but they both agree that it involved Jonny borrowing a golf buggy from the hotel and Richard being “a little bit pissed up” in the afternoon after attending a Jaguar-organised wine tasting in the lobby of the five-star hotel they were staying in.
“So Smith and Sniff started a while ago now,” explains Jonny. “At the time, I was working on Fifth Gear and Rich was working on Top Gear. I’d been bothering him for ages to do something because we knew each other, but our paths never crossed in terms of actually working together. We just knew each other through working in the same industry.
“Rich had a brand new first or second-generation iPhone and he was a bit drunk because he’d been at a wine tasting in the afternoon on a day off, so I said to him “why don’t we make a couple of videos?” We had an evening spare where we didn’t have to do anything in particular, so we just went for it.
“The hotel we were staying in was right on the beach and I managed to borrow a golf buggy from them, and by borrow I mean I just basically lied about what we needed it for,” he continues with a laugh. “I told them that we were journalists and we needed to borrow a golf buggy to go and recce for a shoot which we absolutely didn’t need to do at all in reality. We just borrowed this golf buggy to review and tool around in, and we fitted Rich’s iPhone to it to make what was the first Smith and Sniff video.”
Jonny reveals that the first Smith and Sniff video was an attempted recreation of “that amazing scene in the Thomas Crown Affair with the beach buggy when there’s seagulls flying all over the place,” but instead they ended up with a “very, very shit version involving two idiots careering around on the beach in a golf buggy.”
“We also got caught by someone from the hotel who wasn’t very happy with us and they demanded that we return the golf buggy immediately. The thing is, is that the tide was coming in and we’d jammed the back wheels up with sand so it wouldn’t budge. It took me, Rich and a very kind-hearted stranger an hour of stuffing seaweed and bits of old driftwood from the sea under the buggy’s back wheels to get it to move so we could go back to the hotel and apologise for dicking around and stealing it.”
Unfortunately, the iPhone containing the footage has been lost, but it laid out the essence of what would eventually become Smith and Sniff.
Capturing the Essence of Smith and Sniff
“I guess this whole essence of Smith and Smith has always been that we sort of do a review of a car - either old or new - but we end up getting sidetracked and talking a load of bollocks,” Jonny continues candidly. “Beyond the review though, you’ve got two motoring journalists who between them I suppose have a reasonable amount of knowledge, but they just go off on huge tangents talking about other people’s cars, talking about the world as it is, or whatever scenario we’re in. This has made it a very difficult thing to describe when trying to do the hard sell.”
Irrespective of whether it’s a hard sell, Smith and Sniff has been an enormous success.
“We’re pretty much number one every week in the UK automotive chart for podcasts,” Richard explains via email whilst wearing his self-confessed “pedantic hat”. “I guess we’ve been consistently topping the charts for a few weeks now. New episodes tend to go straight in at number one, and then the previous two hang around the top ten for a bit, which is what’s happening now.”
Despite their fears that “not many people out of the UK would like what we do”, Smith and Sniff has an international cult following amongst hardcore car enthusiasts and casual observers alike with listeners from Lithuania and Paraguay - not exactly ‘traditional’ automotive heartlands - also tuning in for their weekly dose of Jonny and Richard.
Evidence of this is that after around six months of relatively consistent exposure to Smith and Smith as background noise and sometimes hangover-soothing TV, my other half - a person who is not a car nerd in the slightest - is now able to identify potential Range Rover “SPOOOOOUUUURGHHHTTTTTT...AH!” drivers, and will happily identify Old Money Cars in and around the villages that surround where we live in the Peak District.
And that’s exactly the magic of Smith and Sniff. They’re able to talk cars without boring you silly. Their humour and love for all things four-wheeled make the automotive world a broad church where everyone is welcome - for example, their last two podcasts episodes have focused heavily on the Matra Rancho and successfully transformed this late ‘70s plastic French crossover into a more interesting and desirable vehicle than any new supercar. I guarantee that if you’re new to Smith and Sniff, you’ll end up in an Internet wormhole if you Google one - if not all of - the cars they mention in an episode.
They’ll also focus on a real-life person such as Fred Dibnah who they recently described as “the most Northern man ever” and here I am now, writing this piece with Fred Dibnah’s Made in Britain on in the background.
Being the Opposite of the “Hi Guys!” Car Personalities and the Future of Smith and Sniff
“Honestly speaking, Smith and Sniff is something for us to purge the sort of silliness that we don’t put into our daily lines of work,” Jonny concludes. “Our aspiration for the show whether it’s on YouTube or the podcast, is that it’s a sort of car-skewed, B-Side version of The Trip that Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon did about 10 years ago.
“The underlying message is that we do know our cars and we have a reasonable amount of knowledge about car history, the automotive industry, and car media but we just like to be ultra silly about it. Don’t forget that Rich is the master of doing this, because he has written tonnes of Clarkson’s scripts over the years and you can really see that if you watch some episodes of old Top Gear or The Grand Tour.
“He can make you look like you’re dicking around yet talking about everything and nothing to do with the car, but still wrap things up by succinctly despite going off on numerous tangents talking about old mens’ trousers or whatever you want.
“Rich calls Smith and Sniff “car-based drivel with an underlying knowledge of cars, the industry, and the ability to review stuff” and that’s what we hope it will always be. It’s the total antithesis of the stereotypical YouTuber and the “HI GUYS!” brigade, but we’re really lucky to have a lot of followers who are of a similar age and mindset to us - this gives us the opportunity to talk about cars in a pretty unusual way.
In a year as tumultuous as 2020, Smith and Sniff is a much-needed reminder that “life is too short to be serious all the time” and the need to arse about with your friends - online or otherwise - is probably greater now than ever.
Thank you, Jonny and Richard. Please don’t change.
A new Smith and Sniff episode drops each Monday, and you can subscribe to them by clicking here, which is something you should do if you made it this far. By clicking These Three Words, you can also enjoy Jonny’s YouTube channel - CarPervert.
Richard also has a book out called A Medium-Sized Book of Boring Car Trivia, which is exactly what it says it is. If you click These Blue Words, you can buy it from Amazon.
Finally, if you’re interested in buying a Range Rover “SPOOOOOUUUURGHHHTTTTTT...AH!” or any of the other cars mentioned in this feature, please visit dyler.com/cars.