The BBC has apologised after Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson described a car as “special needs”.

Broadcasting watchdog Ofcom investigated after the joke, made by Jeremy about a Ferrari owned by co-host James May, provoked complaints.

He said the F430 Speciale “looked like a simpleton” and should have been called “Speciale Needs” on the BBC2 show.

Comparing it to a newer model, he said the car “was a bit wrong – that smiling front end – it looked like a simpleton – should have been called the 430 Speciale Needs”.

Charities criticised the remark, with the National Autistic Society saying it perpetuated “the prejudice and bullying which people with disabilities have to cope with”.

The BBC removed the joke from the repeat and iPlayer versions of the show and apologised for any offence caused.

Today, Ofcom said: “While obviously intended as a joke and not aimed directly at an individual with learning difficulties, the comment could easily be understood as ridiculing people in society with a particular physical disability or learning difficulty.”

It concluded that because the BBC had apologised, decided not to repeat the comment, and said it was not intended to make fun of those with special needs, the case was resolved.

Jeremy, 50, who is reported to have been paid £2 million a year by the BBC, is used to provoking outrage with his remarks.

He sparked anger when he asked Richard Hammond if he was “mental” when he returned to the show following a near-fatal car crash and in 2008 his joke about lorry drivers murdering prostitutes led to complaints.