The Horrible Car TV Formula

I can easily say that I’m a very car-obsessed 17-year-old. I’m usually found drooling over pictures of cars I can only dream of affording or watching video reviews of said cars. Like most of my peers, I find fart jokes quite refreshing, pun intended. I’m in that demographic that networks really desire when they launch a new automotive show. Why is it, then, that I’d rather sit down and watch NCIS?

The phrase that really describes the ability to capture something truly unique is “lightning in a bottle.” It also means that the person who captures that magic has no idea how to do it again.

This is the inherent problem with network executives. They could take chances and introduce new genres, take chances that pop up out of the blue, but no. They know that we as a public are creatures of habit that will binge-watch something that barely hits a few pleasure centers.

If you remember “Survivor,” then you know what I’m talking about. The network executives went out on a limb. It turned out to be a smashing success.

Want to know why TMZ exists? Watch an episode of “My 600-lb Life.” But seriously, don’t. The ability to derive pleasure from others’ misfortune is the sole reason that we turn on the TV and watch stupid shows like that. Shows like “WorldStarHipHop” make money rain like tequila in a Mexican bar.

The horrible part about all of this is that it’s migrated to car shows. Oh, joy of joys. If you have ever watched an episode of the Discovery channel smash hit “Fast N Loud,” you’re a glutton for punishment. You’ll notice several things first and foremost:

  • To introduce each and every character that portrays a one-dimensional stereotype.
  • Manufacture as much drama as possible.

If you’re unfamiliar with the show, this is a synopsis of EVERY episode:

  • Richard Rawlings, the owner of Gas Monkey Garage, gets a tip about some car worth $25,000 that’s been sitting in a field for the past 20 years. He goes to check out the car.
  • Quickly cut to an interview with Rawlings in the studio, where he recalls what he’s doing in real time just so we can’t possibly get confused.
  • Rawlings arrives at the property where the car is. Makes a fuss about the price of said car. Buys the car for $1,500 plus Gas Monkey Garage t-shirts and Gas Monkey Garage tequila (yeah!).
  • Cut again to Rawlings in the studio, where he recalls what we’ve just seen in case we got confused.
  • Some filthy rich college buddy of Richard’s makes an arbitrary $500,000 bet to make said $1,500 car a clone of the car that was in a movie in which all of the actors are dead of drugs, alcohol, old age, or some combination of those.
  • Richard has 24 hours to build the car, and that includes delivering it to the middle of nowhere Australia along with American moonshine.
  • Cut to Rawlings in the studio recapping that.
  • Richard gathers the crew and gives a pep talk about how he will sell his body to science if this build isn’t on budget and on time. THEY MUST NOT SCREW UP!
  • Parts don’t fit, one of the mechanics quits, the car won’t start, everyone at the shop takes the day off for no apparent reason, all of the above.
  • 10 minute commercial break.
  • Five minute commercial break sponsored by Dodge!
  • Remember all of that drama in the third act of the show? Forget it. The car is done, the crew has practiced a skit, but there are no actors, just Gas Monkey Garage employees.
  • Richard meets with rich college buddy. They both get immeasurably drunk, yet Rawlings is still all there.
  • Richard receives the $500,000 in cash. The car is visibly rough and thrown together to anybody who knows anything about cars. Rawlings does a burnout because burnouts equal equality. They celebrate at Gas Monkey Bar and Grill, brought to you by Dodge!
  • Cut to interview with Rawlings in the studio, recalling what we’ve just seen in real time in case we get confused.
  • Repeat for next episode.

“Mobsteel” is an unabashed clone of “Gas Monkey Garage.” It’s relegated to the Velocity network, which tries it’s worst to make the joy of car ownership as exciting as getting an endoscopy.

It prides itself on the “scripted reality first” bandwagon by introducing each and every character first. This feat takes a monumental 13 minutes. That’s right. No car work is mentioned for the first 13 minutes of a 45 minute show! Yeah, that makes perfect sense, right?

Allow me to tell you what’s in those first 13 minutes: the company’s hierarchy. It’s comprised of the wide-eyed owner, his stern wife who deals with the finances, the mechanics who all have one specific task to do, and the customers who have the appeal of a rotting eggplant.

The sole reason that shows like this exist is that they appeal to people who think that custom cars are just another toy for the wealthy. However, the truth is, you don’t need a big budget to make a cool custom car. You can build one for under $15,000 if you are a careful Craigslist and eBay bidder and buyer.

Those same people would also experience a guilty thrill watching the shop literally and metaphorically crash and burn for missing a deadline or producing a sub-par car. They stick around to the end of the show because that’s when the big suspenseful reveal happens.

I will freely admit that those shows do have entertainment value for those who know nothing about cars, it comes at the cost of the often very, uh, interesting vehicle choices that these shops build. Instead, we get great slow motion shots of the mechanics grinding down metal stock for no reason. Oh goodie!

NBCSN, the parent company of Velocity, said that nearly one million folks tuned into the first episode of Mobsteel. It’s certainly a ringing endorsement for this formula, even if it does fall short of “Survivor” and “Glee.”

Why is it then, that I feel like there’s no appeal for automotive enthusiasts on these shows? How can we solve this problem? I can answer the second question easily: go onto YouTube and look up “Roadkill” and “Hot Rod Garage.” They are both entertaining, and are meant to fill that gap. They do that well.

How do I answer the first question? The shows that truly cater to automotive enthusiasts are far and few between, and many are discontinued. “Top Gear” worked solely because of the chemistry between the hosts. NOT the chemistry between the hosts and producers, as evidenced by Jeremy Clarkson’s insane attack on an elderly producer over a hamburger. Yes, a hamburger. It held a special place in my heart because it maintained an emphasis on the love of cars. The cars chosen in each episode told a necessary story, and were just as legendary as their drivers. That’s what Mobsteel and Gas Monkey Garage are sorely lacking.

I’ll hedge a bet that other car nuts like myself echo this sentiment. The shows – the really GOOD shows – are far and few between. They show the love and passion for the automobile, not the love and passion for money like Gas Monkey Garage.

What is the reason that “Wheeler Dealers” is so popular then? It’s only got a modicum of success, but it’s got a massive repeat viewership rate. I really don’t know why. Edd China is about as exciting as that third grade teacher you liked and then met 20 years later.

“Jay Leno’s Garage” is made on a very small budget relative to it’s network counterparts. The show was a YouTube special for several years. Leno recently landed it a spot on CNBC. I’ll update you on that another time. Despite his relatively small budget, Leno pulls in far more viewers than Gas Monkey Garage and Mobsteel.

Shows like Jay Leno’s Garage focus on the love and passion for the automobile, and the smoke and mirrors treated as such. Leno regularly has Hollywood stars as guests on his show, but it’s always eminently clear that they are automotive enthusiasts. In all of the years that I’ve watched his show, I can’t ever remember an episode where there was somebody completely oblivious to the car featured. There are no deadlines, no constant fighting, no manufactured drama or controversy, even though I’d love to see a slap fight between Jay Leno and Richard Rawlings.

Marty and Moog from “Mighty Car Mods” are YouTube giants. Wanna know why? Because they do DIY content and automotive builds with a million-strong audience. It’s organically grown. Any drama you see is because somebody done and screwed up.

We, as generations of automotive enthusiasts, owe it to ourselves to support the indie shows. The entertaining, somewhat educational shows. They open up new automotive experiences and viewpoints to us, but more importantly, they give us more of the automotive content we want, more of the time. How can you not like that?

Otherwise, we’ll all be watching Richard Rawlings screaming at a mechanic of his for no apparent reason other than to get more viewers. Oh, and we’ll all be wearing Gas Monkey Garage t-shirts.

What Era of Motorsport Was the Best?

This idea is simple:  What era of motorsport was/is the best?  What drivers were/are the best?  What motorsport was/is the best?  What cars were the best?  What track was the best?

For me, I can’t choose just one.  1960s Top Fuel drag racing was the best of the 1960s.  There were plenty of big names competing against smaller names, many of whom have been lost to the sands of time.  Some of those names we are familiar with – Don “Big Daddy” Garlits, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen (anybody who’s ever had a large collection of Hot Wheels has/had models of their cars).  Their cars were spectacularly fast (Garlits was the first to break 200 mph in his Top Fuel dragster), and they always put on one hell of a show.  I’m going to say that Lions Drag Strip in Long Beach, CA was the best.  While I never visited it (it closed in 1972), it is rumored to have been one of the best drag strips ever.  If you’re into Facebook, look up “THE GLORY DAYS OF DRAG RACING.”  It’s a closed group, but they will let you in.  It’s got a lot of great vintage photos.  Read their rules before posting something.

Another great one for me was 1980s Formula 1.  Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Mario Andretti, and the late Clay Regazzoni.  It was a fierce era of turbocharged cars with well over 1,000 horsepower duking it out on the fastest tracks on the planet.  BMW had cars with 1,400 horsepower and manual transmissions (yes, you had to take your hand off of the steering wheel in a tight corner in a powerful car to shift).  Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost simply dominated the sport until the tragic death of Senna in 1994.

Finally, I’m going to say that 1980s-current off-road racing is great.  I mean, who doesn’t like watching Ivan “Ironman” Stewart bombing around Baja in his Toyota trophy truck?  Or for those American car fans, how about Robby Gordon and his HUMMERs from a long time ago?  To me, it’s the most entertaining form of motorsport, and I’ve been hoping to travel to Baja to watch the Baja 1000 for a while.

Here are some of my favorite pictures to prove it.

The Most Underrated Muscle Cars Ever

Muscle cars get a bad rap for being fast in a straight line, uncomfortable, pig-like vehicles.  It’s deservedly so for some of them.  Some of them are just so good at what they do that you can’t help but love them, faults and all.  Then, there are the good ones that are underrated.  Some of the overrated ones are the modern Camaro ZL1, Mustang GT500, and the modern Dodge Charger.  Here are the muscle cars that should be overlooked less:

  • 1970 AMC Rebel Muscle Machine:  How can you not love a car that is called the “muscle machine,” has a red, white, and blue paint job, and a 390 cubic-inch V8 (6.3 liters)?  It was a seriously fast car, and it’s sister car, the Javelin wore the same paint scheme in the Trans-Am racing series of the 1970’s for a few years with some success.  However, picking a fight with the Rebel Muscle Machine meant that you’d better have a stonking fast car to beat it.  It was relatively light, made a lot of horsepower (340 stock, but could easily get boosted to well over 450), and looked like nothing else on the road.  Some people bought the car, painted it it all white, and simply wreaked havoc on the streets of America in a car that looked unassuming.
  • Ford Torino GT:  Ford took their full-size Torino, stuffed their biggest motor available into it, and turned it into what may be one of the best cars for cruising on the highway or up and down a drag strip.  The big Ford Torino was one seriously fast car that could take the family in comfort.  While it wasn’t exactly a looker, it came with a big black hood with a functional air scoop.  It also came with a four-barrel Holley carburetor, an Edelbrock air intake, a BorgWarner four-speed overdrive transmission, and Ford’s legendary 9-inch rear end with 4:11 gears.
  • Jensen Interceptor:  Ok, maybe it’s not a true muscle car because it was marketed as a GT car, but it’s the spirit of the law, not the letter of the law for this blog post.  It’s timeless Carrozzeria Touring design makes it look Italian.  Plus, you could get it with a Dodge 440 cubic-inch V8 and a Chrysler Torqueflite 4-speed automatic.  That definitely makes it a British muscle car in my eyes.
  • 1991 GMC Syclone:  It should have been called the Psyclone, not the Syclone.  This turbocharged mini truck was a force of nature.  For just $26,000 in 1991, you could easily embarrass a Ferrari 348, a car that commanded a price of almost $180,000.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t very truck-like, even with a bed, as it was only rated to carry and tow 500 pounds.
  • AMC Gremlin Randall 401-XR:  While the AMC Gremlin may have been a terrible economy car designed on an airline barf bag, it sold in droves.  But, when you turned some over to Randall Engineering, magic happened.  Randall Engineering ripped out the turdy big inline-six-cylinder engine, and stuffed a massive 401 cubic-inch V8 (6.5 liters) into the tiny engine bay.  The car ran high-13-second 1/4 mile times at about 90 mph.  And, you could get the car for just $2,995 in 1972.  And that included a donor car.  Options included a four-speed manual transmission or a Chrysler Torqueflite 4-speed automatic transmission, stainless steel headers, a “Twin Grip” differential (a fancy name for a limited-slip differential), four-wheel power disc brakes, a cam kit, and a high-rise intake manifold with a four-barrel Holley carburetor.
  • Shelby Ford Maverick:  This is quite possibly the rarest Shelby ever.  Only 300 were ever sold in Mexico only.  There are only a handful of pictures of the car, all of which can be viewed at http://www.maverick.to/shelbydemexico.php.  They were Brazilian-made Ford Mavericks with Mustang 302 cubic-inch V8’s (5.0 liters), cool paint, and some extra Shelby odds and ends.
  • Studebaker Super Lark:  Studebaker supercharged their 302 cubic-inch V8 (5.0 liters), and put it into their stunning Lark coupe.  The car made an impressive 335 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque way back in 1963.  The car weighed in right around 3,000 pounds, so it was fast.  It was luxurious enough that it was called the “businessman’s hot rod.”  I agree.  It was also one of the first true muscle cars.  It came out in 1963, about a year before the much-loved Pontiac GTO.
  • Mercury Cyclone:  While nobody will ever really lose sleep over the Ford Fairlane, it will be harder to lose sleep over it’s interestingly-styled brother, the Mercury Cyclone.  It came with Ford’s high-performance 428 cubic-inch (7.0 liters) Cobra Jet V8, and it took a mere 5.5 seconds to hit 60 mph.
  • Dodge Demon/Plymouth Duster:  While the Dodge Demon and Plymouth Duster were certainly not the fastest nor most powerful muscle cars of the early 1970’s, they were plenty capable of smoking a larger muscle car.  They were powered by Dodge’s 340 cubic-inch V8 (5.6 liters), which was a mid-lineup engine in the larger Challenger and Barracuda.  That, coupled with their relative light weight, meant that they were able to be pretty darn quick in the quarter mile.
  • Buick GS 455 Stage 1:  510 pound-feet of torque.  That’s all you need to know.  Not really, but this was the most powerful motor sold in America for a few years.  It was big, big, big, but very fast.  It was also really comfortable.  This is one of the best cars in the world for cruising the interstates.  I want one.

And, then there’s this…