Time was, the only time you could see cool cars on TV, outside of reruns of the Rockford Files and Starsky and Hutch, was on Saturday Mornings on The Nashville Network. Those programs, aimed at shade tree mechanics and the average do-it-yourselfer, were about as interesting as a high school auto shop class’ instructional videos. Things have definitely changed and today, thanks to hundreds of cable channels and the advent of Reality TV, car related programming is easy to find. The problem is that Reality TV is character driven and you have to endure colorful personalities in order to see the cars.
The first Reality Show that really grabbed my attention was American Chopper. I know it’s not about cars but, when you think about, it wasn’t really about bikes, either. American Chopper was about fathers and sons, and how working class men pass along their work ethic and values to their children – at least for the first few seasons. After that it was about how money and fame corrupt and about how families and relationships can self destruct as father and son compete with one another for time in the limelight. Watching American Chopper for the first few years was like spending time in the garage with my own dad, learning a lot about being a man while getting yelled at for being stupid, unskilled and lazy. Watching American Chopper as the show churned through its final episodes, and as the entire Teutul family descended into chaos and mutual hatred, was painful. If the events depicted in the show happened in real life, the Teutels should be ashamed of themselves. If those events happened because of clever editing, the production company should be ashamed. Either way, because I felt something of a personal kinship with those characters, it felt personal.
Since then I have sought out lighter Reality fare and now I have a new guilty pleasure, the Discovery Channel’s “Fast N’ Loud.” The shows premise is simple. Basically, two guys with a small shop shuck-and-live their way around Texas looking for old cars that they can fix quick and the sell for a big profit. This is a subject I personally know a lot about, after all I did help to kill the American Muscle Car and, truth be told, the show strikes me as being fairly true to life.
If Fast N’ Loud was a typical reality car show, our greasy looking heroes Richard Rawlings and Aaron Kaufman, would buy a piece of junk and then, in the name of drama, inflict some crazy-short deadline upon themselves which they would then meet with seconds to spare. Then, they would sell their crazy creation to a corporate customer for about a bazillion dollars. Although I wonder about the Ford Bronco, which had seats upholstered in a red and black plaid pattern suspiciously close to the halter tops the well endowed waitresses at a certain restaurant were wearing at the end of the show, that sort of thing doesn’t generally happen here. More often than not, Richard buys a piece of junk, drags it back to the shop where Aaron picks apart all the problems. Sometimes the answer is to throw a lot of money at a project and hope it pays off while other times the answer is to roll the hulk out front, put a for sale sign on it and hope to pass the trouble along to some other sucker with more time and resources to throw into it. Seems about right to me.
Then comes the cars. In American Chopper Paul Teutul thought like an artist and he always seemed to be more concerned about creating his artistic vision than he was about creating a reliably running bike. In Fast N’ Loud, master mechanic Aaron Kaufman spends a great deal of time on actual engineering and he often states that his primary concern is safety. Sure, some of the cars that emerge from the shop are show boats, but for the most part the cars end up as fairly mild customs that sell for less than stratospheric amounts of cash. I like that.
Lastly, let’s talk about the main characters Richard Rawlings and Aaron Kaufman. On the surface they seem like prototypical Reality TV chumps complete with abundant tats, crazy skull rings, various piercings and no fashion sense. Personality wise, however, they differ from the usual fare and, again, they come off as likable and especially genuine.
Richard Rawlings is the front man and I know his type intimately, I grew up around them. Fast N’ Loud’s Gas Monkey Garage is his business and like many successful small businessmen who sell to the public, he has an effusive, outgoing, larger-than-life personality. He is engaging and smart but not afraid to be silly in order to bridge the gap between himself and the customer. He does what it takes to get the sale and he knows that getting noticed is at least as important as offering a quality product. He mixes with the rich and famous one minute, talks to 70 year old Texas farmers the next and he finds something in common with each of them. That’s how sales works and if he was any different, and any less genuine, he would be out of business in a month.
Aaron Kaufman is the master mechanic and he oversees Gas Monkey Garage’s staff as they work on the various cars that Richard brings back to the shop. Thanks to his shaggy beard and slicked back hairstyle, I first expected Aaron Kaufman to be another larger than life reality show figure with a pretend bad-boy attitude. The personality that has emerged over the course of the show, however, is a quiet, thoughtful and genuinely likeable. Aaron Kaufman comes off like a guy who knows how to repair cars and who thinks that doing a good job is critical. Often there is, albeit mild, conflict between Aaron and Richard over the rising cost of this or that project as Aaron seeks to ensure the job gets done right while Richard seeks to control costs. Again, this is a compromise that all small businessmen make on a daily basis and it lends credibility to what we see on TV.
Now into its second season, I believe that Fast N’ Loud is on its way to being another huge Reality TV hit for the Discovery Channel. I earnestly hope that Richard Rawlings and Aaron Kaufmann can keep their egos under control as their fame and fortunes increase. It would be a shame to see these two very likable guys turn into raging jerks. I know that some part of reality TV will always be scripted, but as long as the set-ups are interesting cars and not silly interpersonal drama they can count me among their regular viewers. The world needs more fun, silly shows that can draw attention to the car hobby. This is a good one – check your local listings for the time and channel and sit through an episode, you might find yourself surprised at just how much fun you’ll have.
Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.