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The State of Automotive TV

We are living in an era where there now exists more automotive TV shows than ever before. Most of it exists on the Discovery Channel, The History Channel or the newly minted Motor Trend TV, formerly known as Velocity. Check out their show lineup and you’ll roughly have 125 different shows to watch, either online or on your actual TV. Thankfully, they can be broken down into a few categories for easier digestion. I recently got to spend a couple weeks on the couch healing from a torn Achilles, and I’m here to lay as many of them out for you as possible. I’ll include my overall recommendation for each segment as well as a “fun find” that you may not have heard of.

Presenter-Based Shows

When most of us in the enthusiast community think of car-related TV, we likely first think of the presenter-based shows. This was my first exposure to seeing cars on TV — since, when I was a kid, I loved watching Jim Davis, Lisa Barrow and Pat Goss deliver the latest reviews, automotive news, and how-to tech segments on Maryland Public Television. “Motorweek” is still going strong with the same formula, which may not be as exciting and flashy as some — but it still delivers quality buying advice. My next experience in this segment was, of course, “Top Gear.” I watched bootleg “Top Gear” episodes on the internet for a long time before we started getting them here in the States. Now we get both the U.S. and U.K. versions as well and occasionally some “Fifth Gear,” as well.

William Byrd and Rutledge Wood 

I actually got to attend the filming of the very first “Top Gear USA” featuring comedian Adam Carolla, Tanner Foust (the only person to survive the switch to the next new version) and Eric Stromer, a fairly unknown dude whose TV experience at the time included a few home improvement shows. That show never aired, which is too bad because I was standing right behind Carolla when he announced The Stig for the first time. That show gave way to a new iteration on The History Channel featuring Foust, Rutledge Wood and Adam Ferrara. After a slow start trying to ape the original “Top Gear,” including some awkward studio segments, they finally got out of the hangar and on to filming all challenge-based content. I find that most people who say they hate this series never hung in there until this bit, as it’s properly entertaining and you should give it another chance. The group’s all-important chemistry really came together for some uniquely hysterical and entertaining moments. Unfortunately this second generation of “Top Gear USA” gave way to a third version called “Top Gear America” for BBC America hosted by William Fichtner, Tom Ford and Antron Brown. It’s not bad, but I miss Foust, Wood and Ferrara.

Recommendation — “Top Gear UK”: The original “Top Gear” is still going strong — and while I know that the cast is about to get shaken again, I feel like the current crop of folks is quite good.

Fun Find — “Roadkill”: While not unknown to most of us on Oversteer, I thought it was good to round out this segment with “Roadkill,” which is hosted by former Hot Rod Magazine editor-in-chief David Freiburger and staff editor Mike Finnegan. While there is certainly an element of fix-em-up to “Roadkill,” this former YouTube show is much more about entertainment and highlighting the solid personalities of the two hosts, which is why I included it here. It’s good fun!

Fix-Em-Up Shows (Primarily American Cars)

The 800-lb gorilla in the automotive TV market are the Fix-Em-Up shows. There are many of them to choose from, but in most versions a (hopefully) charismatic owner and his team of specialists tackle a variety of car-fixing tasks. My first experience with this type of show was likely “Overhaulin’.” I’m sure others came first, but there was something magnetic about watching Chip Foose work — and there still is. Keep an eye on the background of some early episodes and you’ll see a handful of future stars helping out as part of the “A Team”. This includes Richard Rawlings, one of the largest personalities on car TV today. Like him or not, he’s an unstoppable machine of brand building, and his show “Fast N’ Loud” has since launched a spin-off show called “Misfit Garage,” as well as the occasional fail-filled “Fast N’ Loud: Demolition Theater.” Personally I really enjoyed the “Fast N’ Loud” seasons, as Rawlings’ extroverted personality never bothered me — and I thought most of the cars and trucks the team produced were pretty cool. I’ll admit though, I miss Aaron Kaufman, who departed Gas Monkey Garage — though he now has his own show called “Shifting Gears” with Aaron Kaufman.

This group can be further broken into a couple of varieties. Beyond “Fast N’ Loud,” there are a bevy of very similar shows spread across the various channels that focus on 1920s to 1970s American hot rods and muscle cars. I doubt I could list them all, but here’s a sampling: “Iron Resurrection,” “Bitchin Rides,” “Counting Cars,” “Speed is the New Black,” “FantomWorks,” “Texas Metal,” “Graveyard Carz,” “Bad Chad Customs,” “Vegas Rat Rods,” “Desert Car Kings,” and many, many, more. During my time stranded on the couch, I watched most of them — and they all have some redeeming qualities, be it the personalities of the crew, or the output of the work.

Recommendation — “Bitchin’ Rides”: Of the group, I enjoy Bitchin Rides quite a bit. I find that the shop owner Dave Kindig is a mix of Rawlings and Foose exhibiting some showmanship on a slightly more subdued level, but also with a keen eye for art and design.

Fun Find — “Full Custom Garage”: Host Ian Roussel is quite literally a one-man shop, and he’s incredibly likable as well as skilled. Watching him tackle interesting projects quickly became one of my favorites.

Fix-Em-Up Shows (All Makes/Models)

The other sub-section of the Fix-Em-Up category are shows that do not always focus solely on American cars. My favorite of this genre is easily “Wheeler Dealers,” as there is something immensely satisfying about watching all of the wrenching done in extreme detail.

I also enjoy the new show “JDM Legends,” which — aside from “Wheeler Dealers” — has cornered the TV market on fixing up old Japanese cars. It’s a little slow at times, without the burnouts and slide-around action of some of the other shows, but it’s amazing to see these cars come back to life.

There are also shows like “Inside West Coast Customs” and the east coast version “Unique Rides” still going strong. Sort of like “Pimp My Ride,” these shows focus a bit more on bling vs. speed, but personally I find them pretty entertaining. Where “Pimp My Ride” focused more on the ridiculous than the practical or usable, these shows feature some pretty amazing cars — and they work across American, European and Japanese vehicles, which is a nice change of pace.

Recommendation — “Wheeler Dealers”: When my youngest was a baby, I have some fantastic memories of laying in bed watching Mike and Edd flip cars while he slept. There’s been some whine about the new LA-based version now featuring Ant Anstead, but I still love it. Ant has the same attention to detail that Edd has, and is equally engaging to watch.

Fun Find — “Goblin Works Garage”: If you want a nice, lesser-known option, check out “Goblin Works Garage.” I caught the original 6-part series very late at night once and was really impressed. Hosts Jimmy, (a different) Ant, and Helen work on unique “resto-mod” car and motorcycle builds in their U.K. shop, and it’s quite entertaining!

Auction & Car Buying Shows

Fancy yourself a young Tyler Hoover, then check out shows like “Chasing Classic Cars” and “Dallas Car Sharks.” Offering both ends of the spectrum, you can watch Wayne Carini look for barn finds and bid on amazingly high end classics on “Chasing Classic Cars,” or you can watch a crew of bargain hunters troll the local Dallas car action for the cheapest options to flip for cash. There are some other options like “What’s My Car Worth” and “Legendary Motorcar” that are also entertaining for those looking for more on the world of buying and selling.

Recommendation — “Legendary Motorcar”: There is something satisfying about watching the variety of cars that come through the “Legendary Motorcar” showroom. Owner Peter Klutt has made it a family business — and one of my favorite parts of the show is watching his son Gary have legitimately genuine reactions to driving some amazing cars.

And Lots More

I would be fired if I didn’t mention “Car Country,” which is a great show on History that features our one and only Doug DeMuro! There are so many others, I can’t cover them all and have a reasonable word count; this is just a sampling of some of my favorites — and it doesn’t even include shows on online platforms like Netflix and Amazon.

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  1. TG is definitely the GOAT, but The Grand Tour is definitely up there too. In addition to the ones listed in the article I really like Jay Leno’s Garage, it gives a glimpse of a lot of segments of the car community plus it gives some extra visibility to youtubers like Doug.

    • Yeah, I’d like to do another version that includes the streaming-only options on Amazon, Netflix, etc.  Definitely enjoying TGT these days. 

  2. I agree on a lot of this. I really enjoyed the Top Gear USA on History with Tanner and the group. Was a fun show and didn’t deserve to be cancelled. The new Top Gear America I watched was pretty terrible. I can’t believe (if it does) exist after the first season. Current Top Gear UK is good but the new change over it’s going to struggle. I liked Rory and Matt the best and I maybe in the minority but I think Chris is the least entertaining (almost too-technical) and he’s the only one left.  

    With all these shows there’s one now filmed near me. It’s an OK show but kind of neat to see them out in public (Speed is the new Black). 
    • I liked that one (SITNB), it had a pretty likeable cast of folks and some solid cars being produced.
      I’m still hoping that Rut, Adam, and Tiny Dancer end up doing something car-related together again.  Whatever it’s called! 

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