Gonzo's Toolbox: Real Or Reality TV? Our Profession Is Greatly Underestimated By The 'Big Screen'

Gonzo’s Toolbox: Real Or Reality TV? Our Profession Is Greatly Underestimated By The ‘Big Screen’

Have you noticed how many automotive reality programs there are on TV these days? I take the time to sit down and take in a few of them here and there. But from my side of the wrench, I have a completely different perspective when watching them.

  Photo Courtesy of Dmitrijs Dmitrijevs / Shutterstock.com

Have you noticed how many automotive ­reality programs there are on TV these days?  

I take the time to sit down and take in a few of them here and there. But from my side of the wrench, I have a completely different perspective when watching them.

In my opinion, some of these reality shows are far from reality.

They’ll start off with someone flashing a wad of cash or meeting a deserving owner. ­Before the first commercial break, they tow the vehicle to their garage and present it to the crew. The crew will look shocked at what was just dropped off. That’s about the time the host gives them the lowdown in the next 40 minutes on what’s going to take place. This usually consists of a full restoration job, and only a few weeks to get it completed. By the end of the show, there’s a gleaming, fully ­restored work of art on the screen. 

But the shows that really disturb me are those that use the “all-nighter” approach to car repair because they are done “Hollywood-style.” A team will completely dismantle a car to the shell and do all the mechanical work, electrical, interior, dash and instrument panels, brakes, transmission, rear-end, engine, cooling and heating systems, replace the glass, and do a full paint and body mod in less than a week. And, the best part (or biggest guffaw on these shows) is the final ­reveal of the newly restored gem to the owner/buyer.

On the sidelines, just out of the primary ­camera view, is the ­entire crew that has spent the last three days bringing this ride back to life. I’m in awe of the crew, to say the least. Not one of them is covered in grease, or has half of their shirt untucked, they have no fresh cuts or scrapes, and none of them show any signs of sleep ­deprivation. 

I’ve done my share of all-night, marathon ­repairs before, and by the time the sun comes up, I’m not the most coherent guy with a wrench. They might call it “reality TV,” but it doesn’t seem all that realistic to me. I’m sure the entire staff involved are some of the finest technicians, body-repair specialists and electrical gurus of the automotive world, but I highly doubt you can turn out a truly professionally restored vehicle in that short amount of time. There has to be a huge number of shortcuts or outsourced labor used to meet the deadlines.

I do restorations all the time and the biggest hassle with any of them is parts availability. The job comes in the shop, you put it up on the lift and spin the driveshaft, only to find out the differential or bearings are shot. You can’t just run down to the local parts store and expect to pick up a set of bearings for a 30-year-old, low production car. But, somehow, some of these shows pull it off.

On the other hand, there are a lot of great automotive ­reality ­programs on the television that go to great lengths to show how a modification is accomplished, with details that explain the process to the “nth” degree.

Any show that portrays the reality of doing the job I do every day in a professional manner will get my attention. I’ll sit down and watch it from beginning to end. If you want to show me how you ­install some super-cool, new rear taillight lenses or wild-looking front grille…that’s awesome! Or, how to pull an ­engine out of a classic and doing the necessary ­rebuild on it…that’s super! I love that stuff. But, when you try to convince me that you’re going to take a car that’s been totally neglected and ­sitting for 10 years in the back of some family garage, and you’re going to bring it back to life overnight…then you’ve lost me. 

I think it gives the novice car enthusiast the wrong impression of what it takes to restore a car, and, for the typical customer, it greatly underestimates all that’s involved to fix his/her daily driver.

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot more restoration projects than I’ve done in the past, and I do believe it’s a result of all of these reality shows. So, for that, I’m thankful. At the same time, shame on you! I can’t live up to the overnight results that seem so possible on the big screen. Even though the ­customer doesn’t mention they’ve been watching a reality show, you know what they’re thinking: “This shouldn’t take any longer than it does on TV.” 

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