Fast and Loud Review

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Likely neither fast nor loud – picture courtesy of Ribbie on assignment in Montevideo

I don’t watch a lot of TV, and when I do, I typically watch something political like the Rachel Maddow Show – she’s good – reruns of M*A*S*H or The Twilight Zone AND car  shows.  Yes, car shows, even the auctions.  I don’t quite know the attraction really.  I like cars, but am not a collector or anything and drive an underpowered, economical Honda Fit, but I once owned a muscle car, or I should say my parents did – a 1976 Camaro that they bought off the showroom floor at the Cliff Peck dealership in Little Rock, Arkansas.  It was their car until it became mine.  It’s life ended tragically in Denton, Texas in the year of 1986 when a pickup rear ended it at a stop sign, reducing the Camaro to an accordion.  Fortunately, neither me, nor my passenger were seriously injured.  The driver of the pickup was unharmed too and in fact, his pickup suffered barely a scratch.  Actually, what I like more than muscle cars are roadsters.  I don’t have one now, nor have I ever owned one, but my dad once had a 1973 MG Midget and it was with this car that I learned to drive a stick, a skill that I fear is as  foreign to most U.S. Millenials as a self-driving car would have been to me in 1976.  What does any of this have to do with the show Fast and Loud?  The MG nothing – but the Camaro, ah, the Camaro – the crew of Fast and Loud operating out of Gas Monkey Garage (GMG) has featured several and “equivalent” Pontiac Firebirds which I think made me long for the days when I myself drove a muscle car.

I started watching Fast and Loud from the beginning, back when the Gas Monkey Garage worked out of a small workshop, as the Brits from Wheeler Dealers would say.  I remember some of the original “monkeys” like Jordan and Tom, both of whom were later fired during the famous Firebird build.  But of course the stars and founders of GMG make the show watchable and popular. Richard Rawlings, the tall and skinny slicked back hair, goatee wearing owner of GMG, a car aficionado, racer, and businessman who built and expanded the GMG brand, snd who finds cars, and flips them. And then there’s Aaron Kaufman, chief Gas Monkey mechanic, nicknamed the bearded wonder, who repairs and tricks the cars out, often with a newer more powerful engine, a lowered stance and a stunning paint job by former paint master Kasey, who sadly also left the show several seasons ago.  Too bad because he was a funny character and perhaps the chief burnout king.  And then there’s Sue, GMG’s go-to upholsterer on their “junk” cars, as she calls them.  She is notoriously cranky and combative with a sharp tongue to put the “ass monkeys” in their places.  They bicker with her and the banter is always entertaining, which comes off as authentic reality show stuff, but may be a little bit scripted, as most reality shows are.  The other two characters of note are Dennis Collins, who owns a Jeep dealership, or something along those lines, and is Richard’s business partner with much deeper pockets.  They are always finding  valuable cars in a someone’s garage or barn and flipping them for big money – cars like rare Mustangs, a ’63 split window Corvette and the first two Firebirds ever produced.  And occasionally, golden opportunities drop into their laps like that wrecked Ferrari that Aaron restored and Dennis bought in the end.

I like the premise of the show which is a formula for success. Find car.  Flip it right away  or fix/modify (with drama during the build between the “monkeys”) to sell or auction off, often at no reserve.  Sometimes GMG makes money, and sometimes they don’t.  You never know.  The show has been successful with the core cast of Richard, Dennis, Sue, Aaron, and office assistant Christie.  The “lesser” monkeys work in the background and are not that interesting as personalities, but obviously do good work on the cars.  Now with Aaron leaving the show, I’m not sure it will ever be as good.  A self-taught mechanic with wild ideas, Aaron comes off as a brilliant wizard.  He and Richard often clash over the builds – for example over a design element or the budget for a project, but in the end, despite Richard’s doubts and anxieties, Aaron always gets the job done. However, it seems that ever since Richard hired a project manager, Jason Acker, for the Firebird build, Aaron may have been feeling less appreciated.  And whether this is true or not, I think Aaron is simply a car guy and not attracted to the marketing side of the business. He has never seemed too enthusiastic about GMG Bar N’ Grill or Gas Monkey Tequila.  He doesn’t even drink.  So the question becomes, will people still watch the show without Aaron?  Will the missing bearded wizard mechanic, the hipster, self-taught professor of mechanical engineering spell the end of the GMG reality show?

As much as I like Aaron, I do think the show will not only survive, but continue to be popular without the bearded wonder.  Here’s the thing, “King” Richard has star quality.  He’s cocky, but personable, a risk-taker, and a saavy businessman who knows the automobile AND entertainment industry.  Of all the car shows on Velocity, he probably has the most star quality, or star presence of any of the other leading personalities on the network, which includes guys like Mike and Edd of Wheeler Dealers, Wayne of  Chasing Classic Cars, Chip Foose of Overhaulin’, David Grainger of Restoration Garage, Joe Martin of Iron Restoration, and Bruno of Garage Squad.  The only other guys who come close would be Jay Leno, but his show, Jay Leno’s Garage, is an Internet show and not part of the Velocity lineup, and Danny of Counting Cars on the History Channel.

I wish Fast and Loud the best of luck in the future. It is a show that I like to watch to just chill out and wind down. It doesn’t require me to think or anything – and I can just put my brain on autopilot and strap in for the fast and loud ride.

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Top Gear UK reviewed

English: The BBC Top Gear presenting team of ,...

English: The BBC Top Gear presenting team of , and . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had never heard of the show before, not even the American version on the History channel, which incidentally, is now in its third year.  Top Gear UK, the original series has been on the air for some 17 years in the UK and other parts of Europe presumably, and it wasn’t until I stumbled across the show one day clicking around on the cable box that I saw a bit of an episode for the first time.  It was on the BBC channel which I didn’t even know I had, which might explain why I had never seen the show.  I might have just passed it by, but there was something about the scene that caught my attention.  There was some British bloke talking about a Chevy that many stars had driven that he could not sell.  He was driving it to some industrial site where it was to be given a proper Viking burial.  He parked it between two smokestacks and proceeded to blow it up with explosives.  The smokestacks collapsed onto the car simply flattening it, but not completely covering it as its nose stuck out.  This Brit was not impressed by the demolition and thought it a travesty that the car had not received a proper burial.  I thought the whole bit was pretty interesting, so I stuck around to watch the next part of the show, something about a celebrity barbecue to christen a new “reasonably priced car”, which turned out to be a KIA Cee’d, “the only car in the world with an apostrophe in its name”, said co-host, Jeremy Clarkson.  This too sounded intriguing.  Well, no stars appeared, not even Angelina Jolie or Johnny Dep who had been invited twice.  Only random people from the BBC showed up to do laps around a race track in a cheap Korean car with an apostrophe in its name, whilst Hammond, the short co-host who had blown up the Chevy earlier and who looks like Davy Jones of the Monkees horsed around and burned the barbecue sausages and the cauliflower Clarkson had brought for vegetarians.  I don’t think I watched any more of the show after that, tiring of the theatrics, but it was a good laugh.

Fast forward to several weeks later and I found myself on Netflix and once again I randomly stumbled across the show, this time the first 17 series of Top Gear UK.  Curious, and remembering that the first episode I had seen, which was Series 15, episode 1, I started watching random episodes and found myself quite addicted to the show.   If you like cars, super cars, British humor, and the British way with words, you’ll love the show.

Here’s a typical show:

  • 3 presenters (co-hosts) Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May
  • A live audience
  • Lots of silly banter
  • New cars, mostly European ones, in the news with reviews of select cars
  • Lots of witty banter
  • Clips from test drives of select cars including super cars
  • Live interview with a celebrity
  • Clip of celebrity going around a track in a “reasonably price car”
  • A road trip with a wacky challenge
  • Lots of witty banter and pranks
  • Wrap-Up

And it works, it really does.  First of all, the chemistry between the presenters is spot-on, as the Brits would say.  They are genuinely funny and even funnier together.  Jeremy is probably the sharpest wit of the lot, and arguably the bully of the bunch.  Hammond, whom they call the hamster because of his size, seems always amazed, or astounded at one thing or another.  He’s rather more prone to hyperbole and is the only one of the three who I think you could genuinely call fearless – the guy to fire out of a cannon or drop from a 30 story building onto a stack of foam cushions.  James May is aptly called the slow one – not slow or dim witted, but slow in a car.  He’s the pessimistic one with a bit of a monotone and dreary disposition whose second nickname is Eeyore.

They describe cars dramatically as “fantastic”, “brilliant”, “magnificent”, “horrific”, “rubbish” or that it’s a “bloody hybrid”. They endlessly insult one another.  James May called Jeremy Clarkson an “apocalyptic dingleberry”, and they often call the other “stuuuupid”,  a “moron” or a “blithering idiot”.    They often “roast” the guest celebrities.  Clarkson introduced Lionel Ritchie as a man who lives in a Hollywood mansion with 17 bathrooms.

On road trips, they are prone to frat boy pranks.  Once Clarkson and Hammond rigged the horn on May’s car to go off every time he hit the brakes.   Another time, Hammond’s 70’s Land Cruiser with suspect brakes rammed into May’s Suzuki 3 wheel drive vehicle every time he needed to stop.  Clarkson “accidentally” set fire to the rag top on Hammond’s Land Cruiser which they had to put out with beer.

Their road trips are journeys that are like no other.  They’ve traveled to India to promote British products, like a self-propelled lawn mower, a travel ironing board kit and English biscuits.  They went to Albania to demolish a building with big trucks rather unsuccessfully.  They traveled through Vietnam on second hand motorbikes – Clarkson on a Vespa.  They  trekked from Florida to New Orleans in cars they bought for 1,000 U.S.  and were nearly killed by the locals they insulted when they spray painted provocative slogans on their cars like “NASCAR sucks”.

They aren’t fond of American cars and don’t seem too fond of America either.  They endlessly insult the country and the culture, but it all seems tongue in check.  They are, well Clarkson at least, Anglo centric and promote the superiority of all things British – which sometimes also sounds tongue in check.  They are each fond of super cars, none of which come from the U.S. Clarkson favors Mercedes AMG cars, Hammond the Porsche 911 and May, any Ferrari or Peugeot.   They typically review cars from Britain, Germany, France and Italy and race them around the track  somewhat non-professionally.  They leave the professional driving to the mysteriously helmeted staff race car driver they simply call the Stig.

Top Gear UK is one of the more entertaining car shows I’ve ever seen.  I’ll have to check out Top Gear USA to see how it stacks up against the original.

Auto Sales Up Despite “Uncertainty”, but…

The Auto Industry in the U.S. is alive and thriving, thanks in part to President Obama’s auto bailout, an improved economy and, let’s see, meals on wheels, no…cash for clunkers? no, not that either…I’m going out on a limb here but I think car shows have whetted our appetite for cars, or as the Brit Mike from Wheeler Dealers would say, motas.  Americans are crazy about their motors again thanks to the many TV car shows on the airwaves including Chasing Classic Cars, Mecum Auto Auctions, What’s my Car Worth (mine, not much), Desert Kings, All Girls Garage, Overhaulin’ , and West Coast Customs.  These shows glorify the car and plant the seed in our brains that we need to buy one or another.  The car products sponsors on the shows create other needs in our tiny brains for synthetic motor oils, all-weather floor mats, brighter halogen headlamps so that we can see people standing in the middle of the highway who would otherwise be invisible until it was too late, and bullet proof all-weather tires built to grip the road during a tornado.  Ok, I just made that one up.

U.S. Car Sales are up for all makes.  But one dealer says that sales would be even better if there weren’t so much uncertainty, uncertainty of who will be President in 2013.  I’m sorry, but I beg to differ with the dealer who is no doubt a Republican.  Consumers are not saying behind close doors: “because of the uncertainty honey, let’s delay the purchase of a new car until after the Presidential election.”

What difference would it make, really, who is President, except that if Mitt Romney were elected, he’d probably “roll” back all the safety and environmental regulations in place so that automakers would be once again free to pollute with impunity, and design cheap gas guzzling cars that are Unsafe At Any Speed, and really light trucks made of vinyl siding or balsa wood.