Real or Reality TV
Have ya noticed all the reality programs on TV these days?
There’s a reality show for every subject you can think of... and
probably a few you never would have thought of.
From high society in the big city to the suburbs, and even some
from way … way back in the woods. They can be quite
entertaining, funny, and sometimes pretty strange.
Now, I’m not much on which rich neighbor is doing what with
which rich neighbor or who makes the best moonshine, but what
I do know is a few things about the automotive repair world. I've been
to check a few of those shows out. Although, from my side of
the wrench, as a professional mechanic, I take a completely
different view of them. In my opinion, some of these reality
shows are far from 'real' reality, and I’ve certainly watched a few
that I didn’t even make it past the first commercial break before I flipped
the channel to something else.
It’s not so much the cars; it’s how they go about restoring them that gets to me. They’ll start off with somebody flashing a wad of cash, and then they buy some old relic, tow it to their garage and present it to the crew. The crew will have this shocked look as to what was just dropped off or they’ll have their own ideas about how nuts their boss is for even thinking about taking on this relic as a project. That's about the time the boss gives them the lowdown on what his/her vision is of the latest acquisition. Which, usually consists of a full tear down and rebuild, but they only have a few weeks to do it all in. By the end of the show there's a gleaming fully restored work of art that (for the sake of reality TV) there is already a buyer or two ready to shell out some ridiculous amount of money for it.
But the shows that really irk me are the ones that use the “all-nighter” approach to car repair. They’ll completely dismantle a car down to the last nut and bolt and in the length of one long commercial break they'll have all the mechanical, electrical, vacuum systems, interior, instrument panel, brakes, transmission, rear-end, engine, cooling system, heating systems, glass, and a full paint and body mod completed in less than 72 hours. (I can't find a lot of those parts in less than 72 hours) And, the best part, (or biggest guffaw on these shows) is during the final reveal. They drag the new or previous owner into a warehouse and surprise them with their refurbished car. Off to the side, just out of the primary camera view, is the entire crew that has spent the last three days with no sleep looking as fresh as a daisy. I'm in awe of the crew to say the least, not one of them is covered in grease, has half of their shirt untucked, no fresh cuts or scraps, not a single bandaid in view, and not one of them showing any effects from sleep deprivation. Simply amazing… gotta love it... must be some of that TV magic.
I’ve done my share of all night marathon repairs before and quite frankly, by the time the sun comes up I’m not the most coherent guy with a lug wrench in his hand. Hey, they call it “Reality TV” but, as this arm chair quarterback sees it……. it doesn’t seem all that realistic to me. I’m sure the entire staff are some of the finest mechanics, bodyman, 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 short cuts that are taken to meet the TV deadlines.
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 installed and go through the process of explaining those mods to the “nth” degree. Any show that portrays the reality of doing the job I do every day in a professional manner I'll sit down and watch it from beginning to end. You want to show me how you install some super cool new rear tail light lenses or wild looking front grill... awesome!!! Or, pulling an engine out of a classic and doing the necessary rebuild on it... super!!! Love that stuff. But, when you try to convince me that you're going to take some car that has been sitting for ten years in the back of some family garage totally neglected and raise it from the dead overnight... ya lost me.
Come on, I do resto's all the time and the biggest hassle with any of them is and always been the parts availability. A job comes in the shop, y put it up on the lift and spin the drive shaft only to find out the differential or bearings are shot. It’s not like you're going to run down to the local parts store and pick up a set of bearings for a thirty year old low production car just like that. But, somehow, someway, some of these shows pull it off... (That's TV for ya.) Aside from all the mechanical woes, ya have to consider what the original reason was for the car to be parked for so long in the first place. Nine chances out of ten it's because something was worn out and the replacement part was hard to find, or really expensive to repair. Not every car in the back of the garage is there because someone was collecting it or saving it for a reality show to come by and restore it.
In some ways it gives the novice car enthusiast the wrong impression of what it takes to restore a car. 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 these reality shows being aired. For that, I thank you. But, at the same time... shame on you! I can't live up to the overnight expectations that seem so possible on the big screen. Even though the customer doesn't mention they have been watching a reality show, you know... they're thinking … “This shouldn’t take that long. It didn't take that long for that guy on TV.” The idea that you're going to resurrect a dilapidated hunk of iron into a show stopper in a short span of time just ain't real reality.
And, let's not forget the real big issue.... cost. Now there's some reality for ya! When the customer starts to see the costs, WOW!!! Then the reality of doing a restoration project starts to set in. Makes ya wonder if putting that old rust bucket back in the corner of the garage might be a far better idea than fixing it up. I'm certainly grateful for the few shows that have that “sit-down-with-the-customer” session explaining the cost of the restoration. It does add to the realism and makes it more believable.
I’ve got a big “Thank You” to the guys and gals on these shows that portray the automotive world in its true form. It's a pleasure for me as a professional mechanic to see the artistry and talent of another professional on screen. Watching them dealing with a stuck bolt, rusty bodywork, or dodging the fumes from the soldering gun is all part of the real reality. But, I do have to give credit to all the other shows too, they are entertaining, and in some small way add to the resurgence in restorations projects across the country…. The only thing I ask is… keep it real.