Car TV

Ken Simmons
Published on March 29, 2014
Steve Darnell (front and centre) runs WelderUp, a car builder in Las Vegas that is the focus of a new Discovery program, premiering April 17.

We all watch the car shows, right?
Time was, you had to surf the dial long and hard to find a good oil-fueled fix. In the early days, we had to make do with the magazine-as-TV efforts, "Motorweek" (dubbed the worst car show on television by and the Canadian version, "Motoring."

We will give props to "Motoring" - the various presenters have some soul on display, and corner stalwart Jim Kenzie might as well buy a place in Newfoundland, if he hasn't already.

These shows are the Road and Track of the small screen, clean and polished, taking viewers on a quick (quick!) tour of new models and exotic breeds. Minivans and Maseratis - cars you don't want and cars you can't afford.

They do it in the motherland, too, but for some reason the U.K. car folk take their serious cars a little less seriously. Prop a Toyota pick-up on the roof of a building during demolition? Sure! Storm the Devon beaches in a Ford Fiesta? Why not!

The last few years have seen a bump in selection. Some of us like to learn with our entertainment, and there are a few how-to shows to help with that. Spike TV had a series of shows it called the Powerblock, where you could follow projects for pick-ups and muscle cars, off-road vehicles and engine builds.

Or the guy from "Degrassi Junior High" who traded his chalk for a wrench and pitched in on two or three projects at different shops - first in Ontario, then in sunny California - in a show called "Chop, Cut, Rebuild" on Speed. Fairly straightforward in the title department, anyway.

Then suddenly, the cars weren't enough. Viewers were told they needed a bigger story - tear-jerking trauma to a good guy who had to put his prized car aside ... until the folks at "Overhaulin'" got their hands on it. Or the goofy antics of a 20-something begging to have their car "pimped."

These days, the scourge of reality TV has had its way with the car show, as with just about everything else on the box. There has to be drama. There has to be friction. The tension of a looming deadline, the struggle between bosses and employees, managers and metalworking artists, even fathers and sons.

"Fast and Loud." "Counting Cars." "Rods and Wheels." Into the murky depths comes "Vegas Rat Rods", a Canadian show based in Sin City. This one takes the clean-and-new origins of car TV and upends it nicely. Rat rods, as we all know, are part art car, part hot rod. If the debut episode is any indication (April 17 on Discovery), the rods are built as much from scrap and found parts as much as supplier pieces.

Shop owner/visionary Steve Darnell is part American Picker, part mad genius. And as much as I think the rat rod thing is already done, it will be interesting to see how far he can take the style. The Episode 1 project hit all the right notes, so hopes are high.

Set your PVR.

Ken Simmons, The Telegram's new media editor, breathes exhaust and exhales clean, fresh air. Twitter @Ken_Simmons_NL/Tumblr