Texas Car Wars

Discovery’s latest reality series is like a jalopy constructed out of spare parts from Storage Wars, American Hot Rod, Flipping Out, and Charlie Sheen’s old Two And A Half Men bowling shirts. It’s trying to be so many things at once, it never begins to satisfy on any level.

“There are more salvaged and abandoned cars in Texas than anywhere else,” the folksy narrator tells us, and that claim is not too difficult to believe. In a salvage yard in South Austin, not far from where your humble TV Club reviewer types these words, four teams converge for an auction. There’s Beep and Holley from Barrett Auto Care, Josh from Rodriguez Rod and Cycle, Frank from Old Skool Kustoms, and the newbies of Atomic Garage. It’s a little hard to tell them all apart at first, as they all look like they should be playing in a rockabilly band at the Mean Eyed Cat. They’re all pretty quick to start trash-talking each other, so they’re either longtime rivals, or they’ve been well-coached by the Discovery production team.

The first item up for auction is a 1964 Ford Thunderbird. In what will become a recurring theme for the episode, Big Frank has no interest in it. Atomic, which has only been in business for three months, wins the bidding at $4,100, and plans to paint it seafoam green and add an air-ride suspension. They hope to spend $4,500 on the rebuild and sell the finished product for $15,000.

“Another day, another auction,” our narrator claims, even though everyone is still wearing the same clothes. This time it’s a Nissan Xterra up for bids and... yeah, nobody’s too excited about this one, except for the practical mom ‘n pop at Barrett Auto Care. Frank still runs up the bidding, though, because apparently that’s what Frank does. The third item is actually a set of three 1955 Ford Fairlanes, from which an enterprising team may be able to extract one workable car. Rodriguez gets it for $800, although Frank drives up the price once again. The auction is over, Frank bought nothing, and we’re done with him for the evening. Pure TV magic, that guy!

Halfway through the episode, it’s time to get on with the rebuilding and customization. Given that Texas Car Wars is cutting between three different teams (or four, assuming Frank ever actually bids on anything in upcoming episodes), there’s not much time to get in-depth with any of the work. But there’s always time for co-workers yelling at each other, particularly at Atomic, where “I’m from Jersey” Ken blows his stack in not-entirely convincing fashion. (Note to people from New Jersey: Don’t move down here unless you’re opening a pizza place or bagel shop.) Over at Rodriguez, one of Josh’s underlings gets upset that the boss made an executive decision to spend more money on fixing up the Fairlane’s interior. And at Barrett, the custom engraver has put the lettering on the wrong side of the roof racks, much to Holley’s dismay. Can you handle the drama?

Maybe it’s just the first episode jitters, but Texas Car Wars feels far too rushed, particularly in the final minutes, when all three cars are sold at a substantial profit (although, in the case of Atomic, not quite as substantial as planned). Weirdly, the only characters who makes strong impressions are Frank, who disappears halfway through the hour, and Holley, the only woman in a position of power on the show. Otherwise, you’ve got a bunch of dudes with tattoos and slicked-back hair trying to out-grease each other. Aside from a few generic exterior shots, the show gets little mileage from its Central Texas locations. And the forced “competition” structure only ensures that we have little time to absorb the changes in each vehicle as it’s transformed from wreck to custom job.

Maybe these are issues that can be smoothed over in future episodes, but right now, there’s such a glut of shows like Texas Car Wars clogging up the cable schedule, it will be easy to forget about giving it a second chance.

Stray observations:

  • Much of the “drama” felt forced, even by the standards of this type of reality show. Why the “race against the clock” when the Barretts were trying to finish the Nissan before their buyers showed up? Why not finish the car before setting up the appointment? Oh, I know! Because the Discovery cameras are here!
  • I did like Josh Rodriguez’s description of the shade of red he wanted for the Fairlane interior: “Arrest Me Red.”
  • Seriously, who buys a rebuilt Nissan Xterra? Live a little!