In the world of show business, there’s a thing known as conviction, which is selling the scene or conveying the emotions an actor is trying to get across as if they are truly living a life as the audience is watching it unfold up there on the screen.
This is what most people look for when watching film or TV, and the performers that truly have it are usually the ones that have the most success…usually. Well, at the turn of the 21st century, there was an influx of reality-based television shows, and with them came a bunch of shows featuring regular people performing their day-to-day duties – sometimes, though, the reality show was a competition of sorts, like Survivor or The Apprentice.
But what happened was actually pretty remarkable, in that on some of those shows, a few of those “real people” were actually quite entertaining, believable, and they even had conviction, of all things! Some of these reality stars actually became superstars and to their credit, they deserved their success. After all, they were able to attain what performers look for during their careers: credibility.
But, unfortunately, with the few that actually came across as real-life people, there were many that just couldn’t cut the mustard, so to speak; their performances so dry and rehearsed, the entire show was replete with bad acting and, well, non-conviction. Something like this was apt to leave a bad taste in the collective mouths of viewers.
Join us as we take a look at some of the car TV shows that deliver on all facets, rendering them binge-worthy shows that gearheads can truly enjoy. We will also take a look at the opposite side of that spectrum, the shows that are so bad that they seem downright fake.
Updated April 2023: If you’re looking for some car TV shows to binge, you’ll be happy to know that we’ve updated this article with more information on the shows every gearhead should watch – and some that are definitely best avoided.
20 Totally Fake – Car Masters: From Rust To Riches
Car Masters: Rust to Riches is about a shop called Gotham Garage, and the cast restores and flips cars for a profit. This sounds like it should be worth watching, but in reality, it just isn’t. Their creations are often just downright weird, which means the builds are primarily designed to attract an audience for the show. To make matters worse, they’re incredibly poorly made, too, as revealed by closeup shots.
Then there’s the whole cast – Constance Nunes, who is apparently a master mechanic, the Caveman, who did things he wasn’t fully qualified for, Mark, the shop owner and designer who draws cars the way a 10-year-old would, and Shawn Pilot, a former actor with the connections to sell these cars for way more than they’re worth.
19 For Real Gearheads – Formula 1 Drive To Survive
Formula 1: Drive To Survive is a documentary-style show that focuses on providing viewers with an insight into everything that goes on behind the scenes during the Formula 1 championship. We get a glimpse into the careers and private lives of current Formula 1 drivers, we learn about the team dynamics, and we discover how extremely competitive F1 really is.
The show is full of emotions, drama, and excitement, as racers win, lose, or crash their way through a season. It’s the perfect show for those who want all the action of an entire race season squeezed into a handful of episodes.
18 Totally Fake – Caffeine And Octane
The now-defunct DriveTribe decided Caffeine & Octane was the world’s worst car TV show. The Caffeine & Octane car meets are a monthly event in Atlanta, and while the events themselves are decent, sadly it just doesn’t work as a TV show. It could’ve been a lot better, but for whatever reason, the show tends to focus more on the hosts than the actual cars at the meets.
DriveTribe also made a comment on how the show appears to force a fake relationship between the hosts, and the comedic value is a bit worn out, too.
17 For Real Gearheads – Fastest Car
Fastest Car features a bunch of regular people who have tuned and modified their sleeper cars to insane levels, and at the end of each episode, they get to race against a supercar. The show provides an answer to the age-old question of whether it’s more sensible to spend years modifying a regular car, or just go all out and splurge on a supercar.
Fastest Car also tells the story of each competitor, illustrating how car enthusiasts come from very diverse backgrounds and have a different ethos, sometimes taking the viewer for a ride on an emotional rollercoaster.
16 Totally Fake – Counting Cars
Well, Danny Koker and crew sure aren’t strangers to causing a stir. No doubt, they have a flair for entertaining. The trouble is, most times, as the show unfolds, it’s rather evident that most of the scenes were obviously rehearsed and staged. Many reality-based shows are, in fact, staged, and this one is no exception. And as we see this, it kind of takes away from the show as a whole.
As gearheads, we want to see the real side of the automotive industry and couldn’t care less about overly dramatized scenes. And, besides, the show’s mechanics—including Koker himself—have actually made many mistakes regarding mechanics, and on camera!
15 For Real Gearheads – Top Gear
Probably one of the most respected car shows to ever air on television, this show is perfect for gearheads of any sort. It’s a straight-up show that doesn’t overly dramatize anything. It’s raw, concise, and to the point and gives us what we want, which is information about the things we love: cars. After all, isn’t that what it’s all about?
At the same time, the show is well produced and has had a very long run, having premiered in the UK in 2002—and that was a reboot of a show that originally aired on TV back in 1977. And hey, another positive is that a frequent presenter is Matt LeBlanc, and that’s Joey from Friends. Who doesn’t like Joey?
14 Totally Fake – Wrecks To Riches
The plot line for these car shows is often very similar from one to the next. It just seems that there are some shows that do it better than others, and this show was a perfect example of a show that did it rather badly, we’re afraid.
It only ran for two consecutive seasons, so most people caught wind of what we anticipated rather quickly, and that was the major reason for the show’s ultimate demise. Essentially, there were others that produced a better quality show at the time, and Barry White, the show’s main star, just wasn’t enough of a star to carry the show further.
13 For Real Gearheads – Jay Leno’s Garage
Jay Leno hosted The Tonight Show for many years and did so expertly. His knack for comedy was rather impressive, and he proved it time and time again. With perfect timing and a great demeanor, he entertained audiences for decades. But he was always known to have another love close to his heart outside of comedy, and that was cars, cars, and did we mention cars?
No one loves a powerful and smooth ride better than this man right here, and on his latest project, Jay Leno’s Garage, he often showcases some of the most sought-after vehicles known to man. He even drove The Tumbler—the Batmobile from Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.
12 Totally Fake – Overhaulin’
If a show is taking time away from shooting cars, which is the whole purpose of a reality show based on cars, then we as viewers need to collectively ask, “What are we watching, exactly?” At the end of the day, gearheads want to learn more about their favorite subject and couldn’t care less about what the hosts look like in designer clothes and pounds of applied makeup.
Besides, if you want a real female mechanic, a woman who can give some of the boys on this list a run for their money, there is always, Sarah Bogi Lateiner of All Girl’s Garage. Now, she and her team can definitely work on cars, and they don’t care how much grease gets under their fingernails.
11 For Real Gearheads – Motor Week
What’s better than straight-up news on the automotive industry with professional journalists doing what they do best? This show, which is the longest-running on TV, plays out like a 60 Minutes for automotive enthusiasts, bringing the viewer all the up-to-date news and information on some rare cars and even the “normal” cars most of us drive every day.
Like most trustworthy automotive magazines and TV shows, this particular show brings to your doorstep what you want to know with as little frills as possible. It has been running for a whopping 42 seasons on PBS. It aired first in 1981 and is widely considered the American response to Top Gear.
10 Totally Fake – Misfit Garage
Here’s a show on this list that just screams, “Hollywood Production!” And it screams it loud and proud. If you were to look at the backstory of how this show came to be, anyone would deduce that it’s staged and as fake as fake can get.
A few of the mechanics on this show were once on Gas Monkey Garage and when they were publicly fired from that show, they started a whole new garage and subsequently this show, Misfit Garage. But there is controversy, as many believe that the firings were a plot device used to free up these “cast members” for a new show. As far as we’re concerned, they lost all credibility with that move.
9 For Real Gearheads – Chasing Classic Cars
This show qualifies more as a documentary. Essentially, it plays out like one, and the authenticity we seek comes through from frame to frame. The host, Wayne Carini, does his job like a seasoned veteran and the search for these rare cars is enthralling to watch. The plot is similar to other shows, where the goal is to restore old cars and make a profit on them, but a profit is not always garnered, no matter how hard the modifications were, and therein lies the reality factor we don’t always get with other shows. And furthermore, the vehicles on this show are often very rare, and that’s always a bonus for gearheads everywhere.
8 Totally Fake – Inside West Coast Customs
For us, this show is pretty much a revamp of car shows of the past. As gearheads, we like to watch shows that challenge us and teach us new techniques, or even inspire us to rework our own cars that have been sitting at the back of our garage. But here, the producers polished up the tired old system for a newer and younger audience: celebrities come to have their cars remodeled, and it calls to mind the veneer of Hollywood a little too much for our tastes. Questions arise in our minds, like why these celebrities decided to go to Ryan Friedlinghaus and his team and not any of the other more qualified mechanics out there in Burbank, California.
Here was an original thought if ever there was one. Just think, if twenty years ago, someone would have pitched an idea about a comedian getting in cars with his peers and interviewing them, many would have ridiculed them. But what a difference a change in generations can make, eh?
As it turns out, this show, featuring Jerry Seinfeld riding around in classic or high-performing cars, is actually a fine treat for gearheads anywhere, as there are great shots of the vehicles, and great conversations, and epic laughs. We recommend this one to gearheads and fans of talk shows alike. Besides, it’s always great to see Jerry on screen, no matter the setting.
6 Totally Fake – Vegas Rat Rods
First off, the camera work on this show was awesome. Really great shots, not only of the amazing vehicles, but also of the surroundings and landscape. The show was a true testament to digital camera work. So, why is the show on the negative side of our list here today? We’re glad you asked, and you should see a common theme that has surfaced in this article. Essentially, the show’s weaknesses lie in its strengths, as the show is too overly produced, and we feel that the producers should have let the builds speak for themselves rather than display and project them so ostentatiously. Sometimes the minimalist approach is better.
5 For Real Gearheads – Monster Garage
As the Orange County Choppers company featured on American Chopper, the TV show Monster Garage, and its star, Jesse James, are some of the original heavyweights in the industry. His no-frills attitude and approach to putting on a show like this are what garnered him a spot on our list. Much respect goes out to him, for his builds and what he’s been able to accomplish as a mechanic and TV personality. Sure, he’s had a few bad days in the press, but they shouldn’t discredit what he’s done as a mechanic and the fact that, at the end of the day, Monster Garage was, and remains, a positive look at the automotive industry.
4 Totally Fake – American Hot Rod
American Hot Rod ran from 2004 to 2008. Many considered it to be a response to American Chopper, which also ran on the Discovery Channel. But when one compares the two shows, then and even now, American Hot Rod pales in comparison to American Chopper. Now many may feel we’re comparing apples and oranges, no pun intended – Orange County Choppers – as the two shows operated on two very different products, but where this show fell short is that it always seemed to be playing copycat, even to the temperamental blowouts performed by the star, Boyd Coddington. And believe us, the blowouts featured on camera were, in fact, rehearsed performances and not at all genuine arguments.
3 For Real Gearheads – Fast N’ Loud
Now, this one is an exception to our rule of not including scripted reality shows, as the show’s episodes are often scripted. But what we like here is that this isn’t hidden from the viewer. They are not pretending that they aren’t scripted, and it’s this transparency that we appreciate here. And it’s in the scripted scenes that unfold that the “characters” actually show a decent amount of conviction and even a decent amount of credibility so that it doesn’t take away from the subject at hand. They showcase some excellent vehicles, and the camera work lives up to the hype as well. This one’s apparently got it all and is worth the time.
2 Totally Fake – Car Warriors
Despite having some pretty cool guests on the show in its short time on air, this show just completely missed the mark for viewers and critics everywhere. It had a cool concept, as many have likened it to the Food Network’s Iron Chef, in which competing chefs had an hour to create five dishes and go head-to-head with the judges sampling their food. Here, the concept was, in fact, similar—only the subject at hand was mechanics. Of course, the mechanics here had over an hour, 72 of them to be exact, to restore a particular car. But the show didn’t exactly deliver, leaving audiences wanting more. When you factor in time constraints, the end result is always less than what it could have been.
1 For Real Gearheads – American Pickers
Many would consider this reality show not really designated particularly for gearheads, and we would more than understand that sentiment. But we urge you to look back on some of the rare automotive finds these dudes have made over the seasons. These finds are enough to get any automotive enthusiast cheering in disbelief and watching in wonder. Case in point: two very rare 1954 Nash Healeys, a 1935 Auburn Phaeton 653, a 1914 Merz Cycle car, a 1910 Royal Pioneer motorcycle valued at $55,000, and an incredible amount of Harleys, Indians, and other vehicular accessories, like vintage leather license plates and rare signs.
Sources: Wikipedia, IMDb, and Motor Trend