Having nothing to do with Europas, in my book I am a bit hard on the cable show Overhaulin’. To those unfamiliar with Overhaulin’, they take a beat-to-shit car that someone loves, work with their spouse or significant other, abscond with the car on the ruse it’s been stolen, then resurrect it. Automotive customizer par excellence Chip Foose is with the show, and there’s no denying that he and his crew do incredible work. The cars are rebuilt from the ground up, usually with heavy customization – updated high-output engine, massive wheels and low profile tires, leather-stitched dashboard, killer sound system, etc. They do all this in a hugely compressed time frame with a hard end date (“the reveal”). They then present the car to the owner, who is filmed overcome with tears of joy.
While I’m certain that all of the people working on the cars (and on the show), take pride in what they do, I have problems with it on several levels. First, no restoration work – indeed, no project management work of any kind – is like this, ever. You never are part of a project with boundless scope and an immovable end date where you have absolutely no skin in the game. Second, a car, particularly an enthusiast car, is a very personal thing, and, as I say in the book, owning an enthusiast car is very much about the feeling of control. I wouldn’t want any of my cars taken out of my control and modified in ways I hadn’t explicitly approved of. Third, they never talk about the after-care of these cars. I doubt the pre-overhauled shitbox required high insurance and a locked garage, but the Cinderella version certainly does. And it’s a one-off. Who maintains it? Who documents, orders, and installs the necessary parts? I’ve always felt that “Overhaulin’ – Behind the Alcantra” would be a very interesting show.
So I took notice when two friends sent me e-mail referring to a recent episode of Overhaulin’ where they do a Europa. One said the treatment they gave it was pretty cool, and implied that if I watched it, I might soften the opinion expressed in my book. I’m actually inching closer to perhaps buying a Europa, so with a certain curiosity and enlightened self-interest, I found and Tivo’d the episode, and last night, sat down to watch it.
The episode was a bit unusual in several ways. The guy who’s Europa it was delivers soda to Jay Leno’s Big Dog Garage where Jay maintains his cars. The guy volunteers his time there after hours as a wrench. So Jay Leno – the car guy’s Car Guy – was involved in this episode and had a lot of screen time. The guy had owned and raced this Europa over a 30-year period but blew up the engine about six years ago. The car was then parked at the Big Dog Garage, where it sat. He eventually traded it to someone at the garage for a set of wheels for his Camaro. So at the time of the episode, the guy no longer owned the car.
The Overhaul treatment the car received was over the top. A 350 hp supercharged engine from a Lotus Elise and a Porsche Boxster 6-speed transaxle were installed. The obligatory massive wheels and tires were stuffed under the wheel wells, requiring the fiberglass body to be cut and widened around the fenders. A full custom suspension was designed and installed, requiring the mounting points on the car’s frame to be changed. The usual retinue of body workers, painters, interior specialists, all did their thing.
At the end, with the paint literally still tacky on the car, the guy was called in on the pretense of a TV segment on Lotus being filmed, his role being an enthusiast who had once owned and raced a Europa. First they revealed that this tricked-to-the-max machine was the very Europa that was once his, then Leno and Foose appeared and gave him the keys. So, in ways, this reveal had three components: 1) This is the Europa that was yours; 2) Look at what we did to it, and 3) It’s yours again. His response certainly contained the customary surprise and gratitude, but seemed to me to be somewhat measured. That is, he was surprised that this was the same car and grateful for all the work that’d been done on his behalf, but he didn’t express any over-the-top sentiments like “oh, this was the best car I’d ever owned it was part of my life for so long I never should’ve sold it thank you for rectifying this mistake.”
But that’s not what wrapped this episode up with an unintended bow.
If you read up on Europas, you’ll find that the generally small size of any British sports car combined with the Europa’s 42” ground-to-roofline dimension makes them challenging to fit into unless you’re a little guy (see the banter on http://bringatrailer.com/2013/02/23/1972-lotus-europa-twin-cam/ regarding a Europa I almost bid on several months back). Fortunately, I am a little guy.
But this guy on Overhaulin? Taller and probably a good 40 lbs heavier than me. At the end of the episode, he could barely fit in the car. They literally joked about getting a transmission jack to help him in.
It made me think. Of course he’s a bit restrained in his reaction to the car. He sold this car. No. Wait. He didn’t. He traded this car for a set of wheels for his Camaro. Maybe he was done with this car. Maybe he thought, yeah, at this point in my life I’m totally a Camaro guy. Maybe he walked away from the reveal thinking “what I am I supposed to do with this thing now?”
So, Mr. Leno, Mr. Foose, you are Car Guys Extraordinaire. If we ever meet, I would be honored to soak in your aura. But, if you read my book, don’t mistake the misty rose-colored comments I made about my Triumph GT6+ and my ’63 Rambler Classic 660 for actual actionable lust. I don’t really want either of them back.