I have a confession to make. I am OBSESSED with Motor Trend On Demand. I am however, until recently, a non-driver. I have shown no interest in cars up until my 41st birthday. When looking for something else to watch on YouTube, I discovered Roadkill. A monthly twenty or so minute show that looked at all kinds of different car resurrection projects. The onus was on fun, finding old pickups in Arizona junk yards and trying to get them back to LA, turbo boosting a Datsun 240-Z that rained rust when you opened the boot lid. When I discovered they were into their third season I binged watched myself up to date. I then found they had more shows, Hot Rod Garage coming from the actual workshop of Hot Rod Magazine. Dirt Everyday with Fred Williams of Peterson’s 4 Wheel and Off Road. The shows resembled a physical version of the magazine articles that the presenters would write with quirky senses of humour and massive helpings of self depreciation. The shows started with a kickstart from YouTube that was looking for high quality content. The first success, Roadkill, was originally based around the road trips taken by presenters David Freiburger (then editor of Hot Rod) and Mike Finnegan (another Hot Rod editor) and documenting them for prosperity. Their great chemistry and low level of technology gave them a winning formula; take questionable cars, over engineer them, and drive them till they break, rinse, repeat. It is a winning formula which allows for plenty of variation. Drag racing, rallying, and endurance racing have been covered across all the shows and are thoroughly entertaining watches. In 2017 the whole shebang along with other content from Motor Trend was moved to their On Demand service. I took the free two week offer and haven’t stopped watching since. 

The app harnessed the ever growing family of shows from associated content providers. In 2018, The acquisition of Torque TV by parent company TEN and then in 2019 covering the Paris Dakar race for the first time, signalled the adaptation of more motorsports, but the main hub of the service was the Motortrend family of shows. What has really shifted the needle for Motortrend is the major stake Discovery Communications now hold in TEN. This brought the library of international English language shows like For the Love of Cars and Wheel Dealers to the app.

Aside from bringing a whole new potential audience it also shows how far the YouTube based shows have come in production and why they stand out compared to more TV orientated content. Even with bigger budgets and more time, the originals (Roadkill, Hot Rod Garage, etc) are still guerilla in their attitude. The British shows, (Wheeler Dealers, Flipping Bangers etc) have a professional sheen you can see a mile away, and their quasi reality approach means that they are heavily scripted. While the originals offer a much more “accidental” technique that you’d expect from a new way of making a show. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of production values in those shows, and have come on a long way in those last few years, but they’ve never lost that element of surprise and originality.            

You only have to look at how two shows treat the venerable Ford Pinto four cylinder engine. On For The Love of Cars and Wheeler Dealers, Ant Anstead and Edd China talk as if on hallowed ground when appreciating the motor that fired up Transits and the Mark I Ford Escort. specialist tuners are sought, caps are doffed, respect is duly given to Dagenham’s finest. Meanwhile over on Hot Rod Garage when faced with a Pinto engine in a 1986 Ford Thunderbird, Lucky Costa and Tony Angelo explain how this old duffer of an engine only produced 94 Horsepower and will need a modern supercharging system to get up to spec for modern roads. Their spec being 300 Bhp, a hundred more than 1986 stock. Around two BMW 3 series banged together. The shows from Motor Trend are not all horsepower and Americana; their recent new series, Hard Cell, looks at the development of electric cars and Petrol Head Planet is noticeably Eurocentric. 

The presenters are largely male, but so are the fan base, however they are trying to bring that balance back with presenters like Faye Hadley of All Girls Garage (sadly not available on the UK version of the app, though Faye has presented the Working From Home series), who is evangelical about women and mechanics. 

Of course a lot of the things on the channel are flat out silly, “Shiny new parts on rusty old cars.” As Mike Finnegan is so fond of saying. However, there is a serious side; their archive on Carroll Shelby gave amazing insight into the film Le Mans ‘66 at release as the channel highlighted the documentaries it had on the great Texan racer and team leader. They are also consumer conscious across all programmes, hunting out bespoke craftsmen on Wheel Dealers and Flipping Bangers, to listing exact part catalogue numbers to the builds on Hot Rod Garage and Roadkill Garage. 

The channel does its best to make you want to do things, the originals used to end with the tagline; Get Busy Living. But if you’re stuck in on lockdown, this is the next best thing to working on a Hot Rod yourself.  

Pictures courtesy of https://www.motortrendondemand.com/