Long-time car collector Corky Coker hits the backroads in his pickup truck in search of classic cars in need to saving. (BRENTWOOD COMMUNICATIONS INTERNATIONAL)
There’s a dose of reality coming soon to automotive reality television.
I don’t know about you, but I get angry about the way television portrays the classic car hobby.
Turn on the big screen and start surfing the channels. Before very many clicks you’re likely to see someone buying an older but classic and potentially collectible car for the lowest price he or she can possibly negotiate.
Then the new owner takes that car back to a shop, where they slap on some paint, do just enough mechanical work to get it running, make the interior at least presentable and then flip the thing onto some buyer with seemingly only one thing in mind — maximized profit.
Sure there have been some exceptions to that format. And sure, everyone likes to make a profit when they sell something. But the classic car hobbyists I know are in it because they love the cars — and the search for the cars — and they love restoring and maintaining them.
They get them not only looking great but running, running well enough they can drive them, not just to local car shows but on weekend trips.
For the most part, they sell them with at least some degree of reluctance, and often they take the money from the sale and use it to begin the pursuit of their next project.
The find-fixup-flip format we see on so many of the so-called classic car reality television programs is the polar opposite of what I see when I look at the classic car hobby.
But I’m promised that will change with the debut Feb. 5 on the Travel channel of “Backroad Gold,” which from what I’ve heard sounds to me like the classic car version of “American Pickers,” which is less about buying and selling than it is about educating us to antiques and introducing us to the characters who have been their caretakers.
“Backroad Gold” is scheduled to run for at least nine episodes as it follows Corky Coker and his crew as they search for cars, motorcycles, old gasoline pumps, road signs and such.
Why am I optimistic about “Backroad Gold”? Because of Corky, who is about as genuine a classic car hobbyist as you’re ever likely to find.
When The Great Race, the annual cross-country rally for classic cars, appeared to be going flat, Corky bought it and pumped it back up (after all, as head of the Chattanooga-based Coker Tire Co., he’s made a living by supplying new tires for old cars).
He also resurrected the famed Honest Charley Speed Shop & Garage, and helped launch the Collectors Foundation that supports car restoration education in high schools and colleges.
“I grew up in the back seat of a 1910 REO,” he says of riding along with his mom and dad on the old Glidden Tours.
On the new television show, Coker hits the backroads in pursuit of more than just neglected classics. He’s a car guy, but also a people person, and part of his mission is to introduce the world to what he calls the real Americans.
“The real people of America are on the backroads,” he said, offering just one example we’ll see on the show — twin 78-year-old brothers who have kept a V-12-powered 1934 Pierce-Arrow sedan in their dairy barn for more than 40 years.
As for the cars he finds and is able to buy, “We’re able to restore them and put them back into play,” he said.
The “we” he mentions includes Corky; his father, Harold; his daughter, Casey, and her husband, Greg; and Hal, the “head wrench” back in the shop.
Casey said that throughout her life, her dad has been “bringing him all this weird crap … I see labor and man hours and cost,” she added. “He sees a jewel.”
Corky’s personality isn’t the only thing that promises to separate his show from the others. For one thing, he’s playing with his own money, not with funding provided by a television production company. For another, instead of flipping the cars once they’re restored, Corky’s tendency, and perhaps his lament, is to keep them because parting with them would be painful.
As I said, this is a real car guy.
Larry Edsall is a Phoenix-based freelance writer. You can reach him at email@example.com.