The television series “Car Masters: Rust to Riches,” was created when the classic car restoration-themed television shows became such a huge hit on cable. It had been classified as part of the reality-TV genre in which a production crew basically followed the daily lives of regular people. In this case, the Gotham Garage was the star of the series, and the show featured all its car restoration projects. The success of a reality-TV series revolved around its authenticity or on how the producers and directors could present it as real, even if it was make-believe or scripted. Over the three seasons of the “Car Masters: Rust to Riches,” the recurring question in online discussions about the show was – ‘Is the Gotham Garage crew for real?’

We Upgrade and Trade at “Car Masters: Rust to Riches”

The premise of the show was more or less similar to most makeover reality-TV series out there.

The Gotham Garage team would work on several types of old, often rusty classic vehicles, and turn them into polished, great-looking hot rods with upgraded motors. “Car Masters: Rust to Riches” premiered on 14 September 2018, and from the get-go offered something entirely different from other car TV series.  Instead of just flipping bangers and selling them for a profit, the team would enter into a series of trades that would give them a chance at a huge payday at the end of each project that they took in.

The crew’s mantra was that ‘they upgrade and trade by converting $1,000 worth of rusty buckets into six-figure works of art in just a few greasy steps.’ For instance, a rusty, dilapidated 1953 Buick, which cost them less than a grand, would get a Gotham Garage upgrade and turn it into something that would give them $25,000 to $30,000.

They would trade it for a 1971 Chevy Blazer with a fully removable hardtop, and after they restored it including new upgrades, it would give them about $60,000 and they would then trade it for a replica of a 1959 Corvette Stingray concept car. When it came out of their garage looking better than its original form, they could get around $120,000 for it.

Meet the Gotham Garage Crew

“Car Masters: Rust to Riches” never explained how the Gotham Garage crew came together, but it was founded by its owner, Mark Towle. He worked for many years making movie props, including cars which were used by several Hollywood movie and television studios. Even when he was growing up, he developed a talent for fixing broken gadgets or toys. Mark would go to dumpsters with his best friend, and would rebuild anything they found that interested them. Instead of just restoring them to their previous glory, they would upgrade them – he started with non-automotive stuff, and then moved on to all types of vehicles, even boats and helicopters. His resume also included working on some small acting gigs.

Restoring and upgrading old, decrepit cars in a short time would definitely require a bigger team, but surprisingly Gotham Garage was only comprised of five people. The owner had four competent and skilled individuals working with him, who were adept at finishing all their car projects; they might have contracted other people to provide additional work on them, but they were never mentioned. The rest of the crew consisted of Shawn Pilot (The Negotiator), Constance Nunes (The Engine Specialist), Michael ‘Caveman’ Pyle (The Mechanic), and Tony Quinones (The Master Machinist/Fabricator).

Basically, the G in Gotham meant that they worked on gasoline cars, but they didn’t back out from challenges including electric cars if that was the preference of the client. While most of them, especially Mark, had traumatic experiences from working with smart technology, he mostly leaned on Tony to deal with the intricacies of the electricity-based motors – clearly each of the crew had their own specialization and they respected each other’s talents.

In season two, to ensure that they didn’t step on each other’s toes literally and figuratively, they were split into two groups. They could then enjoy working with a wider space, because of the second shop.

Three Seasons of “Car Masters: Rust to Riches”

The first season of “Car Masters: Rust to Riches” had eight episodes, and it attracted a huge number of viewers. Some fans felt that everything was simplified in a way that even those who weren’t gearheads could follow what was going on in the show. The production TV crew avoided showing any over-dramatized situations that made other reality-TV shows such an abomination, even if those scenarios provided entertainment for some viewers. While the team’s well-laid plans sometimes went awry, the team never made a violent fuss. and dealt with the problems professionally. Mark’s team shared a certain camaraderie that connected with the audience.

Many of the conversations were amusing, which made the series more enjoyable, and so overall it became so popular that Netflix ordered another season.

In the first episode of season two, the crew indicated that their second shop had just officially opened in California, where the TV show was mostly filmed. They claimed that they were able to afford the second shop because they had a great year during the first season by trading up two vehicles, ending up with $140,000, which they used to open the second shop. The second season never veered away from its initial premise, but the setbacks kept getting bigger, which posed a challenge to the Gotham Garage team. They eventually came out on top, as everyone was mostly on the same page when a problem occurred.

During the last two episodes of the second season, a conflict of interest was shown which divided the team. Mark, Shawn, and Constance agreed to donate the 1960 XNR that they poured their heart and time into restoring, to the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.

Car Masters: Rust to Riches (2020)…

Posted by Netflix Universe on Friday, March 27, 2020

The Caveman and Tony felt that they were punched in the gut since they were expecting to get a huge payday after sellling it for six figures. They argued that they would be out of business for honor, especially since they just opened up their second shop. Eventually, they all agreed to donate it, since Mark said that he would dip into the shop’s cash reserves so that they could easily recoup the loss. He also said that nothing feels great when you see something you created become part of a world-class collection to celebrate the craftsmanship of the automotive industry. He didn’t want them to regret that they could have done something great in their lives, but let it pass by.

Since Netflix offerings are based on popularity, they ordered another season of “Car Masters: Rust to Riches”, aired from 4 August 2021, and just like the previous seasons comprising eight episodes.

Car Masters

Even those who weren’t car/racing enthusiasts were being pulled into the reality series, because of how it was being presented to the viewers. Instead of just focusing on how they configured the restoration process, they also featured the business side of it. Working on a limited budget could be difficult, and being creative in finding great trades fascinated many viewers.

The team dealt with many unbelievable concepts, such as converting a 1933 Ford replica into an art deco Delahaye that was capable of drifting on a technical track, or working for a demanding client just to finance a costly car project. To achieve their six-figure profit, the projects included a bus, a hot tub car, an International Harvester Scout, and a vintage Ford Pickup, along with a vintage Impala and a Prius, working on these vehicles while trying to get creative, since they also need to follow social distancing regulations during the pandemic caused by the Covid-19 virus.

Is “Car Masters: Rust to Riches” Real or Scripted?

Generally, the reality-TV show “Car Masters: Rust to Riches,” is well-loved by its fans, and had gained a huge following because it was well put together.

Ironically, it was also for this reason that its authenticity was often questioned. Was it at all possible that for some reason, Gotham Garage had the right people for television? Imagine a garage crew with the charismatic leader, the street-smart guy, the cool guy, and the caveman guy along with the smoking-hot, model-type girl all fixing cars together. It’s like a lite-version of the cast of the movie “Gone in 60 Seconds,” released back in 2000. While it seemed unlikely, all things are possible and sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. Nonetheless, people still couldn’t believe that Gotham Garage could be that lucky to have these personalities in one auto shop.

No detailed actual restoration process shown

The main problem with the show when it comes to authenticity, the restoration process with each of the members of the team doing what they were good at was never shown. However, the editing was great, which made the show interesting, but details were lacking. It could be boring sometimes to look at the details, but it doesn’t hurt to once-in-a-while feature how they really worked on it step-by-step, even with just a condensed version.

While the process was being narrated, the actual restoration that was shown on TV was quite vague.

Questionable automotive skills and knowledge

While there weren’t any questions about Mark, Tony and Michael as they had been part of other automotive shops before their stint with “Car Masters,” it was quite different in the case of Constance and Shawn.  For instance, why Constance was referred to as the engine specialist was never shown. They just glossed over it, and narrated stuff for her, but never really showed her skills. It didn’t help that Constance would oftentimes work on these cars with well-cared-for long nails, and looking well-groomed without the usual oil or dirt stains that come with working in a garage. People were highly skeptical that she could still spend time in the garage fixing cars, while having modeling gigs left and right, as indicated in her social media accounts.

While there was no proof to show that she had no skills, the thing that bothered fans was that there wasn’t any evidence to support otherwise, and her resume didn’t include any automotive experience, aside from being a brand ambassador.

Posted by Car Masters: Rust to Riches 3 on Thursday, August 19, 2021

In any case, most of the male fans probably treated Constance as eye candy, which was enough for them, but it could be frustrating for women who were fighting for their place in what’s normally a man’s world. Some believed that she’s a really skilled mechanic, since she had a great mentor growing up. Her father was Ernie  Nunes, a known seasoned mechanic and amateur racecar driver. To her credit, she recently opened her own car shop in California called “Cars by Constance”. She announced that she partnered with The Rockstar Garage to get an exclusive space in its new location, so that she can create more cool cars, such as Dangerstang and the Cyberpunk Mustang.

Another point raised by the fans was how Shawn was hired and became part of the team; his resume included a long list of acting jobs from movies and TV. While he was quite natural and believable when he discussed his trades, it seemed that everything he said was rehearsed, and that it came from a script.

Some fans doubted his extensive knowledge about trading cars in the automotive industry. Aside from being an actor, he’s a professional poker player and earned close to $500,000 from the 70 live tournaments he joined. His last public tournament was at the $250 No Limit Hold’em – 1PM Daily Deepstack in Las Vegas in 2019, where he finished at No.44. The fans surmised that he probably needed to step away from the game when the reality-TV series because popular, since he could compromise the validity of his position as the negotiator in the show.

Is there an operating Gotham Garage?

The biggest hint about the show being a sham was when the fans found out that there’s no real auto shop. Other successful car shows such as “Fast N’Loud” featured the daily activities of Gas Monkey Garage, and “Chasing Classic Cars” featured Wayne Carini’s auto shops called Continental Auto Ltd, as well as Carini Carozzeria. Some sites claimed that there is a Gotham Garage out there, which might be true, but some fans believed that it was only being used when they filmed the TV series.

When fans investigated its online presence, its current website doesn’t even indicate that they have a physical address – all of the content on the website was about what occurred in the TV show. There was no information on how they operate, and very little merchandise for sale even if their Instagram account promoted it. The only featured products were three types of T-shirts and a sticker pack. There might be other reasons why the online site wasn’t updated but it’s highly unlikely that a successful auto shop would operate without a well-maintained website. People were also curious as to the reason why the stars of the show didn’t work together in building cars during the off-season. It’s also highly suspicious that when one looked into their Instagram accounts, the cast didn’t seem to have a close relationship with each other, when they were supposed to be working together as a team in a garage. It just didn’t add up, and because of these circumstances, people will continue to wonder about its authenticity.

Car Masters

Did the allegations of being fake and scripted affect the show?

Based on its popularity, in general the fans of “Car Masters: Rust to Riches” didn’t really care if it’s 100% authentic or not. Many people thought that the show wouldn’t be questioned if only they showed some details on TV of the actual restoration process done by the stars of the show. However, most reality-TV shows couldn’t claim to be real in their entirety anyway. Many TV producers would say that these shows also needed to be entertaining, and so there were necessary tweaks here and there.

There hasn’t been any announcement yet from Netflix regarding ordering another season of the automotive reality series, but the good thing for fans was that there was no cancellation news either. Some producers believed that the streaming giant would want the “Car Masters: Rust to Riches” on their roster of TV shows to offer in 2022, as reality/documentary TV series’ became more popular during the pandemic. So expect to see the Car Masters team trade and restore old, rusty, and dilapidated cars sometime in the near future.

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