“American Pickers” came out as a rather unique reality TV series in early 2010 on the History channel, representing one of A&E Television Network’s proudest brainchildren. The show took less than a few seasons to garner worldwide attention, mostly thanks to the charismatic personalities of its three stars – Mike Wolfe, Frank Fritz and Danielle Colby.
With Wolfe and Fritz traveling all over the US in search of the most peculiar and valuable forgotten artifacts, Colby managed the business side of the endeavor, running the office of Mike’s Antique Archeology store, and finding customers for their many trinkets. The second star’s Frank Fritz Finds business was mostly run online, allowing anyone from around the globe to potentially own whatever they saw him uncover on the TV screen.
A rarely observed synergy
One of the most important aspects of the show’s success was the innate mutual understanding that Mike and Frank had for one another throughout their myriad visits to places of interest, and hundreds upon hundreds of picks over the series’ duration. Many viewers got hooked precisely for this reason, and less for the actual procurement of valuables.
One example of their cooperation can be seen in season 17, when they visited a very particular garage for just one unique vehicle. Wolfe said ‘This pick in South Carolina was already incredible, but now I’m staring down the headlights of a 1934 Ford Cabriolet.’
Being a car connoisseur, Mike was thoroughly impressed with the car, and interested in inspecting it for a potential purchase. He stated ‘A 1934 Cabriolet convertible, V8 (engine), every option known to man at that time. When Ford stepped away from the 1931 model A, things changed drastically.’
It was becoming pretty clear to everyone why the duo was anxious to arrive at the location as Wolfe proceeded to explain that ‘The mechanical and aesthetic innovations in 1932, ’33 and ’34 are why these cars are so sought after. In 1932 the Ford V8 came out. In 1933 the body style was changed dramatically. If you look at the front of a 1934 Ford, the width, the curve, the size of the fenders, are sexy. With each year the car has got more elegant, more refined, and more streamlined.’
The next obvious question that came from Mike was ‘How’s it shift? How’s it go through the gears?’ The owner explained that breaking is a little difficult in the car as it has double manual breaks, and a slight alteration to the wheel, but that its performance is unimpeded aside from that.
Wolfe maintained his interest, asking ‘What do you want for the car?’ The seller explained that he’s in no rush to sell the vehicle, but if he were to do so, it’d be for no less than $40,000. While most would consider this sum to be way over the top for a vehicle this old, Mike actually asked if they could fire it up and test drive for a while.
Alone with the camera crew, he explained ‘Overall, the car is solid for being over 80 years old, but the kind of money that we’re talking here is serious cash, so everything has to be looked at.’ As he started the car his facial expression changed to that of puzzlement, seeing as the engine was producing a loud and rapid squeaky noise, though that simply turned out to be caused by his foot on the clutch.
Mike was excited to take the car for a spin, as the owner gave him permission, saying ‘I’ve driven ’34 Ford Coupes before, but I’ve never driven a ’34 convertible. I’m excited to get on the road with it.’
Driving down the street with a look of pure joy on his face, Mike explained how lucky he is to be in that seat, stating ‘If you had the means to buy a car like this in 1934, then you were a part of the 1% in America that could own something like this. ’34, we’re coming outta the depression, prohibition is gone, and you’re drivin’ a 1934 cabriolet. So, you were drivin’ a car like this – you were balling.’
Without the noise of the clutch interrupting the driving experience, Mike warmed up to the car rather quickly, saying ‘The big thing the car has going for it is the engine. It sounds perfect.’ Frank agreed as soon as the car rolled back into the garage, exclaiming that ‘It sounds good.’
Fritz immediately mentioned the clutch noise, assuming that it must be the throw-out bearing. Wolfe agreed with this mere minutes later while talking to the camera crew, saying ‘After driving the vehicle, the biggest thing that it’s gonna need is a new throw-out bearing. Okay, you gotta drop the rear end of the car to put that in. That’s gonna cost some money.’
That wasn’t the only issue, however, as Wolfe took note of a few other dysfunctionalities during the drive. He told the owner that ‘I noticed the speedometer didn’t work, and the radiator – you can see it’s losing fluid.’
This was alright, however, considering the fact that the vehicle was close to a century old. Still, the required sum had to be justified in order for Mike to end up making a profit from it later down the line.
He stated ‘The car is over 80 years old, of course it’s gonna have some issues, but if I’m gonna put a number on this thing, I’ve really gotta pick it apart the same way that somebody is gonna pick it apart when we go to sell it.’
Moving on with their meticulous inspection, the duo proceeded to spot additional flaws that the car had, with Mike saying ‘I noticed the lights don’t work either. The headlights don’t work. Paint’s cracking pretty bad right here.’ He told the camera crew that ‘The paint is starting to fail. It’s chipping, it’s flaking. This is an older amateur restoration that is really starting to show its age.’
Getting down to the sale, for real this time
Probably the main selling point of “American Pickers” is the fact that both Wolfe and Fritz are outstandingly good at bargaining, which is the lifeblood of their profession. Everything they ‘pick’ comes with a price determined by the owner, but this is just their highest estimate of what the item’s really worth.
It then comes down to the duo to persuade the seller that the thing they’re selling hasn’t been objectively valued, substantiating their claims with all kinds of flaws that may or may not even matter. This peculiar speechcraft that can sometimes even halve the initial price is what keeps the viewers glued to the screen throughout every transaction, as they’re aware that the pickers almost never go with the first valuation.
This was exemplified in the case of the 1934 Ford Cabriolet as well, with Wolfe asking ‘So tell me where you’re at?’ Since this question came after all the flaws they’d discovered, the seller unconfidently uttered ‘Well I was at 40,’ looking up at Mike almost as if to suggest lowering the price.
Mike Wolfe, Frank Fritz, and their team are excited to return to Wisconsin! They plan to film episodes of the hit series…
The picker’s magic worked flawlessly yet again, and so he said ‘I don’t think you’re off in regards to, like, if the was mechanically perfect, and what I mean by that, like, the clutch wasn’t making that noise, the headlights worked, the speedometer worked, the radiator wasn’t leaking fluid, if all that stuff was fixed I think it’s a $40,000 car.’
At the end of the day, however, the duo was very lucky to find a vehicle this old in this good a shape. Mike conceded this to the production crew, stating ‘This is an extremely desirable car, and usually you see ‘em, they’re completely rusted out, they need to be restored, or they’re in the middle of a restoration, or they’re restored so nice they look like a piece of jewelry, and they’re extremely expensive. But to me, this is the way you wanna buy ‘em.’
Mike then suggested $35,000 instead, but the seller pushed it up by another two, which didn’t really sit well with the duo. After some head scratching and deliberation, Mike offered $36,000, and the sale was settled. He explained to the crew that ‘Overall the car is pretty solid, but it’s got some mechanical issues. That is what’s taking it down to the point where we can afford it, to buy it and make a little bit of money.’
As the car’s general valuation really does sit at $40,000, Mike and Frank walked away with $4,000 snug in their pockets. Wolfe was fully satisfied with the transaction, stating ‘This is the type of car that no matter how old it gets, and no matter how many owners it has, everyone feels the same excitement and passion to own something like this.’
With many of the picks having gone down in a similar way, it’s easy to see why millions of fans around the world couldn’t take their eyes off the show, although pure entertainment and business genius wasn’t the only thing developing among the cast.
The slow downfall of “American Pickers”
Over the course of 24 seasons thus far, numerous dramatic and controversial events took place throughout the series, including one of its two signature individuals completely dropping out. Frank Fritz turned out to be facing numerous issues while filming for years on end, which eventually erupted into various full-blown media scandals.
Aside from dealing with alcoholism and a rather tumultuous relationship, Frank Fritz also had to cope through the loss of a loved one in mid-2022. Namely, his stepfather suddenly passed away on 5 July 2022, and as if that weren’t enough to bring Frank down, he was completely left out of the will.
— American Pickers (@americanpickers) November 2, 2022
Granted, Fritz wasn’t related to his step-father by blood, but the man’s biological son passed away years ago, leaving him with no heir to the family tree. Still, there was definitely some material wealth to be given to the second best option – Frank Fritz.
That fact didn’t seem as something Fritz’s step-father cared about one bit, having left all of his possessions to Frank’s ex fiancé instead, almost as if trying to antagonize him even after he’s gone from the world.
In this crucial will, Fritz’s step-father stated ‘I give all my tangible personal property and household effects not otherwise effectively disposed of, such as jewelry, clothing, automobiles, furniture, furnishings, gold and silver, books and pictures, including policies of insurance to Diann Bankson.’
He also has a biological daughter, but she was completely ignored in the will as well, with her father declaring that ‘Since she has had little or no contact with me in recent years, and lives in California, and does not visit me, it is my expressed intention, desire and direction that neither [my daughter] nor any of her descendants shall be entitled to any part whatsoever of my estate or any proceeds and/or assets of my estate.’
This revelation came to Frank Fritz mere days before he suffered a heart attack, and remained in hospital for a while in a very serious condition, which is thought to be highly correlated. After lengthy surgery that left him almost paralyzed, Fritz had to step away from work and the limelight for an unspecified time, so no longer appearing in the show since March 2020.
This lack obviously had a negative impact on the show, whose fans were always excited to watch the duo go about their business, not just Mike. Frank basically represented a half of the entire interest in the show, and with him gone, the viewership dropped significantly, and has been on a steady decline.
So, is Fritz coming back?
According to RadarOnline it’s possible that Frank might return to the series for season 25, although this is a mere rumor that originated from an anonymous insider of the production team. Neither Frank nor Mike have commented on the potential resumption of their collaboration, which is to be expected up to a point, considering the significant controversy that took place between them following Frank’s surgery.
Fritz told the media that Wolfe never made attempts to contact him after the medical procedure, which left him unable to rejoin the filming throughout COVID-19, thus greatly impacting his career and livelihood. On the other hand, the show itself has been suffering without Frank, so his return would be the most logical solution to both issues.