The founder of Gas Monkey Garage and reality television star, Richard Rawlings, was known for his penchant for buying, restoring, selling and collecting muscle cars. With all the money and success he earned from all his business endeavors, which were fueled by the popularity that he gained from his defunct TV show “Fast N’ Loud,” it was quite unthinkable that he couldn’t afford to purchase his dream car, the 1925 Rolls-Royce Phantom. What was so great about this car that Richard offered a few million just to get his hands on it, and why was his offer rejected?

Richard Rawlings and his journey to success

Not all successful multimillionaires in the business world were born with a silver spoon in their mouths. Some of them like Richard Rawlings came from humble beginnings. He carved his way to success through hard work, luck, and sheer perseverance.

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Growing up years

While his family wasn’t destitute, his father had to work multiple jobs just to afford to buy him toy cars and motorcycles, which he considered precious gifts while growing up in Fort Worth, Texas. Richard said that accompanying his father on his daily newspaper delivery route gave him the opportunity to see different cars parked along the streets and inside the garages of several homes they passed by. His interest in the automotive industry took a notch higher when his father let him watch and assist in tinkering with the family car in their garage. He said it was a regular thing when his father’s friends would come along on weekends to do repairs on their cars, or make upgrades while drinking beers, and the wives would cook barbecue for everyone.

A self-confessed car nut doing multiple jobs

Just like his father, Richard was utterly fascinated with cars even as a teenager and so he worked odd jobs to save up for his first car, a 1974 colored green Mercury Comet, which he bought when he was 14. Unlike other teens around him, he’d already gone through a couple of cars in high school, and drove a 1977 Bandit Trans Am as a senior. It was made possible by wheeling and dealing cars at a very young age, and being quite stingy in spending his money on trivial things.

After matriculating from high school, he promised himself a week of partying in Los Angeles, which he did with a stranger he picked up along the way. He was quite reckless back then, and he even had that hitchhiker teach him a trick or two in getting money for free by pretending to be lost and poor to people around gas stations and convenience stores they passed through on the way to the city of angels. His one-week holiday in L.A. turned into a few months, and he blew all his hard-earned savings bar hopping and with constant partying. The very night he went back home to Fort Worth, his precious Jeep was repossessed, and that was when he realized that he needed to reassess what he wanted to do with his life.

His early jobs before he took on car customization

Richard’s fans were amazed when they learned that even before it was legal for him to drink alcohol, he was already given a license to carry a badge and a gun as a police officer; he was also trained as a firefighter and a paramedic. Inspired by his father who taught him the value of hard work, he relentlessly pursued a career in civil service for about five years as it offered good job security. However, it wasn’t enough for him, so he became a salesman at a local printing company. There, it was reaffirmed to him that selling was his niche, and it didn’t take long for him to be promoted as the Vice President of the company. After a while he resigned, to then set up his own printing business called Lincoln Printing. With Richard’s quick wits and charm, the business flourished, but then he took a risk and sold it to pursue another dream.

Established Gas Monkey Garage and conceptualized “Fast ‘N Loud”

It took Richard Rawlings to become financially broke twice before making Gas Monkey Garage a successful auto shop and a lifestyle brand. Assisted by a handful of skilled crew, he bought rundown cars, restored or customized them, and then sold them. While he was the owner of the auto shop, he never had a formal education on fabrication and mechanism, but through years of being around cars and experts, he knew what was hot on the market, how to go about buying and selling, and earn a profit. He was quite an astute businessman who quickly learned from his past mistakes and moved on to achieve his goals. After several hits and misses, he eventually prevailed and his name along with Gas Monkey Garage became synonymous with high-quality car restoration and customization services.

The reality TV show “Fast N’ Loud” was his brainchild, but when he first pitched the idea to Discovery Channel, he was rebuffed. Everyone wanted the “American Chopper” style of doing things on screen, with all the cussing and fighting, which appealed to male viewers, but Richard had a different opinion. While he loved it, the business side of him lamented that there was a huge chunk of viewers that those shows failed to tap. His idea was to create a TV car series that could be perceived as safe for family, interesting and amusing, yet remain appropriately cool for the gearheads. It took him eight long years before the cable channel said yes to his idea. After a year and a half on TV, Richard insinuated that some of the higher-ups in the network took the credit for it, and claimed to be the geniuses behind it. It ran for 16 seasons from 2012 up to 2020, and ended when his contract with Discovery was finished.

Pursued other businesses as well

Richard knew that with the success of “Fast N’ Loud,” which brought immense popularity to his name and Gas Monkey Garage, any business that he opened would highly attract many customers. He invested in a restaurant with a live music bar called Gas Monkey Bar N’ Grill in 2013, and a venue hall called Gas Monkey Live situated in Dallas. He also produced alcoholic and energy beverages, which his fans knew was right up his alley as he loved to drink a cold beer in his auto shop. Instead of producing a beer or partnering with a successful one, he introduced the Gas Monkey Cinnamon Tequila, a 69 proof alcoholic drink, which was served in his restaurants. The drink Gas Monkey Energy catered to those who wanted a healthy drink. However, while these investments initially brought success to him, Richard was embroiled in a lawsuit with his former partners in the restaurant business.

Richard Rawlings and his car collection

Richard was no different from the other gearheads out there. His fascination with muscle cars became an obsession, and it steered him to make lots of money out of it. Over the years, he collected those that held his interest, which amounted around 50 cars, and placed them in a huge section of his Gas Monkey Garage called the Monkey Trap. In 2022, he auctioned-off close to 30 cars through a digital auction platform called Bring a Trailer. Out of the collection, the most interesting were the red-finished black vinyl upholstery 1962 Chevrolet Corvette sold for $60,000; the purple metal flake finished Ford Model T Custom, popularly dubbed as “King T,” sold for $75,000; and the gold metal flake finished 1932 Ford 5-Window Coupe Hot Rod sold for $55,000.

The online auction was held for a day, and Richard generated over a million dollars from it. The highest bid was for a 1993 Toyota Supra Turbo for $120,000, and the lowest for the 1957 Ford F-100, which catered to builders and was sold for $8,000. He kept around 10 cars that held sentimental value, and some were his dream cars that he couldn’t let go of.

Richard Rawlings’ Dream Car, the one that got away.

There were cars that he dreamed of having while he was growing up or even while earning a living, but weren’t a priority at that time. Many years later, Richard was lucky enough to be given the chance to pursue them and eventually buy most of them. He failed to acquire some due to lack of time, money, or both.

An exclusive tour triggered a memory

An opportunity of a lifetime in the form of a VIP tour at Petersen Automotive Museum was the reason Richard and his wife along with his crew flew from Dallas to L.A. sometime in late 2022. As he was walking around the collection of rare and vintage cars in the impressive Peterson vault, when he came across an iconic car that made him reminisce on how he came close to owning one of his dream cars, the 1925 Rolls-Royce Phantom I. He stopped to admire the car with reverence, and felt a little bit dejected that he’d failed to acquire it. Back then, the Round Door Rolls wasn’t as highly publicized as today, so the amount he offered at that time was more than appropriate. He jokingly told the museum guide that he would like to offer three million for the car, if they are willing to let go of it; he knew they wouldn’t since it was one of the prized treasures of the museum.

What was so rare about the 1925 Rolls-Royce Phantom?

The two-door 1925 Rolls-Royce Phantom I was also known as the Round Door Rolls, because the doors on both sides were built with almost perfect circles. It was one of the rarest out there, and one of the reasons why Richard was quite enthralled by it. While it was 20 feet long and weighed around 5,600lbs, there was just so little room at the back that people needed to slouch when sitting there. However, the front seat and space were designed comfortably, as if sitting on a sofa, and with round doors, the windows would dramatically open up in a fan pattern. It was produced during the time when customized coachbuilding was the ultimate thing for the upper class; it separated those with money from those with more money. It was in May 1925 when it was introduced to the public, and at that time was called New Phantom, replacing its predecessor, the Silver Ghost.

Pre-World War I, Roll Royce cars would only deliver the chassis, and it was up to the owner to have it delivered to a coachbuilder. With that particular Phantom I, the original body was a four-door Cabriolet built by Hooper, which the original owner didn’t like, and was re-sold to the Raja of Nanpara in India. By 1934, it found its way to another coachbuilding shop, the Jonckheere Carrossiers of Belgium, and they redid everything, transforming it into a two-door coupe with bullet-shaped headlights and a long vertical tailfin along with flowing fenders. The new design won the Prix de Cannes award in the Cannes Concours d’Elegance in 1936, and was subsequently owned by several people over the years. It found its way to the US, and was later bought by a Japanese collector in the 1990s. Unfortunately, in 2001, it was found in a New Jersey junkyard in a dilapidated condition, by people from the Petersen Automotive Museum. The museum immediately acquired and restored it to its former glory.

Where did Richard try to buy the Round Door Rolls?

The Gas Monkey Garage owner shared that the moment he saw the car at one of the Concours events sometime in the early to mid-2000s, his eyes were immediately drawn to it, and he fell in love. He talked with the representatives of Petersen Automotive Museum who were there at that time, and asked if it was for sale – they said it could be, and asked him how much would he offer for it. Richard was thinking at that time that the museum needed money for the upkeep and other essentials, so felt that there was a huge chance he could take it home. However, he wasn’t a multimillionaire yet, as he was just starting to establish his garage, but tried his best to convince them – he offered $1 million for it, and they shook hands in agreement. However, when he returned the following day, the Petersen officials said that they wouldn’t sell it for that price, and so Richard added another million. It didn’t matter to him that he didn’t have enough money back then, but he was quite obsessed with the car and said that he would beg, borrow, or steal just to get the car back to Dallas. However, Petersen still said no to the offer; one could only guess why they reneged on the initial deal. Perhaps realizing that it was futile to try to buy it, Richard stopped making offers.

The 1925 Rolls-Royce Phantom I wasn’t the only car he was interested in that he failed to purchase, by losing a bid during an auction or it was just a case of missed opportunity. One of them was the former car of Pope John Paul II, a 1975 Ford Escort GL, which was auctioned in 2005 and was sold for $690,000. It wasn’t really the car that captured Richard’s interest, but the papal accessories that were left by the late Pope in the glove compartment, specifically the carved wooden rosary beads. Most of the bidders were aiming for that as well, but a multimillionaire from Houston outbid them all, including Richard. The value of an item previously owned by the supreme pontiff was priceless to Catholics or Christians, as they would feel quite blessed to have it.

Richard’s ‘favorite car for life’

As people age, most of the dreams and aspirations they had in their minds would change, but Richard’s ultimate dream car – or what he fondly called ‘his favorite car for life’ – remained the same, a Lamborghini Miura. In September 2022, Richard and his team along with Big Chris of Mr. Smith LLC Automotive Marketing & Strategies went to London for the annual car show Petrol Headonism. They also referred to it as The Petrolheads Playground, where people got to meet automotive influencers, and see various types of cars including the classics, hypercars, motorsport, and muscle cars. He was there to participate in the two-day event, and someone gave him the keys to one of his dream cars, a Lamborghini Miura, to drive it around from the hotel to the car show venue. Richard felt Christmas came early and said, ‘Now if only I could just drive back to Dallas with it, and steal it.’

With only about 10 cars in his personal collection, he was already thinking of adding more to replace what he’d sold the previous year – he wanted to build a new collection with Porsches, Lamborghinis, Mercedes, and other investment cars. Richard had already started buying, and was planning how to customize them to his liking before adding them to his Monkey Trap collection. The goal of including the 1925 Rolls-Royce Phantom I in his collection might be unattainable or even highly improbable for now, but never impossible to achieve.

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