Classic Cars and Fake Auto Theft: Overhaulin’ Secrets

In the mid-2000s, automotive reality shows ruled the airwaves. Besides Pimp My Ride, one of the top shows was Overhaulin’, where automobile designer Chip Foose took vintage cars and added premium modifications but not before putting the owners through some stress. Each contestant, or “mark,” was convinced their car was stolen or wrecked.

Chip Foose, Chris Jacobs, Adrienne Janic / Overhaulin’ / Chip Foose / Chris Jacobs.
Source: Getty Images

Over the course of eight days, host Chris Jacobs would stall while the car got fixed up. From 2004 to 2008, Overhaulin’ aired on TLC before going on a four-year hiatus and returning to the Discovery Channel. Like any reality show, a lot was going on behind the scenes of Overhaulin’ that people didn’t see.

The Marks Knew Nothing

The contestants, called “marks” on the show, were nominated by friends without their knowledge. Once the mark’s car was identified, the Overhaulin’ team would bring their vintage car to the repair shop while the host would tell the owner that their vehicle was stolen, lost, or hauled by the police.

A still from the show.
Source: YouTube

Some of the marks had kept their cars for life, inherited them from family members, or had a sentimental relationship with the car. Due to the importance of the vehicles, some of the marks got angry or were hard to control because they truly believed they would never see their cars again.

Friends and Police Knew

Once a submission was chosen to appear on Overhaulin’, their friends and family were informed and instructed how to act. The production team would also inform the local police in case the mark filed a report about a car theft. Coordinating with the police prevented possible problems with the owner.

An image of a car at the workshop after modifications.
Source: TLC

Besides providing instructions to the people who nominated the mark, the insiders would also know the date and time the Overhaulin’ team planned to take the car. This helped them make the prank seem real. In some episodes, they even faked the vehicle being towed by the police.

Planned in Advance

While the Overhaulin’ team managed to keep the mark in the dark, the production team carefully planned everything in advance. Designer Chip Foose revealed that they would contact suppliers beforehand to have all the necessary parts and components to upgrade the car. It helped them complete everything in the eight-day rebuild period.

A promotional poster of the show.
Source: TLC

Additionally, suppliers were asked to deliver the parts quickly and keep stock of the components they might need if unexpected changes needed to be made. Large parts like engines had to be in the shop before the car, ready to be installed in the vehicle. The team wanted to avoid delays in the process.

An Unhappy Ending

While many people were happy with the changes made to their vehicles, there were exceptions. A few marks complained that their vintage vehicles lost value due to the makeover process. Chip never planned for this, but it occasionally happened when the car was poorly maintained but mostly in its original state.

A still of an episode from the show.
Source: TLC

When cars underwent the rebuilding process and had components changed, some acquired a new value. However, the value could be less than what it was as a collection piece. Expensive vintage cars like a Lamborghini GTO cannot be modified to the standards of an older Mustang owned by a high school student.

They Love a Good Story

When looking through the submissions, the Overhaulin’ producers looked for people who had interesting backstories that would make the episode intriguing and emotional. They looked for stories that could pull on viewers’ heartstrings and appeal to the public for being sad or heartwarming.

The production team claps as a contestant sees the upgraded car.
Source: TLC

In Season 2, James was selected to have his car rebuilt because his ’71 Challenger was a gift from his father for his graduation. In another episode, Overhaulin’ featured an Iraqi war veteran who wanted to rebuild his car with his father. His parents worked as insiders for the episode.

Too Many Submissions

Overhaulin’ was such a popular show at one point that the production team became overwhelmed with submissions. The total number of submissions was never made public, but many were disregarded because the team didn’t have enough time to look at them.

The cast of Overhaulin’ poses for a promotional portrait.
Source: TLC

They tried to analyze as many submissions as possible, looking for ones that stood out due to an interesting or emotional story. A lot of submissions were from people who wanted to have their friends’ cars rebuilt just because they couldn’t afford to do it themselves.

Trading Parts for Advertising

As you could imagine, a show like Overhaulin’ had high production costs. It’s not cheap to revamp vintage cars in addition to paying the cast and crew. Producers made deals with suppliers to reduce production costs, trading parts for advertising on the show.

A still from the show.
Source: TLC

A company would supply parts at a lower cost or for free in exchange for direct advertisement in the episode. For example, the camera would zoom in on the brand name, or the hosts would mention the company several times. It was enough for many brands to partner with the show.

They Only Had Eight Days

The eight-day rebuilding process was not just something to boost ratings; it was real. As we mentioned earlier, each episode was carefully planned so there wouldn’t be room for setbacks. But the whole process had to be finished in eight days, whether the designers liked it or not.

A photo of Chip sitting inside a car.
Source: TLC

The producers decided on eight days because they thought having a fixed period, no matter how complex the rebuild was, would make it more exciting for viewers. It also was short enough so that the mark wouldn’t be too worried about their car.

The Team Barely Slept

With such a small window of time to complete the rebuild, Chip and his team had to work overtime to finish everything they had planned. They were under a lot of pressure, so they had little time to eat or sleep.

Chip poses for a portrait at the workshop.
Source: Pinterest

Chip told Car and Driver magazine that he didn’t sleep for 24 days a month. He said he would “never agree to eight days or less” because it put too much stress on him and his crew. Viewers could see how exhausted the shop workers looked by the end.

Close to Reality

While many reality TV shows are manipulated for better ratings, Overhaulin’ was the closest to reality, with little pre-planned drama or conflicts. Similar shows often featured conflicts between participants or co-hosts but Overhaulin’ was successful because it steered clear of fake drama.

A still from the show.
Source: TLC

Some shows made the conflicts more important than the technical part. However, Overhaulin’s Chip is a car guy, not a TV actor. He cared about the final results so that the owner would be happy. Although there were some conflicts, the drama was never staged.

The Mark Had to Pay

Most of the cars rebuilt on Overhaulin’ increased in value because of the upgrades. With a few exceptions, the cars were more expensive when Chip and his team finished. As part of the process, the mark had to declare the new value to the tax authorities.

A photo of a car after the upgrade.
Source: TLC

The production team helped by giving the proper value of the car so they wouldn’t have trouble reporting it for tax purposes. That was the only thing the mark had to pay for in the process; everything else in the rebuild was free.

Many People Sold the Cars

The production team tried to select people with emotional or sentimental stories, but a few participants sold their revamped cars after the show. The vehicles were more expensive, so it was almost too tempting not to cash in on their renewed car.

An image of Chip’s drawings of car designs.
Photo by Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Some people were more interested in making money than holding onto their sentimental cars. This goes against the morals of petrol heads everywhere, but a few contestants needed the money and made a lot from the sales. You would probably be tempted to sell too.

The Cars Needed Touch-Ups

The cars might have been fixed up in eight days, but the process ended up being longer than eight days in the end. Some cars needed tune-ups and adjustments after the official presentation to the owners. However, they were minor adjustments or finishing matters.

Chip and co-hosts Jessi Combs and Chris Jacobs speak on stage during a conference.
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

The minor fixes like tightening a door handle were not large enough to challenge the allotted delivery deadline. Chip and his team were often rushed, causing some details to be left out or forgotten before the delivery. But they were easy to finish after the presentation.

The Million-Dollar Car

In a special Season 4 episode, Overhaulin’ worked on a Hummer belonging to CNN. The network purchased the Hummer in Kuwait in 2003 to transport producers, photographers, and reporters in Iraq during the war. The vehicle came under heavy fire when the 7th Marines arrived in Baghdad.

A before and after photo of the Hummer.
Source: TLC

Chip and his team made big changes to the body and paintwork and rebuilt the engine. Artists painted pictures of journalists and soldiers on the car as a tribute to the lives lost. The Hummer was auctioned off for $1.25 million to raise funds for wounded soldiers’ families.

The Celebrity Version Flopped

The Overhaulin’ production team thought hauling celebrities’ cars would help increase ratings. Therefore, they rebuilt Ian Ziering’s car during Season 1. The show also revamped the cars of Lance Armstrong, Tony Todd, John Priestly, and Amber Heard. However, the celebrity version didn’t work well.

A photo of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard during an episode.
Source: TLC

After the first celebrity episode, the fans only had negative things to say. The negative comments increased after each celebrity episode, causing the producers to ditch the idea. People were annoyed because the celebrities could afford to redo their cars without the help of the show.

Chip Knows What He’s Doing

When it comes to cars, co-host and designer Chip Foose knows what he’s talking about. Before and after Overhaulin’, Chip received many awards for his work on cars. He won the Ridler Award and America’s Most Beautiful Roadster award. He started his career when he was 12.

Chips sits in his Hemisfear hot rod.
Photo by Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Chip worked in his father’s shop, painting his first car, which was a Porsche. His company, Foose Design, designs and constructs new and special vehicles. Overhaulin’ was made with Chip’s abilities in mind. As a co-host and designer, Chip delivered beautifully redesigned cars within the short time limit.

Cutting Ties With Gas Monkey

Although Gas Monkey Garage was featured on Discovery Channel’s Fast N’ Loud, the business previously worked with Overhaulin’. The relationship started out well, with Gas Monkey appearing in some episodes of Overhaulin’ to help with the rebuild process. But the relationship turned sour.

A photo of Richard Rawlings of Gas Monkey Garage at a press conference.
Photo by Malcolm Hope/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

Gas Monkey sent thousands of messages to car forums to promote their name over Overhaulin’. They also created a promotional video that bothered the producers at Overhaulin’. The show severed ties with Gas Monkey Garage and didn’t air future episodes featuring them.

Nepotism Helped Her

Adrienne Janice, aka AJ, co-hosted Overhaulin’ from 2005 until 2014. She joined the show when the original host, Courtney Hansen, left in 2005. Although AJ knew nothing about cars, she got the job because she was married to executive producer Bud Brustman.

Adrienne attends an event.
Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

AJ was honest when she got on the show, confessing that she didn’t know much about cars but wanted to learn. She was a quick learner and later designed the build of a 1968 Firebird. With the help of Chip, AJ executed the idea well.

Nine Long Seasons

Between 2004 and 2015, Overhaulin’ ran for nine seasons with seven specials for a total of 115 episodes. The series debuted on TLC, staying on the network for five seasons. Those seasons are referred to as “the original series,” while the post-hiatus episodes are called the “revived series.”

The cast and production team pose for a portrait.
Source: TLC

In 2008, Overhaulin’ took a three-year hiatus before returning to the Discovery Channel. It followed the same format, but the Discovery Channel had the right audience for the show. Chip hosted other reality shows for Discovery, including The American Icon, The Hot Rod, and The Muscle Car.

Double Haulin’ for Twins

Just when you thought eight days was a short time to rebuild a car, imagine the team having to finish two cars in the same time frame. Overhaulin’ took on this challenge in 2005 during Season 2. Chip divided his team to work on two cars owned by twin sisters.

A still from the show.
Source: YouTube

The team rebuilt a ’98 Mazda and a ’68 Chevelle side-by-side while the twins left college for the holidays. The Overhaulin’ crew had to squeeze a lot of work into the short period, but they managed to pull it off.

Making Them Angry

One of the biggest parts of the show is how the crew tricks the mark into cooperating. They stage elaborate fake thefts, have a body shop say the car is lost, or have it towed for bogus legal reasons. The police and body shop owners are always in on the prank.

A still from an episode.
Source: Pinterest

The mark is the only person who doesn’t know what’s going on, and they aim to make the person angry. It makes the show more entertaining, but they had to change their tactics. They dropped the tricks due to money issues and negative feedback.

They Ruined a Car

Although Chip and his team are experts, they have made mistakes before. One owner was particularly upset, reporting several mistakes before and during the rebuild. The owners told the team the car wasn’t fit for highway use, but they drove it on the highway anyway.

A portrait of Chip at the workshop.
Source: TLC

The owner also said the team used a power washer incorrectly, allowing water to leak into the engine. Their list of complaints included an inefficient nitrous system and no backup lights or gear indicators. This was a rare case where the owner was unhappy with the result.

No Mocking

Although this happened on occasion, the crew was not allowed to judge the car’s owner. While it might be easy to joke about the kind of car, it can come across as rude. If the customer isn’t satisfied with the overhaul, the crew might want to slam them for it.

A picture from the cast at Overhaulin’.
Source: TLC

It was an important rule for them because the judgment would turn people away from watching the show. The Overhaulin’ team had to remain open-minded because the mark had likes and dislikes different from the crew’s preferences.

Chip Doesn’t Like Being Famous

Although Chip enjoys redesigning cars, he doesn’t like the fame that came with being the host of Overhaulin’. He said it’s annoying because he can’t bring his son to a car show without people recognizing him. Chip didn’t realize how it would change his life.

Chip attends an event.
Photo by Mitchell Burke/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images

Chip told Car and Driver magazine, “The biggest downfall about the success of Overhaulin’ is that I just can’t take my son and enjoy a car show. It’s not fun for him to stand there when everyone wants to take a picture or get an autograph.”

The Car Was Difficult

Chip is legendary in the automotive world, and he has showcased his skills on Overhaulin’. However, there were some issues when he worked on a 1971 Dodge Challenger on the show. The car was in bad shape when it came into the shop and shouldn’t have been touched.

An image of the 1971 Dodge Challenger on the show.
Source: TLC

He was stubborn and wanted to proceed with the build. Chip pushed forward, but the overhaul was a letdown. The lead-up to the restoration was more exciting than the build itself. They should have left the car alone instead of messing with it.

He Got His Love of Cars From His Father

Chip’s love for cars started when he was a child. He went to work with his dad on the weekends and started learning things around the shop. Chip helped with paint jobs and ran small errands. Working with his dad helped Chip meet important people in the automotive industry.

Chip speaks during a press conference.
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Many people encouraged Chip to follow in his father’s footsteps, including Alex Tremulis, a former Ford and Tucker designer. He learned many skills, helping him get his start in the industry. Chip thanks his father for encouraging him to pursue his dreams.

He Studied Design

Chip graduated from the Art Center College for Design in Pasadena, California. However, he experienced many hardships along the way. Chip had to drop out at one point because it was too expensive. In between school, he worked at his father’s shop and accepted freelance jobs.

An interior view of a car designed by Chip.
Photo by Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

He worked for Stehrenberger-Clenet Design, which later became AHSA Corp. Chip eventually realized that finishing his degree was important. His girlfriend encouraged him by saying she wouldn’t marry him if he didn’t earn his degree.

He Left Boyd Coddington

For many years after college, Chip worked with Boyd Coddington, owner of Hot Rod Shop and star of TLC’s American Hot Rod. Two years into working with Coddington, Chip interviewed with Ford and VW. He wanted to work with Ford, but Coddington made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

A portrait of Boyd Coddington.
Photo by Robert Lachman/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Chip decided to stay at the company and started designing and building hot rods. As Coddington expanded the business, some of his dealings didn’t work out, causing him to file for bankruptcy. Chip was spending his own money to complete projects, so he decided to leave.

Building His Brand

When Chip left Coddington, many Hot Rod Shop employees followed him because of his charisma and talent. In 1984, Chip established Foose Designs in California. He continued to work with other designers to gain experience, building an impeccable reputation for his design skills.

A portrait of Chip.
Photo by Katy Winn/Getty Images

Coddington was unhappy to find out that many of his employees left to follow Chip. It caused a rift between Chip and his former boss. Coddington held a grudge against Chip and this ended their personal and business relationship. But the drama didn’t end there.

Taking It to the Grave

Chip and Coddington’s relationship was rocky after Chip left with some of the Hot Rod Shop employees. Chip never asked them to leave, but they followed because of Chip’s budding reputation. Coddington felt Chip and his employees conspired to leave when Coddington needed them the most.

A photo of Coddington / A picture of Chip at work.
Source: Pinterest

Unfortunately, it took a dying man to help resolve the issues between Chip and his former boss. Coddington suffered complications from diabetes, causing him and Chip to resolve their issues shortly before Coddington’s death in 2008. He still thanks Coddington for being a mentor.

Inspired by a Rebuild

After starting his design company in 1984, Chip created the 0032 Roadster, inspired by the popular hot rod he designed for Coddington called the Boydster I and II. It won the prize for America’s Most Beautiful Car Award in 2000.

A photo of the 0032 Roadster.
Source: Pinterest

People started recognizing Chip’s name in the industry, including executives at TLC. They featured him in an automotive documentary focused on Chip’s unique creation, a modified 2002 Ford Thunderbird. Viewers were intrigued by Chip’s skills and wanted to see more of what he could do.

It Turned Into a Show

Due to the high viewership numbers from the documentary, TLC offered Chip the opportunity to star on a reality TV series about rebuilding vintage cars. He was excited by the offer and accepted TLC’s offer. Thus, Overhaulin’ was born, and it premiered on April 13, 2004.

Lynne and Chip attend an event.
Photo by Chad Buchanan/Getty Images

Chip had to recruit people to be on his team for the rebuilds. The network approached car enthusiasts to host the show so that they would have some knowledge of cars. It would have been a bad start if they got a clueless host about automobiles like AJ was.

A Dream Team

Overhaulin’ went through many hosts who helped Chip present, including Chris Jacobs, who was with the show from the first season and returned with each reboot. Other co-hosts included Courtney Hansen (2004-05), AJ (2005-08, and the reboots), Jessie Combs (2012-13), and Arianny Celeste (2013-15).

Chip and Chris Jacobs pose for the press.
Photo by Katy Winn/Getty Images

Chip also worked with people he referred to as the A-Team, including Andreas Somogyi, Ian Van Scoyk, Mark Oja, Richard Waitas, Skratch, and Andy Stapp. They were with Chip from the start and helped make the rebuilds possible. Everyone was an essential part of the process.

Cancelations and Reboots

Fans were confused when Overhaulin’ was canceled and rebooted several times. Most TV executives would rather produce spin-off series instead of rebooting the same show. However, people liked the idea of Overhaulin’ so much that producers never wanted to give up the premise.

A still of Chris Jacobs during an episode.
Source: TLC

Chip and his team changed the way people viewed automotive reality shows. People were left wondering why the show would stop airing and return for longer intervals because the producers never gave an explanation. The show ran until it was officially canceled in 2020.

Unsatisfied Owners

There have been a few allegations that people who had their cars overhauled by Chip and the team were given low-quality parts. Chip has a great reputation for his work, so the allegations were probably from people who wanted to cause trouble. No one came forward to complain.

A backstage photo during the filming of an episode.
Source: TLC

There were also rumors that people had to bring their cars back to the shop to be fixed up. This was probably because the cars had to be finished in eight days, so Chip and his crew did touch-ups after the presentation.

Legal Troubles

In 2007, Foose Design, Chip’s company, announced that they terminated “all licensing and business activities with Texas-based Unique Performance, Unique Performance Concepts, and related companies.” Before Chip signed a deal with them, they made promises and took deposits from customers.

A portrait of Chip.
Photo by Mitchell Burke/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images

The Texas-based company promised clients exclusive Chip designs like the Foose Mustang Stallion. Chip didn’t know about the promises, and when the clients failed to receive the promised work, they sued Unique Performances and Foose Designs. Chip had to use most of his money from Overhaulin’ to pay the legal fees.

A Shady Company

Chip and his company tried to work out a deal with Unique Performance for eight months, but it proved to be a shady company. The police raided the Mustang Ranch, owned by Unique, because they were tipped off that the Mustangs had fake VINs.

A portrait of Chip / An exterior shot of Chip’s company.

The police found 61 vintage cars in various stages of construction and restoration. They reportedly collected around $7 million in deposits from customers. Chip didn’t want his company to be associated with a sketchy company, so he quickly cut ties with Unique Performance.

A Drop in Ratings

The most common reason why shows are canceled is because of low ratings. Although Overhaulin’ had record-breaking viewership ratings in the past, they eventually lost their audience, and the numbers dropped to a frightening percentage. It led to the show being canceled.

A promotional portrait of Chip and Chris Jacobs.

When Discovery rebooted Overhaulin’ again in 2019, they promoted it as the show’s final season. TV insiders liked this strategy because the show had been off the air for four years. Chip and his team didn’t have to feel bad if viewership wasn’t high as it was a goodbye season.

A Final Goodbye

Although it was promoted as a goodbye season, network executives felt they could add another season if the fans were receptive. Unfortunately, there was no announcement about another season after the goodbye season aired, which ended on July 21, 2020.

Chip poses in a studio portrait.

Whether it was due to the pandemic filming restrictions or it was truly the end of Overhaulin’, their loyal fans were satisfied because the show ended with some closure. Chip and his team got to say farewell to their loyal fans after being on the air since 2004.