Gas Monkey Garage’s Aaron Kaufman on Building Cars for Fast N’ Loud
Unless you’re one of those car people without cable or who’ve signed off from reality-style TV entirely, Gas Monkey Garage and their show Fast N’ Loud airing on Discovery Channel are probably quite familiar to you. For those few who haven’t seen the show, the basic premise is a combination of car flipping and car building/restoring. Gas Monkey Garage owner Richard Rawlings finds and buys cars that chief mechanic Aaron Kaufman leads the crew in transforming. Each show ends with a different project culminating and getting sold, it could be anything from a Ford GT to a Chevy C-10 or ’32 roadster hot rod.
While Fast N’ Loud has grown beyond appealing solely to car people, largely due to the personalities of Richard and Aaron, gearheads will of course have the most discerning opinions on the finished products. Having worked on my own restoration projects, I know first-hand the inconceivable amount of work it takes to do a custom build correctly and so was suspicious if these guys were for real. But when Driving Line got an invite to drop into the Gas Monkey Garage in Dallas, Texas, I certainly wasn’t going to turn it down!
Aaron took a few minutes out of his day to chat about how Gas Monkey Garage started and about his journey into Fast N’ Loud stardom. With such differing personalities between he and Richard the first thing I wanted to know is, how did they ever start working together?
AK: “This is really all I’ve ever done. Every single project I’ve gotten a little better – learned something new on every one.”
“Years and years and years ago, Richard came into a shop that I worked at. He had bought a car from California and the work was really, really rough – so we repaired it. Then, basically, I didn’t see him for a really long time.”
Out of the blue Aaron gets a call from Richard asking him to bag a Mustang Fastback for him. A couple weeks after completing that job, Aaron gets another call from Richard, this time asking him to come and run a shop for him.
AK: “I could see that there was a lot more opportunity [than where I was originally at.] This was ’04. So I said ‘yeah’… and came to work for Richard. To be quite honest, Richard has always wanted to follow the Jesse James route, in doing a car TV show, and it seems to be a lucrative route, so I was just along for the ride. I’d get opportunities to work on stuff I’d never had a chance to work on, hot rods, Model A’s, all kinds of stuff, once in a while a little race car.
"With every project, I’d work that much harder, and in the downtime between cars that Richard would buy, I’d build one-to-two customer cars. We did split ways in ’09 to do our own thing but we’d already gotten the ball rolling on the TV show. It might have taken a while to gain traction but when it did, it picked up very quickly."
"Richard came back to me wanting to do another sizzle reel, and I said, ‘I’m done, over it,’ and he said, ‘Think about it.’ I did, and figured if we were filming for two days, they were gonna buy my lunch for two days. So for two free lunches, I showed up, shot the new sizzle reel and Discovery bought the show! Two weeks later, we were finally doing this, out to buy the first car and I called Casey and Scott to bring them on board. That was it!”
Looking around the busy shop, and having waded through a crowd of onlookers to get inside, it’s beyond obvious that building cars and building cars in front of a camera are two distinct experiences. It’s not only the fame and attention to be considered. Whoever’s hands are putting the next part on the chassis of the episode’s “star” project car had a camera man inches over his shoulder while a sound guy was a few steps behind. Every so often they’d have to stop and talk to the camera, explaining what they were up to. Working under these conditions would be enough pressure to make many an aspiring car builder crack. But the crew inside the Gas Monkey Garage seemed well-oiled and cohesive. As a bonus, their popularity had clearly helped to equip their shop with the best tools available, and these guys use it to their advantage.
Certain that Aaron must have his frustrations being in the spotlight each day, I wondered what his favorite part of being part of Gas Monkey Garage has been.
AK: “It’s hard to say. On most of these builds, there’s always an aspect that I’m curious about—something I want to learn, try or do."
"I see people doing other things and I think, there’s nothing that separates me from them, so I always try it out for myself. I find things that excite me and try to bring them into the show. I’m always asking the team to break out of their shell and try something new, so it’s a funny, weird, little educational process for us—and you get to come along."
"Some people ask what my favorite cars are, and I have some that I like a lot. But for me, it’s building individual parts as opposed to whole cars. I’m real big into how things work, fit and how a car goes down the road. I love that part of it.”
Up until this point, the mentions of “learning” and “exploration” had already come up several times, so, what in particular was the focus of his learnings?
AK: “I’m learning to design cars –what the interior should look like, what complements what, how to do what. In traditional hot rods I feel really comfortable in that area, I also feel really comfortable with race cars and pro-touring, but anything in the middle is such a wide interpretation! There’s really no hard rules to follow – so doing a good job, not copying anyone, not ripping anyone off, and not doing something so weird that nobody understands it, is a hard thing to get a grasp on!”
Leaving Gas Monkey Garage that day, I was excited to see what they’d build next. Fellow car builders know best how difficult it is to churn out a car in a month’s time and to turn a profit while doing it – and somehow Gas Monkey Garage is doing just that. What’s even better, their TV show Fast N’ Loud is converting new enthusiasts to our loved car hobby. I may not always love their builds, I probably will never purchase a car from Richard Rawlings, but I’m sufficiently impressed that these guys are in fact the real deal… with a slight bit of TV-friendly varnish on top.