They recently worked together on Channel 5’s car show Fifth Gear, and have now teamed up for a new BBC Worldwide programme, Mud, Sweat and Gears.
In the show, they each lead a team of two petrol-headed contestants in customising oddball vehicles, which are then used in a trio of bizarre challenges. Demolition, tire smoke and madcap hilarity ensue.
In anticipation of the show’s launch on BBC America on 26 January, BBC Autos gave Jonny and “Wookie” a call to discuss bulletproof pickup trucks, six-wheeled twin-turbo fantasies and cross-dressing Suzukis. Highlights from the conversation follow.
Brett Berk: You clearly have a good time filming the show, but surely there was all manner of fun stuff left on the cutting-room floor. What are some bloopers and major failures that occurred on set?
Tom “Wookie” Ford: Major failures? The whole of the series. [Laughs] We did a thing called Truck of War, where we tried to build cars into military assault vehicles. And I had a Ford F-350 to convert into a tank. It too me three days to build that car. And when we did the first challenge, Jonny reversed into it, smashed the radiator and put it out of action. I got so angry that I punched my car, which unfortunately I had armored, so I basically broke part of my hand in getting frustrated and forgetting that I’d put three-quarter inch steel all around my truck.
Jonny Smith: In the off-road episode, I had a Suzuki X-90, which was themed around [retired US professional basketball player and occasional cross-dresser] Dennis Rodman. It was all about being a strong, quite muscular cross-dresser. But at the final moment, BBC legal wouldn’t let me call it the Rodman, in case Dennis got upset with me. So I had to refer to it as the Cross-Dresser.
Wookie: We’re making these cars in the middle of nowhere. One day we showed up, and it looked like we had a fully kitted-out garage, but when we looked at the tools, they were woodworking tools. We were, like, ‘What the [expletive] are these?’ And they were, like, ‘Well, these are tools.’ And we said, ‘Yeah. If you want us to whittle you a car.’
How do you go about picking the cars you and the contestants use? There seems to be an emphasis on oddball vehicles.
Wookie: Drink a lot of red wine, and then go on Craigslist.
Jonny: This is one of my favourite parts of the whole show. We didn’t want to pick really obvious cars. We wanted to explore the possibilities of resurrecting a forgotten car, or a car that was universally hated, but maybe unfairly, and try to undo that prejudice. So, sometimes we would pick a car like the Pontiac Aztek, which is kind of America’s most hated car. Or I’d pick America’s best-selling but still quite [expletive] car, the Toyota Camry, and try to turn it into something charismatic, which was a challenge.
Wookie: My problem was always wanting to choose a pickup truck. You can pretty much do anything with a pickup truck. They kept shouting at me for just picking F-250s and saying, I can do it with an F-250. They got quite angry with me about that.
What vehicles would be on your dream list to use on the show? Pick one car for each scenario.
Wookie: Easy. [Citroën] 2CV.
Jonny: Marathon Checker Aerobus eight-door sedan.
Jonny: Chrysler LeBaron Convertible, with a trailer.
Wookie: [Chrysler] PT Cruiser, but matte grey, with barn doors on the back, and a tranquilizer gun.
Jonny: Nissan Cube, with another Nissan Cube body on top so it would be double the height. There’d be a restaurant with a view up top.
Wookie: I would just use one of those football tailgating barbecues. Get the biggest pickup truck I could find, and then tow a V12-powered barbecue. You’d have to fire it up, and then rev in order to cook your ribs.
Would it be fair to assume you both own a few cars?
Wookie: My current stable consists of a Range Rover, a very old Jaguar XJ and a Mercedes C-Class. Jonny is the one with a lot of cars.
Jonny: Actually, I’m down to about seven. I’ve got a1966 Beetle, a 1964 Chevy Impala SS, a 1968 Dodge Charger, a Honda Insight, an Austin Allegro which is kind of like Britain’s answer to the AMC Pacer, my wife’s got a Chrysler 300 diesel station wagon and I have a custom Electric Hot Rod, which is a 1970s electric car updated with modern batteries and motors and about 1,000 pound-feet of torque. I’m hoping that it will be Europe’s fastest street-legal electric car.
Wookie: It will also be Europe’s most lethal car because the wheelbase is about four-and-a-half inches.
What’s your own personal dream vehicle or unicorn?
Wookie: Singer. Singer, Singer, Singer. I was the first person to ever drive one because I know Rob [Dickinson, founder of Singer Vehicle Design]. We have an agreement that he’s going to build me one someday for very cheap. And then I like the Icon Bronco. I like the resto-mod style.
Jonny: They change on a monthly basis. But one of them would probably be a Panther 6. It was a six-wheel car with a Cadillac twin-turbo engine. It looked like FAB-1 from Thunderbirds. It had two front axles, with a TV in it. They thought it would do 200mph, and they only ever built about two of them.
Mud, Sweat and Gears premieres 26 January on BBC America.
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