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Finally! ‘Reality’ TV promises to get real about classic cars as Corky hits the backroads



Like me, are you appalled, even downright angry about the way television portrays the classic car hobby?

Click on your big screen and start surfing the channels and before long what you’ll see is someone buying a classic car as cheaply as possible, hauling it back to their shop, slapping on some paint, doing minimal mechanical and interior work, and then flipping the thing with one goal in mind — maximized profit.

Sure, everyone likes to make a profit when they sell something. But the classic car hobbyists I know are in this because they love the cars — and the search for the cars — and they love restoring and even maintaining them, getting them running again and looking great. For the most part, they sell them with a degree of reluctance, often only so they can begin the pursuit of their next project.

The find-fix-flip format we see on so many of the classic car “reality” television programs is the polar opposite of what I see when I look at the classic car hobby.  I get more than irritated when I see such shows, and I rarely watch them for more than a few minutes.

But that will change very soon, because I plan to tune in for the debut of Backroad Gold, Corky Coker’s new show.

From what Corky has shared with me, his show sounds like the classic car version of American Pickers, which is less about buying and selling than it is about educating us to America’s antiques and introducing us to the characters who have been caretakers to artifacts of our historic heritage. 

Backroad Gold debuts February 5 — and then runs for at least eight more episodes — on the Travel channel. The program follows Coker and company as they search for cars, motorcycles, old gasoline pumps, road signs and such.

Why am I optimistic about Backroad Gold? Because of Corky, who is about as genuine a classic car hobbyist as you’re ever likely to find. Oh, sure, he’s also part of what I call the classic car industry, the auction houses, insurers, transportation providers and parts producers who supply the things that classic car hobbyists need and buy to pursue the hobby. In Corky’s case, those things are Coker Tires, tires that offer the look of vintage rubber but that also provide the safety and engineering advances of modern tire technology.

But that’s just Corky’s day job. His passion is finding, restoring and driving old cars and motorcycles, and being an evangelist for the hobby.

When The Great Race, the annual cross-country rally for classic cars, appeared to be faltering, Corky bought it, pumped it up and put it back on solid footing. He resurrected the famed Honest Charley Speed Shop & Garage. He helped launch the Collectors Foundation that supports car restoration education in high schools and colleges.

“I grew up in the back seat of a 1910 REO,” he says of riding along with his mom and dad on the old Glidden Tours.

On the new television show, Corky hits the backroads in pursuit of more than just neglected classics. Corky is a car guy, but also a people person, and part of his mission is to introduce the world to what he calls the real Americans.

“The real people of America are on the backroads,” he said, sharing just one example we’ll see on the show — twin 78-year-old brothers who have protected a V12-powered 1934 Pierce-Arrow sedan in their dairy barn for more than 40 years.

As for the cars he finds and is able to buy, “We’re able to restore them and put them back into play,” he said.

The “we” he mentions includes Corky; his father, Harold; his daughter, Casey; her husband, Greg; and Hal, the “head wrench” back in the shop.

Casey said that throughout her life, her dad has been “bringing home all this weird crap.

“I see labor and man hours and cost,” she added. “He sees a jewel.”

Corky’s personality isn’t the only thing that promises to separate his show from the others. For one thing, he’s playing with his own money, not with funding provided by a television production company. For another, instead of flipping the cars once they’re restored, Corky’s tendency, and perhaps his lament, is to keep them because parting with them would be painful.

As I said, this is a real car guy.


Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


  1. You are absolutely right about the car shows on TV – what a joke they are, and I feel sorry for anyone who ends up with one of those “flipped” cars – they’ll soon discover how much real work is needed below that glossy surface.
    How about an article on the auction cars that claim to have only 25 miles since full restoration? Another big joke – anyone who’s restored a classic car knows that it’ll take at least 500-1,000 miles to shake out the hidden problems.

  2. To say that American pickers is a stand up type of show is absurb. They attempt to purchase items at about 25% of their real value and flip them.
    No different from the classic car reality shows that you mentioned and i dont epect Corky to go in a pay the real value of the items he purchases, he will dicker until the price comes down.

  3. Well stated article. I started an auto repair business back in 1978 two years before I graduated from high school. Specializing in Mopar Muscle cars along with forsaken hopes and diminishing dreams of others projects who had lost interest or season of life had changed. One of my first finds or as I think rescues was a 1941 Plymouth Pickup. Had the cool Mayflower emblem on the front. The tags were twenty years out of date but with a prime of gas straight to the carb and the old beauty fired right up. Also in the same deal was a 1959 Dodge Power Wagon flat head six, same way very little effort and it started right up. I kept these both for many years until another person came along and convinced me of their intent to bring the 1941 back to the road. I too like to understand the owner’s story and how the vehicle tied in to their life. Since my beginnings of the small repair shop in Loving Texas population 200 we have grown into a very large Auto Salvage Yard in Graham Texas http://www.kkmotors.com with over ten thousand vehicles and over a thousand of them pre 1980. Being in the salvage business I am thankful for the rise in metal prices and our method has always been to crush the cars we readily replace. Other words we will crush a 2010 Ford Super Duty truck that we have parted out but the 1976 Chevy Monte Carlo with swivel bucket seats and rust free fenders is not even getting close to the crusher. I have chased down many an old car or truck headed to the scrap yard convinced the scraper to turn around and bring the car to my yard or just unload it on the side of the road as I waited for my rollback to come get it. Man I hate to see the old classics go to scrap. So instead of just taking about it my daughter and I decided to do something. We created an online marketplace called http://www.partingout.com that allows someone with a quote “Junk car” to post it really easy and then let us who need those trim parts and glass, bumpers ,fenders brackets or engine parts to just say I see your car I would like to buy x part from it before you send it off for scrap. Both sides win!
    Kevin Fullerton
    Founder PartingOut.com

  4. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the car shows on TV. To see Wayne Carini drive a beautiful classic 275 Ferrari N.A.R.T. was really cool or some of the cars Peter Klutt of Legendary Motorsports has introduced to the audience.
    However I have to question some shows that people claim to made profits on some really questionable cars. I am currently restoring a 1964 Corvette. I am doing 90% of the work myself and keep track of all I have spent in restoration costs, both parts and labor (my time is also worth money). If I do go to sell this car I will not realize any profit.
    Does Barrett Jackson think they are going to have a buyer for that wrecked F-40 Ferrari that Gas Monkey garage “rebuilt”? After seeing how they did the repairs and it, no doubt, has a salvage title, I wouldn’t give them over 100 grand for that wreck!

  5. I enjoy watching fast and loud because Richard is a pretty exciting guy but I think most of his crew is somewhat corny, including Aaron. In 4 of his shows it showed him selling 4 cars to individuals and at auctions. However later in the year I attended a Meacum auction in Dallas and Richard was there with the same 4 cars and running them through the auction. What goes with that ?

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