Since the original, British Top Gear showed the world how phenomenally good a car show could be, there have been many aspirants produced in its wake that attempted to cash in on the genre.
Some, like the U.S. version of Top Gear, tried to tap into same formula as Top Gear U.K. and failed miserably, largely owing to the fact that its presenters lacked the charisma and chemistry that made Clarkson, May and Hammond such a joy to watch.
Others took the reality car show in new directions with greater success, such as Overhaulin’ and Fast and Loud, which focused on the restoration and customization of classic cars, while Pinks and Street Outlaws focused on street and drag racing.
So when Netflix, one of the premier producers of original episodic shows, decided to enter the crowded car show fray, how did they expect to make its offering stand out from the rest? By combining the best elements of the other shows and adding a little secret sauce of their own.
The result is Fastest Car.
Distributed exclusively on Netflix’s streaming service, Fastest Car is a co-production of Conde Nast Entertainment and Large Eyes Productions. Season one consists of eight episodes released in 2018.
In an effort to offer something new but at the same time familiar to car show viewers, Fastest Car cleverly borrows the supercar angle from Top Gear, the vehicle customization and hot-rodding of Overhaulin’ and Fast and Loud, and the drag racing element from Pinks and Street Outlaws. It combines these concepts to create a fresh take on the automotive reality show, with no hosts and no gimmicks.
Instead, each episode pits three amateur mechanics/drag racers in their self-built “sleeper” hot rods, against a selection of some of the fastest factory cars in the world. The object? To answer the question, can a garage-built hot rod beat a supercar in a drag race?
In the premiere episode it is established that the winner of the race in each of the first seven episodes will capture a spot in the winner-takes-all, season finale drag event at the dry lake bed in El Mirage, California.
The episode then takes its time introducing us to each of three hopeful usurpers to the crown. We learn their personal stories, how they got into fabrication and racing, and are familiarized with their cars. We then meet the supercar owner and get their story as well. What’s left of the episode concerns the contestants’ efforts to prepare their cars for the race, which naturally happens at the third act climax.
The subsequent episodes all follow this same format, and that’s a good thing, as surprisingly, the most interesting part of the show is not the cars, but the stories of the amateur builders.
In episode one, we meet a young man, Corey Caouette, whose life was shattered by a fall that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Like Chairslayer Rob Parsons, a professional drifter who also makes an appearance alongside Corey, Caouette refused to let his injury define him, and subsequently battled his way back to participating in his first love in life – racing. His home built, 1927 Dodge pickup rat-rod is outfitted with hand controls that he fabricated himself to control the throttle and braking. Seeing him compete after learning about his challenging story is actually an emotional experience, something unusual for a car show.
Likewise, in episode two, we meet another young man whose brother-in-law/best friend was killed in a drag race. We watch as he assembles a turbocharged and nitrous-boosted late ‘80s Thunderbird using the drivetrain from his buddy’s wrecked car. The finishing touch? A custom valve cover with his friend’s name and dates on it. Another moving tale.
Each episode features stories like these, along with some folks who have simply been building and racing their own cars literally since childhood. Hearing the thoughts and stories of these self-taught engineers and builders is stunning. Most are just regular Joes and Janes who are far from wealthy, and utilize whatever means are available to them to realize their dream, including hit-or-miss junkyard crawls, self-fabrication, and designing jury-rigged tools and equipment.
For me, the cars are a mixed bag here. I’m not much of a rat-rod guy, so while impressed by the builders’ ingenuity, I didn’t exactly find myself drooling over a white ’71 Ford Pinto, in spite of the fact that it’s packing nitrous and twin-turbos, or a thousand plus horsepower 1979 Caddy Coupe De Ville in bowel movement brown. When it comes to the sleepers, I’m all about the stories and design behind the mechanicals, and less so about the DIY aesthetics.
The supercars, on the other hand are, for the most part, awesome. Episode one features a rare 2006 Ford GT. Riding along with the owner, who was a partner in the speed shop of the late Paul Walker and Roger Rodas, is pretty intense. The growls that the GT’s 5.4-liter supercharged V8 make on a cruise along Mulholland drive in LA are a sonorous cacophony.
Episode two’s Canary Yellow 2016 Lamborghini Huracan is also an exciting beast. Driven by Pepper Yarnell, an automotive photographer with little drag racing experience, we laugh along with the rat-rodders as they goof on his need to consult a YouTube video to figure out how to initiate the launch control system.
Other episodes feature a 2017 Ferrari 488 GTB, two Lamborghini Aventadors, a brutal 2016 Dodge Viper SRT ACR-E and a 2013 McLaren MP-4/12C. Quite a collection of cars.
So is the show a resounding success in every way? Um, er… No. For starters, I found myself wanting a wider variety of supercars. Three Lambos were two too many. An Aston Martin, Pagani Huayra, or a Porsche 918 thrown in would have been nice.
What’s more, several of the contestants are, to be honest, downright obnoxious and off-putting. Most notably, the owner of the Aventador in episode four is a clownish phony wearing velvet robes and bedecked in gaudy diamond and gold jewelry, and his Lambo wears a chrome wrap with purple neon lighting inside and underneath the car.
He, and his wife, who has a penchant for sunglasses that display scrolling electronic messages across the lenses (I’m not kidding) are positively unwatchable. His gaudiness is nearly matched by his fecklessness when he almost kills the flagman in the episode’s drag race by launching too early, and then makes some flippant remarks afterwards to the extremely lucky fellow. I could barely get through that particular episode because of him.
Another contestant’s wonderful work with cancer stricken children is tempered by her adopted alter ego, Batgirl. Yeah, she actually runs the race wearing a mask and cape. Some other contestants also seem a bit full of themselves, and thus tend to grate on the nerves.
Also, aside from the aforementioned Aventador, a couple of the other supercars wear hideous wraps and feature some pretty shoddy looking aftermarket accouterments. Note to supercar owners: leave that thing looking stock, mmmm-kay? Nothing you can add will make the car look better.
Those gripes aside, Fastest Car season one is a hell of a show debut. Its combination of human stories about extreme ingenuity and overcoming adversity with some serious automotive eye candy, is a winning formula whether the viewer is a car nut or not. It’s simply very watchable and addictive drama, and that’s really no surprise, as Netflix has few peers these days when it comes to original programming. I have no doubt that Fastest Car will prove to be another reason for folks to subscribe to Netflix aside from the ability to stream movies, and neither does Netflix, as future seasons of Fastest Car are apparently already in the works.