Car SOS dabbles in fire engines, Supras and EV conversions

WORDS: ELLIOTT HUGHES | PHOTOGRAPHY: national geographic

Magneto catches up with Car SOS hosts Tim Shaw and Fuzz Townshend, who completed their 100th car shortly before the debut of season ten.

“I don’t know about you Fuzz, but I can tell I’m at the end of the series because I’m absolutely knackered!” laughs Tim.

“Me too! I wake up in the morning and I need to go to bed again,” riffs Fuzz. “It’s always like that once you get to the end. I’m looking forward to working on some of my own cars – they’re falling to pieces because I haven’t had time to do anything to them in the past few months.” 

The duo has certainly earned the right to a little downtime. The final episode of season ten has seen them complete their 100th Car SOS restoration, and they’ve worked on everything from a Dennis fire engine to a Toyota Supra. 

Understandably, the past ten years have been something of a blur: “We hear the number 100, but we just don’t believe it,” Tim acknowledges. “Fuzz rang me a couple of weeks ago and said: ‘Tim, I’ve just watched an episode from series one.’ Back then we were both young, half-decent looking, we had hair! Now I look in the mirror and there’s an old man staring back at me, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s been the best decade of my life.”

From Wheeler Dealers to Fast ‘n Loud, there have been countless car-restoration TV shows produced over the years, but Tim and Fuzz believe Car SOS owes its longevity to the fact that it’s “the car make-over show with a heart”.

“The stories that we hear about the things people have gone through are fresh every time,” Fuzz explains. “When we watch the shows back, the gravity and power of those back stories are as strong to us as they are to anyone else watching. But for us, it’s a privileged position.

“It’s great that people feel strongly enough to do something really nice for the person that’s nominated – we are just the conduit. We focus on getting the car right in time for the reveal day and making sure they have a fantastic time. Once that’s done, Tim and I just disappear – we become superfluous. It’s all about them and their moment.”  

“We can both remember the faces of every single person who’s been on the show,” Tim interjects. “It’s a lovely thing to get to do, but Fuzz and I are softies, middle-aged blubbering old farts – despite being in a macho environment such as a workshop. 

“The truth is, neither of us sleep the night before the reveal because we’re too excited. We’ve spent eight weeks obsessing over someone else’s pride and joy, and you know the owner is mad about that particular car in the same way that Fuzz and I love cars; and we’ve got that car. We’ve repainted it and rebuilt it, and tomorrow is the day they get it back. You try sleeping but you can’t, you’re just too excited.”   

But excitement and positivity aren’t the only reasons for Tim and Fuzz’s sleepless nights. “We also don’t know if they’re going to like it or not,” Fuzz admits. “We just don’t know. It might be a project that somebody has been planning to do for decades. The finished product can then represent a fait accompli – it can knock the wind out of people’s sails a bit. Thankfully, that only happens very occasionally.”

Having filmed 100 episodes for scores of people, it’s something of a miracle that Tim and Fuzz have never been caught in the honourable act of restoring someone’s car before reveal day. The risk of discovery adds another level of anxiety, particularly after a few near-misses in past seasons. 

“We’ve been close to blowing it a few times,” Tim confesses. “Back in the early days I could pretend to be someone else by dressing up and putting on a silly voice, but as time’s gone by more people know the show, so it wouldn’t work now. There were a few reveals where I nearly got punched after winding people up, too.”

“In a way, I’d say we actually take bigger risks now. There have been a few occasions where we’ve taken cars off people’s driveways and then put a dummy car under the cover with matching wheels – they’ve never noticed. But all it would take to be discovered is for a storm to come in,” Fuzz says. 

“We were one day off getting busted on one of those – a storm came in the day after we gave the car back, it was literally hours away,” Tim recalls. “It’s almost as if we have luck on our side. There have been times where it looks like we’re going to get busted, but family, friends and neighbours don’t want to be the reason it gets blown out of the water when you’re doing something nice for someone.”

Which brings the conversation to an age-old question that Tim and Fuzz are more qualified to answer than most after spending a decade producing the show: why do cars carry such emotional and sentimental significance to so many of us? 

“Can you remember that feeling you get when you get your first car?” Tim asks. “It’s like coming down the stairs after Father Christmas has been – you can’t pay for that feeling, you can never have that feeling as strongly again later in life. It’s your first taste of freedom.” 

Fuzz agrees: “They’re a massive part of people’s lives. We look at old holiday photos, and the family car is sitting there somewhere in the background. People spend a lot of time in their cars, and they become attached – especially now as we commute further and further distances.” 

“I’ve got the images of Austin Metro City, Morris Marina and Volvo 240GL headrests burnt into my mind from sitting behind dad and asking: ‘Are we nearly there yet?’” Tim says. “I must have stared at those headrests for hundreds of hours.”

The topic of sentimentality leads us onto a thorny issue for many car enthusiasts: electrification. Tim and Fuzz are certainly open to the notion of EVs; their 100th car is confirmed to have undergone a petrol-to-electric conversion – a Car SOS first. But will electric cars attract the same level of passion and affection as their fossil-fuelled forebears?

“Of course!” Fuzz replies optimistically. 

“It’s a ‘no’ in my mind,” comes Tims skeptical answer. “A petrol-engined car is something you can work on. You can have your toolbox with a few sockets in it that your mum or dad got you, and you can have a tinker. It’s part of growing up.” 

“No, I think you’re underestimating the interest younger people have for electric vehicles,” Fuzz counters. “They’re going to want to make them faster and all that kind of thing, they’re going to go on courses and find out how to…”

“Stop! You’re making me aware of my age,” Tim cuts in. 

“That’s because you sound like an ancient fogey!” retorts Fuzz. “There will still be that visceral thrill of jumping in a car and going places. People will take EVs that are around now, and they will be classics in the same way that other cars are today.” 

“No way,” says Tim, unconvinced. “Back in the ’90s my mates and I would sit chatting about spoilers, splitters, remapping, air boxes and so on. I can’t see the young people of today being that obsessed about the Tesla Model 3…”

Predictably, Tim and Fuzz’s jocular debate ends in a stalemate, but their passion represents the wider crossroads the automotive community currently finds itself at. One thing they do agree on is that EVs are an entirely new challenge to work on. 

“I’m not EV qualified yet, so there were bits of the 100th car that I wasn’t allowed to do,” Fuzz concedes. “There were two great big orange-clad cables, and I knew that I couldn’t touch anything between those. Still, there were lots of little modifications you must do to convert an ICE vehicle to electric. One issue was the braking system; how do you create a vacuum for the servo when you don’t have an induction side of the engine? All those sorts of things had to be taken into consideration.”

Details of Car SOS’ 100th car are set to be released in the coming weeks, but Fuzz and Tim are keen to discuss the eight models that have already been confirmed to appear in season ten, even if picking a favourite proves to be a difficult task.   

“We’ve done some pretty cool stuff. We did a Vauxhall Cavalier Turbo 4×4, which is a car I would never have taken a second look at – but it was brilliant!” Fuzz says. “Yet the job we did in association with Ric Wood Motorsport was transformative for the owner, so that has a special place in my heart. However, the car I got the biggest kick out of was the EV conversion. I really enjoyed that, even though there were parts of it I couldn’t do. It was interesting to see how it’s done.” 

 Tim’s answer takes little deliberation: “My favourite was the Fiat Uno Turbo, because it epitomises my youth and what my life was about when I was…”

“Because it’s another car you used to see the taillights of,” Fuzz interjects.

“I know! I used to get dusted by them all the time, but it’s a car I held in such high regard just because it was so rapid in its day. So, it was great to have the chance to work on one of those. It was fantastic.”

The Fiat Uno Turbo features in season ten, episode one, and it belongs to diehard petrol-head Gerry, who was tragically diagnosed with terminal cancer. 

“It was amazing to do the Fiat for Gerry, who’s a guy we’re lucky to still have with us at the moment, although I do believe he’s back in hospital as we speak,” Tim laments. “I’m glad we pulled it off for him and his family. His car has the Testarossa kit on it, which harks back to a time that no longer exists, when people buy a car and after a year they cut the wings off it – major surgery. So, combining what Gerry did to the car with our restoration was great. He’s also a huge Beckham fan, so we got David Beckham on the episode as well, which was lovely.”

“I can go with that,” Fuzz concurs. “There’s a lot to love about that car, and it has a great history so it was pretty interesting. But man, that thing was totally rotten, it was mechanically completely worn out and a nightmare electrically. There wasn’t one bit of it that was particularly nice; it was a real struggle. It’s a tiny car and it took 1400 hours. Ridiculous!” 

The duo may be tired from their exploits on season ten, but Fuzz confirms that series 11 has already been commissioned. So, what does the future have in store for Car SOS?

“Bigger and better than ever! We’re always trying to evolve the show; every series has its own feel. Luckily cars are only getting older, so a new set of vehicles enter into the world of classics. There’s a never-ending supply of cars and a never-ending supply of stories,” Tim concludes.

“We’ve got the cars – they are ever changing, ever evolving. But people are people, and people are important,” Fuzz adds. “It’s lovely to be able to do nice things for people – and if we get bored of doing that, we’re all in massive trouble.”

Car SOS returns to National Geographic with season ten every Thursday at 8pm (BST) from March 10, 2022.


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