This coming Thursday the new series of Car S.O.S. starts on National Geographic. The show, which is now in its eighth series, has grown in popularity with car enthusiasts since it started back in 2013, largely due to the two amiable presenters Tim Shaw and Fuzz Townshend.
A couple of weeks ago I got the opportunity to meet with the Car S.O.S. duo in a central London hotel to ask them about the new series as well as to find out how they first met and what makes the show the success it is today.
So how did Tim and Fuzz originally meet and what was and is the chemistry that makes them and the show work so well? The answer is very simple: their love of cars.
Tim and Fuzz started making Car S.O.S. in 2012. They knew each other before, as Tim was a DJ on Kerrang! Radio and Fuzz has a history of playing in bands (he’s a drummer for some of the UK’s best loved bands). Fuzz recalls receiving a call to screen test for this new part and called Tim to see if he was interested as well. The company screen tested them and before they’d finished, they were offered the parts as they just hit it off so well. The reason being that they are ‘car guys’ as Tim puts it and can talk to each other so easily. The rapport and chemistry’s self-evident when you watch the show. It helped that they have common interests, such as their love for building and construction, no matter what it is. They are both colourful individuals and I really like that. But the key to their strength is that they are first and foremost car guys and as Tim says, “if you are going to do a car show you have to be a car guy or car girl and that interest has to come from a young age. There are some car shows on TV at the moment and you can spot non-car guys straightaway.”
“Us car folk have this special language” as Tim puts it, and I would agree. You can start chatting with another car person who you may never have met before, but as you speak this common language, you tend to just get on. There is a special comradery which I love about this industry, and we are all very passionate about our love for cars.
Fuzz tells me that he has also been a journalist for Bauer Media’s top-selling Practical Classics magazine as well as various other magazines. As he quite rightly points out, cars are a big part of people’s lives as let’s be honest, it’s probably the second largest single purchase you make and something you live with for three to five years or more in some cases.
Fuzz’s immense knowledge of cars and all things mechanical is down to him being a classic car restorer, mechanic and director of classic vehicle restoration workshop, Townshend and Tassel Classics Ltd, which is based in between Birmingham and Dudley in a lovely picturesque part of the country and home to the Car S.O.S. workshop and has a reputation for high-quality classic car restoration and recommissioning.
Background to Car S.O.S.
For those of you who have not watched many episodes of Car S.O.S., Tim and Fuzz have restored some absolutely fabulous cars over the last seven series, from an E-Type Jaguar and 1984 Audi Quattro in Series 3 to a stunning 1965 Mercedes-Benz 230SL Pagoda and Aston Martin DB6 in Series 5 (my favourite car of the show). Then there was the iconic Volvo P1800 Roger Moore drove in The Saint, which had Tim tracking down Sir Roger to ask him to sign the back of the restored driver’s seat in a classic episode. Then there was a heartfelt plea from James Nesbitt to restore a very rotten old 1959 MG MGA and elaborate set up to return the car to its owner in a London Mews on a make-believe film set.
The car is however only part of the story. It’s the story behind the car that is the key to the series success and why Tim and Fuzz carry out the restoration work in the first place. There is always a deserving owner who has perhaps owned the car for decades, wanting to restore it but has never quite got around to doing so due to a sudden illness, accident or because they have ended up having to look after a sick family member. It’s then usually a relation who will write into the show and explain why they would like to get a particular car restored to its former glory as it would mean so much to a particular other member of their family. Some of the stories are heart-breaking and others will make you cry with joy when you see the look on the owner’s face as their beautifully restored car is unveiled in a contrived location in order to take them completely by surprise, which Tim does so well.
Series 8 – Episode 1 ‘Porsche 356’
Turning to this new season, Tim and Fuzz are faced with some of their greatest challenges to date, as chronic rust, rotten chassis and hard to find parts and broken engines push the team to extremes. This season, the cars you’ll see beautifully restored and returned to new span an incredible 80 years, from a very rotten 1964 Porsche 356 and post war 1961 Austin Healey 3000 to a 1973 Hillman Imp and Lancia Fulvia, as well as a number of other needy cars.
In the first episode which airs this Thursday 12th March at 8pm on National Geographic, Tim and Fuzz head down to East London to find a 1964 Porsche 356 in terminal condition. The car belongs to 67-year-old former ambulance driver Trevor who has owned the car since the 1980s. It was the car of his dreams, but ever-growing repair bills meant that the beloved Porsche ended up being stored in a damp garage literally rotting away. More recently Trevor was very sadly diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer which has meant that his dream of restoring the car would never be realised. As a result, his daughters wrote to Tim and Fuzz hoping that they might be able to help their Dad get back behind the wheel of his much-loved car once more.
The Porsche 356 was Porsche’s first ever production car, built between 1948 and 1965. Around 76,000 356s were made and transformed Porsche, almost overnight, into one of the world’s great sportscar brands. Today the car is a timeless classic and immensely collectable.
However, Trevor’s 356 is far from being collectable. There is rust and rot everywhere and “the whole thing looks like it’s been at the bottom of a swamp”, says Fuzz, “This car is utterly terminal”. The unanimous verdict at the garage is that “This is the worse car we’ve ever had.” Almost nothing is salvageable from the engine. In fact, the deeper and deeper they went into the engine, the more work they found needed doing. “Everything on this car is scrap” Fuzz says.
So Tim will need a very big begging bowl if they have any hope in getting this car back onto the road again.
Fortunately for Tim, he manages to track down the largest stockist of 356 parts in the country, who has everything he needs. But what about that discount Tim desperately loves getting? Well, after racing the owner for his discount, wait for it, in two old Porsche tractors, Tim lost by the way! He did however get his discount in the end, so not all was lost.
I have to say, Fuzz and the team performed a miracle on the car and after the 1200+ hours it took to restore the car, what was a scrap car has been reborn!
“A lot of work goes into every bit of these cars” says Fuzz. The bottom of the doors had to be completely rebuilt and look as new as when they came out of the factory in 1964.
Whilst they were restoring the car, Tim and Fuzz got the chance to take a pristine Porsche 356 SC out on the road to see what it drives like. Tim absolutely fell in love with the car and says that it drives like a modern car, so ahead of its time. It’s a perfect piece of engineering.
As much as I like to see these cars restored to factory finished condition, I also really enjoy seeing the look on the faces of the cars’ unsuspecting owners when Tim and Fuzz hand the cars back. It really can be very emotional. That special moment of realisation that this is their car is priceless and is what this show is really all about, and I love it for that!
Series 8 – Episode 2 ‘Healey 3000’
In episode 2, which airs on Thursday 19th March at 8pm on National Geographic, Tim and Fuzz head to County Durham to pick up a 1961 Austin Healey 3000 which is owned by 76-year-old former engineer John. Sadly, Parkinson’s disease has meant that John’s dream of restoring this beautiful classic car have faded away. Although started, the project was never completed and turns out to be a complete botch job by the people it was entrusted to restore it and has cost John his life savings. And so, what should have been the completion of an unfinished job now looks like a full Car S.O.S. strip down and rebuild, including the engine, which turns out to be completely clapped out.
To many people, the Austin Healey 3000 was one of the greatest British post war sports cars ever made. It was produced between 1959 and 1967 and was a joint venture between car manufacturer Austin and performance car specialists the Donald Healey Motor Company. The car came with a potent a 3-litre straight six-cylinder engine, fitted with twin SU carburettors which produced 124bhp and meant that the car could reach a top speed of 114mph, which was considered to be extremely fast for a car of that time. It’s also one of Fuzz’s favourite cars of the 50s and 60s.
You’ll have to watch the show to see how Tim and Fuzz transform this car back to its former glory and hand it back to an emotional John.
Favourite ‘Take Home’ cars of the show
By the end of series 8 Tim and Fuzz will have restored 80 cars, which is quite an achievement. I was curious to know how much time is put into each car given that the restoration work is so manually intensive.
Generally speaking, they average out at around 800 hours per car. Some of them go to double that and others less, Fuzz says. Then you have to add another 40 to 80 hours for any other work that has to be carried out on the car outside of the workshop, such as the engine work. You also have to add trimming in. So, if you said a thousand hours as a base line that would be around about correct.
Having restored so many beautiful classic cars, I of course wanted to find out what their ‘take home’ cars would be from all the series.
Fuzz tells me that his ‘take home’ car would be the AC Aceca from Series 4. Fuzz loves 50s GTs as it was a great romantic era and has a Jenson 541R himself. These were the first cars he felt that were built to do long galloping mileage. So you could drive down to the South of France or Italy for example and just enjoy the journey. “There is a romance to those vehicles.” These cars were built just after the war with what was then cutting-edge technology by people who were building armaments. They were fantastically built cars that were aero industry inspired in their design. “Perfect, beautiful and stunning in form. There’s a feeling of well-being when you are sitting behind the wheel of one of these cars. It’s then all about the journey and being where you are and being in the moment and about getting to where you are going.”
Tim’s initial favourite up to this new series was the Lancia Delta Integrale Evoluzione II from Series 6 but since doing the new series, it is now the Porsche 356 which to Tim is the most intrinsically pleasing car. As he says, “if there is one car he would ping into space for Martians to find, it would be the Porsche 356. It’s just a beautiful car.”
Tim also let on that he has always swerved clear of driving vintage cars on the show, as he had been made aware that they are really hard to drive, what with having to double declutch and so forth. You may have noticed that Fuzz drives all the vintage cars. But the week before we met, he drove an old Austin 7 and loved it and as Fuzz says, “he didn’t even stall it!”
The three of us agreed that driving an old car is such a great way to slow the pace of life down, a bit like going back to the future. So Tim wants a vintage car simply for that reason. He wants to own one because he wants his life to slow down.
The great thing about classic cars of yesteryear is that they weren’t restricted by all the health and safety we have today. And we just wonder what kids of today will look back on when it comes to cars?
As a self-confessed petrolhead I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Tim and Fuzz and was only too happy to get carried away with talking about Tim’s 1965 Ford Mustang project which he plans to unveil at the Frankfurt Motor Show later this year. But more about that in a future article.
Car S.O.S airs on National Geographic at 8pm on Thursday 12th March 2020.
Simon Burrell is Editor of Our Man Behind The Wheel, a member of The Guild of Motoring Writers, professional photographer and former saloon car racing driver.
Photographs courtesy of Car S.O.S. and National Geographic/Renegade Pictures