If you were trying to describe Car Masters: Rust to Riches to a car buddy who hadn’t seen it, you could simply describe it as American Choppers meets Wheeler Dealer’s Trading Up meets All Girls Garage. While it isn’t breaking new ground in automotive-themed television, nobody really cares because the team at Gotham Garage is fun to watch and the vehicles prove that horsepower isn’t the true currency of custom cars. Imagination is.
Mark Towle, the owner of Gotham Garage, claims the cars “speak” and tell him what they want to be: a T-Bucket dreams of becoming a C-Cab Fire Truck, a Chevy Impala longs for a massive tunnel ram sticking through its hood. Whether the fabricator actually hears the cars talk or just has a feel for the build, it’s working for him.
Here are the 10 finished creations that deserve to be known as the coolest of the cool.
10 Chevy Fleetside
It’s interesting that the cleanest, most “sanitary” build on the list comes in at #10. Not that this Fleetside isn’t a sweet ride, it’s just the least “out-there” for this team. But true to form, the closer you look the more there is to like: it’s slammed on a Corvette suspension and sports one-off Gotham Garage wheels, so unsprung weight is relatively low for the monster-size rims. You just know it’s going to handle more like a sports car than the truck it once was.
Raise your eyes a bit and they’ll be caught by the see-through, glassed-in cutouts in the hood that reveal the jewel-like velocity stacks on the LS’s intake. Tear yourself away from that eye candy and there’s the barbed-wire theme grill that at first glance might appear stock, but most certainly isn’t. Inside, a blood red, modern interior makes the truck a stunner inside and out. But it’s still just #10 on the list.
9 Tow Truck
From the weathered look to the bat-shaped cutouts in the battery tie-down to the exposed... well... everything, no detail has been underthought or left to chance. You may not feel exactly comforted if this truck showed up to your AAA call for help, but you couldn’t help but be impressed.
8 The Batmobile
7 Lincoln Futura
In 1955, Ford brought a stunning vision of the future to car show attendees: the Lincoln Futura. Winged, bubbled-topped and swoopy from end to end, this car took the Space Age theme car manufacturers were starting to play with to an extreme that was unprecedented. Gotham Garage recreated this piece of automotive history using a fiberglass body cast from the original mold – and pretty much nothing else. They hand-fabricated the “roll top” dashboard and slatted grill from aluminum stock formed using an in-house water jet and hours of manual polishing. The “yoke” steering wheel was also fully fabricated in-house using bits and pieces of other things Mark had been collecting for awhile. If you don’t pop the hood (because it’s sitting on a modern chassis and drivetrain), seeing this car is like going back to the Futura.
Oh, and if it looks a lot like The Batmobile (# 8), that’s because it’s the same car. George Barris didn’t have a lot of time to produce something for the show, so he used the Futura show car, which had been sitting in the lot at his shop for years.
While they outsourced the double cockpits made from bullet-proof lexan to an aircraft manufacturing company, everything else – including the mold for the body – was done by the talented team at Gotham Garage. A hand-made exhaust running down the center of the car – but on top instead of underneath – is fronted by a polished, non-functional supercharger body that holds the air cleaners and exactly captures the original design. If you always wanted to be able to drive one of your toys from your childhood, these are the guys to talk to.
5 Mach 5
Most Mach 5s (he has built multiples) are powered by an LT1, but any engine that fits the C4 will work. And since the new body shaves about 1,000 pounds off the original car, performance is quite good for both acceleration and handling no matter what engine it has. But maybe best of all, Mark avoided the problems with The Batmobile by licensing the rights. So if you’re a big Speed Racer fan, there’s nothing standing between you and the car of your dreams – except the time it takes to build one.
4 Green Vicki
3 Bug Rod
Starting with a wrecked ‘73, the team built this raked, stretched, spyder entirely from parts around the shop. The signature element of the build, the rounded rear deck is actually a clever re-use of the roof, turned backwards and trimmed to fit. A solid front axle mounted way out in front of the hood gives the car a classic hot rod look, amplified by the traditional split DuVall windshield. But, of course, the twist is there’s nothing classic about it because IT’S A BUG!
2 Rocket Car
By chopping the top (off), fabricating jet/race-inspired fairings and giving the car a chrome wrap, the team turned it from a sleepy boulevard cruiser into a one-of-a-kind lesson in the power of creativity. Had the original 390 FE been a runner, it certainly could have powered the car nicely with its factory 303 horsepower and 390 ft/lbs of torque. But the 302 that replaces it weighs less and puts down enough power to ensure the car can back up the looks. This combo of audacity and creativity puts the T-Bird Rocket Car solidly at #2.
Also gone is the factory suspension, that was in no way ready to handle the weight or torque of this motor. Instead, a newly fabricated, boxed ladder frame does the job of keeping it all together. To help carry the additional weight and length – and to ratchet up the mind-blowing quotient a few notches higher – a third axle has been added just ahead of the powered one.
This truly original creation may not have brought the six-figure payday Mark Towle was hoping for, but it stands as a testament to the abilities and vision of this intrepid team. And its literal stretch-the-box thinking makes it the wildest, coolest creation Gotham Garage has made yet. Frankly, season 2 can’t come soon enough.