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
A tow truck is meant to haul, and with a 454 motivating this 1940 Ford, you know it’ll do just that. There’s nothing delicate about this truck, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t full of mind-blowing details. Start with the railroad crossing lights repurposed as high-mounted brake lights, or the shield-shaped, metal mud guards hanging just behind the rear dualies. And while you’re back there, be sure to check out the working winch suspended from the graceful curve of the tow arm, topped by Gotham Garage's signature 4-Aces motif. Maybe the most whimsical aspect of the build is the Peterbilt mud flap split and repurposed as slings.
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
This one has to be bittersweet for the gang at Gotham Garage. It’s an amazing feat of reverse-engineering to take a Barris Custom – especially one as iconic as the original Batmobile – and turn it into a car anyone could buy and drive. Yet, the quality work Mark Towle does is exactly what got him sued by Warner Bros. studio. If the cars he built were less precise, less functional, less incredible, he might not have been taken to court. But it’s a testament to his amazing abilities that production of this car was shut down by the second-highest court in the land.
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.
There are customizers. There are builders. And then there are the really talented few who can take a toy and use it as the blueprint for a life-sized, fully operational car. That’s what the team at Gotham Garage did with Splittinimage. Based on a C4 Corvette chassis and drivetrain, everything else is hand-fabricated because there is no cache of parts for a car that never existed.
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
Like the Splittinimage, the Mach 5 never existed before Mark Towle decided to build one. Also like the car above, the Mach 5 is based on the C4 Corvette. But that’s where the similarities end. This car is as close to Speed Racer’s ride as you can get. But since it’s street legal, the cutter blades and auto jack are sadly non-functional. However, the look, the feel, and some semblance of the performance are there for your enjoyment.
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
If the ‘32-’35 Ford Victoria was the most popular hot rod of the ‘90s, Green Vicky is the least expected reimagining ever. Starting by stripping the running boards and fenders, the team turned a ho-hum hi-boy into a Hot Rod with baditude to spare. She’s got copper accents, deep dished, black-rimmed wheels, and a spider web grill. Taking a cue from Tucker and Citroën, Green Vicky’s headlights turn with the front wheels, so you can see around corners. Everyone knows the point of a hot rod is to strip it down to bare essentials to make it fast, but this is a great way to add a little more safety – and craftsmanship – to the experience. This stunning reinterpretation of a traditional rod helps Green Vicky force its way into the top 5.
3 Bug Rod
With over 21,000,000 VW Beetles made between 1938 and 2003, you can imagine that a lot of them have been modified over the years. Baja Bugs, drag racers, customized kit cars, whatever you can think of has probably been done to a Beetle. So it’s another sign of the creative chops at Gotham Garage that they’ve come up with something nobody has seen before.
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
While the ‘64 model outsold its predecessor by 50% back in the day, it gets a lot less love today with values 25% lower across the condition range. So it’s no tragedy the team went full Gotham Garage on this junkyard dweller. While certainly inspired by the limited-edition Sport Roadster edition that covered the rear seats with a fiberglass tonneau and turned the four-seat drop-top into a stunning two-seater, this one-off stands alone.
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.
VWs of the 1960’s and 70’s will forever be intertwined with the hippie movement. But peace, love and flower power will be the furthest things from your mind when confronted by the Frank’N’Bus. The words stretched, chopped and stripped don’t even begin to describe what happened to this formerly milquetoast example of motoring mildness. Gone is the 72-horsepower, air-cooled, flat 4-cylinder hanging out back, replaced by a rear-mid-engine, 700-horsepower supercharged V8. From a drag boat. It’s isolated from the passengers by a 1-inch thick slab of bulletproof glass so you can watch it go about the business of turning fossil fuel into noise at a prodigious rate, secure in the knowledge that you’ll be safe if it ever decides to turn the fuel into projectiles instead.
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.