Real Life Monster Garage: The Rise And Fall Of Jesse James In 20 Pics

He’s known as the tough-as-nails customizer that grew up scraping for survival in less-than-ideal situations for the better part of his childhood. We’d eventually find Jesse James working at a motorcycle shop, where his work was already gaining recognition within the custom chopper community, and Discovery was the catalyst that blew him into the national spotlight with more force than a hydrogen racer.

The national spotlight would uncover a personality, however, that was prone to destructive tendencies and we watched him crash and burn his way through money, women, and Monster Garage builds with reckless regard to anything but exactly what he wanted to do.

But are we really surprised? We asked for an outlaw and we were given an outlaw. Jesse James rides a dangerous line between freedom and doing everything he can do jeopardize said freedom—while still staying free.

It’s a pretty fine line; not a trek for the faint of heart. His tour on Monster Garage is arguably his most popular venture and allowed him to use his popularity to leverage his personal agenda—but many people question just what that agenda actually entails.

Whether you love him, hate him, or can’t decide either way, Jesse James has carved an interesting path for himself. We feel that his noteworthy accomplishments shouldn’t be tarnished by his behavior and yet, his behavior shouldn’t be downplayed due to said achievements. How, then, can you judge such a character? His Monster Garage years sure did provide us with some interesting food for thought.

Continue scrolling to keep reading

Click the button below to start this article in quick view

Start Now

20 He’s Not Afraid To Put Discovery On Blast

via Celebitchy

Outlaw Garage had just been canceled and this custom fabricator wasn't happy. Normally, if a public figure is going to voice their opinions about a network or particular production they have a disagreement with, they’ll use tact and subtlety, allowing followers to “read between the lines.” In the case of the former Outlaw Garage builder, no such words were in his vocabulary.

We can’t really reproduce any of the content here due to Jesse’s colorful construction of the events as he outlined them in his post but accusations of manufactured drama and phony narratives were intermingled with language that would make a sailor bashful.

19 He Missed the 200 MPH Club by 0.3

via Autoweek

We wouldn’t normally think of Jesse as an alternative fuel type of guy. He actually embraces fossil fuels with the welcoming arms of a church congregation. People scrutinize this, but this is what makes him Jesse. Nobody wants to watch a show about Prius modifications (if one even existed).

Jesse is interested in alternative fuels, however—especially if they go fast. Jesse built a land speed racer (that he claimed to have spent “millions” on) and shot it across El Mirage Dry Lake Bed, setting an unofficial record at 199.7mph. It was a record run, but he didn’t complete the required second run within the “official” time limit. Jesse James is 0.3mph shy of the 200 mile per hour club.

18 He Knows How To Hot Wire – For A Reason

via Jason Edge

Jesse James grew up in Lynwood, California. If you’re familiar with Lynwood, you’d know it’s not the biggest dump on the face of the Earth but it’s no Beverly Hills, either. His parents divorced when he was very young and Jesse was raised by his abusive father, Larry, who was an antique dealer. (Quite a contrast from the rough, rugged Jesse we know.) He recalled “always [being] scared. My whole childhood, I never had a chance to be a kid.” It comes as little surprise then that Jesse would fall in with the wrong crowd. Boosting cars and causing trouble became a part of his hooligan lifestyle.

17 He Nabbed An Olympian’s Porsche

via Dusty Cars LLC

Scott Hamilton is a gold-medal Olympic figure skater and Jesse James in an outlaw. Scott Hamilton’s first new car was a green Porsche Targa; Jessie boosted said Porsche around 20 years ago. (Hamilton never knew it was Jesse until someone called him to fact-check an article that was being written about it.)

The story is odd enough as it is, but it would get exponentially weirder when Jesse James and Scott Hamilton would come face-to-face on The Apprentice. Jesse took the slot in the show to make a personal apology to Hamilton and amends have been made. Hamilton is quick to point out, however, that the Monster fabricator still owes him the insurance deductible.

16 He’ll Make You Wait For Him To Finish A Race

via Air Force

Car and Driver once sent a guy to be a part of the Monster Garage support crew, just to check things out. (As it would turn out, the Car and Driver rep would accidentally destroy the $1,500 rear glass that was to be a part of an Escalade build.) The journalist arrived on-set on a Monday but was informed Jesse wasn’t available.

The next day, they were there at 8 am, waiting. Jesse didn’t show up until 11:30. Most people would figure this is just movie stars being movie stars but Jesse actually had other things going on. Whether figure-eight racing is a valid excuse is up for debate but we’d rather race than film, too.

15 Producers Depicted Cast Members However They Wanted

via Race Dezert

It’s called structured reality and it’s an essential ingredient in the recipe for a successful reality show. The reality is that watching a bunch of dudes swear and grunt their way through an assembly procedure is hardly show-worthy. Even we mechanics don’t want to sit around and watch other mechanics work.

Successfully bridging the gap between your living room couch and the toolbox requires a little bit of spice. Jesse was aware of this going into the deal but he never became comfortable with the level of fabrication that was required to get the ratings. As it turns out, the only fabrication Jesse likes is at the end of a hammer.

14 He Can Weld You To Your Sweetheart

via Nicki Swift

The list of things you could pick up and throw in his face are numerous but it doesn’t even begin to give you an accurate glimpse of the man behind the welding mask. Jesse James is a community benefactor and likes giving back as much as he likes building bikes.

Judge him for being who he is, but he’s an outlaw and that’s why we all tuned in. We want to see Jesse do what he does. Thanks to the Universal Life Church, another thing he now does is marry people. (We’re serious.) For an episode of Monster Garage, he had to become an ordained minister to perform the ceremony.

13 Outlaw Garage Brought Jesse And Sandra Together

via ET Online

It never seemed to fit quite right, and we all knew it; but Hollywood will be Hollywood and it almost wasn’t a surprise that the Outlaw bad boy would end up with this country’s sweetheart. They would meet for the first time when Sandra Bullock took her godson to meet Jesse for his tenth birthday.

Together, they toured the set of Monster Garage where West Coast Choppers built their signature custom bikes. This was in 2003. They would get married in 2005, becoming the oddball couple of Hollywood. The rest of their entire life together is pretty much a cesspool of tabloid features we can only hope to forget.

12 Jesse Was Hardened From A Very Young Age

NY Daily News

In a tell-all interview with Graham Bensinger, Jesse reveals childhood memories that would shape the rest of his life. “Me and my father had this rad relationship,” he says, “up until I was 12 and he moved his girlfriend with her three kids.” This would spiral down a long, painful road of building resentment, coming to a head with a physical altercation between him and his dad.

He was accused by his stepmother of burning their house down. Dad took her side. Whether he was being taken to the parking lot of Knott’s Berry Farm at 3 am for a deal or abused by his step-siblings, Jesse’s rough childhood would steel him into the biker bad boy he became.

11 He’s Not Scared Of Warzones

via Dvid's Hub

His wife didn’t want him to go. His producers didn’t want him to go. But Jesse wanted to go. And guess what happened. Jesse went. He went to Iraq to help build a monster Humvee for the troops. His crew even brought an 800-hp engine, some rims, and some paint. Jesse wanted to show a different side of the troops we don’t normally see.

"We set out to come over here not to focus on a TV show, or me, but on these soldiers building something cool. And I think we did that," he asserts. “These last four days have been one of the best moments of my life,” said Sgt. Major Cynthia Graham after filming.

10 The Production Wasn’t Shy About Cash Grabs

via Hungame

Video games have taken the world’s youth by storm but the games' makers know better than to take them for granted. Gamers are infinitely picky, meticulous, and discerning. You can’t just package up a pile of garbage, slap the Monster Garage endorsement on it, and shoot it out the door. That’s exactly what they did, however, and the game’s quality is evident in the ratings.

If you were to take the absolute bare minimum amount of effort and put it into a game, you’d be left with what Monster Garage gave you. (Just look at some of the screenshots!) This “brand milking” was a constant annoyance for Jesse, who would rather have quality or nothing at all.

9 Jesse Is A True Outlaw

via Pinterest

Monster Garage wasn’t easy; there was always the possibility of failure, which made for good TV. The “Grim Ripper” was the first build to tank, a DeLorean would soon follow, and the dirt-track Camaro would also be a failure.

The rules were eventually loosened up a bit, allowing the build team a little more flexibility, but that didn’t spot Jesse from viewing the rules as mere guidelines; he’d do what he had to do to complete the build. If this meant that a rule may need to bend a little bit in one direction or another, a rule was getting bent.

8 He Is Related To The Infamous Outlaw

via Pinterest

Wouldn’t that be something neat: the bike builder and the notorious outlaw, both of the same descent? This fact was verified by both Jesse James himself and his network. Claims of such by Jesse James himself would be erroneous enough (as this fact is not true), but that’s just the tip.

The fact that this was collaborated by his network means that it wasn’t Jesse’s idea to even ever make this claim. We’re guessing that the network thought it would boost ratings (and they would have obviously fact-checked its validity beforehand) and told him to play along.

7 He Almost Blew His Chance Before It Ever Was Given To Him

via TV Guide

Everybody with a TV has heard of Monster Garage; the star of the show is essentially an institution. But it wasn’t written in the stars, and Jesse almost blew his Golden Ticket right down the street. When producers from Discovery were trying to do a feature on how a custom motorcycle is built, everyone said they should talk to Jesse.

So that’s what they did. Jesse however, almost threw them out of his shop. He had jobs piling up and didn’t really want to be filmed. Reluctantly, he let them. The production would break rating records across the board and that’s when they learned Jesse was a special kind of character.

6 Jesse Is The Epitome Of Blue Collar

via SEMA

Maybe one of the reasons why we love Jesse is because he is essentially us. He was never a star or an actor. He never studied arts. He grew up quick and he grew up tough. He had a rough start and still managed to pull together a successful business. He worked hard every day and honed his craft into perfection.

This may fall on a few deaf ears but anyone who’s ever slaved away with their hands—at the expense of their back—knows exactly what we’re talking about. Jesse made it out of that rat race and he feels a natural affinity towards those who know the struggle.

5 The Idea Came From A Pile Of Scrap

via Duncan T

Just because a quick documentary was a raging success didn’t mean the production could just throw together a show and pump it into your living rooms; it required a unique touch—and a nice spin. The problem was finding a winning formula. They already had the golden boy but what about the actual show itself?

It took almost a month to decide on a final idea but a reversal of the Junkyard Wars format seemed to fit well. “Junkyard Wars starts with junk, and tries to make something out of it; we start with perfectly good stuff, and turn it into junk,” he laughs.

4 He’s A Target For Tree-Huggers

via Pinterest

This one should scare everybody. Jesse wasn’t cranking out bikes like a factory; quite the opposite, actually. But he lives in one of the “cleanest” states in the nation. That basically means it's festering petri dish of invasive legislature, aimed at peeling as many tax dollars from your take home as it can.

Jesse’s national spotlight only made him a target and when the state found something they could pinch him on, like “violating air-quality laws,” they struck like a cobra. He was hit with a $271,250 fine! But rather than allow Jesse to retrofit his bikes with the compliant emissions systems—which he offered to do—CARB (California Air Resource Board) chose to take the cash. Surprise surprise.

3 Jesse Wants To Do More Monster Garage

via Austin Culture

He’s been down a long and windy road since Motorcycle Mania. We’ve seen him on extremely high peaks and down in some pretty low valleys but he’s never stopped. We don’t think he even has a stop setting. His Graham Bensinger interviews indicate he not only wants to continue the Monster Garage legacy, he knows Discovery can’t do it without him!

“They’ve already tried three or four times, now,” he laughs, “nobody can crack the whip like me.” Jesse feels that the timing is better than ever and the show would be able to inspire a lot of kids and careers.

2 He Destroys Everything Good In His Life

via NBC

Not everything in Jesse's career was to run smoothly; in fact, one could almost say he had self-destructive tendencies. When Jesse and Sandra got hooked up, many considered Jesse a lucky dude (to be fair, any dude that Sandra Bullock likes is a lucky dude). Jesse felt like a lucky guy, as well, but that wasn’t enough to curb the urge of temptation.

We were all shocked when one woman came forth. Then two, three—and finally, four! All of this nonsense would eventually implore Jesse to check himself into rehab, which is the Hollywood term for the place you go when someone catches you doing something bad.

1 Jesse Doesn’t Really Know What He Wants

via Closer Weekly

The women we’ve seen Jesse with on the cover of National Inquirer are just the tip of a very, very large iceberg. There’s a very good chance he couldn’t even name all the women. But, if he were in it just for the action, he wouldn’t have gotten married…four times! So what is it that causes him to self-destruct and ruin good things in his life?

Jesse would attribute this tendency to his rough childhood and a girlfriend in high school who would cheat on him. Many people aren’t buying it, however, and think Jesse is just a narcissist. Is he? There’s plenty of evidence to fortify both arguments, that’s for sure.

Sources: Biography, Car and Driver, Universal Life Church, and ABC News.

More in Car Entertainment