There’s a joke in the car world that the best way to make a small fortune flipping cars is to start with a large one. This is a mantra that often rings true for Danny Koker, star of the reality TV show Counting Cars. Danny is usually in charge of rebuilds and restorations, from start to finish; he finds the cars, estimates the budget, and has the final say on whether the build is going to turn a healthy profit or take a massive loss. And he’s made more mistakes than he would like to admit.
Undertaking a large project like a car restoration comes with a huge amount of risk and a huge number of variables can turn a rebuild on its head. Expensive, time-consuming problems like rust or wiring issues can easily be hidden or masked and aren’t immediately obvious.
Then there is Danny himself. It’s clear that he is passionate about the cars he builds, but he builds cars from a particular era in a very particular way. Once you’re locked into a groove it’s very hard to break out of it and this has often backfired on him spectacularly. Another problem is he regularly seems to underquote on projects after seemingly pulling an arbitrary quote out of thin air.
It's fun to watch—if it’s somebody else’s money—when things have gone horribly wrong. Here are 17 times that Danny Koker almost made Counting Cars go broke.
17 The 1955 Nomad That Danny Didn’t Want To Give Back
Danny fell in love with a 1955 Chevrolet Nomad that came into the shop for a simple paint job, immediately harassing the owner to sell it to him. The Nomad was pristine and painted a dubious shade of pale purple. The car was repainted a two-tone brandywine red and white and looked stunning when it was done. The owner had originally asked for no pinstriping but Danny instructed the painter to go ahead and add pinstriping in the hopes that the owner wouldn’t like it and sell him the car. To Danny's dismay, the customer loved the car and took it home. A well-built, clean Nomad can fetch around $75,000—which would have put a significant hole in the show's budget.
16 1973 Riviera Built for SEMA
When Danny set his sights on building a car especially for SEMA, we knew there was going to be a big budget involved. SEMA is known for outlandish, attention-grabbing builds and Danny was determined to make his 1973 Riviera a highlight of SEMA with custom metal-fab work and an insane paint job. The rear bumper was tucked, the grille chromed out, and the front bumper extended to give the car an aggressive road presence. The interior was completely custom-made from scratch. The build was so elaborate that Danny said if someone asked him to build the car for them, he wouldn’t even know how to price it. Luckily, he managed to sell it together with his Road Runner for $140,000 in Season 8.
15 The Tricked-Out Tour Bus
In Season 3, Danny got a chance to fulfill one of his childhood dreams when he bought a 1976 FMC Motorhome for $16,000. An argument between Danny and Kevin broke out immediately when Danny started outlaying his plans to build the ultimate 1970s tour bus for his band. Kevin estimated the project would cost around $50,000, calling it the ultimate example of bad business. When the rebuild was complete, Danny admitted it was a money pit of a project after adding a generator, air conditioning, heat, bodywork, a labor-intensive paint job, flat screen TV, refrigeration, and a new leopard print interior. The cost blew out so badly that Danny ended up having to sell one of his cars and donate $40,000 to the project.
14 The Road Runner And The Super Bee
Danny made a huge mistake when quoting a price to rebuild two cars for the same customer, a Plymouth Road Runner Convertible and a Dodge Coronet Super Bee. Both cars were in rough condition, having sat dormant for 30 years. Danny thought it would be a straightforward build as the bodies were straight and all the panels lined up. He noticed some rust issues but said they would be easy to fix up. He agreed to do the restoration for $130,000 total. However when the cars were stripped, the extent of the rust was revealed, and Danny realized he had underbid on the project by around $30,000. Although he underbid, he stayed true to his word, making up for the loss by quickly flipping some cars.
13 The 1962 Cadillac That Didn’t Sell
What was supposed to be a quick flip for a large profit turned out to be a series of headaches when Danny bought a 1962 Cadillac. It was a 60th Anniversary model with chrome everywhere, but most of the chrome was completely worthless because of the age of the vehicle. To get everything re-chromed would have cost around $20,000. The paint department suggested using spray-on chrome with a black candy coat on top. The finished result looked less than stellar and caused a major blowout with labor costs when the base coat was laid on the car before the mechanical work was finished. By the time the car was done, it looked like a mess and they failed to find a buyer for it.
12 1969 Chevrolet Nova
One of the smallest muscle cars to come out of Detroit almost became one of Count's Kustoms' most expensive rebuilds. The modification list was already a mile long before Danny inserted himself in the project and the customer had a ridiculously tight budget of $80,000. Danny only took a second to think about it before he went all in and decided to do whatever it takes to turn it into a world-class rebuild. The body-fab work was ridiculously labor intensive and although they were calling behind budget, Danny was determined to not cut any corners. They tried to save money by flush-mounting the glass but the modifications were too extensive and the shop took a massive hit.
11 The 1966 Cadillac Convertible
The 1966 Cadillac Convertible was sent to the workshop as an assembly job only. But the problems started as soon as Danny saw it, proclaiming it was one of his all-time favorite cars. In fact, he even owns one himself. The instructions from the owner were that it was purely a restoration job and an appropriate budget was settled upon. However, Danny decided that the paintwork looked a little dull for his taste and decided to give it the Count's Kustoms treatment. They also discovered there were a lot of missing parts that weren’t accounted for in the budget. Although they didn’t make any money on the build, it’s clear Danny got a lot of enjoyment from the restoration.
10 A Lincoln Lowrider
The owner of this Lincoln lowrider specifically gave the team instructions that they only wanted pinstriping done to the exterior but Ryan from the paint shop had other ideas. He told Danny he wanted to do some pearls and fades and ended up respraying the entire car, which Danny didn’t even bat an eyelid at before he approved the work. Although this was more Ryan's fault that the project went over budget, we’re still going to put it on Danny because, as project manager, he approved the work. While the car was there, they also installed a custom trunk and a huge stereo system. A lot of extra hours went into the car but Danny was hoping to get approval from a legend in the lowrider community.
9 The Charity Chevrolet
Despite the expensive cars that the Counting Cars team works on, they do operate under a pretty tight budget for each project. This charity build didn’t exactly have a budget but when they were tasked to customize a Chevrolet Silverado, Danny went above and beyond in his usual excessive style. During the initial project meeting between Ryan from paint and Danny, it was fascinating to see just how crazy they were willing to go when they felt they weren’t constrained by how much a customer was willing to spend. They even shortened a chopper to be able to fit it in the back. To their credit, the truck and bike both ended up looking sensational and ended up raising a ton of money for charity.
8 The Ford Ranchero Pool Table
Danny picked up a clapped-out Ford Ranchero at an auction (for a low price of $1,000) with the intention of doing a little bodywork and flipping it to make a quick profit. His business partner, Kevin, thought he was crazy and said the only thing it was good for was scrap. Once the Ranchero was back in the workshop, they realized the engine was shot, the transmission was blown, and the floor panels had rust holes the size of tennis balls. Danny decided to convert the Ranchero into a pool table, complete with leopard print felt and airbrushed artwork. After spending a total of $7,100 on the build, he finally sold it for $8,000 for the smallest of profits.
7 F100 Restoration
Danny rolled the dice for a massive gamble when he took on the restoration of a 1971 Ford F100. He knew the project was going to be expensive, so rather than buy a beater, they picked up a truck shell that had been disassembled but also sandblasted to save time. The body was reasonably straight but had some areas of problematic rust. During the build, Danny kept adding his own ideas, which kept adding to labor costs and delaying progress. The buyer flew in from another state when the project was supposed to be complete but due to Danny's constant additions, the truck wasn’t completed on time. After a tough period of negotiation, Danny agreed to take a $5,000 loss for their inconvenience.
6 An Expensive Monte Carlo
One of Danny's favorite pastimes is to drive around the city looking for old cars and then try to convince the owner to sell it. When he spotted a 1971 Monte Carlo speeding down the freeway, he thought he’d hit the jackpot. Upon consulting with Kevin, they agreed he’d offer a maximum price of $6,000. The seller turned down his offer of $5,000 and then $6,000—and Kevin's jaw dropped when Danny offered the seller $10,000. Luckily, the owner turned it down. Monte Carlos can reach as low as $12,000 and with the body and paint work that would have been needed, Danny would have been lucky to turn a profit.
5 Dodge Dreamer
The customer of a 1971 Dodge Dreamer had a story that tugged at Danny's heartstrings and he agreed to restore the car for a total of $15,000. The crew was stunned when the Dreamer arrived at the store, with estimates that the paint alone would cost around $25,000. Despite the rough bodywork and an interior that had seen better days, they went to town on the car to transform it with seven coats of paint with purple tribal flames, a diamond plate tray, and a new purple and black interior straight from the 70s. When the job was complete, the owner was ecstatic but Danny wouldn’t admit how much the build really cost, only disclosing that he took a significant loss on the project.
4 Pink Impala
For once, the problem wasn’t caused by Danny misquoting a project. Instead, they had practically wrapped up a custom build for one of their customer's girlfriends when he called the shop to tell them they had broken up and he no longer needed the car restored. The problem was that the 1960 Chevy was custom built for her and had been painted in a vibrant pink color with a white interior. When Danny received the bad news, he realized he was looking at a $7,000 loss. In a moment of madness, he outlined his plans to go completely crazy with the build, throwing an extra $45,000 at it. When the episode ended, they hadn’t found a buyer and the fate of the car is unknown.
3 Chevy Nova Tribute
Counting Cars struggled to get the build of a 1971 Chevy Nova completed under budget when a customer came in with the intention of buying one of Danny's cars for $35,000. Initially, they struggled to find the customer a car he was happy with because he wanted something that was a little different and not too big. He rejected all of Danny's previously built cars so the team decided to go all out with a 1971 Chevrolet Nova Yenko tribute model. The muscle car was all about performance and powered by a blueprinted 383 stroker motor that received fuel injected. It also had updated suspension, power steering and disc brakes. Luckily, the customer loved it and agreed to pay above their agreed price.
2 1932 Ford Coupe
Oftentimes, the team will sell cars from their collection to raise money to fund other projects. In Season 3, they needed to raise a significant amount of cash to finance some expensive builds, so Danny offered to sell one of his favorite cars, his 1932 Ford Coupe. He found a buyer who was willing to pay $80,000 for the collectible classic but as the car was being loaded up onto the trailer, he had a change of heart, deciding he couldn’t go through with the sale. Instead, he built the buyer their own 1925 T Bucket Roadster. The buyer was happy but it meant that the Count's Kustoms team had to dial back expenses on other projects to cover the loss.
1 Damaged Lincoln
Danny took a huge risk when he bought a damaged Lincoln that had lit-up for $1,200. He was initially going to pass on the car until he found a letter from the previous owner inside the car, outlining how much he had loved the car and his desire to see it restored to its former glory. Without having a buyer lined up, the team went all out rebuilding the Lincoln by extending the grille, mounting a split bumper, lowering the car, giving it a new two-tone paint job with ghost flames, and a custom purple velour interior. We estimate they probably spent somewhere around $60,000 on the build—but when the episode wrapped up, they still hadn’t found a buyer.
Sources: History, Count's Kustoms, and Wikipedia.