With the kind of success that Jesse James had acquired in the motorcycle-building business and the reality television industry, it was unthinkable that he could encounter a massive failure when he created and produced the TV show called “Austin Speed Shop.” Allegedly, it was such a major flop that fans wouldn’t find anything about it on his Wikipedia page. It was as if it didn’t exist at all, which was frustrating to some fans who heard about it because they felt that they could have learned more about customization, as the TV show was a compilation of some sort of how-to videos. The big question in everyone’s mind was why it ended after one season with just three episodes, and what happened to Jesse after it failed.
- 1 Get to know Jesse James as a kid and as a varsity football player
- 2 Jesse James’ foray into motorcycle building
- 3 Jesse and his popular reality-TV series
- 4 Cheating scandals and lawsuits led to the closure of West Coast Choppers
- 5 A new business partnership and a new TV show, the Austin Speed Shop
Get to know Jesse James as a kid and as a varsity football player
For car and motorcycle enthusiasts, Jesse James was widely known as the one who established West Coast Choppers, a motorcycle manufacturing company. His rise to global stardom started when he became involved in several documentary/reality-TV shows aired on Discovery Channel.
Jesse’s growing-up years
The California native was born on 19 April 1969, in Lynwood, Los Angeles. Jesse Gregory James had a difficult and harsh childhood due to an abusive father, who mostly raised him after his parents were granted a divorce. As a kid, he would go back and forth between his parents’ houses, but would be terrified when it was time to return to his father. There were only two things that he was quite grateful for as a child – he became exposed to motorcycles at an early age, as his father owned an antique shop that was adjacent to a Harley-Davidson parts shop. Secondly his father would buy him toys to play, with including a dirt bike, which he cherished. Jesse said that his father once told him that he loved to rip apart his toys, so he could figure out how they worked, and oftentimes would even modify them. When his father took on another woman with kids in tow, their relationship soured further, and there was a time when Jesse was accused of trying to burn down their house.
His football days
Jesse was blessed with a physique and talent that guaranteed him a place in their football team at La Sierra High School in California. He was the school’s star linebacker, and at that time, he dreamed of going to the National Football League (NFL) through Riverside Community College, and it motivated him to do well in school. However, he was injured not once but twice, which ended his amateur football career. He not only quit his team, but also discontinued his plans of earning a college degree.
Jesse James’ foray into motorcycle building
Plans do go awry no matter how hard-working and patient a person might be, but Jesse never gave up on pursuing his dream of earning enough to gain financial stability.
Bodyguard to the stars
Jesse never shied away from hard work, and knew that he could take advantage of his tall and broad physique. L.A. was filled with celebrities because movie and TV studios were mostly located in the area, and he was hired as part of the security detail of popular alternative bands in the city, including the thrash metal band Slayer, and the rock band who popularized the grunge sound called Soundgarden. He also played bodyguard to former Misfits frontman Glenn Danzig. However, another injury forced him to stop performing bodyguard duties – he fell from the stage during one of the concerts, which made him rethink his plans in life.
— PayUpSucker (@JesseJamesFans) July 23, 2020
Established the West Coast Choppers
One of his childhood dreams was to open a motorcycle shop, and during his recuperation, Jesse felt that it was the right time to pursue it. He said in an interview in 2000 that as a child, he would often hear the noise of Harley-Davidson bikes in their neighborhood. ‘It was the coolest thing I ever saw. I knew then that I was going to be involved in motorcycles in some way.’
He worked under a couple of successful custom bike and car builders such as Ron Simms of Simms Customs Cycles, and the late Boyd Coddington of Coddington Hot Rod Shop. After being trained by the best in the field, he started his own shop in 1992 in his mother’s garage, and called it West Coast Choppers. He had a tough time making money, as each project would take too long to complete, but he persevered. It was also during that time when he had inked the tattoo “Pay Up Sucker” on his right palm, as a reminder that he had so many bills to pay so must not give up. He suffered from rejection after rejection when he showed his designs to various companies; it took him about five years to break into the market, but with a limited audience. His choppers slowly gained attention as his designs were in contrast to what everyone else was building at that time.
Jesse and his popular reality-TV series
Starting a business about customizing and building motorcycles wasn’t easy for Jesse, but he was given an enormous break when Discovery Channel discovered his shop, along with his personality and talent. The cable TV giant offered him an opportunity of massive TV exposure, and that was how his life changed quite significantly.
“Motorcycle Mania” documentaries
The fine craftsmanship in what went out from his shop was what attracted Executive Producer Hugh King to Jesse James. He offered him a documentary show called “Motorcycle Mania,” which featured the custom builder and his West Coast Choppers. The network producers back then believed that viewers in general, not just the bike enthusiasts, resonated well with Jesse, as he represented the blue-collar market. People who watched him using his hands while working on something tangible, along with the welder’s mask that he wore, made all the difference. It was said that older viewers would often tell younger ones about the awesomeness of a person’s craftsmanship, and Jesse was an example of that era. The documentary chronicled events that took place in West Coast Choppers, as Jesse prepared the motorcycles he built for Daytona’s Bike Week in Florida. It was aired in 2000, and after it became successful, two more documentaries were aired – “Motorcycle Mania 2” and “Motorcycle Mania 3.”
"Too many people are living in a prison that they have themselves manufactured." ~ Dr. Michael Beckwith(📸 Hildie Katibah)
“Monster Garage,” the reality-TV show
In 2001, “Monster Garage” was born, which gave Jesse a bigger platform on which to showcase his skills. The show was about teams with five builders, each to construct their monster machine within a week, with a limited budget of $3000, which was later increased to $5000. At the end of the week, those who managed to finish their builds were rewarded with expensive tool customizing kits, and a seal of approval from Jesse. Those bike builds that weren’t finished would be destroyed by Jesse through several preposterous means, including being crushed by a tank, ripped into pieces by a dynamite explosion, or destroyed inside a steel melting furnace. Viewers loved it, and so it was on air originally for five seasons from June 2002 up to June 2006. It was revived in January 2021 and accessible through the streaming channel, Discovery Plus.
Celebrity Apprentice Season 2 participant
In 2009, fans were surprised to see the badass bike builder in the second season of “Celebrity Apprentice.” He seemed to be doing well until he reached the episode in which each of the celebrity participants had to raise money for charity, and he chose the Long Beach Education Foundation as his beneficiary. Unfortunately, Jesse wasn’t keen on asking for money from other people, so he lost and was eliminated by Donald Trump; it placed him third on the final ranking. At that time, he was still married to actress Sandra Bullock, and the host was frustrated that Jesse refused to ask for his wife’s help in raising money, which would have been the easy way to do it.
“Jesse James is a Dead Man” – star and producer
The popular bike builder couldn’t help but challenge himself by co-producing a show with BASE Productions and Spike TV, called “Jesse James is a Dead Man.” It was a series that featured death-defying stunts which Jesse went through. It was aired on Spike TV in May 2009, and attracted about two million views to its premiere episode. The number of viewers was historic for the cable channel, as they announced that it was the largest they’d had for an unscripted network series. Marvel Comics even produced a one-shot comic book for the show, as Jesse was portrayed as someone who was about to retire, but had to cheat death once again.
Cheating scandals and lawsuits led to the closure of West Coast Choppers
Whether it was his personal choices or unfavorable circumstances that led to the controversial scandals and lawsuits that came his way, they changed Jesse James’ life dramatically. Allegedly, some fans said that these had been the reasons why he closed West Coast Choppers located in Long Beach.
The cheating scandal resulted in a divorce from Sandra Bullock
Jesse married Sandra in July 2005, his third time down the aisle. They met and dated after she and her godson, who was a “Monster Garage fan,” visited the set of the show and he gave them a grand tour in December 2003. They opened up a Cisco Burger Restaurant in 2006, located near his garage. In January 2010, she won the Best Actress award at the Golden Globes, and thanked Jesse because she believed that her work became better after she met him. Almost the same thing happened at the SAG awards, however, when she won the Academy Award for the same role in March 2010, and Jesse was with her that night, she never mentioned his name in her acceptance speech. In the same month, the ultimate betrayal scandal came out – it was reported that Jesse had been involved with a model named Michelle “Bombshell” McGee for about 11 months, and that it mostly happened when Sandra was filming the movie “The Blind Side.” Two more women came out and claimed that they’d had an affair with Jesse as well. He released a statement and apologized to his wife and children. ‘I am truly very sorry for the grief I have caused them. I hope one day they can find it in their hearts to forgive me.’ She filed for divorce in April 2010, and it was finalized in June.
Lawsuits filed on Jesse and his garage
Jesse became involved in lawsuits, and the more popular he became, the more these lawsuits were talked about. In 2007, the California Air Resources Board – or CARB – fined him over $270,000 due to his customized motorbikes, as his creations didn’t have the state-required emissions equipment, and each bike emitted hydrocarbons more than 10 times the legal limit. He argued that he was unaware that there had been changes to the manufacturing regulations, even for small manufacturers, and offered to recall all his creations and modify them, but the State rejected it, and simply wanted him to pay his dues. Another legal that made the front page was in 2008, when he was sued for breach of contract by one of his clients. Allegedly, Jesse didn’t deliver a promised custom car even after the client paid $270,000 in the span of two years. However, West Coast Choppers said that for the client to get what he ordered, it would cost him about $600,000. The client was asking for the return of the money he paid, along with interest and punitive damages.
A new business partnership and a new TV show, the Austin Speed Shop
News reports came out that he’d closed his Long Beach shop, and moved it to Austin, Texas in an undisclosed location. Aside from this move, he was also reported to have joined another existing car shop in Texas, called the Austin Speed Shop.
Austin Speed Shop – the car customization shop
Local car enthusiasts in Austin were quite proud of having unarguably the coolest car company in town, Austin Speed Shop, founded by John Joyo, Cory Moore and Dr. Dan Peterson. The shop had been operating for several years before Jesse became involved, starting in a small space somewhere in South Lamar, but when things got busier in 2014, they moved to a new and bigger shop in Chapman Lane.
“Austin Speed Shop” – the reality-TV show
After Jesse produced a few TV shows under his own Pay-Up Sucker Productions, such as “Iraq Confidential” and “History of the Chopper,” he thought of using his reality-TV filming knowledge again by creating “Jesse James Presents Austin Speed Shop.” It was conceptualized as some sort of how-to tutorial series given by the popular builder. Those who knew about it were excited, but it only lasted for one season of three episodes, released in 2011.
Aside from giving the viewers an introduction to the shop and the city of Austin, the first episode was all about making one-of-a-kind headers. He featured two builders and taught them how to do them by sharing his excellent fabricating skills. The second episode was extra special for Jesse, as it was all about fenders. Apparently, his skills at making them were the main reason why his name made it to the top of the chain of the motorcycle building industry; he shared that he made a lot of money by making those fenders. The third episode was all about making bomber seats, and his apprentices were in awe of Jesse’s work ethic. He would continue to work long hours just to satisfy his need for perfection.
Why did the “Jesse James Present Austin Speed Shop” end?
Two reasons were floating around online as to why this documentary/reality-TV series ended just like that. From the three episodes that were released, it was quite evident that it was a project that Jesse wanted and cared about. It was something personal for him, and his efforts were commendable. However, those who had seen it noticed that the filming and editing could have been better produced if it was handled by a bigger network, such as Discovery or History Channel. They weren’t surprised anymore that it didn’t gain much traction in viewership numbers – while the content was great, the execution was quite poor.
Whether it’s the mainstream or cable TV or even just a streaming platform, the moment a TV show doesn’t attract the expected audience, it would bet canceled immediately; it had to be competitive enough for network executives to let a show continue to air. On the other hand, some fans argued that the owners of the Austin Speed Shop intentionally discontinued the production of the how-to series, so it could retain the reputation of being one of the coolest car shops around, without any of the frills or drama often associated with reality-TV shows. Allegedly, there were also talks that the shop didn’t want to bring in any big names anymore, as these people tended to want to do things their own way. It contributed to much tension in the shop, which was in deep contrast to what the founders wanted, as its culture was to have a fun environment for creative people.
So ended the story of Jesse James’ association with the Austin Speed Shop.