What is “Garage Rehab”?
Any self-respecting auto fan will have heard of Richard Rawlings, owner of Gas Monkey Garage (GMG), and known for being the protagonist of “Fast ‘N Loud”. “Garage Rehab” premiered on the Discovery Channel in 2017 after Richard pitched the concept to the network two years prior; the show’s premise saw him once again in a leading role, overhauling struggling car shops with help from his co-hosts Chris Stephens and Russell Holmes.
A wise businessman and media personality, Richard was born in Texas in 1969, and purchased his first car when 14 years old after years of attending auto shows and building cars with his father. Shortly after graduating from Eastern Hills High School, the future celebrity married his childhood sweetheart Karen Grames, but whom he divorced the following year.
The late nineties were a bustling time for Richard as he started his first business, the printing and advertising company Lincoln Press, and married his second wife, Suzanne Mergele in 1999. Surprisingly, the couple divorced in 2009, but decided to give each other a second chance six years later, tying the knot once again. However, Richard announced via social media in March 2019 that he and Suzanne were separating and filing for divorce. Apart from that, not much is known about his love life, despite rumors of infidelity often surrounding his persona over the years.
As for GMG, Richard launched the car shop in 2002, two years before selling his floundering first business. The shop’s specialty is customizing hot-rod and classic cars for customers around the globe, although in recent years, the focus has shifted away from their quality of work due to well-documented workplace drama, including high staff turnover.
2012 to 2020 were golden years for GMG as the shop got its own Discovery Channel show, “Fast N’ Loud”. Despite none of the subsequent seasons achieving the success of the first, the program was popular enough to spawn two spin-offs, a merchandise line, and more. Richard confirmed that the show had come to an end in a December 2020 appearance on “The Joe Regan Experience”.
“Garage Rehab” was also quietly shelved in mid-2019 after two seasons, marking the end of Richard’s TV career for the time being.
Gas Monkey Garage
To understand why two seemingly popular shows were cancelled in so little time, it’s necessary to know more about the workplace dynamics at GMG, where most of the filming took place. In the earlier seasons of “Fast N’ Loud”, Richard would travel the US with his lead mechanic Aaron Kaufman in search of dilapidated cars with potential, with the goal being to restore said vehicles and sell them on for a profit.
Although Richard and Aaron succeeded most of the time, the former’s domineering personality caused plenty of clashes at GMG amongst his staff members. Many a time, employees who argued with Richard found themselves out of work, which became something of a running joke for viewers – until Aaron announced that he, too, was leaving the show.
In a scripted but very emotional episode, Aaron broke the news to Richard, who appeared devastated. The hardworking lead mechanic also left fans heartbroken with his decision, and as often happens, some netizens began blaming Richard for Aaron’s departure. Later on, Aaron himself revealed that he’d left due to professional and personal differences, after pressure from the show’s producers to overwork himself. The bearded media personality also revealed that the show was hindering his creativity.
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Plenty of cast members have left the show over the years, but Tom Smith and Jordan Butler made headlines for it when TMZ reported that they’d been dismissed following a dispute over a fan touching one of Richard’s cars. Tom claimed that he and Jordan were fired when Richards using foul language, ordered said fan – who suffered from cystic fibrosis – to get away from his car.
Upon telling Richard to “Chill the f*ck out,” Tom was dismissed along with Jordan. Richard later claimed that he’d had nothing but problems with the two mechanics, who later found work in other car shops, and went on to appear in “Misfit Garage”. The 2014 incident was largely swept under the capet, but it didn’t take long for the drama – manufactured and real – to take its toll on the company’s reputation.
“Fast N’ Loud” Scandals & Fakery
Plenty of scathing articles have uncovered the truth about how much of “Fast N’ Loud” was cleverly edited or flat-out scripted. For example, when the show began, Richard would find cars on his own, but in later seasons, GMG employees were approached by clients with jobs that needed to be completed within a specific timeframe.
Although there’s no problem with that, it soon became evident that the “random” clients had actually been specifically picked by producers or Discovery Channel executives. One example is when a customer brought in a hot wheels car for the company’s Red Line party.
The rivalry between “Fast N’ Loud” and “Misfit Garage” also turned out to be fake – Discovery Channel offered Tom a spin-off when he was fired, and took advantage of the bad blood between him and Richard to pull in viewers, but with time it was revealed that Richard is the landlord of Tom’s garage, and has producer credits on the series.
In season four of the show, Richard brought his crew to a barn where he’d ‘discovered’ two valuable prototype Pontiac Firebirds. The charismatic TV star boasted about how the prototypes were worth $325,000 apiec,e and even more once they were cleaned up, but fans cried foul as soon as the episode aired.
As it happens, both Firebirds had been sold on eBay for just $30,000 a year earlier, and they weren’t abandoned in a barn either, but rather stored there until filming. This particularly scene is often considered the most blatantly contrived out of many scripted moments.
Richard and the producers got away with most of their stunts, thanks to mixing reality with fiction. Although the Texan does have money on hand at all times in case he finds a good deal, the “on-the-spot” sales featured in the show are almost always faked. This is common in other reality shows, but some viewers are still unaware that deals are worked out before filming begins, and are under the impression that all it takes is for Richard to show up and chat to the owner of the car for a few minutes.
Yet another fake incident was when Richard met his idol, the deceased actor and producer Burt Reynolds. The Hollywood veteran made a cameo in the fourth season – see episode “Fast N’ Loud Meets the Bandit” – while Richard and Aaron were restoring a classic Pontiac Firebird Trans Am.
Despite the sequence being filmed to make it look like the duo merely drove up to Burt’s mansion and waved to get his attention while he was wandering around outside, nothing could be further from the truth. The meeting had been planned out weeks in advance, and Burt knew that they would be coming.
Not all of the show’s faked elements are heinous offences per se, especially in the world of reality TV. However, they did lead to the show’s popularity nosediving in later seasons – even more so after Aaron’s exit – which brought about its unceremonious cancellation.
The Truth About “Garage Rehab”
“Garage Rehab” was Richard’s attempt to do his own take on home makeover shows. By providing business consultation, financial assistance, and equipment, he and his team helped out struggling garages and gave them a second breath of life, as well as much-needed publicity. Yet how much of this was real?
Richard himself was living from paycheck to paycheck when he built GMG from the ground up, so it’s true that he and his team helped garage owners across the country who reached out for help. It’s been reported that each show gives the garage a generous $100,000 loan – but with unknown interest rates – to help the business owners get back on their feet. In one memorable episode, Richard struck up a $200,000 deal to have complete control while renovating the garage, but it’s unknown if the owners repaid the debt, or if it was just another gimmick.
A lot of emphasis was placed on the importance of a garage being clean and presentable for it to make money, with the audience of “Garage Rehab” soon noticing that most of these ‘overhauls’ were merely aesthetic. When the controversy became too much to ignore, Richard and the channel did some post-transformation episodes for skeptical viewers to find out what had happened to each shop.
As it happens, most of the garages had returned to their former state, meaning that the artificial changes did nothing, and which led to viewers considering “Garage Rehab” one of the least trustworthy car shows.
Another unpopular aspect was the over-the-top drama. The garage owners were almost always bad-tempered, depressed, or had other attitude problems, and the hosts ended up arguing in nearly every episode, but by the end of which, things would miraculously work out, which led to negative reviews from viewers. Although the producers toned things down in the second season, it was too late, and the show failed to pull in enough viewers to merit a third season.
Many people have wondered if Richard himself was the cause of “Garage Rehab” and “Fast N’ Loud” being cancelled. The truth is, he’s the common denominator and seemed to have a lot of control over both shows, especially the latter. It’s possible that viewers didn’t connect to his brash and at times overbearing personality, but there’s no concrete evidence of him being to blame for the end of the two shows.
Other Business Ventures
Before becoming a TV sensation, Richard worked as a delivery guy, a fireman, and a cop – and that’s without mentioning the failed printing business, for which he took out a $100,000 loan. It’s no surprise that the shrewd and controversial businessman has branched out into other ventures, instead of putting all his eggs in one basket, meaning that he makes passive income to fall back on if he ever finds himself in economic trouble.
“Gas Monkey Bar N’ Grill” was opened in September 2013 with a location in Northwest Dallas. Months later, a second location was opened at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, and Richard has often spoken about wanting to open a third location outside of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. The bar and grill’s success encouraged Richard to open Gas Monkey 2014, and a live music venue in October 2014.
Nevertheless, Richard became embroiled in a legal battle with the bar in 2019, claiming that it didn’t have permission to use his brand. The businessman and the production company of “Fast N’ Loud” filed a countersuit for alleged copyright infringement by the bar and asked for $1 million in damages. Richard and the bar had an agreement dating back to 2013 that licensed use of his logo and trademarks, but the license allegedly expired in 2018, meaning that the bar had been using Gas Monkey’s intellectual property without permission for over a year.
Richard’s main complaint was that the bar was using the logos to promote “disparaging, lewd, and sexually suggestive content and events”. This lawsuit came in response to a 2018 suit that claimed Richard had “deliberately and deceitfully” attempted to get out of his contract with the bar and music venue. It’s unclear if Richard and the bar came to an agreement out of court, but Gas Monkey Live closed permanently in May 2020.
The TV personality’s other restaurant venue, Richard Rawlings’ Garage, was less successful. The Harker Heights location opened in 2016 and closed permanently in March 2019 due to alleged financial hardships that Richard never confirmed. At the same time, he was going through another messy separation.
Never one to be discouraged by setbacks, Richard licensed the Gas Monkey brand to an energy drinks line in 2019; he’s always cooking up something new.
Although the Texan’s main focus right now is GMG, don’t be surprised if you see him on TV again anytime soon.