The reality-television series “Wheeler Dealers,” amassed millions of viewers around the world over the years, partly for being the first of its kind. It dominated the automotive restoration-themed TV shows both in the United Kingdom where it originated, and in the United States when it changed its filming location. A beef between the main host and the show’s original mechanic created many controversial narratives, and resulted in cast replacement, including in 2021 when the series returned to its home soil. A few theories emerged for the real reason behind the move, but UK car enthusiasts couldn’t care less, as they were ecstatic about the news.
- 1 A background on “Wheeler Dealers”
- 2 The controversial issues with “Wheeler Dealers” over the years
- 3 “Wheeler Dealers” going stateside
- 4 Moving back to the UK
- 5 Two iconic and rare vehicles on the new UK seasons
A background on “Wheeler Dealers”
The classic TV series, “Wheeler Dealers,” entertained the viewers with more than 250 regular episodes along with specials. With the way things were going with the show, it seemed that it would continue to do so as they conquered every controversy that was thrown their way. Automobile enthusiasts remained steadfast in supporting the TV show from when it was first aired on Discovery Channel.
How did it start?
“Wheeler Dealers” creators, Daniel Allum and Michael Wood, approached TV presenter Mike Brewer, and talked over their plans for putting up a new series. At that time, Mike’s former show had just been canceled, so was easily convinced because it was quite similar to what he was previously doing, but tweaked for a much better presentation. It also helped that both Daniel and Michael were avid car enthusiasts, so they were all on the same page as they discussed all the possibilities, and limitations that they might encounter during filming. After much preparation, the reality series made its TV debut on 7 October 2003 on Discovery Real Time channel, which catered to British viewers. By 2011, Discovery Channel was including it in their regular programming menu, after they realized there was a huge fan base in the US.
The main TV presenter
Mike Brewer was born on 28 August 1964, in London. He gained experience and developed his passion for car customization early on in life as while growing up he watched his father, Roger Wilks, restore and customize automobiles. When he hit his teenage years, Mike already had an idea that he would turn this passion into a career someday, and it did come true, as he became a car trader with an impeccable reputation for having a great eye for details, and for being upfront in dealing with his clients.
His TV career started accidentally, when he had an enlightening phone conversation with a TV producer, which showed his vast knowledge of automobiles. He had since then been involved with some car-related shows, including “Deals on Wheels,” “Auto Trader,” “Pulling Power,” and “Wrecks to Riches.”
The ace mechanics and co-TV presenters
Edward John “Edd” China was the first mechanic and Mike’s original co-host in the show – just like Mike, his passion for automobiles had developed from an early age, and he’d subsequently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Engineering Product Design from London South Bank University. His successful creation of the driving sofa called Casual Lofa, made it to the Guinness Book of World Records in 1998 for the fastest sofa, and again in 2007. It was his ticket to several TV appearances, and which led to his participation in the long-running TV show, “Wheeler Dealers.” Due to certain artistic differences with the production, which became controversial, he quit the show in 2017.
Ant Anstead took over Edd’s position in the show for the 14th season. He was also a car specialist, a builder and designer. Ant was known to be an A-student, and after graduating from college, he joined the police force where he worked for about six years. After this, he built a good reputation for restoring and designing cars, but he also delved into his artistic side, as he created sculptures and artwork. By November 2020, he’d parted ways with Mike and left the show, but unlike his predecessor, Ant maintained a good relationship with his former co-star and production staff.
Premise and format of the show
Most of the automobile restoration-themed reality-TV shows copied their format from “Wheeler Dealers” – the Do-It-Yourself concept of fixing up cars mostly originated from the series. Mike would buy the vehicle to be worked on, and would bring it to the garage where he and his mechanic would assess what needed to be fixed. Most of the restoration process would be done by the resident mechanic, except for jobs that would need the expertise of other people, such as body work. They would do the test drive and discuss the expenses, then Mike would tap on his car trading skills to sell it to another car enthusiast. A summary would be given at the end of each episode – had they made a great deal or not?
The controversial issues with “Wheeler Dealers” over the years
The reality-TV show aired its 17th season from August 2021 up to November 2022. While it maintained its popularity with automobile enthusiasts over the years, it was also the subject of a few scandals that marred the TV show. Here are just some of them:
Edd China leaving the show shocked their fans
From the first episode up to its 13th season, Edd China was a fixture in “Wheeler Dealers.” Then the producers of the show announced that Edd had left to pursue other endeavors. The fans were kind of skeptical about it, since there wasn’t any previous indication that Edd wanted to leave the show. In a video Edd posted on his social media account, he gave a more specific reason as to why he quit, claiming that the new producers, Velocity, found it difficult to film the show in its current format, ‘in particular, the detailed and in-depth coverage of my fixes in the workshop, which I consider to be the backbone and USP of the program.’ At that time, it was Velocity who took over producing the show in the US, saying that they would put a limit on the filming of the restoration process on the cars that were featured – Edd said that he couldn’t cut corners that would compromise the quality of his work.
The death threats that Mike Brewer received after Edd’s video was posted
Some Edd China fans who were disappointed and angry about his exit from the show, took things to the extreme, and posted death threats to Mike and his family on social media. Mike called Edd on the phone about it, and the latter posted another video telling people to stop harassing and threatening Mike’s family, as it was neither cool nor justified. He was asked if their friendship would survive this, and he said yes. They might not be each other’s favorite persons at that time, but they were both adults and would continue the friendship they started since they had been together in the show for 13 years. He clarified that they just disagreed about something on the show and that no one needed to die because of it.
Apparently, some fans were irked because of the stories surrounding Edd’s exit that were shared online. In their last episode together, Mike slipped up a bit when he said, ‘This is the last Wheeler De…’ but corrected himself and said that it could be the last “Wheeler Dealers” episode that they filmed together. He also learned that the production was already screen-testing new guys for the show, just in case Edd wouldn’t agree on the new format.
— Jalopnik (@Jalopnik) March 21, 2017
Some parts of the show were allegedly fake
Due to the nature of how reality-TV programs were produced, there was a huge possibility that some of the content that they showed on TV weas mere re-enactment. The phenomenal “Duck Dynasty” reality-TV stars called their show “guided reality”, in which some of the scenarios they filmed were already discussed with the director and the writer of the show beforehand. There was a huge possibility that “Wheeler Dealers” followed the same procedure.
There were allegations that not all the cars that were sold in the show were actually sold, as some of them were said to be still in the hands of either Mike or Edd after the episodes were aired. Some fans believed that it could be because the hosts didn’t want to part with the cars. However, a popular auto-related site said that the show became successful because it remained relatable over the years. It wrote, ‘Unlike most other car-themed television series, Wheeler Dealers doesn’t have any staged drama or scripted elements.’
“Wheeler Dealers” going stateside
The auto enthusiasts in the US were extremely happy that the producers of “Wheeler Dealers” were convinced to produce a show filmed in California.
Why the US?
Mike and Edd along with the whole production team never thought that “Wheeler Dealers” would move its filming location to the US. Most of the time, whenever there was a spin-off from a popular TV series in another country, it would be made with local hosts. When the cast was invited to Las Vegas sometime in 2015 to make an appearance at the international Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) car and custom show, there was a huge crowd clamoring for an American version of the show. It soon became obvious to the executive producers that they had a huge following in the US. Over one of the cocktails that they had in their hotel, the producers brainstormed and created the US version, and this meant that they needed to leave the UK for six months to film a new season.
Relocated, cast changes, and wider audience
Amidst the great sacrifice of leaving family and the businesses that Mike and Edd owned and managed in the UK for long periods, the show enjoyed great success. Some of the staff decided to relocate families, and had fun living in the US. When Edd bid farewell to the show in 2016, everyone thought that it was all over. However, Mike and Edd had always believed that the show was primarily about the cars and not about them. Months after Edd quit, Mike called another friend, Ant Antstead to be his co-presenter, and the latter responded with a laugh, not realising Mike was dead serious. Later on his bosses agreed, and introduced some changes to make the show a little bit lighter than the previous series. They might have gained some online trolls to diss them now and then, due to the Edd controversy, but the TV show’s success continued. Mike and Ant worked on over 5o cars in the latter’s workshop, and viewership numbers increased over the four seasons, with close to 60 episodes produced from October 2017 to February 2021.
Moving back to the UK
While most of the American fans were dejected about the announcement that “Wheeler Dealers” would return to the UK, they weren’t surprised, since it was originally a British TV show.
The reason behind the move
The landscape of producing and distributing TV shows had some major changes over the years, and the “Wheeler Dealers” US network, Motortrend, wanted to focus more on the online platform advantages. While it was a great strategic move, since the show could easily be watched anytime by fans anywhere in the world, Mike and the rest of their team were more comfortable using TV as their primary platform. They packed their bags and worked again with Discovery Networks International, along with their original team in the UK.
Ant Antstead was replaced with Elvis Priestley
Due to a commitment to other TV shows that were in the works for Ant Anstead, he chose not to join the team returning to the UK. His family had already relocated to the US, and he didn’t want to change the status quo, even if in 2020, he and his wife, Christina Haack separated – fans assumed that his new relationship with actress Renee Zellweger had a hand in his decision to stay in the US. Mike then reached out to former Formula One mechanic, Mark Elvis Priestley, to be his co-presenter in the new series of the show. Elvis was already his co-host in one of the show’s spin-offs, “Wheeler Dealers: Dream Car,” so Mike felt comfortable with the changes.
Two iconic and rare vehicles on the new UK seasons
Mike Brewer returned to the UK looking for iconic cars. He and Elvis, the TV show’s new ace mechanic, proved to be another perfect match. Here are some of the most interesting moments in the 17th season of the show:
The first episode on their UK return
In the first episode of “Wheeler Dealers” back in the UK, Mike and Elvis worked on the classic British car, the 1965 Mini Minor. They wanted to retain the originality of the iconic and extremely rare car, but enhance its weak points; with the original braking system, the mini was prone to overheating. They wanted the car to be deserving of today’s road, so they needed to modernize the braking system without upsetting the overall look. Elvis said they could alleviate the overheating problem with modern brakes, which he placed on the front axle just as the 1980s minis did. Fortunately, it didn’t destroy the mini’s personality as Elvis made sure that the new parts that he used weren’t heavier, as that would then need bigger tires. Afterwards, he made sure to tweak the engine to flex on a new power that was unheard of with the mini back in the 1960s. When they had a test drive, Mike was over the moon, and fell in love with it again. They were mighty proud when they showed it to the owner’s community, as it sure didn’t sound and look as if the car was close to 60 years old.
A 58-year-old Bedford Dormobile campervan
The classic Bedford Dormobile campervan was introduced to the British people in the late 1950s. When Mike brought it to Elvis’ workshop, the latter said that it would take many hours to fix it. First, they replaced the original engine with a Pinto motor, which was blasphemy to some classic car purists out there, but was a compromise they needed to take to ensure that it could handle modern roads. The good thing was that all the modern changes could be hidden away, so that the campervan still retained its original look. Mike reached out to the original manufacturer to ensure that they would have the exact measurements of the canopy when they replaced it. The staff and crew of the Dormobile manufacturer were ecstatic that they had a hand in completing the original look of one of their classic campervans. In the end, the whole transformation amounted to around $7,000, and the new owner bought it for what the experts said was a steal, with all the hard work that had gone into it.
There had been talks online that the 18th season of the TV show was the final one, but no announcement has been released yet as of this writing. However, on its Wikipedia page, it was written on its original release dates: 7 October 2003 to 14 November 2022, which meant that it was no longer in production status. During one of Mike’s previous interviews, he casually mentioned that he was up for two more seasons before he retired, but he didn’t give any specific dates. If that would be the case, there’s a huge possibility that the TV show could continue but with a new host.
As the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, once said, ‘Change is the only constant in life.’