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Discovery Channel revs up with hot rod legend

Spinning off its “Monster Garage” and “American Chopper” successes, the Discovery Channel is revving up yet another testosterone-injected show, “American Hot Rod.”Hosted by car-building legend Boyd Coddington, the series is like the father-son motorcycle construction show “American Chopper,” but these rigs have four wheels and there’s less bickering.“Motorcycles worked well for
/ Source: The Associated Press

Spinning off its “Monster Garage” and “American Chopper” successes, the Discovery Channel is revving up yet another testosterone-injected show, “American Hot Rod.”

Hosted by car-building legend Boyd Coddington, the series is like the father-son motorcycle construction show “American Chopper,” but these rigs have four wheels and there’s less bickering.

“Motorcycles worked well for us and we figured there’s a whole hot rod community we haven’t tapped,” said Sean Gallagher, director of development for the Discovery Channel.

Previously known for documentaries and animal features, the Discovery Channel’s supercharged programming is pulling in a new viewership with an apparent insatiable appetite for wild rides.

“American Hot Rod” (10 p.m. ET Fridays) came off the line fast, reaching 2.4 million viewers in its Jan. 16 premiere. The second season of “American Chopper” also kicked off in January with an average 3.2 million viewers over three episodes.

The secret?

“They are programs that have stars in them, but they are everyday people,” Gallagher said.

Name-calling and verbal jousting between Paul Teutul Sr. and son Paul Jr. keep the tension high on “Chopper.” Coddington, meanwhile, manages to keep his cool on “Hot Rod,” where conflicts erupt mostly among the building crew. Coddington’s ex-wife and current wife are also on hand to keep things lively.

Fun on four wheels

Skill, stress, strain and struggle all go into the creation of the ultimate hot rod, said the 59-year-old Coddington, who started building cars when he was 13. Now, his custom creations — most often 1932 Ford “little deuce coupes” — take six months to build and cost up to $500,000.

His 70 employees at his workshop complex in La Habra, just east of Los Angeles, include ex-wife Diane Coddington and current wife Jo Coddington, usually found in the showroom area with a blind poodle in tow and a hyperactive lap dog of some sort bouncing nearby.

When morale sags, Coddington calls for a break and the crew goes outside to crank up a car and peel rubber. “You gotta love it!” Coddington said as tires smoke.

What’s with the popularity of Discovery’s unscripted hot-wheels programming?

“The viewers are ... people who lived in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and loved these cars. Now, they have money,” said Coddington, who once operated a gas station in Utah.

Coddington gets some weird requests: He’s building a car now with an $85,000, 904-cubic-inch, 1,200-horsepower Shuebeck offshore powerboat engine. And one guy asked for a hot rod with a built-in barbecue in back.

“Some people just don’t have any taste. Their taste is in their mouth,” Coddington said.

And what’s with the Hawaiian shirts?

“I always liked them. There’s a happy thing about them,” he said.

Bruce Meyer, co-chairman of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles and owner of 12 high-end hot rods, attributes the show’s appeal to the hot rod being “a purely American phenomenon. It’s an art form like jazz.”

“There are people like myself who have invested some pretty serious money in these things,” Meyer said, noting a 1938 Lincoln Zephyr V-12 coupe sold for $432,000 at last month’s Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“As far as having fun on four wheels,” he said, “there just isn’t any other way.”