‘Garage Squad’ finale caps off another growing year

On location with the "Garage Squad" crew

On location with the “Garage Squad” crew

Nearly a million viewers
are expected to tune
into tonight’s finale
of the show that
celebrates car culture
as one of America’s
most treasured pastimes

There’s a story behind every broken down car in America, and the creators of Garage Squad work around the clock to bring nearly a dozen of them to life every year.

On Wednesday nights from late summer to early fall, nearly a million households tune in to the Chicago-made Velocity Network hit show, now in its fifth and most highly-rated season.

Besides resurrecting old and nearly forgotten vehicles, Executive Producers Bill Connell, Ted Lega, and Mat Burnett tap into the friends and family members that form each car’s backstory.

“We’re not a build show: we are a rescue show,” says Connell. “We go in and get a car that is neglected for whatever reason and get it ship shape and back on the streets so we can bring that memory back to the person.”

Backyard beaters, forgotten side projects, and beloved heaps are among the often decades-old machines that get a shiny new second wind courtesy of the series. The episodes are shot entirely on location in garages throughout Illinois. The crew and the equipment arrive by way of the customized Garage Squad equipment truck.

Lead mechanic Joe Zolper — an “extremely funny” and “knowledgeable guy” who has been with the show since the beginning — oversees a small team handling the mechanical restoration. Bruno Massel and Heather Storm host the progress. Lega directs.

The featured families get in on the nuts-and-bolts action during every episode, and Lega’s the one who gets them talking.

“We meet with owners before filming and get to know them one-on-one,” he says. “I love directing real people, and real people have great abilities to do this, especially when they have passion for what they’re talking about.”



Inside the Garage
Recalling fond memories, having good times, dealing with last-minute mechanical glitches, and occasionally shedding tears, the series celebrates car culture as one of America’s most treasured pastimes.

Although Lega says that, “we like to bring comedy into it, too,” Garage Squad travels down a slightly more serious path.

“It’s not about throwing wrenches at each other,” he continues. “It’s about teaching experiences and getting stuff done and maybe making peoples’ dreams come true.”

Once the cameras get rolling, the crew has seven days to complete all the necessary repair work before the climactic reveal scene, when friends arrive to celebrate the restored automobile at the end of the one-hour show. A tight deadline, no doubt; but it makes great entertainment.

“On one show, we swapped a new engine with headers that didn’t fit into a 1950 Ford F3, and we were two hours from anywhere you could get parts,” Lega recalls. “People were showing up for the reveal as we were replacing the headers.”

Another show involved a funny car that didn’t have a drive shaft until the final scene. Filmed at a racetrack, they installed the new part moments before the vehicle took a few on-camera victory laps.

At the end of every day of shooting, the footage is shipped on hard drives to the Chicago office of the post-production company 11 Dollar Bill. The crew’s two main cameras, a squad of drones, and a Go-Pro capture about 30 hours per episode.

One of the producers’ favorite drone shots came during the reveal of an old Chevelle that was owned by a veteran suffering from PTSD who had taken his own life. Garage Squad rebuilt the car in his memory for his family.

“A huge crowd and a Marine sort of honor guard were there,” recalls Connell.

Crew and family celebrate the completion of another episode
Crew and family celebrate the completion of another episode

Season 5 Finale — “Dually Concerned”
Tonight’s 8 p.m. finale will feature the resurrection of a 1993 Chevy Dually that’s been sitting idle in the former shop of a mechanic who became paralyzed during a workplace accident three years ago.

Titled, Dually Concerned, it exemplifies the creators’ philosophy that the people and the stories make the show more unique than every other do-it-yourself program out there, auto-based or otherwise.

“All the people we pick to be on the show have to be deserving,” says Lega. “If the viewers don’t think the people on the show deserve the knowledge and money that we offer, there will be backlash on social media.”

In that light, he concludes, “We’re never going to build a car for a doctor with a five-car garage.”

Getting into the Garage
Identifying the family and car to be featured is a year-round labor of love for the creators. At the end of every show, they invite viewers to submit project ideas to @garagesquad.tv. The call-to-action has generated more than 40,000 submissions over the last two-and-half seasons.

“We go through the thousands of submissions and pare them down to roughly three hundred,” explains Burnett. “Then everyone brings their top thirty to a meeting and we argue about which ones are worth taking to the network.”

Tonight’s show was made possible by a viewer who learned about the injured mechanic’s situation “through the grapevine of the car world.” Besides suggesting the scenario to the producers, he has also hosted several fundraisers for the mechanic, whose life seemed to change overnight.

“There’s a million stories involving mothers, fathers, kids, and cars that have sat in the back of the garage for decades and some of them are really moving,” says Lega. “While directing certain shows, I find it very hard to hold tears back.”

To learn more about Garage Squad, click here. Catch up with the show on Facebook here, or on Twitter here.