A few years ago, Motorbooks International released Tom Cotter’s The Cobra in the Barn, about every car lover’s greatest wish: finding a rare, valuable, classic automobile tucked away in an old barn or garage and completely forgotten about. I have no idea how some of the world’s most sought-after vehicles end up gathering dust in farmers’ fields. They just do.
Chrome Underground, a new series premiering on Discovery Channel May 23, follows Austin-based car dealers Yusuf Johnson and Antonio Brunet hunting for buried treasures in some of the world’s most dangerous cities. The premiere takes them to some dubious neighborhoods in sprawling Mexico City, and the very first scene shows them watching helplessly as the guy to whom they paid a $30,000 cash “deposit” for an old Bugatti takes off on a motorcycle.
To get the money back, they hire Andrew McLaren, a former U.S. Marine who spends his time tending a seedy Mexico City bar between mercenary jobs. McLaren, it turns out, seems to know pretty much every shady character in North America’s largest city, and eventually he tracks down the thief, who had stashed the cash in his toilet. (The cameraman isn’t allowed into the house, but we hear what’s going on as he gets the money back.)
The “Bugatti” might have been a scam, but Johnson and Brunet make an incredible find: five beautifully restored Porsche 356s, including an exceptionally rare notchback model. But they still have to make a deal with a seller who wants top dollar for his collection – and then they have to get the cars across crime-ridden northern Mexico back to Texas. McLaren comes in handy here, too, helping them navigate impromptu “checkpoints” and hiding the cars in a horse trailer – with plenty of horse manure to keep anyone from looking to closely.
As with any “reality” series, you can’t help wondering how much of Chrome Underground is real and how much is staged. A breakdown in one of Mexico City’s roughest neighborhoods seems to come at too inconvenient a time, if you know what I mean. (For what it’s worth, McLaren has taken to his Facebook page to insist they really were in danger while filming the series, with one crew member even getting kidnapped.) But if the pilot episode is any indication, the show will feature exotic locations (future excursions to Brazil and Argentina are promised), a truly fascinating and mysterious character in McLaren, and of course, lots of beautiful old cars.
I’m not sure how much confidence Discovery Channel has in Chrome Underground; the premiere has been pushed back a few times, and right now only six episodes are scheduled to air.Powered by Sidelines