Roadkill’s Top 10 Fails and Why We Love Them
Roadkill is a real car show and hosts Mike Finnegan and David Freiburger do real car things, so they're bound to fail some of the time. Unlike other automotive-themed programs out there that would try to sweep these failures under the rug or create artificial failures to increase the drama quotient, Roadkill embraces the carnage as it happens, all for your viewing entertainment! Sometimes our brave and noble hosts do it on purpose, sometimes it's just how things play out, all of the times (except one) it's just Freiburger and Finnegan out there having fun. Because we know you love these moments of failure (just like us), we've compiled a list of 10 great failures in Roadkill history—from earliest to most recent—and present them for your enjoyment.
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Rat Rod Jeep Death-Wish Trip!
KJ Jones of Diesel Power had it right when he told Finnegan and Freiburger "no way" when he first saw the Jeep rat rod used in episode 15 of Roadkill. The first failure was Finnegan buying this slammed and bagged WWII Jeep to drive to a bar in the middle of the Arizona desert, only accessible from off-road trails. The next fail was a combination of a leaking transmission, terribly built suspension that ultimately broke on the 12-mile dirt road leading to the bar, and the instant-death-in-an-accident driving position. Finnegan couldn't even U-turn this heap without getting stuck in the dirt. But to cap it off, the bar wouldn't let the crew film when they finally arrived 45 minutes before closing on the last day of the year they were open. Plus, the guys were only able to sell the rat rod Jeep for $475 after paying $3,000 for it. At least they got $475 worth of beer out of the trip.
Leaf-Blower Supercharging a 1978 Chevrolet Monza Spyder!
Freiburger wanted to go land-speed racing at the ECTA Ohio Mile event for episode 16, so they needed something fast and aerodynamic. A quick trip through Lordstown, Ohio, on the way to Jeff Lutz's shop in Pittsburgh yielded the perfect candidate: a 1978 Chevy Monza Spyder. To run fast, the guys knew they would need more power, but instead of using conventional speed parts, they decided on leaf blowers. Yep, regular lawn equipment picked up at the local home and garden warehouse. Finnegan had successfully proved the concept for a magazine project and seen a few YouTubers do the same, but because this is Roadkill, they had to go over the top. That meant five—yes five—leaf blowers crammed into the back seat and under the rear hatch of the Monza. At Lutz Race Cars, they saw a gain of 20 rear-wheel horsepower and about the same in torque, but when it came to the standing-mile run, the high rpm made the leaf blowers pretty much obsolete. Guess $1,600 in garden equipment was a bit too much Roadkill.
Project Car Shootout! Watch Roadkill Cars Battle It Out
To celebrate the 25th episode, Finnegan and Freiburger decided to round up all the Roadkill project cars in the stable and have the first of many shootouts. To liven things up a bit, they invited Jonny Lieberman and Carlos Lago of MotorTrend to join in the fun. They also introduced a new project car into the mix, the Rotsun, and everything was going fine until the big drag race finale. Well, the Rotsun wasn't fine, but that 1971 Datsun 240Z has been all fail from day 1—and not the fail we're highlighting here. As all nine project cars took off, the Crusher Camaro (with Finnegan behind the wheel) hit a patch of dirt on the impromptu dragstrip and spun. Everyone was fine; KJ Jones was sitting co-pilot, and both he and Finnegan claim it was a blast. We won't revoke Finnegan's drag license for this one, though—the Crusher Camaro was putting down a healthy 700 hp at the time, and that does not mix well with sudden losses of traction.
Rotsun Races 24 Hours of LeMons!
Don't get confused here, the guys did not take the Rotsun all the way to France to participate in one of the most prestigious car races in the world. The 24 Hours of LeMons is an endurance race for $500 beater cars, perfect for the show all about having fun in junk. But the Rotsun has never once completed an episode of Roadkill, ever, and episode 42 was no different. Finnegan and Freiburger knew they probably wouldn't get the full 24 hours out of the crusty Datsun, but they were hoping for a few less problems than they encountered. The water-pump gasket blew, the carb gasket blew, the wastegate broke off twice, the ignition box broke, the Fifth gear/Reverse shift fork grenaded, then the crankshaft broke. In 24 hours, they only lapped Buttonwillow Raceway park 24 times. It wasn't a fail in one regard: That was 23 more laps than they completed in their first attempt at the 24 hours of LeMons in episode 22.
Street-Legal Stock Car Body Swap
Episode 46 was a landmark achievement for Finnegan and Freiburger. Four years prior to filming, they had picked up a late-model, paved-oval stock car racer—set up for road-course racing (meaning it turned left and right)—but the lawyers shut it down before they ever drove it anywhere. See, race cars don't have VINs and you can't register or insure a car without a VIN, so the stock car just sat and sat. Until the fateful day that Freiburger had the idea to get a registerable body on top of the tube chassis. Everything was going great during the build. The 1970 Monte Carlo body fit the width of the framerails perfectly. Former HOT ROD staff editor Brandan Gillogly came up with the perfect solution to shortening the body to fit the stock car wheelbase. The newly minted NASCARlo road-tripped to Perris Raceway in Perris, California, smoother than many Roadkill project cars could have. But then Freiburger broke it. To be fair, he just happened to be behind the wheel when the lower right ball-joint gave up the ghost and the control arm dug into the clay and threw him into the wall backward. But the legend of NASCARlo lives on!
Rescuing an Old Drag Race Car
HOT ROD Garage's Tony Angelo breaks everything. Finnegan said it best, "When you put a drift racer in your drag car and the transmission starts to go and the engine hits the rev-limiter, they just don't lift!" After spending three days reviving and fixing a 1977 El Camino built to run eighth-mile drags, Tony's lead foot destroyed the transmission. That wasn't the only fail in episode 69, though. Tony and Finnegan's intention for pulling Tex Earle's old drag racer out of his Clayton, North Carolina, barn was to run it in a half-mile drag race a short road trip away. Inclement weather canceled that event, admittedly not their fault, but the decision to go eighth-mile racing instead was. The first fail was when the guys left the new 3.08 gears in rear end, not suited at all for short eighth-mile drag racing. The next fail was when Finnegan destroyed a nitrous hose by arc-welding it to the battery while Tony dropped the full mother-bottle of nitrous. Finally, they didn't time the ignition properly, so when the nitrous was on, the car wasn't running right. Then Tony broke the transmission. But worry not, Earle Camino got its redemption later in episode 77!
Stubby Bob Lives! Huge Wheelstands!
Tony Angelo strikes again! More on that later. For episode 72, Finnegan and Tony set out to revive the 1950 Ford F6 dump truck known as Stubby Bob. In episode 52, Freiburger had the idea to mount a blown Chevy 454 over Bob's rear axle and make a wheelieing Roadkill monster, and he and Finnegan were successful! Stubby Bob dragged the trailer hitch for almost 10 feet, but on the landing, the ancient front leaf springs broke.
When Tony and Finnegan got their hands on it, they wanted to fix everything and then drive it to the Eagle Field Drags in Firebaugh, California, to show off in front of the crowd. An all-new front suspension with disc brakes, wheelie bars, and one-piece wheels went on and they were ready to head out. On the way, the battery exploded, the cam gear broke off, and when they finally got to Eagle Field, Finnegan grenaded the V-drive. But that's all in a normal day for Roadkill. Bob never wheelied for the crowd, but the crew returned two weeks later with a brand-new and much stouter V-drive—and success! Stubby Bob pulled its longest and best wheelies ever! Then Finnegan let Tony drive it. And, of course, he broke it.
The Original Vette Kart Returns!
The Vette Kart is the ultimate go-anywhere, do-anything hot rod. Finnegan and Freiburger have road-coursed it, autocrossed it, rallied it, drag-raced it, and now for episode 75 it was time to go skiing with it. That's stunt-driver nomenclature for driving on two wheels. Everything was going great until the guys got close to the filming location and decided to blast around in the sand dunes in Imperial, California. While messing around, they managed to clog the carburetor with sand and break a few other things. But that's just normal Roadkill. Even when Finnegan completely rolled it over and exploded the rack-and-pinion and totally junked the front suspension, the guys were expecting that. But the fail came in when Freiburger was having too much fun with the brake-parts-cleaner-soaked sand they were pulling out of the carburetor and intake. Kids, fire is very dangerous. Freiburger piled up a tiny amount of now-flammable sand on the front bumper bar, ignited it, and proceeded to spray more brake-parts cleaner into the flame—towards the engine. Finnegan warned him not to and, sure enough, the wiring harness caught fire. Freiburger admits, this was one of the stupidest things he's ever done. Thankfully, the Vette Kart was still alive once the flames were put out, and Finnegan was able to break it on purpose.
Hit the Road, Worry Later!
Freiburger and Finnegan did not have much of a plan for episode 79. Once they got their new-to-them, first-gen Ford Econoline Van running, all they could decide on was going someplace warm. That place was the HOT ROD Top Speed Challenge at the Arkansas Mile, but they never made it. The He Hate Me Econoline already had its own ideas about warmth and overheated about a dozen times in the 250-mile road trip to nowhere around Chicago. The guys did manage to see the Volo Auto Museum and Joliet Correctional Center, but that just wasn't Roadkill enough. So it was time for burnouts and donuts to destruction! But the old van couldn't even destroy itself. After unsuccessful attempts at lighting up the rear tires from a standstill, Freiburger finally tried a reverse slam. And what a success and failure it was. The shock of the Reverse-to-Drive shift under power literally broke the transmission and driveshaft in two. To this day, that carnage is the most spectacular transmission failure ever on Roadkill. And they did it on purpose!
Mazdarati's Final Run—So Hot It's Stolen!
Episode 88 started with so much hope. Finnegan and Freiburger were finally going to get the Mazdarati running in the 10s like the previous owner said it could. They rebuilt the Toronado transaxle, and it stopped slipping. They relocated the radiator to the front of the truck, and it actually kept the engine cool. They bolted on an Offenhauser tunnel ram intake with twin QFT 600-cfm carburetors and nitrous, and it ran healthier than it ever had before. Finnegan added a puke reservoir to the valve cover breathers so the Olds 455 wouldn't spray down the dragstrip with oil every time they ran it hot. Before this last attempt to run 10s at Tucson Dragway, the guys had done everything with this plucky mini truck and loved every minute. On the big road course, at the autocross, in the gravel at DirtFish, or on the dragstrip, this 1974 Mazda mini truck never failed to fail, but it was so endearing that Finnegan and Freiburger couldn't give up on it. Then, after another failed attempt at running in the 10s, a half shaft exploded, a head gasket blew, and the transmission pan cracked—the Mazdarati was stolen. Someone had the audacity to rip it off the trailer in the hotel parking lot in Blythe, California, where the crew was staying overnight on the way home from Tucson.