Roadkill’s Top 10 Episodes: A Primer for Automotive Shenanigans
Roadkill, hosted by David Freiburger and Mike Finnegan, is one of the most widely viewed automotive shows in the world. Unlike most car shows out there, with their scripted deadlines and artificial drama, Roadkill is just real car guys doing real car things. According to Freiburger, it's all about the hosts having fun in cars and the viewers pointing and laughing. And they're good at it, too! So good, in fact, the show has lasted more than eight years and 109 episodes and is still going strong.
If you've never seen the show, here are the top 10 episodes to give you a taste of what you've been missing.
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10. Episode 89: Two Cadillacs, Too Reliable!
No amount of shenanigans, tomfoolery, or chicanery could get the guys to fail on episode 89 of Roadkill. We start at Rancho Murieta Airport & Storage, where Finnegan and Freiburger are picking up a 1961 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Finnegan has a strong desire to build a 200-mph Cadillac, and the jet-age styling of this land barge suit that dream nicely. Right away, this thing does not look Roadkill enough—the paint is great, the interior is complete, just about all the electronics work. But, as they get into reviving it, they learn that it is just garbage enough to get by. After some driving through the mountains around Lake Tahoe, California, we learn two things: 1) What it would cost to get Freiburger to swim in the freezing waters of Lake Tahoe, and 2) once they got the '61 de Ville running right, it was just too boring to continue the episode with.
Halfway through the double-Cadillac adventure, the boys hop on a plane to Tucson, Arizona, where Freiburger is introducing what would become a Roadkill favorite, the Caddy Gremi—a 1973 AMC Gremlin stuffed with a Cadillac 500ci V8. This thing is fast, rowdy, and runs just as well as the '61 de Ville. Other than a bit of milkshake in the coolant system (oil and water) and the hood being removed to run cool in classic Roadkill fashion, Finnegan and Freiburger just couldn't do anything wrong! Oh well, guess we'll just have to settle for prodigious clouds of tire smoke and off-road bombing.
9. Episode 79: Hit the Road, Worry Later!
Freiburger and Finnegan were hankering for a good ol' fashioned Roadkill road trip on episode 79 of Roadkill, and Finnegan bought the vehicle while Freiburger was on vacation and gave him no hints of what it could be. Turns out it's a first-gen (1961-1967) Ford Econoline Van. Well, it's sort of a truck—it's got a pickup bed, but semantics. The cool thing about these vans is you sit right next to the engine—in this case, a 289—and more cool stuff about this particular van is it came with a tach, a Hurst shifter, and an Evel Knievel action figure. But the guys don't really have any idea of where to go with the He Hate Me Econoline, other than someplace warm (it's only 40 degrees in Jackson, Wisconsin, at the time of filming). They decide that the warm destination is going to HOT ROD's Top Speed Challenge at the Arkansas Mile, 550 miles away. They didn't make it, and failing became the theme of this episode.
Within a third of mile of leaving the garage where they picked up the van, it overheated. Then it overheated again after another third of a mile. Then again. And again. Even after zip-tying and ratchet strapping a brand-new radiator to the front of the van and bolting on a new water pump, it still overheated. Maybe the PVC elbow in the new cooling system was a bad choice. But that wasn't the end of the breakdowns: The throttle linkage broke and the ignition coil died, too. Finnegan and Freiburger still managed to see some interesting things: The Volo Auto Museum, where every exhibited car is for sale, and Joliet Correctional Center, as seen in The Blues Brothers. But they couldn't end the episode without some tire-smoking action. That ended in some pretty epic failure as well. The most epic transmission destruction in Roadkill history, to be clear. After repeated unsuccessful attempts to light up the tires, Freiburger resorts to a reverse slam that rocked the 50-year-old van's transmission so hard the snout literally broke off and the driveshaft broke in half! If you can't win on Roadkill, you have to fail in spectacular fashion.
8. Episode 77: Ice Drag Racing Redemption!
Tony Angelo of HOT ROD Garage is subbing for Freiburger on episode 77 of Roadkill, and the two decide it's time for some redemption with Earl Camino, the 1977 El Camino drag racer they picked up from a guy named Earl back in episode 69. We'll blame Tony for the failure at the eighth-mile drags, he blew up the transmission and soaked the whole dragstrip with transmission fluid. But Tony breaks everything and doesn't like to lift. Redemption isn't coming on tarmac, though. The guys decide to take Earl Camino from Mike Cotten's shop, MidWest Images in New Baden, Illinois, to Merrill, Wisconsin, where they've been holding eighth-mile drag races on a frozen lake in the dead of winter since 1965. Did we mention it was only 32 degrees in Illinois at the time? Or that it was it 7 degrees below zero in Merrill?
Before Finnegan and Tony could set off, though, Earl Camino needed some TLC. That came in the form of a GearStar 700R4 transmission and a Yank torque converter. A new driveshaft, new carburetor and water pump and some "general fix-uppery" happened to make the El Camino more streetable, as well. On the journey, they stopped at Speed Inc. in Schaumburg, Illinois, to finally figure out why Earl keeps throwing the water pump belt and bolt on some new heads. By the time they made it Merrill, Earl Camino was running like a champ. With the help of some gnarly studded tires, Earl Camino earned its redemption by running its fastest passes ever (faster than it ever ran on tarmac) and winning Finnegan and Tony second place in their bracket. They didn't even use the nitrous!
7. Episode 75: Original Vette Kart Returns!
Freiburger and Finnegan bring back the Vette Kart on episode 75 of Roadkill to prove conclusively that it is the ultimate go-anywhere, do-anything hot rod. How are they going to do that? By taking it skiing! Not the type on mountains and snow, but the term stunt drivers use to refer to driving a car on two wheels. For once, abandonment and neglect mean that a Roadkill vehicle is fine. Finnegan and Freiburger don't have to put any effort into resurrecting or rebuilding the Vette Kart, but they are concerned about safety with what they are about to attempt. Because a roll-over is guaranteed, Freiburger wants to see if the engine will even run at the extreme angles they're going to attempt and what could go wrong with the roll-over. This is Finnegan's favorite moment in the Vette Kart because he got to use a forklift to intentionally roll the Vette Kart over, with Freiburger strapped inside. Other than relocating the fuel pump and switching the cap on the fuel cell for one with no vent, all the guys did to prep the Vette Kart was add safety. They fabricated panels to fill the gaps in the roll cage to help contain their arms and legs and added a few pads here and there. This is definitely a time for helmets and fire suits.
Before attempting to drive on two wheels, the guys had to blast around the Glamis Sand Dunes in Imperial, California, for a bit. They couldn't resist, the filming location was an abandoned airfield only a few minutes away, but the adventure was almost cut short because Freiburger got too excited playing with fire and brake parts cleaner-soaked sand. But all fires were extinguished, and the wiring harness only got a little toasty. The guys enlisted the help of stunt driver Jamey Smith to teach Finnegan how to get the car on two wheels, but Jamey told them right from the get-go that a 1985 Corvette was a far from ideal choice for this stunt. The low, wide stance of the Vette Kart was exactly the opposite characteristic of a car well suited to skiing. But rather than give up, Finnegan and Freiburger suited up and strapped in and gave it a try anyway. Finnegan was doing a great job, quickly progressing farther and farther, but then the inevitable happened: the Vette Kart rolled. Unlike the test roll, though, this one ground corners of the rollcage to near aluminum foil thickness and totally junked the front suspension of the Vette kart. But, the ambulance driver on reserve was kind enough to let Jamey show Finnegan and Freiburger how it was supposed to be done in his personal Scion xB. What a guy!
6. Episode 82: From the Junkyard to Pikes Peak!
Back when Finnegan and Freiburger built the Broughammer (a Cummins-swapped Cadillac Brougham) in episode 82 of Roadkill—with the help of Tony Angelo and Lucky Costa at Erie Auto Salvage in Erie, Colorado—Freiburger spotted one of his favorite platforms of car to work on and just had to come back for it. That platform is the GM B-body in the form a 1967 Chevy Biscayne. Finnegan doesn't get it, but once Freiburger tells him the plan for this episode he's 100% on board. Because they're already so close, Freiburger wants to take the junkyard Biscayne to the top of Pikes Peak. Doesn't sound like much until you hear that the road up Pikes Peak is over 12 miles, 156 turns, ends at an elevation of 14,115 feet, and doesn't have a single guard rail along the way. And Freiburger wants to do it in a 50-year-old car with 50-year-old drum brakes. But the trouble in this case isn't getting up the legendary road, it's getting down. Whatever, this is Roadkill!
Of course, there is much Roadkill-ing on the way (not like that). Just to get out of the junkyard, Freiburger and Finnegan replaced all four wheel cylinders, brake lines and the fuel pump. On the 125-mile journey, the Biz Bomb was overheating and running lean, so those issues had to be addressed, the former getting the classic hood-strapped-to-the-roof treatment and the latter being solved with a spark plug shoved into a vacuum hose. Upon arrival at the toll road leading to the top of Pikes Peak, Finnegan and Freiburger are disappointed to find out that tourists are no longer allowed to drive all the way to the peak, they have to stop at Devil's Playground at 12,780 feet and take a shuttle the rest of the way. But after spending a pleasant afternoon cruising up the mountain, enjoying the scenery and amazing views and with no associated altitude issues for man or car, the rangers gave Finnegan and Freiburger permission to take the 50-year-old junker all the way to the summit! Score! But this is an allegory for Roadkill, because it's all downhill from there. On the trip down, the brakes just couldn't handle it and they made it about 2,000 feet in elevation before the brake fluid was boiling over. But this is still a win because Freiburger's goal was to make it up the mountain in a 50-year-old junker, he never said anything about coming down. Oh, we also learned something about marmots: they walk around.
5. Episode 78: Junkyard Big-Block Samurai!
Steve Dulcich is subbing for Mike Finnegan on episode 78 of Roadkill, and he and Freiburger have one goal: build a junkyard car with junkyard parts and go have fun. The guys are at Hidden Valley Auto Parts in Maricopa, Arizona, and they have acres of cars to choose from. So why did they choose a Suzuki Samurai? Because Roadkill, duh! To make it even more Roadkill, they decided on a 440 big-block out of a 1977 Dodge van, because why not? Thus, the Super Sammy is born! To get the 440 to fit inside the Sammy's shoe box of an engine compartment and have room for a radiator and clear the front differential, the guys are going to have to hack this poor Samurai to pieces. But worry not, Freiburger wields the Sawzall like a surgeon.
Freiburger fabricates a new firewall and transmission tunnel out of pieces of sheetmetal harvested from the surrounding junk. Dulcich wires the engine with only red-colored wires, no fuses, and a couple of cheap switches. The seats are taken out of an old Toyota Celica and the brake lines are from an old Mitsubishi Mighty Max. The centersection of the front differential is completely removed so the pinion doesn't crack the oil pan. The U-joint yokes need to be ground down so they don't bind because the rear differential is offset from centerline and the drive shaft is only 15 inches long. And the mighty 440 gets topped with a Dulcich special, a rebuilt Thermoquad carburetor. But it all comes together. The 440 fires right and up and the Super Sammy takes off. Freiburger and Dulcich marvel at how comfortable the cabin is, even with the nearly nonexistent footwells. The dynamic duo successfully built their all-junkyard running and driving fun machine, but they did fail at one goal. After blasting some desert trails, they wanted to destroy the tiny, Samurai rear axle with burnouts, but the little ring-and-pinion held up to the 440 power. That is until the $1.50 ignition switch shorted and the guys had to bail before the fire spread too far.
4. Episode 81: Vintage Circle-Track Charger Rescue!
Tony Angelo is back on episode 81 of Roadkill, subbing for Freiburger again, and this time he and Finnegan are building Mike's dream car: a 1968 Dodge Charger built to race NASCAR that's been buried for 50 years. Mike has always wanted a '68 Charger, but not a clean one he has to baby; he wants a nasty one he won't feel bad about bombing around in the dirt, just like the General Lee from Dukes of Hazzard. One night while browsing eBay under the influence of some frosty beverages, he found the perfect machine to fulfill his dreams. In 1968, an amateur racer named Joe Berry turned his friend's wrecked Charger into a NASCAR-approved stock-car racer, but he never made it to a starting line. The original 383 and four-speed trans are long gone, but Finnegan had been sitting on a rebuilt 383 and a six-speed transmission for two years waiting for just such an occasion. When the junk of an oval-track racer and the new propulsion unit are joined, the Death Metal Charger is born. And Finnegan wants it to meet its maker. Joe Berry, that is, who hasn't seen the car in decades and is currently living just outside Indianapolis, Indiana.
Before Finnegan and Tony can road trip the beast of heap, everything needs to be done. New front shock mounts, all of the wiring, sort the brakes, fabricate a new transmission crossmember, raise the rear suspension so the pinion doesn't explode hitting the underside of the car—you know, the basics. Death Metal Charger rides on some super-cool, old-school NASCAR eight-lug wheels but they were designed for bias-ply tires that need an inner tube. Then Finnegan and Tony find out the hard way why you can't run a modern radial tire with an inner tube. But the guys make it to Joe Berry's place, where the guy who built the car was definitely surprised to see his creation up and running. He refused to drive it or even take a ride in it, claiming it's a death trap (it totally is) but is appreciative of Finnegan and Tony for keeping his legacy alive. Then it was time to have some fun, and Tony and Finnegan marveled at how well sorted the chassis Joe Berry built was—for a 50-year-old, neglected, homebuilt death trap. Then the 383 started to overheat and the valve cover breathers puked oil onto the hot exhaust and fun time was over. For now.
3. Episode 76: The Ugly Truckling Dragster!
For this build on episode 76 of Roadkill, Freiburger wanted to employ the same idea behind the Vette Kart and pay homage to the stripped-down 1950s dragsters known as rails. The vehicle going on the diet program is a crew-cab, long-bed 1993 GMC Sierra 2500. Could he have picked a bigger or heavier vehicle? The plan is to strip off everything that isn't absolutely necessary on the 5,800-pound pickup, add some speed parts, then road-trip the creation to the 2018 Roadkill Zip-tie Drags from Irwindale Speedway in California to Tucson Dragway in Arizona. Finnegan was only present for the last three days of the five-day build, so Steve Dulcich, Lucky Costa, and shop manager Calin Head were on hand to help. Freiburger wanted an LS-powered truck, but the popularity of LS engines has made affordable versions of those trucks scarce. But he's not too disappointed with the 454 big-block. When the team decides to ditch the cab entirely and relocate the engine to a mid-mounted position, Freiburger started to get really excited for his new, true-to-form rail.
Turning a fullsize pickup into a 1950s-style drag rail isn't as simple as removing the bed and cab, though. The cooling system, fuel system, and exhaust all had to be completely relocated. A full rollcage had to be fabricated to both keep Finnegan and Freiburger safe and stiffen up the exposed ladder chassis. Plus, they still needed gauges and lights—this thing still needs to be street-legal, and Roadkill vehicles have a tendency to overheat. The team wrenches until the absolute last second and makes it to Irwindale right on time to meet up with hundreds of Roadkill fans that are convoying with Finnegan and Freiburger to Tucson Dragway in the newly minted Ugly Truckling. The team successfully made it to Tucson Dragway, with only a little bit of Roadkill on the way, but the race results weren't what Freiburger was hoping for. The extreme weight-loss program only dropped 2,300 pounds and, without nitrous, the Ugly Truckling was only capable of high-14s. Adding the gas cut 2 seconds, but that's still not enough for Freiburger—he wants 9s. Who cares, the fans loved it, the team loved it, and there's plenty more action to come from the Ugly Truckling!
2. Episode 74: Project-Car Showdown at Dirtfish!
Since the first visit to DirtFish Rally School in Snoqualmie, Washington, Roadkill fans have been begging Finnegan and Freiburger to go back and mess around in the gravel and dirt. In episode 73, the guys finally gave the Disgustang the epic road trip it deserved and the episode the fans have been asking for, driving 1,300 miles from Dulcich's house in central California all the way to DirtFish Rally School. But once they got there, they weren't going to waste the visit driving just one car. No, they had seven other Roadkill project vehicles shipped to Washington for a project car shoot out of epic proportions for episode 74!
The contenders, driven by Finnegan: The Datsun Mini Truck, a 1968 Datsun 1200 with an early S10 front clip and not-too-well-executed four-link airbag rear suspension; The Mazdaratti, a 1974 Mazda Rotary Engine Pickup powered by a 455 Olds V8 mounted in the bed; NASCARlo, a shortened 1971 Monte Carlo body on a retired, road course NASCAR stock car; and the first vehicle to ever churn gravel for Roadkill at DirtFish, the legendary General Mayhem, a 1968 Dodge Charger with a 707hp Hellcat Hemi swap.
The challengers, piloted by Freiburger: LaPhonda, a 1974 Honda Civic with 1.5L swap and crappy suspension and tires; the Disgustang, a junkyard 1969 Mustang Mach 1 with a 410ci Windsor V8; Freiburger's favorite, the Crusher Impala, a 1969 Impala with a supercharged 489ci V8; and the Off-Road Hornet, a 1973 AMC Hornet that was built to run in the NORRA Mexican 1000.
You'd think the Off-Road Hornet would have performed the best at DirtFish, but you'd be wrong. You might also think the two mini-trucks would have done the worst, but you'd be wrong there, too. What you can be sure of is Finnegan and Freiburger had a blast and are looking forward to their next visit to DirtFish Rally School.
Roadkill Project Car Showdown at DirtFish: Results!
- NASCARlo: 1:59.54; only because the DirtFish guys gave them proper dirt tires.
- Off-Road Hornet: 2:00.32; if only that AMC 360ci V8 had more power.
- Mazdaratti: 2:00.35; even with all the weight in the back, the Mazdaratti drifts with the best.
- General Mayhem: 2:05.65; apparently burnouts fix everything, the General almost didn't complete its timed lap.
- Crusher Impala: 2:08.00; the long wheelbase and 700+ hp made this Impala drift through turns like it was made for it.
- Laphonda:13.75; a suprising showing, considering this first-gen Civic has no suspension, no power, and terrible tires.
- Datsun Mini Truck: 2:18.60; very surprising the airbags didn't pop, and this poorly built Mini Truck actually handled decently.
- Disgustang:35.10; Freiburger just couldn't keep the Disgustang in a straight line.
1. Episode 90: Twice the Power, Half the Trucks, + Leah Pritchet!
When David Freiburger watched episode 51 of Dirt Every Day (think Roadkill, but with off-road machines), he was inspired. Hosts Fred Williams and Dave Chappelle (no, not the comedian) took two four-wheel-drive trucks, chopped the back halves off, and proceeded to attach the two back to back. Freiburger wanted to have fun like this in his own creation on episode 90 of Roadkill, so he and Mike Finnegan went back to Colorado Auto & Parts in Englewood, Colorado—the same place they found the Disgustang—and got to hacking! They couldn't pick just any vehicles to make this happen, though; they needed three things out of each vehicle: 1) body-on-frame construction; 2) four-wheel drive; 3) must have no collector value because they're going to be chopped in half. Finnegan and Freiburger are building their double truck a little differently, too. Instead of going back-to-back like the Dirt Every Day guys did, they're going front to back.
Freiburger found a Mitsubishi Montero and Finnegan found a Honda Passport, so now it was time to decide whose truck would be the lead truck. They tried a truck tug of war. They tried doing donuts for time. They even played rock-paper-scissors, but by that time Finnegan was suspecting Freiburger was being tricky and doing everything he could to get the Montero mounted as the rear truck. And so, the hacking began. Our hosts claimed they put no thought into dismembering and attaching the two vehicles, but as the build progressed, it was obvious the guys were really trying to make sure their double truck would work and not kill them. Then NHRA Top Fuel Driver and friend of the show Leah Pritchett arrived to lend a hand and participate in the double-engine, double-steering, four-wheel-drive mayhem. And mayhem it was. Even with a triangulated mid-section and support bars running from roof to roof, the double truck was still held together with ratchet straps and zip-ties. The front, front wheels couldn't steer the double truck with the rear front wheels putting any power down. The crabbing swing out threated to crash the rear truck into all the junk scattered about the acres of junkyard playground. But with the front truck in drive and the wheels locked to the left and the rear truck in reverse with the wheels locked to the right, the double truck was able to execute some of the best donuts Roadkill has ever seen, made even more spectacular by the huge clouds of dirt kicked up in the process. Needless to say, everyone had a blast.
And that's the whole point of Roadkill. Said Freiburger, "You know what the greatest thing is about Roadkill? Having no obligation to have any socially or mechanically redeeming value whatsoever." And no matter where the hosts go, or what they might be driving, the whole point is to have fun in a car.