Car SOS season 11 interview: Fuzz and Tim on dream builds, nightmare projects and the cult of mending

As Car SOS returns for another series, Tim Shaw and Fuzz Townshend talk to us about their favourite projects, what keeps them motivated and whether there will be a series 12

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Car SOS is back on our screens for another 10 episodes of inspiring engineering, tear-jerking stories and the odd bit of workshop-based silliness.

Now into its 11th series, the unique show and its unique presenters Tim Shaw and Fuzz Townshend are going from strength to strength, rescuing and reviving classic car projects and returning them to their deserving owners.

Unlike other restoration shows where turning a profit is the main aim, Car SOS’s heart has always been, well, its heart. Fuzz, Tim and the team, specialise in taking projects that have been cast aside due to illness, bereavement or other circumstances outwith the owner’s control, and bringing them back to life before handing them back for their owners to enjoy.

Previous series have seen the show tackle everything from a VW Beetle to 1920s Rolls-Royce and a Nissan Skyline GT-R and for series 11 the boys have taken on an intriguing mix of motors, from a Ford Mondeo to Porsche 911 and Jeep Grand Cherokee. They’ve also enlisted some celebrity help to spring the surprises, including former Formula 1 world champion Nigel Mansell and world heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury.

As the new season gets underway on National Geographic on Thursday nights, we caught up with Fuzz and Tim to get the lowdown on the new series, what keeps them coming back for more and some helpful advice on how to tackle a classic car project of your own.

Fuzz Townshend and Tim Shaw are back for Car SOS series 11. (Photo: National Geographic)Fuzz Townshend and Tim Shaw are back for Car SOS series 11. (Photo: National Geographic)
Fuzz Townshend and Tim Shaw are back for Car SOS series 11. (Photo: National Geographic)

What are your personal stand-out cars from series 11 - the good and the bad?

Fuzz: “Dare I say it, the Rover SD1. When I was a young guy, one of my first ever successful times of hitchhiking, I got picked up in a Rover SD1 and that’s the last time I was ever in one from that day until we picked up this one for the show. For me, it was a great learning journey. They’re not normally thought of as being great classics but I loved it, I really enjoy working on that, and so did Tim.

“I wanted to work on the SD1 because it’s one of the ones that got away and was kind of a heroic failure as far as the car manufacturing world was concerned. They never really achieve their full potential yet when they came out they were so exciting looking.

Series 11’s Rover SD1 partway through its restoration (Photo: National Geographic)Series 11’s Rover SD1 partway through its restoration (Photo: National Geographic)
Series 11’s Rover SD1 partway through its restoration (Photo: National Geographic)

“As for the biggest headache, I’d say the Porsche 911. It had been crashed, rallied, had all sorts of stuff done to it. It wasn’t a complete car when we picked it up and the rebuilt engine that was supposed to be ready to go hadn’t been rebuilt so much as thrown together and there was no way it was going to run. It had a lot of problems. That was possibly the car that needed the most outside, external assistance from a lot, and I mean a lot, of different businesses.”

Tim: “Either that or the Mustang for me. With the Mustang nothing was straightforward. It needed a lot of parts and a lot of the parts were unavailable.”

Looking back, what are your highlights from the last 10 series?

Fuzz: “For Tim working with me.”

Tim: “Personally, doing my favourite car of all time. If I had to choose one car, it would be a Mustang. I’ve been waiting a decade for Fuzz to finally break and agree to let me do a Mustang. We did a right-hand-drive conversion which is as risky as ripping up and redesigning the American flag.”

Fuzz:  “That was a good thing to do, especially for its owner. The owner hadn’t driven a left-hand-drive car for years and hadn’t driven the Ford Mustang for years so to convert it to an easier-to-use format was brilliant and, again, that’s something the show’s about, trying to make things even easier to live with.”

After 10 series, what is it that keeps you coming back and motivated to take on these sometimes very challenging projects?

Fuzz: “The thing that motivates us are the people. It’s the people who’ve been nominated and the people who’ve nominated them. It’s their stories. We want to do stuff for those people and help them get their lives back on track.

“Often for friends and families who are nominating these people, it’s a last-gasp attempt at getting their lives back on the rails. Sometimes these people have lost their get up and go, and their families sometimes don’t know what to do to get them back into the world and this sometimes helps. Sometimes you see people waking back into themselves. They’re doing the stuff that they really love doing again and reengaging with their world.

Has it got harder to find cars and owners that deserve the Car SOS treatment or are there always more stories to tell and cars to save?

Tim: “Definitely easier. We could instantly find enough cars to make another 10 series.”

Fuzz: “The hardest series to find cars for were series one and two because nobody really knew the show. Now people know the show so we get nominations from all over the world, all kinds of stuff.”

Fuzz and Tim’s first challenge for series 11 was a clapped-out Ford Mondeo which they turned intoa touring car replica for owner Karl (Photos: National Geographic)Fuzz and Tim’s first challenge for series 11 was a clapped-out Ford Mondeo which they turned intoa touring car replica for owner Karl (Photos: National Geographic)
Fuzz and Tim’s first challenge for series 11 was a clapped-out Ford Mondeo which they turned intoa touring car replica for owner Karl (Photos: National Geographic)

So will there be a Car SOS series 12?

Tim: “We hope so. There’s a lot to be said for helping people restore their cars. It goes a lot further than just the person who owns the car and their family. We have to remember that the show - not just me and Fuzz - inspires people to want to pick up spanners themselves and move. That’s a form of therapy. Anyone who rebuilds a car will admit it’s a great achievement and a part of their life they’ll never forget. Car SOS goes way the person, the car and the story. It’s creating stories all over the place for other people. Fuzz and I hear it all the tim. We get stopped in the street by people telling us ‘if it wasn’t for Car SOS my son wouldn’t have, or my daughter wouldn’t have, I.. wouldn’t have…’”

“That’s another positive thing about the show is that we’re inspiring a nation of engineers, or people who might have wanted to be engineers to actually do it - pick up a spanner and get mucky.”

Fuzz: “There’s no shortage of cars, no shortage of stories, If the will was there this show could run for 100 years - alas not with these presenters.”

Tim: “We’ve got another two in us, haven’t we?”

Fuzz: “Yeah, another two decades. I think it’s true to say that if ever the plug is pulled it’ll be a sad day for all those people who might have benefited from having their car restored and all the people around them whose lives it might have enhanced.

“It’ll also be a sad day for the new cult of mending and fixing and making machines endure for longer. That’s what it’s all about. We’ve bridged the gap between a time when everything was being thrown away to a time when people are making things work again. Not just cars but washing machines, fridges, tumble dryers, you name it…. Instead of people just chucking it in the tip, people are fixing them.”

Tim: “Old is the new new.”

Given the number of half-finished projects you’ve tackled over the years, what’s the one piece of advice you’d give anyone thinking of buying a classic car?

Fuzz: “Plan - don’t just run headlong into it. Make sure you’ve got somewhere to do it, that’s your first thing. Make sure you’ve got the skills and if you don’t have the skills then learn them or find someone who does have them and who can help you.

“Plan all the way through. Don’t just take a bit apart and go ‘I’ve got as far as I can with that, I’ll take another bit apart’ because all that’ll happen then is you’ll end up with a car in a billion pieces.”

Tim: “Besides watching Car SOS, my advice is don’t come up with a reason why you couldn’t do it. Just take a deep breath and jump in the deep end. You’ll always come up with a reason not to - you can persuade yourself out of anything in life - so don’t, just get stuck in. But do plan. Do whatever task you’re doing, finish it and move onto the next bit.”

Car SOS season 11 is available on National Geographic channel on Thursdays at 8pm.

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