Tom “Wookie” Ford and Jonny Smith, hosts of the new BBC America series, “Mud, Sweat and Gears,” are best of mates these days. But, their initial meeting almost 15 years ago was anything but cordial.
“I had a car parking space at the magazine where I worked,” Smith says. “One day I came to work and someone had parked a Mark 1-4 Granada, lowrider, green with metal flake there. I went mental.”
As if it wasn’t obvious, Smith points out that it was his car.
It’s a good thing the parking spot didn’t cause a riff as Ford and Smith are working together on the new automobile series. Each week the hosts are paired with two contestants in a build challenge. The teams are given ordinary cars that have to be modified into other vehicles such as a police car, video game car, trucks of war or demolition vehicles.
The teams must then drive their creations through a series of driving challenges to determine the winner.
After the parking disagreement was settled, the pair found out they had a lot in common including testing new cars for a living. Both have been working as motoring journalist long before taking over hosting duties on the new series.
Ford’s interest in writing about cars comes out of how broad an area it encompasses.
“Cars cover everything,” Ford says. “If you are into technology, cars cover technology. If you’re into fashion, cars cover fashion. Cars will get you somewhere in terms of writing about them.
“Also, there’s a big element of adventure that comes with an automobile.”
Smith points out that neither of the hosts grew up in families that were obsessed with cars. He can remember helping his father on the weekend with the family car but not to modify it for racing but to just keep it running for family use.
Ford’s first car was a 1967 Land Rover Series IIA, a slow car but easy to work on. The first thing Ford ever did with a car was change the engine. It blew up a week later with an intensity so hot it melted the driveway at his parents’ home.
“My dad is nearly 70 and he still won’t let me forget it,” Ford says.
Both have had bad moments with cars but that not has shaken their respect for vehicles - especially the classics. Because the losing automobile in each episode will be destroyed, they will never select a classic as the car to be modified.
They are selecting cars that people have forgotten about or are universally hated. What they do to those cars is not some grand experiment but meant to be good fun. Ford describes the premise of “Mud, Sweat and Gears” as the kind of think a group of friends would do if they had a car, a field and a welder.
Because the show is shot in Southern California, the teams will be predominantly using American cars. There is a lot of prejudice about American cars outside the United States.
“There have been some pretty bad ones. But then, there’s been pretty bad European cars as well. For us, we’re quite different actually because we both have owned American cars. A couple of my hobby cars are classic American cars. So I really like them,” Smith says “Well, and if you own them in England, you’re quite a strange person, because they’re not really built for our roads.”
Ford adds that no matter what prejudice someone on any part of the globe has for certain cars, they are still linked to other car enthusiasts by their passion for motoring. That’s why the hosts have been able to connect with contestants so quickly and they hope that will make it easy to attract an audience.