Classic car builder meets ‘Monster’ challenge |

Classic car builder meets ‘Monster’ challenge

Gregory Crofton
Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Bob Lopez, of South Lake Tahoe, sits on the running board of a 1940 Ford Deluxe woodie that he rebuilt.

Heavy metal music blasted and the set was hot and dark. But what really created pressure was the deadline of midnight Friday when a trashed 1950 Ford “woodie” had to be worked into a monster.

“By Wednesday we were all concerned that we were in over our head,” said Bob Lopez, 52, who worked as a firefighter at South Shore before retiring eight years ago. “They were almost asking the impossible asking us to build a car in three days. I’ve never been pushed so hard or so fast.”

Lopez and four other woodie enthusiasts from California were chosen at the end of October to be on an episode of the television program “Monster Garage,” a reality show for gear heads.

The show brings together a team of professionals who don’t know each other. Their job is to transform vehicles into monster builds designed by Jesse James, a motorcycle builder and the show’s host.

The team has just five days to complete the job. If the build doesn’t work before midnight on Friday, it gets crushed by a compactor or blown up with dynamite.

Lopez’s team spent Monday and Tuesday chopping up two cars: The Ford woodie – a wooden-bodied station wagon popular with surfers – and an old Ford Bronco, from which parts were pulled to rebuild the woodie.

The remaining three days were spent welding together the monster woodie car. Work had to get done fast. “Monster Garage” provided the engine but many other parts, including the Bronco, had to be located by the team. Lopez said he suspects that the producers of the show tell their staff to deliberately return with the wrong car parts to create drama.

“They don’t want stuff done easy. They want pressure on you,” said Lopez, who learned how to customize and build cars from his father, owner of an auto body shop at South Shore until 1983. “And thank God we all enjoyed one another. Working with strangers under pressure is an accomplishment in itself.”

“Monster Garage” is taped inside an old car dealership in Long Beach less than a mile down the street from West Coast Choppers, a motorcycle shop owned by James. In addition to its gothic feel and warmer-than-normal temperature, a 3-foot wide red digital clock ticked in full view of the team.

“The feeling of burning time is always on your mind,” Lopez said. “Every night except for Friday we had to stop at 7 p.m. I’d fall asleep exhausted and wake up at 3:30 a.m. and think about all the things we had to get done the next day.”

But in the end they got the job done.

“That thing fired up and it sounded so good,” Lopez said. “I thought ‘Thank you God.’ There was a quick triumph of accomplishment then we still had a lot of work to do.”

James spent about six hours a day on the set. While Lopez and the team assembled the woodie, James, a former bodyguard for Soundgarden and Danzig, built the car’s custom exhaust system and bumper.

“Jesse is really a neat guy,” Lopez said. “He liked our crew and hung around with us a lot.”

Lopez and the other team members would have been able to hang out with James more if it hadn’t rained 14 inches the week the show was taped. The rain polluted the ocean and canceled a dawn-patrol surfing session with James.

Next month the team and James plan to reconvene at San Onofre, between Huntington Beach and Oceanside, and surf at dawn. The monster woodie will be loaded up with surfboards and driven out on the beach.

“It will be a fun shoot now,” Lopez, who does most of his surfing at Santa Cruz, said. “There’s no pressure on us because the build is completed.”

If the surfing session goes as planned, the show will be broadcast on the Discovery Channel on Jan. 24 at 9 p.m.

– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at

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