Chrome Underground – Entertaining, but is it Authentic?

Chrome Underground – Entertaining, but is it Authentic?

chrome underground

*Article originally published here

If you love cars, Discovery Channel has another show premiering tomorrow night that you might like called Chrome Underground.  Clearly there is still a big demand for automotive television and producers are keen to capitalize on this.

Since Discovery Channel thought my review of Rod N Wheels was pretty awesome, they sent me an advanced copy of the first episode of Chrome Underground that will debut tomorrow.  This means a bitchin review of the show for all of you.

What’s Chrome Underground About?

The show follows two guys who run a collector and classic car business named Yusuf Johnson and Antonio Brunet.  Their shop is called Motoreum and it’s located in Austin, Texas.  Basically both of these guys used to source collector cars from the US to sell, restore, or auction and did well at it for many years.  Since rare and collector cars are harder to find in the states nowadays they travel to foreign countries to buy and then bring back cars to sell here.

The show follows both of these car nuts along as they travel the world acquiring valuable cars.  They mainly go to Latin and South American countries and sometimes put themselves in danger, at least the audience believes this, to get diamonds in the rough vehicles in good-great condition.  Since it is an $8 billion dollar a year industry there is a lot of money you can make and a lot at stake.  Yusuf and Antonio try to achieve 4 or 5 figure sales each time they do a deal.  (This is at least what we are supposed to believe.)

They bring along an ex-Marine, Andrew Mclaren, who protects them from some dangerous situations.  In addition Andrew comes up with plans to keep the cars along with everyone safe while in these foreign countries utilizing his military skills and background.

Mmm… Mclaren?  Good name for a guy that hunts for cars.  Don’t you think? 🙂

You can read the press release I posted.

Yusuf Johnson? Antonio Brunet? … Who are these Guys?

Glad you asked since I have bios that will help explain who they are and how they got into the flipping cars for a living.

Yusuf Johnson

Raised in Tucson, AZ, Yusuf is an entrepreneur that initially focused his efforts in real estate, traveling the world while he worked, living in Europe, Asia and Latin America, as well as in Alaska where he became a licensed private pilot.

Yusuf and Antonio met in college and quickly became friends recognizing their mutual passion for business. Yusuf learned about car flipping and was immediately intrigued. In 2003, they went into business full-time. But as rare cars became harder to find in the US, they decided to take a riskier step by searching for cars overseas. A true adventurer, Yusuf threw himself into it, loving the thrill of foreign travel, unpredictable situations, and the financial rewards that go with it. He is not only captivated by the cars, but is also excited to discover the unique history and culture behind each one.

Antonio Brunet

Born and raised in Mexico City, Antonio’s family moved to the US in 1996. A true petrol-head, Antonio has lived and breathed machines for as long as he can remember, refurbishing his first classic car while he was still a teenager. To pay his way through college, he started hunting rare and collectible cars and selling them for a healthy profit.

He was on to a winning business formula, but he knew he needed a charismatic entrepreneur as a business partner in order to establish his passion for cars as a proper business. While in college, he met Yusuf Johnson. Balanced alongside Yusuf’s easy charm, Antonio is focused and passionate, stopping at nothing to get the rarest and finest collector cars. Antonio and Yusuf have built a network of contacts around the world, pushing them to come up with the best leads for rare vehicles. His lifelong goal to develop a well-recognized business is fueled by his passion for finding and selling the world’s rarest and finest cars.

Chrome Underground – 1st Episode

If you haven’t seen the show, there will be some spoilers here.  You’ve been warned, watching Chrome Underground is not like watching “The Sixth Sense” though. 

In the first episode, Yusuf and Antonio are in Mexico trying to locate the crown jewel of the collector car world, a rare 1937 Type 57 Bugatti that could be worth millions of dollars if it’s real.  They are searching for the Bugatti in Mexico City and not in the best part of a town.  (Still better than parts of Baltimore from what I can tell.)

Yusuf and Antonio use local scouts to find cars and, well you know, they get ripped off when they give a guy $30,000 dollars and he makes off with their money.  In the car business it’s important to have friends so they go see, Reno, someone they’ve used to help find cars in the past.  Reno tells them there is no Bugatti Type 57 in Mexico City that he knows of but he refers them to Andrew to get their money back.

They meet Andrew and offer him $2,000 to get the $30,000 back, and he accepts the job.  Long story short, Andrew is able to get the money back fairly quickly and he starts working with Antonio and Yusuf.

Luckily Reno has heard about a father and son that have an amazing collection of Porches.  Reno takes the trio to the house and they find a great collection of Porches Speedsters, and Porches 356s that have been expertly restored.  The father wants $1 million for the whole collection of 5 restored and rare Porches but that’s not in the Motoreum guys budget.  They decide they want to buy the Porsche Notchback as there were only about 300 made and a Porsche Speedster convertible from the collection.  They haggle a bit with the father and son on the price though, but they buy the cars for $300,000, get the hell out of there, and go on their way.  Of course… they don’t get the cars out of Mexico without any problems.

The Speedster runs out of gas which forces Antonio to go buy some leaving Yusuf and Andrew in a dangerous situation in the middle of Mexico City.  Several guys surround the Speedster looking at it.  Andrew tries to keep people at bay by putting himself between them and the car as much as possible.  It all works out when Antonio comes back with gas to put in the Speedster.

After they get that taken car of Andrew takes them to a friend’s farm on the outskirts of the city.  Andrew uses a favor and borrows a horse trailer to hide the Porches along with hay to take it up to the US-Mexico border so they can drive it across.  Along they way the encounter a roadblock of guy’s with machine guns, but it is ok since they don’t see the cars and believe they are just delivering hay… with a camera crew.

They get to the US border and as it turns out they are missing some documentation for the Porsche Notchback.  They are concerned they won’t be able to bring it into the United States and past border patrol, but it turns out ok.  Andrew and Yusuf ride in the Porche Notchback and make it over to the US.

Thoughts on Chrome Underground & Motoreum

UPDATE: See Twitter’s Reaction to Chrome Underground

You might, or might not, like the show depending on your tastes in TV.  I imagine some gearheads will cry foul with the show for a lot of reasons.

First off it seems like the whole thing with giving the scout $30k in cash was a setup for the show.  If these guys are pros wouldn’t you give him the cash after you’ve seen the car?  Then when they go to Andrew to ask his help, would you really agree to travel around dangerous parts of Mexico City for $2,000 when you know someone can give you more money than that?  Probably not, I would have asked for at least 1/2 if I knew my way around the underbelly of Mexico City and could locate a lot of cash.

Also I find it unlikely that the father and son would have parted with the restored Porches so easily and for $300,000.  I know people that have owned classic Porches and restored them, doing German restorations is hard work.  Also people who have owned Porches LOVE them.  They probably already found people that wanted to sell and maybe Discovery channel gave them more for those cars.

One real part of the show is when they are calling their mechanic back at Motoreum in Texas on a Chevy Bel-Air restoration.  (I did notice that Motoreum has less than stellar online reviews. )  Like most auto restorations it isn’t going well as the Bel-Air has a lot more rust and needs a lot more work than anticipated.  This means they are going to go $10,000 over budget for the restoration.  Anyone who’s done auto repair or fixed-up old cars can tell you this is quite a common.  Honestly, most projects cars go over budget that’s why you make an auto budget and you always double it.

Bottom line though even if the show is not real or authentic, the TV show is still entertaining.  What self-respecting car guy or gal wouldn’t want to travel the world hunting, buying, and selling beautiful old classic cars?

The producers did their job and likely the show will be a success.  Discovery channel currently has 6 episodes that will air but I should let people know they did pushback the release of the show several times.  Unsure if this was a contract issue or if they just moved to do TV programming conflicts.

Chrome Underground premieres on Discovery Channel, on Friday, May 23rd, at 10PM. 

If you’ve watched the show and landed on this review I’d love to hear you opinions, comments, or questions about Chrome Underground below.

Editor’s Note: In exchange for getting an advanced copy of the first episode of Chrome Underground before it aired I was asked to do write a review about the show by Discovery channel. However I have not received monetary compensation for this review and do not have any special affiliation or relationship with Discovery channel or the production company behind Chrome Underground. I do not know Yusuf Johnson or Antonio Brunet personally or had heard about Motoreum before writing this review of the TV show.

I definitely think I should have received monetary compensation though.  I also deserve special treatment, preferably a few classic cars, in case you are wondering.

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About the Author

Adam Yamada-HanffAdam has always loved cars and anything with wheels. When he is not writing about cool or interesting auto stories you might find him playing music, watching movies, or playing with his two dogs.

View all posts by Adam Yamada-Hanff

27 Comments

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    CarNewsCafe.com Chrome Underground - Clips and Sneak Peaks [VIDEOS] » CarNewsCafe.com05-23-2014

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  2. David
    David05-23-2014

    This show is so Sophomore Drama queen Garbage I have ever seen .I have seen smarter lot-boys at Dealerships Than these guys. Tell the producers to leave the drama and tell the true story let the show roll on it’s own merits.

    • Adam Yamada-Hanff
      Adam Yamada-Hanff05-24-2014

      Appreciate you commenting David.

      The problem is if they just let the cameras roll I’m pretty sure people would not watch. With such a fast paced world with so many technological distractions these days people have extremely short attention spans. The producers need to keep the story moving forward and quickly. Do you really expect Discovery channel to have “reality TV?”

      Casting for a TV show is quite a tricky process. You need people that are comfortable on camera with a crew following them around and won’t be boring. Finding gearheads that can be totally real with cameras rolling and that have skills is next to impossible.

      If you get a chance I’d watch Rods N Wheels and read my review of that show. It was another Discovery channel show about cars and it did not seem that realistic either.

      http://www.adamsautoadvice.com/2014/01/rods-n-wheels/

  3. David
    David05-24-2014

    you shot a lot of film edit the film ,then I would watch it only a immature child will believe all that drama. Car guy’s watch for the car’s and the scenery and adventure of buying a car .I could have narrated what was going to happen last night. When you get a little more World under your belt you will see No Offense. I enjoyed watching you guy’s do what really happens at the dealership in Austin offloading cars . Leave the Drama to the Kardashion’s Crowds

    • Adam Yamada-Hanff
      Adam Yamada-Hanff05-25-2014

      I think you are confusing Discovery Channel, a huge cable network and media company, with making Youtube videos. They are not just looking for car guys or gals to watch Chrome Underground but a wider audience to go up against other shows in that time-frame. TV spots are ridiculously expensive and advertisers need to feel they get what they paid for with good ratings and an exciting and entertaining TV show.

      I have plenty of experience working in media David. I recently helped scout people for a VS style of auto TV show actually. Like I said, it’s quite rare to find people that can just be normal when you have a camera crew following them around. It’s an experience you think you will be ok with, but honestly most people can’t handle it. A lot of production companies don’t have the patience, time, or resources to train people or wait for them to get comfortable.

      FYI, you should work on your grammar before leaving comments… No offense.

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  5. David
    David05-26-2014

    Don’t quit your day job Adam Yamada-Hanff I thought you were neutral a story teller a reporter guess I was wrong . I have trying to be kind ,the show is terrible as my literary skill G.

  6. Nicolas Zart
    Nicolas Zart05-28-2014

    Actually, I found Adam was very neutral with this story, a testament to how well he treated it.

    David, I will use this one: ” Sophomore Drama queen Garbage” It’s priceless!

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  8. Scott
    Scott07-02-2014

    I actually used to work at Motoreum while they were filming (though I’m never on camera) I detailed the cars there. I was really excited to see the show, but when it came out I was highly disappointed, I know Tv isn’t 100% real but I thought it would be more real than it is….. There is a particular instance with someone buying a VW van that is extremely fake, some of the vehicles we already owned but put on the show to make an adventure out of. I will give credit to Yusuf and Antonio as they are very intelligent people but this show is just crap, they could film a normal day at the shop and it would actually be more intersting than the fake stuff that’s on there now.

    • Adam Yamada-Hanff
      Adam Yamada-Hanff07-02-2014

      The show did not seem entirely real to me that’s why I titled this review “Chrome Underground – Entertaining but is it Authentic?” Glad to know my original assumptions were correct. Still I find it fun and entertaining to watch.

      It’s hard to expect producers to make a real TV show nowadays. I’m still surprised the lengths production companies go to make these sorts of shows entertaining though.

      Out of curiosity what usually happens on a daily basis at the shop Ben? Also how do they usually acquire and buy cars? Do Yusuf and Antonio actually travel to South American countries or is that all for the show? What sort of collector car inventory do they have at Motoreum? Do they make decent profits selling there or do they take them to car auctions?

  9. Scott
    Scott07-03-2014

    It does fluctuate on a daily basis, but some days we would have a huge rush of customers wanting to buy cars, some famous (not naming names) people would stop in. A good portion of the cars are trade ins, or someone selling a car to us some are found from our of state, we did get a couple from Mexico and also a big portion are cars that were consigned through us (stored at our shop and sold at an auction through us, and us collecting a fee). Them traveling out of the country is all for the show, the only reason they travelled is for pleasure. There are actually some really amazing cars there, we had an original Stutz that actually ran (something like 7 in existence and it was the only one that actually ran, again consigned) some of the cars were really nice though, and even now still has a great selection. They mainly sold at auction, we would have probably an average of 30 people a week walk through with only about 1-2 actually interested in buying and even then they didn’t get approved or couldn’t afford the payments so that’s why we took them to auction. We had a big auction in November last year called Motostalgia and we almost emptied the shop, not everything sold but a few did, the ones that didn’t went straight to mecum in Houston.

    • Adam Yamada-Hanff
      Adam Yamada-Hanff07-03-2014

      Thanks for sharing all this info Ben.

      In my experience talking with people in the business it is a lot harder to sell collector cars than shows like “Chrome Underground” make out. You have to find the right buyer that appreciates the car. Even if you do find a seriously interested buyer it is unlikely they have the cash on hand to buy it. Typically money is tied up in other vehicles they own… that they can’t sell.

      From what I’ve seen shops like Motoreum mostly take cars to the big collector car auctions (Mecum, Barrett-Jackson, Carilse). Lots of buyers there with cash that are actively looking for cars. The excitement of the auction and the need to win usually makes it so that you make more money.

      Running auctions on site is a good idea if it’s marketed right. Consignment makes a lot of sense as I can’t imagine anyone could afford to buy all those cars and maintain them. (Except of course Jay Leno.)

      I get emails from people asking me if I know anyone that is interested in buying a race car, tuned up car, collector car etc. all the time. I think the economy is still affecting a lot of people that need to pull the money out of these projects.

      Maybe I should start a car auction business. 🙂

  10. Scott
    Scott07-03-2014

    No problem! Glad I could leave some good input for you. There were a couple of people that consigned with us that could afford all those cars, but only 2-3 that I know of. Auction business seems to be the way to go for the most part.

    By the way, Discovery dropped the show and velocity has it now.

  11. Adam Yamada-Hanff
    Adam Yamada-Hanff07-03-2014

    Yes, I saw that Velocity picked up the show. It is technically a Discovery channel subsidiary to my understanding as are a lot of other networks.

    I wonder why the decided to switch to Velocity? Probably wasn’t pulling in good enough ratings for that Friday time slot on Discovery.

  12. buzz
    buzz07-14-2014

    this is the biggest piece of crap bull show i have seen. they expect you to believe EVERY deal is filled with drama and about to go bad at any time…just to be saved at the last minute.
    they also expect you to believe they can do international money transfers in less than a mi nute.

    this show is bull krap.

  13. JustMe
    JustMe07-14-2014

    Sorry, but this whole Mexico episode was BS. So sripted, so fake. The “ex soldier” has a bar in Mexico City, but can leave it from one minute to the other and run around the whole day with the two “specialists”…?
    Very realistic.
    The one Porsche stops b/c it is out of gas in “one of the most dangerous areas of the D.F.”? Amateur mistake, and you have not seen THAT areas there…
    If the other episodes are like that too, I would call that series a complete failure.

  14. Jeff P.
    Jeff P.07-20-2014

    The silent majority of viewers enjoy the show., it’s well done and action packed. There are dozens of car shows but what makes this better is the action. Every so called “reality” show these days is 100% scripted people need to accept that fact.

    *Link Removed by Editor*

    • Adam Yamada-Hanff
      Adam Yamada-Hanff07-21-2014

      I stated here that I do enjoy the show Jeff. The traveling is what makes it fun and appealing to audiences.

      Yes, ALL TV shows are scripted nowadays. Reality, sitcoms, dramas, etc. It is stupid for people to assume otherwise.

      I appreciate you sharing your thoughts about Chrome Underground.

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  16. Ed
    Ed08-24-2014

    There show is entertaining but it is not real at all I’ve personal have lived in Tamaulipas Mexico where they suppose traveled through and it’s full of cities that forgot to inform. The golf cartel holds that territory while fighting the zetas cartel. If they actually bought those cars from the ghettos of Mexico they would’ve have never made it to the border. The zetas cartel is a huge organized crime that do a lot more illegal business then people really know. The show really should of taken the time to do a little research on how it really is. Right off the back if the cartels here about anyone have money they already see you as a target to kidnap you and use whatever you have to make them money. Great show if people like drama with buying cars and racing to the border but when I traveled to the border just in Tamaulipas Mexico you get stopped by the military every 50 miles they set up road blocks to stop any illegal drugs etc. just look on YouTube and search zetas in any part of Mexico and you’ll see the real danger not this fake oooohhh he’s looking at the car. Everyone is of course going to look at a nice car.

  17. woodpkr
    woodpkr08-28-2014

    Stupid show. They make you think they are doing underground deals…But if watch the episode on the 53 caddy eldorado the suburban they drive into the compound has go pro cameras on the front grill and rear tailgate. Yea right! Tony Montana would let a car with cameras into his compound. Show is bogus

  18. Ross
    Ross12-26-2014

    This show is absolute rubbish. 100% staged. Over acting.
    Just follow the stories of finding cars. Real car people are interested to see these rare / interesting vehicles…. they don’t need to see all the extra made up drama. I won’t waste anymore time on this terrible show.

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  20. Dayton Car Care
    Dayton Car Care02-28-2015

    Yea I find the show “reality challenged” but it makes it entertaining with the added drama. I’ve watch some pretty informative car shows but they are boring as hell. Besides most info I really need about cars are already on car forums and I can get it directly whenever I want. TV shows or programs are designed to entertained. If if want boring documentary type, facts only, programs to watch there are (very few) channels for that also.

  21. Bnice
    Bnice03-05-2016

    You can go online a buy many Porsche notchbacks they are not rare and all for under 20 grand unrestored. This show is a joke, and as for mr security he can’t carry a weapone in Mexico.

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