Jesse James has been through a lot of ups and downs over the years. He’s well known as a major mechanic and professional motorcycle biker who parlayed that into huge success. He’s also known for some rather infamous personal life issues and a trail of broken romances. What put James on the map was Monster Garage, the 2002-2006 Discovery Channel series that helped inspire scores of car overhaul shows.
The concept was that James and his team would take a car and, in the course of a week, transform it into another vehicle type. A PT cruiser became a woodchipper, a school bus was turned into a pontoon boat, a tractor into a crop circler, and more.
The show had a set of rules from the start. The crew had just one week to complete the job, a set budget limit, and the cars had to look stock at the end. Over the course of the five seasons, it became obvious that James had no problem breaking these and many other of the quirky rules of the series.
At the same time, James could have clashes with the networks, his own crew, and others while breaking some of the rules he claimed to follow. While the show is long gone, it’s still notable for how James drove it on. Here are 10 Monster Garage rules that James did his best to follow and 10 he constantly broke to remind viewers how crazy the show could get.
20 FOLLOWED: No Distractions
Unlike other car makeover shows, Monster Garage dedicated itself to one job per episode. James would thus insist the crew focus on that one job and no others. This led to issues such as when, while making the infamous Grim Reaper hearse-car crusher, the producers brought a replica Batmobile on set for the crew to admire. That helped turn the Reaper into a huge bust. James was not happy with this and would cut down on such antics. The more the crew was distracted, the worse the build would be. It’s why James made sure his garage only focused on a single car and the crew giving it their full attention to avoid more problems with the builds.
19 BROKE: Never Overstretch
A key issue on the show was how, so often, the crew clearly took on challenges bigger than they were ready for. It led to such projects as trying to turn a Miata into a jet ski, a Mazda into a Doom Buggy, a Mustang into a mower, a Mini Cooper into snowmobile, and more. Quite often, these projects failed simply because they were too crazy to work. Sure, sometimes an insanely offbeat combination of vehicles could work and be notable. However, there are limits to how a car can be transformed and the crew would hit that limit constantly. James would insist they keep going and ignore the obvious limitations as the overstretching of a job added to the fun of the show.
18 FOLLOWED: Destroy the Failures
It was always something to see when a creation failed. It could be the performance, the way it handled, or a combination of all of the above. This led to what would be a major highlight of the show, in that James would destroy the failures. It became a huge ceremony as James went out of his way to not just send them to a compactor. Instead, he would target them with firearms, set them ablaze, and even rent a huge wrecking ball to crush them to pieces. While it was annoying to see so much work end up for naught, the smashing of the failures could be as fun as putting them together in the first place.
17 BROKE: Trash the Car
Car TV show hosts have a lot of differences. However, they do share in common a deep respect for the cars involved. Given that this show is all about tearing cars apart and creating new ones, one would think he’d be down on these cars a lot. Instead, James respects the cars and how they’re being used. Even with an absolute clunker like a Pinto or something bizarre like a DeLorean, James won’t go out of his way to slam the car or its owner. He even seems to like them more by how they can be transformed like this. The cars may be trashed in their bodies but James never trashes them with his mouth.
16 FOLLOWED: Have Fun
When watching the series, it’s clear just how much fun the crews are having. Sure, the jobs can be tough, James can be a hardcore taskmaster, and the time limits are stressful. Yet the crew seems to really be enjoying themselves. James pushes how so many shop guys would love the chance to transform a car into a stunning monster and that’s infectious for his crew. Even when James is yelling at them, the crew puts up with it and can often be seen smiling and joking as they put the cars together. They also just love such insane ideas as turning a Miata into a jet ski or a DeLorean into a hovercraft. James pressed his teams to enjoy what they did and they lived up to that.
15 BROKE: Stick to the Plan
It’s well known that even the best-designed automobile makes some major changes from the blueprints to the finished product. On Monster Garage, the first day of the seven-day build was about planning how the car was going to look. Quite often, the teams would make changes from these plans during the building. The biggest reason was the simple fact James himself just hated the initial plan. Other times, it was because of the lack of equipment or the discovery something that works on paper doesn’t in real life. Either way, it was very rare for a finished monster to look like the initial design. James made it clear that the plans were good but the teams shouldn’t be afraid of shifting them up if they had to.
14 FOLLOWED: Donate the Equipment
James may have a bad reputation but he does possess a surprising charitable side. Every job would have the teams spend a few thousand dollars getting the equipment for these cars. One would expect them to then sell the equipment off in order to recoup some of the costs (especially if the final build was a failure). Instead, James would donate the equipment, free of charge, to other businesses. He generally had them sent to his own foundation in Long Island which taught shop classes. He was also known to donate some to groups of retired military vets. It showed James was willing to give up some of this expensive equipment for a worthy cause.
13 BROKE: Always Look Stock
The number one rule of the show was that whenever a monster was completed, it had to look stock. This rule, more than any of the others, was broken constantly on the show. James never made any secret of how he was willing to toss that rule aside if it meant making a car look better. In one case, a Chevrolet Camaro was turned into Figure 8 race car with the plans including a spoiler. James easily tossed that out, sarcastically citing the “rule.” This led to a few of the monsters looking rough yet James had his own gut feeling on what could work or not. Fans could generally expect this rule to get thrown out the window with ease.
12 FOLLOWED: Do It Himself
A slam on some car makeover TV shows is that the host really doesn’t do that much himself. Richard Rawlings seems more intent on handling his other businesses than real garage work and many others will likewise delegate. On Monster Garage, James prided himself on doing as much of the work as much as he could. He really got his hands dirty pouring much of himself into these cars and directing the teams. It lessened as the show went on but James showed he loved doing this work as much as viewers loved watching it. Whatever else, James never made his crews do something he wasn’t more than willing to do himself to gain their respect.
11 BROKE: Listen to His Crew
It’s well known that James isn’t the easiest person to get along with. Stories of his massive feuds with other car hosts and mechanics are almost legendary in the gearhead world. Given his ego, it should be no surprise James can be more than a bit hostile with his own crew. A running gag will be him asking for input, listening to it, and then replying, “Okay, you’re wrong, we’re doing this.” This has led to some blow-ups such as the infamous incident when, building a DeLorean hovercraft, one worker made a snide comment and James fired him on the spot. Everyone on the show knew who was in charge and that James could often ignore anyone else’s advice.
10 FOLLOWED: Treat People Alike
James may be short-tempered and egotistical but he can be fair at times. He will treat the owners and workers on the show equally. Of course, some would joke that it means treating them equally as if they’re fools but James doesn’t play favorites. This can lead to things such as the famous case where he assigned a team of dwarf mechanics the job of building a regular sized car. James was up front on how he wasn’t cutting them a break on their size but would treat them like any other team. While the car failed, James didn’t blame the team any more than he would any other failure. Whatever other faults he may have, James can’t be accused of being biased on someone’s background.
9 BROKE: Clean Air Rules
James isn’t as anti-environment as some other car reality TV hosts (such as Danny Koker). Indeed, he’s embraced some energy-efficient cars and materials, recognizing how they can achieve high speeds. But at his heart, James is a serious gearhead with a love of muscle cars and high-powered motorcycles. As such, he’ll treat federal environmental regulations as just mild suggestions. Scores of the show’s builds are diesel-powered behemoths that would never pass muster in some states. James even takes pride in how much of a carbon footprint some of these creations can make on the planet. He’s not against them in real life yet James doesn’t seem to think environmental laws matter as much when crafting these cars.
8 FOLLOWED: No Yellow
Everyone has their odd little quirks and phobias. For James, he just can’t stand the color yellow. He famously refused to build a high-powered motorcycle for Sylvester Stallone because Stallone insisted on having it be yellow. No one knows why but James just hates the color and refuses to use it. Thus, on the show, James goes out of his way to use any color besides yellow on jobs. He may have to go along with it if the customer insists or if there really aren’t many options. Yet the number of yellow-colored monsters on the show can be counted on one hand. He doesn’t explain it but James was serious about avoiding the color for his work on his famous series.
7 BROKE: Keep to the Cash Limit
One of the big limits of the show from the beginning was the cash limit. At first, the team only had $3,000 to use for parts for the job. That was later raised to $5,000 but still enhanced things with the challenge of making these jobs work with a low budget. However, it soon became a constant for James to go massively over budget on jobs. The show even noted it, with Brett Wagner stating, “The first thing the team break? The budget.” It really got worse as the show went on and James would gladly spend several thousand bucks on new parts and materials. It was mostly his own cash yet James openly mocked how loose the cash “rule” was.
6 FOLLOWED: Ignore the Network
James is well known for doing things his own way and not playing well with others. That included clashing with Discovery Channel executives several times. The network would give notes on how they wanted things cleaner or to ratchet up the drama more, get more celebrities involved, and generally run the show differently. James pretty much tossed every one of those notes in the garbage and went out of his way to do the show however he felt like. Discovery was willing to let it slide because the show was a success but the clashes grew worse as the ratings declined. James has been in the odd position of doing more shows for Discovery while still slamming the network in interviews constantly.
5 BROKE: Just Seven Days
The push of the show was that the team had just seven days to complete these jobs. It was made out as a huge deal, with them racing the clock and the question if they could complete the work on time. However, this was one rule James had little trouble breaking if he felt like it. Indeed, there were some cases he would demand the car be finished in just a day so they could move onto another project (or just to challenge his crew). Other times, he was okay with the car taking over a week to complete if some issue came up. While the series pressed the one-week limit as a major thing, James could treat it as just a guideline.
4 FOLLOWED: No Celebrities
Given his fame and connections in Hollywood, one would have thought James would have gotten some celebrities onto Monster Garage. Reportedly, Discovery pressured James to get someone famous on the show to help the ratings. But James always refused. He thought the cars should be the focus, not some brief celebrity showing up. There was also the fact few celebrities would be willing to give up their cars to be transformed like this. The one exception was pro wrestler Bill Goldberg (a major biker fan) in a single episode. James may have had his famous fans but he stuck to the rule of not having them drop by the show.
3 BROKE: Create a 200 MPH Monster
No matter the job or the car, James always made it clear he had one goal in mind. One day, one way or the other, he was going to create a “monster” that could go 200 miles an hour. He tried; oh, how he tried, time and again, to pull it off. Yet no matter what, no car could come close to cracking that limit. Even a Viper, usually able to get to that point, failed thanks to the remodel job it got. The closest James ever came was in 2009 when his privately built land speed racer missed it by just 0.3 mph. James always said his biggest regret with the show was never making the high-speed monster.
2 FOLLOWED: Know the Cars
It’s often easy to mock the hosts of car TV shows for failing to know information about the actual cars. Danny Koker, for example, has made numerous mistakes about car history on Counting Cars. James, for all his faults, does love cars and bikes and thus does his best to show that knowledge off on the show. It may not be perfect but you wouldn’t hear James getting the history of a Corvette or even a Miata wrong. It’s hard to imagine him boning up on the history of these cars but James at least has a better grasp of the background of these automobiles than a lot of other car hosts out there.
1 BROKE: Don’t Create Drama
LIke any “reality” show on TV nowadays, Monster Garage was scripted a lot of the time. It wasn’t as bad as some other shows yet it’s obvious when some situations are enhanced or even made up to try and make the show more exciting. That included making a job more complex so it appeared cooler. As much as James claims it was real and legit, he wasn’t above pulling some tricks to make things look more exciting, from how complex the builds were to issues in the garage. James may have insisted he wanted things to look real but the truth is that he’s as guilty of playing up for the cameras as any other reality TV star.
Sources: Monagiza, Revolvy, and IMDb.