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Celebrity Drive: Aaron Kaufman of Discovery TV's 'Fast N' Loud'

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 6/12/2015 K.S. Wang

Quick Stats: Aaron Kaufman, cohost of Discovery's "Fast N' Loud"
Daily Driver:2004 Ford F-150 (Aaron's rating: 5.7 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Favorite road trip: Dallas to Vegas
Car he learned to drive in: 1968 Ford F100
First car bought: 1984 Jeep Cherokee

Even when Aaron Kaufman isn't at the Gas Monkey Garage on Discovery's popular show "Fast N' Loud," he's always working on cars, whether it's for friends who can't afford it, or on his own 2004 Ford F-150.

Kaufman laughs when he says he would give his truck a "pretty low" rating since it's a work in progress. "A lot of people have either a good car or a bad car and I have a great medium car that's on its way to becoming great if I ever get around to finishing it," Kaufman says. "But you heard the old adage -- the cobbler's kids have no shoes and the plumber's wife has leaky pipes. So we're in the same kind of analogy here, where I finally get done doing this all day and often till very early in the morning, I don't have much time."

Kaufman has a lot to say about cars, including his F-150 and what kind of scale he would try to rate it on, since it's still in a "transformation." "It depends. You'd ask me what position is the suspension in, what position are the brakes in, what position is the motor in, so you ask a bit of a complicated question. I don't think you realize the depth of it," Kaufman says.

But he ultimately rates it a 5.7 on a scale of 1 to 10. "It's got wickedly expensive suspension underneath it, and it's got weird motor work done to it, and all kinds of funny stuff, and so I love the poop out of it," he says. "But the deal is, that it's unfinished. It's not a bad vehicle, it's not a great vehicle, it's just not done. My vehicle is no longer a Ford F-150. What my vehicle is, it's some version of what I wanted. I build custom vehicles all day every day, so my vehicle is on its way to becoming custom."

Kaufman bought the F-150 with ideas of what it could be with his own touches. "It's not like I thought Ford built the greatest truck in the world and I had to just keep it and love it," he says. "I do love my truck. The chassis work has been changed in it and the motor's been altered from the way they delivered it."

Celebrity Drive Aaron Kaufman© Provided by MotorTrend Celebrity Drive Aaron Kaufman When Kaufman didn't have much money but really wanted one of these trucks, he didn't think he was ever going to be able to buy one. "When we started getting a better paycheck and whenever I had enough to go buy one of these trucks used, I purchased it and it was all the money I had except for gas money until the next paycheck," he says. "It was not the most responsible thing to do, but I really, really wanted it and particularly I wanted that wheelbase, that chassis, I wanted that package."

Kaufman bought the used F-150 for $12,000 in 2012. "It had almost 100,000 miles and a bent axle and I paid the guy's note off," he says.

While Kaufman is enamored with the used F-150, he says there are plenty of vehicles he'd rather have, like a brand-new F-350. "The deal is I still plan on finishing this one, " he says.

He hopes to make the F-150 ready to race in the desert if he ever wants to do that. "It'll never be a used in a professional pre-running application because I don't own a million-dollar race vehicle and the trucks and the crew to back it up," he says. "But what we may do is whenever a race course is open in Mexico, like the 1,000 or the 500 or the 250, we might go down there and we blast around on the race course because it's open to pre-running, have some fun, drink some beer and watch the real race cars go by. So it's pseudo -- it's like there are people who have what I'm after legitimately and I'm desperately trying to have something close so I can go have a portion of the fun."

While it will still perform the utilitarian duties of a pickup truck, Kaufman says his Ford will be more geared towards being a "fun vehicle" and an off-road-specific vehicle when it's done. "A full race vehicle would be dedicated to that specific activity and mine is a combination. It still does normal pickup truck stuff, it just doesn't do it as well as it used to, but it does fun stuff a hell of a lot better than it used to. And it's a great way to waste a lot of money," he says.

Car he learned to drive in

Kaufman grew up in Crowley, Texas, and has lived in the state his whole life. He learned to drive on the family farm in east Texas between Gilmer and Pittsburg.

"The first vehicle I ever drove was a 1968 short-bed Ford F100 and it was in my grandparents' pasture," he recalls. "A '68 F-100, baby blue, white bumpers, white grille. A single cab, short wheelbase, and the bed was all rusted -- I had plywood down in place of it. It was used for hauling, going down to the pond and feeding the cattle."

Kaufman recalls it had a three-on-the-tree transmission. Back home he logged more time in the family car, a Toyota Camry, which he thinks was either a 1993 or 1994 model.

At 15 Kaufman got his learner's permit and drove his mom as much as he could in the Camry. "The whole year I was 15 I don't think my mom drove herself any further than to work and home," he says. "If she had to go to the grocery store or run an errand, pick up my little brother, go get her hair done, it didn't matter, wherever my mom went, if she needed to go to the mall, it didn't matter where we were going. I drove the car the whole year I was 15. My mom got chauffeured around that year. I begged to go get a gallon of milk even if we had three-quarters of a gallon in the refrigerator. The dog food never got low that year."

Although he drove his mom's Camry much of that year, Kaufman also learned to drive on his dad's manual Jeep Cherokee, which had 300,000 miles on it.

"My dad was driving this little white Cherokee and consequently it's gone through the family, it's been handed down in the family and the little truck got something like half a million miles on it somewhere now," he says. "Up until a couple years ago I knew who had it."

Celebrity Drive Aaron Kaufman© Provided by MotorTrend Celebrity Drive Aaron Kaufman When Kaufman turned 16 and got his license, his dad bought him a single-cab 1990 Ford Ranger. "It was a four-cylinder, five-speed long bed. Pretty to look at, but, long bed. And it had a camper on it," he says. "I used to ride BMX all the time, so me and my friends were able to stack all of our bikes in there and it worked out pretty good."

He says the family's cars were all "exceptionally used" and he's never bought a new vehicle, although senior year in high school, his dad got his mom a 2000 Chevrolet Impala that was the family's first new car. In 2010 when Kaufman had to sell his truck because it had some problems, his mom gave him the car.

"I ended up getting ownership of it 10 years later," he says, with a laugh. "I kept the thing, because it's not worth anything, I couldn't sell it, so I just hung onto it as an extra car. So every one of my guys up here at the shop have used the car while they've been working on their own, or building a car. In fact, I sold it to one of our guys here at the shop for $1,000 bucks and he still drives it today. That one is interesting because it's like the village bicycle. It's kind of strange, one year for Xmas at 14 or 15 I got a toolbox and I don't think my dad ever envisioned this."

First car bought

The first car Kaufman bought, a 1984 Jeep Cherokee, was also the first car he customized. He saved up enough money between his allowance, mowing lawns, and odd jobs on the side since he had the Ranger to drive around in.

1984 Jeep Cherokee Chief In Snow© Provided by MotorTrend 1984 Jeep Cherokee Chief In Snow "I bought a $900 '84 Jeep Cherokee Chief model five-speed four-wheel, blue and black [a red Cherokee Chief is shown here]," he says. "It had a locked-up transmission, so I found this old dude that had a Jeep graveyard and I found a transmission. It was the right transmission but for the wrong vehicle and didn't realize it until I got it home, and then figured out how to put them all together and went to the auto parts store and there was a cool guy there, worked with him, figured out how to get it all hooked up, got it running."

The Jeep would be the catalyst for what Kaufman would do for his life's work.

Kaufman lifted the Jeep and then noticed a vibration from the driveshaft. "So I called the company I got the lift kit from, and they sent me a kit to fix it and there were two sticks of tubing with three holes drilled in each one of them and I said, 'The hell with this. From now on if I need something then I'll try and make it. And if I can't make it, I'm in the same boat I was before I tried and I'll just buy it,'" he says. "Turns out I can make a lot of things."

Kaufman was only 16 then and he began working on friends' cars to hone his skills. "If they needed brakes put on their car, if they needed something fixed, if they wanted a lift, if they wanted to lower it, if they wanted to change the wheels, if they wanted to change something, I would do anything anyone wanted to do for free just to gain the experience because I didn't know anyone else that did it, and if I did, I was the only one that I knew how to do it."

He says he's always understood that education has a price and sometimes that cost is just logging time and practice. For several years in high school that's what Kaufman did on the side, often keeping his parents up many nights as he was banging, welding, and cutting things in the driveway.

Kaufman sold the Jeep when he was 18 and then he sold the Ranger and bought a full-sized truck when he graduated high school. "And it was extremely used too. It was 2000 and that bugger was 1994, so it was six years old," he says.

He got a job at Pep Boys toward the end of high school and worked there for a couple years after. He always worked on cars on the side and often on friends' cars gratis.

"Hell, I do it now for free. I absolutely adore what I do. I hate being told when and how, and the complications that come along with it," he says. "But at the same time, when I get done with this, I go home and do the same thing. So if one of my friends wants to do something and it's really beyond what they're capable of paying, I still want to do it. I get around to it when I get around to it, but at the same time I enjoy doing it, sometimes for the challenge and sometimes because I just want to do it."

Celebrity Drive Aaron Kaufman© Provided by MotorTrend Celebrity Drive Aaron Kaufman While at Pep Boys, Kaufman was working with a friend who had a machine shop, cutting up trucks, building frames and doing suspension work. One day when he went to a shop called the Hack Shack for parts they needed, he asked the shop owner if there were any job openings, and as luck would have it, there were.

"I said, 'I'll help you kill two birds with one stone, I'm your competition. You can eliminate your competition and pick up a damn good employee if you hire me,' and he agreed," he says. "It was a customization shop. We didn't fix cars broken; we took running, everything-works vehicles and we customized them. We built cars."

Kaufman was there for about two years and then moved to Lubbock for college, but his mind kept going back to cars. By the time he had his own shop, Kaufman was asked by his now co-host on the show, Richard Rawlings, if he wanted to work with him at Gas Monkey Garage.

Favorite road trip

Kaufman has gone on many road trips and many have been on motorcycles. "I've been to almost every single state in the union except for Hawaii and Alaska. I mean driven there, been there, drank at a bar there, for getting cars, ridden my motorcycle all over the place."

He built a bike for a build-off against fellow Discovery channel stars of "American Chopper," and Kaufman enjoyed riding that motorcycle to the competition in Vegas.

"Riding that little pink motorcycle from Dallas to Las Vegas just tickled me to death. Definitely one of my more favorite trips," he says. "I enjoyed that little pink motorcycle out there so much it would be hard to put into words. And I didn't baby the thing -- I hammered it the whole way and just tried to run it into the ground.."

While other put their bikes on a trailer and drove to Vegas, Kaufman rode his entry to the competition just for the fun of it. "Rarely have I built something so fast, pushed it so hard for such a great distance and had so much fun doing it."

Kaufman also enjoys the grandeur of the American West. "Anytime I'm going west on a road less travelled, a two-laned blacktop, I'm happy," he says. "I don't plan on living much further east than where I'm standing in this moment right now. I just enjoy the grandeur of it all. Everything's bigger out there. The mountains, the rivers, the holes in the ground, the trees. I just prefer the overwhelming grandeur. I like the roughness of it all. I like the great expanses between things. I like how hard it is to be tamed. Headed west, chasing the sunset, it's romantic. I love going west - West Texas, towards New Mexico, Arizona, California, Utah. Just headed west."

Celebrity Drive Aaron Kaufman© Provided by MotorTrend Celebrity Drive Aaron Kaufman

"Fast N' Loud" on Discovery

Kaufman says good vendors are an important factor in what they do in the shop. "We have some of the greatest vendors. I'm speaking from an industry standpoint because my head's in building cars and our vendors, their whole existence is to build cars and car parts," he says. "We love dealing with them, having the conversations with them. I'm happy that we get to build cars everyday."

He says consumers often pay a lot of money for a car that is already finished, but if it weren't for the vendors who go out and make parts and then replicate them, it would be a much more expensive hobby for car enthusiasts. These vendors allow more people to customize their cars.

"So only through industrious individuals who go out and build these companies to provide performance parts and suspension parts, etc., they allow the bulk of the public to be able participate in this because it takes a very high skill level to make these parts from scratch," Kaufman says. "To assemble them speeds up the process exponentially, the fact that these really nice parts exist are the only way that we're able to build these cars in these really accelerated time frames, because the stuff that we do under normal circumstances would take months and months to build and we actually knock these cars out in anywhere from two to four weeks. And that is exclusively because of our vendors and the high quality of parts today."

Kaufman says he gets asked all the time if there are any good episodes coming up and he just tells them he has no idea, because some of his favorite builds don't make great episodes and the episodes that rated well, he says he hated the car.

"Everything that I'm enamored with has already been seen on TV," he says, adding he is particularly proud of the 1976 Chevy C-10 pickup truck they built and featured at the 2014 SEMA show.

"My crew and myself, the whole operation couldn't have gone better on our little 1976 C-10," he says. "We had high acclaim, everybody was tickled, everybody loved it. It did great things for us and we still have it here and it has been one of my favorite ones on the show. I have short list of favorites and it is definitely on it."

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