Six years and 97 episodes—that’s how long it’s been since Tony Angelo joined Hot Rod Garage here on MotorTrend. In that time we’ve gotten to know him and Lucky Costa as if they were doting brothers who took us along to work on projects we could only dream of. But as it goes sometimes with project vehicles, you eventually need to say goodbye as it rolls away to its new adventure. Now it’s our time to do that with Tony as he departs the MotorTrend family. While he will certainly be missed, the show must go on. We caught up with Tony, Lucky, David Freiburger, and Mike Finnegan about their thoughts on Tony’s departure, and the future of Hot Rod Garage.
The Variety Years
For those of you who have been with HRG since the beginning, you know that its format has evolved over the years. It was more of a Hot Rod variety show that even had a live band at one point. It really didn’t have a consistent voice and its success was as questionable as Roadkill, as Mike Finnegan recalls, “Hot Rod Garage came on the heels of Roadkill and at the time, I didn’t know that either show would become hits. We couldn’t even watch the content on our phones; Back then, I was still texting on a Blackberry.”
“The Hot Rod Garage show was different than other MotorTrend shows in that it didn’t find its voice for nearly two seasons,” said David Freiburger, “It was a strange variety-show thing at first, then more of a straight how-to show.” It was filmed in between David and Mike’s regular editorial work on MotorTrend magazines and filming Roadkill, as Finnegan pointed out, “The content was legit whatever we could slam together in a few hours between other obligations.”
The Show Comes Around
It was within the second season that Freiburger and Finnegan knew that Hot Rod Garage needed to find its direction. This meant it needed a host who was able to take over and dedicate themself to making that happen. Tony was already known outside of the show and even MotorTrend. Tony first met the Freiburger and Finnegan pair when they needed a drift instructor and he had experience in that field being a Formula Drift driver and team owner. “I first met Tony Angelo on an episode of Roadkill where Dodge let us loose with some Hellcats and a Viper,” said Freiburger, “Tony was brought in to teach Mike Finnegan and I how to drift the cars. Knowing Tony as I do now, my hindsight says that he was really holding back on busting our chops for the poor job we were doing.” The first five episodes of season two were still hosted by Finnegan and Freiburger along with Clarence Barnes, but Tony had written episode two before coming on board as guest host of Hot Rod Garage on episode five.
Finnegan, though, didn’t know much about Tony until after he came on board with Hot Rod Garage. In fact, Finnegan didn’t know much about Tony’s motorsport of choice: drifting, specifically Formula Drift. “At the time I’d been to one drift event in Long Beach,” he said, thinking back on it, “I loved the vibe but I wasn’t a hardcore fan of the sport.”
Despite that, after Tony joined the show, they quickly became good friends and racing buddies, “Since then, Tony and I have worked together a bunch of times and made some pretty incredible memories,” said Finnegan, “I’ve become a better driver because of his tips and because of my need to keep up with him whenever we race. Plus, he’s become one of my favorite people to go on adventures with.”
Becoming The Master of The Garage
Then, on episode five of season two, we were finally introduced to Tony Angelo as the full-time (and sole) host of Hot Rod Garage, with guests like Lucky Costa supplying some extra help.
“I was super pumped,” said Tony recalling the news he would become its full-time host, “I wanted to get into the video side of cars and this was a killer opportunity.” It was the high school dream job for him, technically, as hosting a TV show wasn’t on his list at the time.
“If you asked me when I was in high school what I wanted to do as an adult,” he said, “I would have said ‘racing driver’ and ‘writer at MotorTrend’ and I’ve been super lucky to have been able to basically do both. I would have said ‘video car host’ if that was a thing I knew about in HS.”
Fortunately, his time inside the race car and as team owner gave him more than just experience behind the wheel. Tony knew how to wrench, fabricate, promote, lead a team, write, and—potentially most difficult of all—talk on camera thanks to his years of experience as not only a driver in Formula Drift but also as one of their judges. His natural charisma, curiosity and calm demeanor under pressure worked well with his nurturing attitude while working on a project. These qualities made Tony the perfect host and producer for a project car show.
“The thing I’ve always appreciated about Tony’s take on Hot Rod Garage is that he’s never been afraid to tackle project cars that I wouldn’t want to touch,” said Freiburger, “Tony’s schemes on HRG are more mechanically adventurous than our other shows in many ways.”
The Costa of Show Business
From S2E5 on, Tony was not only in charge of talking to you through each build on camera, but was also writing each episode. Just shooting a regular show is hours upon hours of work, but add writing on top of that and it doesn’t leave much time for other things. That’s when Freiburger knew that Tony needed a permanent co-host on Hot Rod Garage. He recalled, “Tony was hired as a host and had the difficult task of carrying it alone, so we added Lucky Costa as a co-host. Soon Tony was driving the creative ideas and the show became the version that so many people love today. Tony really shaped the tone of it.”
We were all first introduced to Lucky on S2E12 but would come on board as full-time co-host at the start of season four. However, on each episode where Lucky was a guest host, his natural charm and experience as a wrench helped make the show’s projects move quickly. However, Lucky had never heard of Tony until they first met in season two and he wasn’t sure of what to expect. “He’s an East Coast Import guy,” Lucky recalled, “so I was worried about how that was going to work on ‘Hot Rod’ Garage at first, but he’s a sharp guy and picked up everything to eventually fit right in.”
When it was announced that Lucky would become a permanent member of the Hot Rod Garage family, he had been away from the screen for a while. Lucky recalled, “I had been working off camera for some time and it was a big surprise. It’s great to get to do what I enjoy and get paid for it.”
Our Heroic Team Is Set
The show instantly became a hit in the eyes of Finnegan and Freiburger, as Mike pointed out, “The addition of Tony Angelo and Lucky Costa really separated that show from a bunch of similar ones. They took Hot Rod Garage to a level I didn’t think was possible given the budget and time constraints that show was launched with. It’s a much better show now that those dudes have taken over.” Behind the scenes, the duo of Tony and Lucky impressed Freiburger with their speed, as he pointed out, “One thing I’ve always credited Tony and Lucky for is wrenching really fast. They crank stuff out far more quickly than I can.”
From season four through today, the pair have created their own memorable moments and projects that truly separated them from the rest of the MotorTrend lineup. Their friendly banter also reminded viewers that this was no phony reality-style show with a Hollywood-level budget—it was grounded in reality, and hard work, the product of rare combination of talent and zeal.
A New Chapter
Over the years, Tony and Lucky not only saved a show that wasn’t projected to live past its third season, they crafted a rare and unique experience that made people care about Hot Rod Garage. That’s why seeing Tony go is going to be hard on everyone involved, including the viewers and Tony, himself. Why is he leaving, at all?
It was time for something new, it turns out. “It’s been a great run at MotorTrend,” says Tony when we asked him, “I’ve done work I’m really proud of, built some awesome cars, and I got to be a part of so many cool shows. We’ve made over 90 episodes of Hot Rod Garage over the past 6 years, and I’m ready for a new challenge.”
As mentioned earlier, Tony’s originally from the East Coast and much of his family is located there, including his three children. During season seven, Tony had relocated back to that region with a new shop in Pennsylvania and Lucky would make trips between L.A. and Tony’s shop for several episodes until 2020. When the Great Pause stopped travel, our pair of hosts had to make do being separated and working their shows via FaceTime on their phones.
When he compared his lifestyle between his time in L.A. and now being closer to his family, Tony also realized something else. “The cross-country travel and intense schedule right now make it hard to keep a balance with my personal life. So I’m going to step away to focus on family, and keep making rad shows from my neck of the woods.” While his two youngest twins don’t quite grasp what’s going on, his six year old daughter has. “Well, they are still really little, so the 3 year old twins don’t really get it,” Tony told us, “but my 6 year old is pumped, and excited for more Daddy/Daughter days.”
Outside of his children, Tony’s main focus is going to be working from his new venture in Pennsylvania. “I’m planning on being in my shop, shooting and making rad content,” he told us, “I’ve got my Youtube channel, ‘Stay Tuned,’ and that’s where a lot of the content will go. There are quite a few new projects in the works too.”
He also plans to get behind the wheel again at some point. “I’m super interested in doing more racing, but not just Formula D,” Tony explained, “I want to do more rally, and road racing and there are a lot of cool events I want to do like the Silver State, One Lap, some hillclimbs, etc. I would love to hop into a Formula Drift car for a round or two, but that’s probably the extent of it. I love the FD crowd and will definitely be doing more drift stuff in the future.”
The Memories We Carry
While the audience of the show will remember their favorite moments on camera, much of what Tony and the Hot Rod Garage crew will remember are the many, many moments they had off screen. There were many of them that both Lucky and Tony can’t nail down just a single event. “I can’t even begin to write these all down,” Tony told us, “The best part of HRG was working with the crew and Lucky. People always told me that it looked like we were having a blast on that show and it was always the case. We were constantly messing around and having fun, so there were too many funny moments to pick one.”
While Lucky and Tony don’t have all of the same preferences, they do share a favorite HRG project: The “Bonemaro,” a cheap and abused 1979 Chevrolet Camaro that eventually ran in the 10s in the quarter mile and was revamped on episode 100. “The Bonemaro was our first big hit,” said Tony, “so that dirty cheap turbo LS beater is a favorite.”
Tony’s other favorites included, “‘Fishtail ‘Cuda’ because it was such a cool way to roll all the things I love into one car: drifting, street style and iconic muscle cars” and the “Twinpala” because “it’s such a wild idea that turned out incredible :1,000hp, 16 cylinders, AWD, and complete insanity.” Despite those being Tony’s big three, in reality all of the projects that he and Lucky turned out have been incredible journeys in their lives as hosts of Hot Rod Garage.
In addition to Tony’s work on Hot Rod Garage, he’s worked on the now legendary “Roadkill” with both Freiburger and Finnegan. Frieburger says we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Tony’s top five moments on the ultimate road trip show. “In addition to hosting Hot Rod Garage, Tony has also been a go-to host on Roadkill,” he said. According to Frieburger, the top five Tony Angelo moments on Roadkill are holding a loose Chevy Luv truck hood vertically in near-hurricane conditions to try and protect Finnegan as he was wrenching on the truck’s engine. Then there was Tony winning a drag race in his first trip to the Merrill Ice Drags in Wisconsin. Next was taking the wheel of the General Mayhem ’68 Dodge Charger at DirtFish and pounding the track “like a boss.” Then there was accidentally cracking Mike Finnegan in the skull with a breaker bar “and not even noticing” when thrashing to fix a car at Roadkill Nights. Finally, Tony rebuilding a G-Force trans in record time and bench-pressing it into Mike Finnegan’s ’55 Chevy to save the day and to lead the team to winning their class at Hot Rod Drag Week.
Show Hosting Versus Show-Off Driver
Thinking about how Tony’s career started in motorsports, we couldn’t help but ask how it compared to being a television show host. Especially since one of the requirements of being a professional motorsports driver is also being good on camera. “Well, I think making 97 full length episodes as a host, writer and producer is a pretty big taste,” said Tony, “but I love it. Racing and making content are both about putting in a ton of prep, then trying to stay cool and do your thing when the moment comes, so the transition felt natural.”
Many who get away from television to be with family never return. Not Tony, as it seems he will remain in the spotlight for some time, “I am definitely going to stick with the TV stuff, it’s always a new challenge and so rewarding.”
We also asked Tony what it was like working with Lucky and if he’d miss having him to work with and bounce off of. “Oh, I miss that dude already,” said Tony, “We’ve gotten pretty close over the years, so he’s more like a cranky much older brother at this point.” Of course, Hot Rod Garage is more than just Tony and Lucky, as he pointed out, “I’ll miss the whole crew- Finn, David, Dave, Fred, Steve, and a ton of people that work behind the scenes. I’m sure we will keep in touch and hopefully get to do more stuff together in the future.”
With both Tony and Finnegan on the East Coast, how often will they get to see each other? Unfortunately, not as often as you’d think. “It’s funny,” said Finnegan, “I live an hour from my friend, Rutledge Wood, but we rarely see each other unless we both travel to an event in another state. It’s the same with Tony; we’re in the same time zone but sadly we live nowhere near each other.”
Even so, Finnegan pointed out that working together again is a possibility. “As with most things,” he said, “there is always time, we just have to make it a priority. Tony and I will definitely continue to have fun together.”
A Huge Hole To Fill
Now that we know Tony’s leaving and Hot Rod Garage will continue, the next host must be the embodiment of the ultimate car enthusiast. We asked Freiburger, Finnegan, and Lucky who or what type of person they think needs to come in after Tony. The most important thing about bringing in a new show host, according to Freiburger, is keeping the show on the same message as it has now. “The audience will always need a fun, tech-based show that’s not loaded with advertisements, fake drama, and megabuck cars,” he explained, “As long as Hot Rod Garage can stick to the Tony-era format, it can live for eternity.”
Regardless, the new host is going to have to be the ultimate wrench that can work on and off camera. “The next host is going to have to fill the shoes of a big personality with wide-ranging interests, a lead foot, no fear, and big wrenching skills,” Freiburger continued, “The new host will be able to lean on Lucky as a wisecracking superwrench, but they are also going to have to bring the chops as a frontman who doesn’t have an inch of phony in them.”
Finnegan and Lucky have their own vision for the next host. For Finnegan, it’s more about keeping people interested in the automotive hobby. “As long as the show continues to stoke people out on cars, I’ll be a fan of it,” he said. Meanwhile, Lucky wants to make sure whoever comes on board knows how to turn a wrench, saying, “Just about anyone who enjoys building cars and has a fair amount of experience will work.”
The Future of Hot Rod Garage
Even with Tony leaving, the future of your beloved Hot Rod Garage looks bright, and the project show of project shows will continue on. While we work to choose the next host, you can also continue to enjoy past episodes of Hot Rod Garage and reminisce with your favorite episodes of Tony and Lucky. However, while the physical voice of the show will change, the message of Hot Rod Garage will remain the same: Just build cool cars, no matter what your budget is.