If you’ve been hunting around for something to watch on Netflix while your dinner cools in front of you, you might have noticed a new, Netflix original series called Fastest Car. Its eight episodes bring viewers a fascinating exploration of tuner car culture outside of the usual Porsche and Ferrari chatter.
In fact, you’d barely notice that one of the show’s most crucial elements is mis-defined.
(Full Disclosure: Netflix’s people reached out and asked if we wanted to write about their fancy new car show. We said sure, and they arranged some interviews for us. A fun time was had by all.)
Fastest Car is a series of eight episodes that each follow in a consistent formula, with the exception of the finale. Four cars are chosen to drag race a quarter mile against each other in the episodes: Three “sleeper cars” pitted against a typical supercar, like a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. And the winners of each of those races race against each other during the show’s finale to be crowned with the title of fastest car.
The writers of the show never defined what a sleeper car was, nor did they ever say why these cars were racing against the supercars, but judging from the dialogue of the owners and drivers of the sleeper cars, it’s kind of a David and Goliath situation (indeed, that’s the name of the first episode). These drivers want to prove that they don’t need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to attain speed and performance like someone who would just walk into a dealership and drop cash for a supercar without knowing anything about it.
It’s a great aspect of car culture to focus on, home-built speed. Everyone who’s ever modded their car has their eye on that supercar benchmark because it’s downright cool that a little beater that you picked up and tuned for yourself can suddenly beat a car that costs thousands more. This democratization of speed is, after all, what drove the tuner scene in the 90s and 2000s and the hot rod culture before that.
One of the supercar drivers, well-known car photographer Pepper Yandell, races a yellow Lamborghini Huracán on the show. Yandell sat down with our own Jason Torchinsky recently and chatted about the theme of supercars versus everyone else.
Jason: So, when you’re interacting with the guys who built the sleeper cars, what’s their attitude towards you and the supercars? How was that interaction?
Pepper: So, this was the more interesting part of the entire experiment with me. You have these people who are usually expected to buy cars for a symbol of status rather than like the appreciation of the automotive industry. And then you have these people who dedicate their time and their life and however much in their bank account building these cars and they usually hold a kind of a natural grudge of people who buy their way in to high performance.
You have these people who are true car builders, they build these supercars, they go to the track every weekend, they race, and they tune it, they break it and they build it back up. And then you have these people who just have the money to buy like a Lamborghini or Ferrari or a something. And they expect to win against these people because they spent the money. And they expect these manufacturers to spend the time and the energy to do all the work that all these people are doing on themselves in the garage.
Each of the drivers are distinct in their tastes and personalities, too. They all have a story. Sometimes it’s as simple as they had a bunch of money and just wanted a supercar. Sometimes it’s heartbreaking, like their friend died in a racing accident and they’re building up a car as a tribute. In each episode, you learn about them, the car and what went into the build. And since it’s Netflix and it needs to appeal to a wider audience than just gearheads, it walks the line between being simple enough so that normal people won’t get bored or lost and car people will still stay engaged.
It didn’t feel like each of these drivers were really fed lines that they needed to regurgitate on camera. They each had sit-down interview portions that yielded personal anecdotes, giving the show a very genuine feel. I related to some characters and despised others because of their personalities and views. That makes for a compelling show.
One thing that I couldn’t shake, though, was how the term sleeper car was being defined and used. I had always considered a sleeper car one that looks like a very ordinary and boring car on the outside with crazy performance hiding on the inside. Think like a twin-turbo LS-swapped Toyota Corolla or something. A car you would never expect to smoke you on the highway, much less in a drag race.
Conversely, here are just a few of the cars that Fastest Car defines as “sleeper cars”:
I don’t know about you, but if I saw any of those cars while I was out, I’d naturally assume that something had been done to them. I’d wager that even a non-car person notice giant pipes and giant hood scoops like that. Did the writers mean “tuner cars” instead of “sleeper cars”? I never found out.
And because this show debuted on Netflix, you have the option of binge-watching all eight episodes in a row. If you do that, then the structure starts to collapse a bit. It’s eight episodes that all follow the same format with the same number of cars with the same objective. I was intrigued by the first episode and bored by the third. It felt like Mad Libs, but with car TV.
I understand that the format of Fastest Car is integral to the show, but I’d also argue that’s where it is weakest. The personal stories and builds of the “sleeper cars” are by far the most interesting part of each episode, but because interviews between four people, a walk through of their cars, plus a race at the end, need to fit within one episode, eight different times, it doesn’t leave a lot of time for us to really appreciate and savor the individual builds before we get into the next topic.
Undeniably, though, the filming style and quality are top-notch, so if you want to see some excellent builds and a drag race in high-definition (instead of from some crummy GoPro footage uploaded to YouTube), give Fastest Car a go.
Just maybe don’t binge watch it.