Fans of TV show Car SOS will need to buckle up for its biggest tear jerker yet when this week’s episode presents its biggest ever dilemma – preserve the value of a modern classic Vauxhall Cavalier Turbo or cut it open so its paralysed owner can ride in it for the first time in over a decade.
For those who haven’t seen the long-running programme, it follows presenters Tim Shaw and Fuzz Townshend as they secretly restore cherished classic cars belonging to deserving individuals who have been unable to fix them up due to unforeseen medical or financial reasons.
Tomorrow’s episode is, in their words, the ‘most nerve-racking of them all’, as they are forced to make the difficult choice between refurbishing the 90s British super saloon to its original glory – who would guarantee its future value – or hacking the side of it out so that Darren, 36, can once again sit inside his pride and joy some 14 years after a motorcycle accident left him wheelchair bound.
This is Money has had an exclusive first look at the episode and sat down with Tim and Fuzz to talk about their latest emotional escapade – and there’s even a celebrity guest appearance you won’t see coming…
Biggest tear jerker yet: Fans of restoration show Car SOS should buckle up for the most emotional episode in a decade as the team tackle their biggest task of making this 1994 Vauxhall suitable for its owner
The 10th season of Car SOS started back in March and its penultimate episode will air tomorrow night on National Geographic at 8pm.
It features a 1994 Vauxhall Cavalier Turbo 4X4 that has been static on Darren’s driveway in Stockport since his life-changing accident and documents the presenters’ incredibly tough decision to either keep the car original or tailor it to its owner’s needs.
The self-professed petrol head bought the British super saloon in 2007, having realised a long-term dream to own an example of the high-performance car with its turbocharged 2.0-litre engine, which (when new) produced 204bhp and could hit 60mph in under seven seconds and a claimed top speed of 149mph.
Yet his plans to rebuild the ageing motor – which had over 118,000 miles on the clock – were cut short following a terrible motorcycle accident in 2008 that left Darren paralysed from the neck down.
Despite being unable to sit inside – or even touch – his much-loved motor, the former railway signalman refused to part with his pride and joy, instead keeping it under a tarpaulin outside his home where he could keep a watchful eye on it.
Darren’s carer, Adrienne, who nominated him for the show, said he rarely lets anyone lay a hand on his car. In fact, he would only give them permission to clean it, though under strict instructions to polish it in a particular direction.
Darren, 36, bought the 1994 Vauxhall Cavalier Turbo 4X4 – his dream car – in 2007 with the intention of refurbishing and modifying it (pictured). However, a tragic motorcycle accident the following year left the former highway signalman paralysed and no longer able to sit inside his pride and joy
An early morning start and dispatch of as substitute donor Cavalier to sit on Darren’s driveway under a tarpaulin was needed to complete the switchover before work could begin to restore the dilapidating nineties collectible motor
Pictured left to right: Keith Mullen, a family friend of Darren, Fuzz Townshend, Tim Shaw, and Adrienne McCorrisken, Darren’s carer who nominated him for the show, posing with the Vauxhall Cavalier at the pick-up location
This posed the first problem for Tim and Fuzz, with the premise of the show being that they take the cars away unbeknown to the owners and fix them up without their knowledge, only to surprise them with their glimmering vehicles in a big reveal at the end of each episode.
An early morning start and dispatch of as substitute donor Cavalier was needed to complete the switchover before work could begin to restore the dilapidating nineties collectible motor.
‘The car had sat there for 13 or 14 years, so that will give you a measure of the sort of condition it was in,’ Fuzz explains.
‘Surprisingly, it wasn’t that rusty – it must be some sort of microclimate in Stockport, as it hadn’t rotted away completely. However, mechanically, the engine was tired, the suspension had given out, the brakes shot and interior falling apart – which tends to happen when you have a car sitting around for such a long period of time.’
The car had been sat on Darren’s driveway since 2008. It even had the last tax disc for the car as shown here, before it was declared SORN and taken off the road
Having taken the car to Ric Wood, a specialist in racing and sports car mechanic, the guys thoroughly check the condition of the 28-year-old Cavalier
Tim (left) tries to turn the engine over while Ric (middle) and Fuzz (right) look on. The engine was tired, the suspension had given out, the brakes were at the end of their life and the interior was falling apart
Despite the sizeable task just to restore the motor to the condition it would have been when it left the factory 28 years ago, Tim had an even bigger plan in mind to adapt the car so Darren could ride in it once again.
It would entail installing a wheelchair system that fitted directly into the car, though would need far more entry space than the four-door saloon provides as standard.
To make it fit for Darren, it would need the B-pillar – the post between the front door and rear door that structurally holds the roof up and most of the car together – to be chopped out of the passenger side entirely.
Fuzz admits he had his doubts if this was the route to go down, knowing full well that it would not only limit the future value of the car by taking away its originality but also potentially upset Darren, who might not want the authenticity of his much-loved motor being tampered with.
Yet the decision was made to press ahead and a circular saw was fired into life to hack away at the Vauxhall’s almost 30-year body.
Once the pillar was removed, a bespoke rear door hinge was installed to allow for the doors to open and close in a Rolls-Royce-style ‘coach’ fashion to create a larger aperture.
This provides more space for Darren to be moved in and out of his car.
The sills and the doors were then fitted with high-strength steel to reinstall the structural rigidity lost from the removed door pillar, which the presenters and expert mechanic – and Car SOS regular – Ric Wood believe provides better crash protection than the Cavalier had originally.
The Car SOS team go about working out how they could adapt the Cavalier’s body so that Darren could once again sit inside his beloved car. Tim and Ric use a scale model of the Vauxhall to show how they intent to cut out the B-pillar
Using specialist computer aided design (CAD), Ric designed a new high system so the rear doors open in a coach-door fashion – similar to a Rolls-Royce
Ric created this bespoke hinge system that allows the rear door to open the other way while providing a very strong attachment to prevent the door from sagging during use
The next major step was to cut out the B-pillar – a decision that ultimately will limit the value of the car. Fuzz told us in our exclusive interview that he was very apprehensive about chopping into Darren’s car, knowing how much he loved it
‘The best thing about it is that, from the outside with the doors closed, you can’t tell that it’s any different from a standard Cavalier Turbo,’ says Fuzz.
Next was the monumental task of sourcing the equipment that could easily transfer Darren into his car.
‘We didn’t have a system in the UK that would suffice to get Darren – who is 6ft2 tall – in and out of the car without needing a support team of people to lend a hand,’ Tim explained to This is Money.
‘We wanted to make it as smooth as possible, which is why we engaged with a company called BraunAbility Europe – which is the world’s leading manufacturer of vehicle adaption solutions based in Sweden.’
The system uses a bespoke wheelchair that attaches into the car, swivels 90 degrees and locks into place to become the passenger seat.
‘It’s controlled entirely by hands and is easily operated by just one of his carers, who also need to be in the car with him at all times for health reasons, which is why we couldn’t take out the rear bench,’ Tim adds.
‘The whole process of getting Darren into his car takes less than a minute. Normally, it would take around 20 minutes and need a team of six people.’
Mid-way through the restoration, Adrienne and Keith were invited back to see what Tim and Fuzz had done to Darren’s treasured motor. Here you can see the B-pillar has been removed and the sills strengthened with extra steel
Here is a better view of the huge aperture the team achieved by cutting out the B-pillar. Here, the specialist seat has already been installed
The BraunAbility acts as Darren’s wheelchair that he can sit in when being transported to the car. It locks into place in the car and a removable foot stand detaches so it doesn’t need to be used when Darren is inside the Cavalier
The chair then rotates 90 degrees so Darren is sat facing in the right direction. A bespoke foot plate has also been installed
Tim said it isn’t a world first, but says it is certainly the first case of modifying a classic sports saloon car for someone who is tetraplegic.
With the modifications made and the rest of the car refurbished – including a rebuilt and tuned engine – the episode shows the emotionally-charged moment when Darren is presented with his car and told he can go out in it for the first time since his accident.
Fuzz admitted to us that this was a ‘heart-in-the-mouth moment’ for him, as he still wasn’t sure if Darren would be happy about what they’d done to the car that he had kept with him through thick and thin.
‘Darren’s story is a tough one,’ he said. ‘When I spoke to him after we handed his car back, I asked when he last drove it and he said it was the day before his massive motorcycle accident.
‘Without doubt, this is the biggest project we’ve done yet over the course of ten series and it’s a real testament to the people who help us on the show that we could do something like this.
‘Hopefully it encourages others to get in touch with restorations they think might be out of reach.’
Here’s how the stunning Cavalier Turbo 4X4 looked ahead of being presented back to Darren at his home in Stockport
Car SOS says you wouldn’t be able to tell the Cavalier apart from any normal Turbo 4X4 from the outside, so meticulous was the conversion work
Ric Wood not only rebuilt the original 16-valve turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine, but tuned it for more performance
The episode shows Tim inviting Darren outside to take a look at his car, which has been switched with the donor Cavalier that had been parked outside his home as a decoy for weeks (left). Ric and Fuzz (right) hide behind the restored Vauxhall
Tim adds: ‘For me, it’s number one in terms of my favourite episodes. It’s the best achievement of Car SOS yet.
‘I cried when I got home after handing the car back, as it was such a monumental moment for us and to see the reaction from Darren and his family and friends was beyond words.
‘It was like a double reveal. First we revealed the car, which was enough of a moment for Darren. Then we asked him if he wanted to go out for a ride in it and his mind was blown.
‘His face was utterly priceless when he realised what we’d done. That is one of the moments that makes you realise how much you love your job.’
The hour-long episode will be shown on Thursday 5 May on National Geographic, which is available on Sky (channel 129), Virgin Media (channel 266), BT (channel 317) , TalkTalk (channel 317) and NOW TV. HD channels are also available on: Sky 824, Virgin Media 268 and BT 373.
And it even features a star appearance from Paul McCartney. The former Beatle has a small cameo in the episode after Tim and Fuzz found an old McCartney CD in Darren’s Cavalier and reached out to the singer songwriter to star in the show.
Tim told This is Money: ‘It was like a double reveal. First we revealed the car, which was enough of a moment for Darren. Then we asked him if he wanted to go out for a ride in it and his mind was blown’
Tim Shaw and Darren pictured during the reveal. Darren’s injuries sustained 14 years ago means he can not move his body below the neck and now uses a specialist wheelchair that he can control with his chin
Darren’s friends and family were invited to see the finished article – and watch him take his first ride in his Vauxhall since his terrible accident
Fuzz told us he had his heart in his mouth even when handing the car back, as he didn’t know if Darren would be happy about them slicing into his beloved car. Darren was over the moon, pictured here inside the car for the first time with Ric at the wheel and Adrienne in the back
The hour-long episode will be shown on Thursday 5 May on National Geographic, which is available on Sky (channel 129), Virgin Media (channel 266), BT (channel 317)
What makes the Vauxhall Cavalier Turbo 4X4 special?
A pristine example of the Vauxhall Cavalier Turbo 4X4 – the British brand’s super saloon built between 1992 and 1994. Only around 200 remain in the UK today
The Cavalier Turbo is considering one of Britain’s great ‘sleeper’ cars – a high-performance vehicle that looks like any normal family saloon.
Car SOS describes it as ‘all Julie Andrews on the outside but a raging Jack Nicholson under the bonnet’.
While it might have looked like a bog-standard sales rep car, it’s powered by a 16-valve, 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine that produced 204bhp.
Other vital stats include a six-speed manual gearbox, an all-wheel-drive system, 0-60mph in under seven seconds and a top speed of 149mph.
It was produced between 1992 and 1994 with 2,244 built in total – 1,004 sold in the United Kingdom though only around 231 remain today either on the road or declared as SORN, according to DVLA records.
Talking about his love for the Cavalier Turbo, Tim Shaw tells us: ‘I grew up in the nineties when they were adding more words and numbers to the back of performance cars: 8-valve; 16-valve; fuel injected; four-wheel-drive; turbo.
‘But the Cavalier Turbo went in the totally opposite direction of that era.
‘It was one of those cars that had everything rammed in it, but didn’t make a big song and dance about it. It was quicker to 60mph by a tenth of a second than a 4X4 Ford Cosworth.
‘It is a car, as far as I’m concerned, the only British mass-production sleeper and a car never to go up against because you would lose.’
Fuzz Townshend adds: ‘We drove a meticulous one recently and it was absolutely superb. It was a stonking drive.
‘In a way they feel quite modern, but then when you look at all the switchgear and plastic you can clearly see just how old the car is.
‘It didn’t make the waves its rivals did, simply because they didn’t put great big whale tales and bodykits. But what a machine it was.’
We asked classic car valuations experts Hagerty what a similar-mileage, good-condition, Cavalier Turbo 4X4 might be worth today.
Their rarity and comparative lesser desirability compared to similar-era Fast Fords (which can cost upwards of £100,000 today) means there hasn’t been an example of one at a significant auction in recent years.
Based on the asking price of a similar Cavalier Turbo listed on Ebay not too long ago – which had been well looked after and maintained with 167,000 miles on the clock – the valuations experts reckon the average value today is around £6,000.
However, they add: ‘It’s one of those cars where someone may pay the moon for it.’