Courtney Hansen and Her All-Female Crew Make Car Dreams Come True
By Debra Wallace
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Car lover Courtney Hansen is perfectly happy to roll up her sleeves, check under the hood and get some grease on her hands.
She is also a gutsy woman who wants other women to feel comfortable driving, fixing and buying cars, and when she has a vision, she refuses to take no for an answer.
Her tenacity led to her raising nearly $3 million through sponsors and investors, and assembled an all-female team to turn her dreams into reality—an original History Channel series, The Ride That Got Away.
“I was determined to raise the money from sponsors and investors and make this show happen. So, it was not easy; it was extremely challenging, and I encountered pretty much every obstacle that you can encounter along the way,” Hansen exclusively told Parade.com “So I’m excited to have done it, and now, I’m super excited for Season 2 because I have learned a lot.”
Her unique reality show gives car owners a chance to be reunited with that one ride that got away, including the beloved ride someone had to sell when the owner fell on hard times.
Hansen finds the original car, she and her team meticulously repair, restore and re-imagine the ride, and create a fantasy version of the dream car that got away. At the end of each episode, Hansen gives them the surprise of a lifetime.
The plan is to transform the vehicle according to the former owner’s vision. This means a ’64 Impala is turned into a bad-ass low rider and a 1920s Ford becomes a T-Bucket hot rod that will leave its competition in the dust.
The author of The Garage Girls Gide to Everything You Need to Know About Your Car, she is also the co-host of TLC’s hit car makeover show Overhaulin’ where Hansen also got her hands dirty helping teams led by design legend Chip Fosse transform a viewers’ scrappy ride into an ultimate show car in just one week.
When did you first become enamored with cars?
I feel like cars have always been in my blood. I think I was born loving cars. As early as I can remember, I loved them. It started when I was at the races, and hanging in the pits and in the garages, driving in cars, and riding in cars with my mom and dad. I feel like it’s been a part of my life since the very start.
Tell me the history of your car success story.
So, my first big gig in automotive TV was the job hosting Overhaulin’ for TLC. That started in 2002 or 2003, and that put me on the map as a TV personality in the automotive space. That show has been near and dear to my heart for a long time. I ended up moving on from that, to do PowerBlock, which became PowerNation, for Spike TV and I did that for 10 years. And then I left that show to create my own project, and I created The Ride That Got Away for History Channel.
How did you have the guts, stamina, and confidence to raise nearly $3 million to do create your show?
When I believe in something, I believe in it with all my heart. I’ve been passionate about getting this project off the ground for a very long time. And so, there will be a lot of changes for the better, and I know how to make a better show and have a more cohesive dynamic in the garage.
Women have been notoriously ignored at car lots and often taken advantage of at auto repair shops. But we’re seeing that change and more women getting involved in the automotive industry. Why do you think that is?
I love seeing more women designing cars, and working on the car shows, and building cars, and taking a greater interest in what they’re driving… I think it’s because it was always this seemingly male-dominated industry where women didn’t feel comfortable edging in there. It was always a man’s world. And slowly, women have felt more comfortable getting behind the wheel of a race car and working on vehicles in the garage. Women make up 80 percent of the automotive purchase decisions, and I believe it’s always been that way. I feel that women are just feeling more confidence in taking part in all facets of the automotive industry.
For women who are still intimidated, for whatever reason, to buy a car or fix a car, what do you say to them to give them a little more confidence?
I’d say “just go for it. Don’t be intimidated.” Why are we letting these men stand in our way? Why are we letting a lack of confidence stand in the way? Maybe read up on what it is that you’re interested in and learn a little bit; learn the vernacular. Absorb as much as you can, and then I believe that will arm you with more confidence to dive into whatever it is that you want to do. I’m a huge believer in the idea that you can do whatever you set your mind to.
This makes you a great role model for girls and young women.
I have a 4-year-old daughter, Holland, and I’m already just drilling it into her that she can accomplish anything in life that she puts her mind to with enough gumption, focus and passion. You just have to plow the doors down, and not take no for an answer, and not let anybody stand in your way. I’m a big believer in being confident and keeping that passion and focus about you.
Were there days when things weren’t going well that somebody else might’ve said that, “Forget it. This isn’t going to happen.” How did you handle those days?
There were those days. Like, when I was in the investment and fundraising phase, which lasted a very long time, there was a gentleman who’s very successful, a banker, who said to me, who is a friend, he said, “Why don’t you just give up on this already? Why don’t you just give up? Why don’t you just throw in the towel? This seems like too big of a big dream.”
How did you react?
That actually just gave me more ammunition to do it. I also had an agent in Hollywood say to me, “You’re not going to be able to achieve this. You’re not going to be able to raise that money. You won’t raise that, and you’re not going to get this project off the ground. This is a waste of your time.” He actually said something chauvinistic about how because I’m a woman, I’m limited in what I can do. And that just gave me more ammunition.
That must have felt so empowering when you did it.
So, here I am, and I did it. I’ve seen both of those people recently and it’s like, “Ha!” It just feels so good. That, that right there. The gratifying part of this, is the ability to look those people in the eye and know that I did it.
Do you physically like to get your hands dirty?
I really love it. And I always want to do as much as the team will allow me to do. I’m not a mechanic by trade. I’m not a fabricator by trade, but dang it, I’m ready and willing to dive in there at any opportunity and help. And I can weld, and grind away on those cars, and cut sheet metal. I can tear apart an interior like nobody’s business. I can do just about any of it. One thing that I’ve never tried to tackle is electrical. I have zero desire to handle wiring. But the rest of it, yeah, I’m happy to dive in and lend a hand whenever I can.
What are you most proud of in making this show happen and the actual show?
The fact that I was able to raise that large amount of money to get it off the ground. And now that I see this show come alive, I’m really proud of the team and what was accomplished. Also, the fact that we made some dreams come true for some really deserving people.
Please tell me more about that.
We only build these cars for the most deserving people who truly loved their car or truck that they had to say goodbye to at one point in life when they came on hard times. So, to reconnect these people who were so passionate about that car with That Ride That Got Away is really a beautiful thing. It filled my heart with joy, and it often made me cry. That is the most gratifying part of it.
How did you find these people whose ride got away?
We did a casting call through our website and social media pages, and we were inundated with submissions. Now before Season 2, we are totally inundated. It’s crazy, the amount of attention that the show has gotten and how it’s really resonated with people. They are submitting their stories like crazy, and they’re such phenomenal stories that it’s hard to choose.
How do you make the final selection?
We choose based on story, based on where the car is located and so there are many variables. We’re careful about the make and model that we’re doing. We want to diversify. We want to do a muscle car, and a classic, and a truck, and an SUV. And because the car will look like the original car, it’s just going to be completely modernized, and enhanced, and souped-up. If it’s white, it’s going to be white again. It’s just going to be a fresh white with some cool spin on it. We can’t do too many white cars back to back. So, we have this board of variables, and we put all of our casting submissions, all of our finalists on the board, and we move them around and we see what would work best.
When will you start filming Season 2?
Hopefully, late summer; that would be my goal.
What do you want everyone to get out of your show?
I want people to watch this show to see some amazing transformations while we make dreams come true for deserving people. I want them to feel the joy that these people feel and keep crying happy tears because I hear that everybody does. I just hope that the viewers are touched by it and it inspires them to pay something forward. It’s a show about giving and I hope that inspires people – both men and women.
Was it a surprise to learn that the show is watched by both men and women?
Initially, we weren’t sure. It’s almost equally embraced by women, and I think that’s pretty cool because it’s not just about the car building, it’s about the stories and these characters on the show. We’ve really developed some amazing characters. A highlight of our team is RJ, it stands for Red Jesus, and RJ is just a ball of energy and love, and he’s TV goals. And so, people are drawn to the characters but also these heartwarming stories and the giveback element.
What about women in particular.
I want women to see that there are other women who are super fascinated about their cars. We built cars for a couple of women. Our highest-rated episode was a ‘66 Mustang that we built for this woman, Sonia. So, I want them to see that it’s not just the guys building these cars, and it’s not just men in Hollywood producing these types of shows. And just that women can rule the world. We can do anything. I want the viewers to be inspired by all aspects of it.
The Ride That Got Away airs on the History Channel and History on Demand.