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New Reality Series Follows Two Austin-Based Classic Car Dealers

Filipa Rodrigues, KUT
Antonio Brunet and Yusuf Johnson with their 1963 split-window Corvette.

The latest in reality television isn’t coming to you from a Louisiana bayou. Duck Dynasty doesn’t have quite the same global reach as the Discovery Channel’s new series premiering tonight.

“Chrome Underground” hails from a classic car shop in Austin, but it will take you across the earth.

The show features two car collectors in search of rare vehicles in the world’s deadliest places. Co-stars Antonio Brunet and Yusuf Johnson are the proprietors of a vintage auto show room called the Motoreum. The two entrepreneurs mix their passion for cars and travel, restoring some of the greatest automobiles out there.

“That means that we have to go anywhere we can in the U.S. or outside our borders to find the rarest and the finest,” Brunet says.

Collector cars are harder and harder to find these days. The show’s first episode has Brunet and Johnson in Mexico City buying a Bugatti. It’s dangerous work, and things don’t always go as planned.

Listen to the Texas Standard’s David Brown prying for details about a sale gone wrong abroad:

Collecting old cars means more than money and glamor.

“It’s not just the metal, but it’s the history and what it represents in our culture and technology and engineering as we go,” Brunet says. “These race cars really show the cutting edge of engineering at the time.”

Car collecting has become an $8 billion dollar a year industry. The cars are tangible assets for investors in a global market.

“The unique and the exciting thing about collector cars is that you can enjoy this asset—you can touch it, you can drive it, you can show it off to your friends," co-star Yusuf Johnson says. 

Last year, in a record setting sale at a public auction in England, a 1954 Silver Arrow Mercedes went for $29 million dollars. Buyers shop the other end of the spectrum, too. A Trans-Am or a Mustang can go for as little as $5,000.

What makes “Chrome Underground” so compelling—and sometimes so unbelievable—is the risk involved in negotiating foreign sales.

“In our travels, we plan and we try to be as careful as we can,” Brunet says. "Sometimes the rule of the law doesn’t exist. You get into these situations, you just got to think on your toes and try to make the best decision right there in the moment.”

The first episode alone will have less traveled viewers gripping their seats.

Rhonda joined KUT in late 2013 as producer for the station's new daily news program, Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?” She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.
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