Marvel retiree Robert Downey Jr. has a new show: Downey’s Dream Cars. It follows the millionaire as he seeks to reconcile two of his hobbies, classic car collecting and climate change mitigation.
The Iron Man actor has led with this sort of juxtaposition before; when he kicked off his climate-focused venture firm FootPrint Coalition in 2019, he reportedly contrasted his intentions with a colorful description of himself as a “one-man carbon footprint nightmare colossus.”
We see more of this in episode one of Downey’s Dream Cars. The series centers on Downey’s plan to work with experts (such as Rich Benoit of Electrified Garage) to retrofit his various classic cars so they can run on lower-emission tech. Yet, the first episode opens with a left-field shot of Downey marching into a U.S. Army helicopter, introducing a stunt that seems at odds with the show’s emphasis on climate change. Out the gate, Downey acknowledges that this is a bit confusing, saying something to the effect of, “Wait, isn’t this a car show?”
It is, and it’s a show that my TechCrunch colleague Kirsten Korosec worked on as a contributing producer. That’s the best part, in my least objective opinion. It’s what originally piqued my interest enough to sit in for a screening at LA’s Petersen Automotive Museum last week. Dear reader, I’m glad I did, because Kirsten (who also plays herself in the show) is a wonderful person and now I get to make this as embarrassing as possible for her. Still, I wasn’t happy with everything I took away from the evening; it left me with the unsettling, but informative realization that I find Dax Shepard, the evening’s co-host, handsome.
Life’s sobering moments bring clarity, just like the show itself. The first episode goes to great pains to communicate how electric cars are powerful enough — really, tough enough — to replace their combustion-engine counterparts. In my day-to-day coverage of electric vehicles, I don’t personally spend a lot of time talking about how many Americans simply aren’t sold on EVs. Their wariness limits the potential of lower-emission vehicles to cut down on pollution, so I appreciate the implicit reminder in Downey’s Dream Cars that folks still need convincing, even if the delivery is a little clumsy for me. (Episode one and two spoilers ahead.)
The first vehicle that Downey’s experts overhaul is a 1972 Chevy K10 pickup — a monster of a truck that the actor called the Purple People Eater. The show walks viewers through the delicate, and honestly pretty interesting process of installing a Tesla motor and batteries into the ancient beast, which also gets a wrap, a touchscreen and a new nickname (the Gray Ghost). At the end of the episode, Benoit of Electrified Garage shows off the Ghost’s power by using it to tow a tank at Southern California’s Fort Irwin. The show also goes into the Army’s electrification efforts, but it neglects to mention the military’s outsized carbon footprint.
I learned at the screening that episode two focuses on retrofitting a 1969 Mercedes 280 SE to run on biofuels. According to a press statement, the series goes on to explore solar power, hydrogen fuel cells, electric bikes, sustainable manufacturing and leather alternatives. Throughout, the series strives to bring Downey’s “beloved old cars into the future . . . while keeping their souls intact,” per that same press statement. The show also explores the companies that were already doing work in these areas, including Rimac Automobili and Ecovative.
If you’d like, you can judge the series and the cars for yourself when the first few episodes drop on MAX, née HBO Max, on June 22. I plan to tune in, and I’ll probably do so by borrowing a login from one of my friends.