A Chat With Cristy Lee About the State of the American Auto Industry
The longtime gearhead and motorsports commentator talks heavy-duty trucks, bucket-list drives and more
Cristy Lee is a familiar and welcome face in the automotive world. Her passion for petrol is undeniable, and the reason she’s landed gigs as a host and correspondent on car-building programs like All Girls Garage, Barrett-Jackson LIVE, Garage Squad and the upcoming Celebrity IOU Joyride.
Lee recently joined InsideHook for an Instagram Live hosted by contributor Charles Thorp to chat about her first experiences going behind the wheel, favorite car events, thoughts on new vehicle releases, and her upcoming television project. The contents of that chat, which have been edited and condensed for clarity, can be found below.
InsideHook How did you first get introduced to the car world?
Cristy Lee: I am originally from Daytona Beach, Florida, so racing was also a big part of my early days. My dad was a shop owner and mechanic so I have always been around cars and motorcycles. I remember looking at car magazines in my dad’s shop and there were a few cars that I kind of lusted over, like the 1989 Anniversary Lamborghini Countach, which is not a normal vehicle for a little girl to be dreaming of. As far as toys when I was that age, I also had a Barbie Ferrari.
What was your first experience with motorcycles?
My first bike was a 1996 Kawaski ZX-6E, it was the touring edition of this super slick superbike. It was not as sick as that premier edition, but it was my first bike, so I still loved it. I called it Shamu, because it was so huge. I dropped it a bunch of times — it was hard to pick up because it weighed so much. I got it right after I graduated high school, so pretty much as soon as I could get a motorcycle license.
Growing up in the South, what was your first experience with winter driving?
I had family in the Lake Tahoe region that I would go drive to visit. That was my first real hardcore winter driving experience. That area is just gorgeous for driving, The snow out there is insane too, the kind where the door is barricaded and the piles are high. That was also my first experience with chains on the tires. It was kind of surreal driving around those steep cliffs.
What are the conditions that you are dealing with at home now?
I am in Michigan right now, outside of Detroit. It is a little gloomy right now, in the high 20s, with a little bit of snow. I have been in Michigan for 15 years, and just a few years ago I finally got my first all-wheel drive vehicle. I am never going back. They are so clutch. On my F350 right now I have all-terrain tires, which are great for being outdoors and on the track. It depends on your vehicle and the conditions that you’re working with.
Do you have any drives you have done in the past few months that blew you away?
I recently did the Tail of the Dragon in Tennessee. I had to fly to Knoxville for a shoot and I may have taken my rental car down that amazing drive. They asked me if I wanted a BMW and of course I had to take it, because why not go for it? It is an amazing mountain pass, and an incredible stretch on the East Coast.
Having your finger on the pulse of the car world, what are your impressions on the current state of the automotive world? Any trends or models that stick out?
There are so many great cars that are popping up left and right. Manufacturers are going in different directions, lots of focus on the hardcore utility vehicles. The blueprint for SUVs is changing away from that more posh lifestyle to a more intense one. The new Ford Bronco, for one. I did a SEMA special for Ford a few months back with a few customized Broncos, which was very interesting because the custom scene hasn’t seen the vehicles yet. I am excited to see the high level builds on them once they get out there more and we see what comes out of it after market.
The heavy-duty truck scene is also very interesting, I have a Ford F350, which is very capable. It has been a whole new driving experience for me, because it was already bit and then I got it lifted. Been a whole journey trying to get used to parking it, driving it and still clearing bridges. Or if you are looking to do some burnouts, maybe look at the Dodge Durango Hellcat. Why not? The market is great, and I am so excited for the future of it.
What is the current vehicle situation at home?
I have learned that the garage can never be big enough. My biggest problem is I am out of space right now. I have a lot of motorcycles too, which adds to the issue. I actually have one right here in my living room now. That is just one of four that I have in my house right now. I have a ’67 Grand Prix that is a project car. I have a ’72 Chevy C10 that takes up the rest of the garage. I shopped forever for that one. There are so many cars I would love to own and love to work on. Just a few months ago I got to finally drive a ’69 Daytona Charger. Before that I had looked on a thousand of them, but finally getting behind the wheel was a whole other experience.
What are your thoughts on the move towards electric by many manufacturers, like the new EV Mustang?
I got to be up close and personal to the new electric Mustang Mach-E during a SEMA event [for Specialty Equipment Market Association] I did, and it is indicative of the wave of modern technology we are going to see flood the automotive industry. There is a lot of technology in there, which is what we are all so familiar with in regards to our smartphones. These cars are almost like iPhones with tires and a steering wheel. On the other hand I will always love combustion. I am not against EV vehicles in any way — it is no question the future. But there is something about combustion that will always be a part of me.
Speaking on SEMA, a lot of us are missing car events these days. For us who haven’t hit them all, which do you like to recommend first?
SEMA [in Las Vegas each fall] is at the top of the list for me. I know that it is hard to get to, and getting access is not easy, but if you can get there, make it happen. I will say that the Amelia Island Concours is another great event, and at this point they haven’t canceled, just postponed. So hopefully we can all still make it to that one. As far as races, anything NHRA is incredible, and the difference between seeing it on television and being there in person is completely different. That would be one that I would definitely recommend.
Barber Motorsports Park is another great location if you can see a race there, I actually have their track map hanging on my wall, because I have done that one myself. Hopefully they have Barber Vintage Festival this year, because that is a great spot to be if you are a motorcycle fan. Chrysler’s at Carlisle was one of the few events I got to do in 2020, and it was a great experience. I am really looking forward to getting back to those events again.
The new seasons of Garage Squad are great. What is one of the more challenging elements of making a show like that?
The battle for the tools. I would have to say one of the most challenging things about working on Garage Squad is there are six different people working on builds so there is constantly a battle over the tools, because there are only two toolboxes. It is a complete free-for-all. Every time you turn around, something that you were using has grown legs and taken off. You might spend 20 minutes looking for a tool and by the time you have found it, something else is gone.
Tell us about the television project that you will be working on next …
I have a new project that I am excited to work on for Discovery and Discovery+. We are currently waiting for production to start on them, but we are looking forward to it eagerly. It is going to be called Celebrity IOU Joyride, and I will be co-hosting it with Ant Anstead, who you may know from Wheeler Dealers.
The program will be similar to the Property Brothers show on HGTV, and it is actually produced by the Scott Brothers. But instead of houses, we are helping people by building out cars for them. We will connect with a celebrity and then help out someone close to them, whether that’s an old teacher, friend or someone who has worked with them for a long time. Once we learn about what they need in a vehicle, we get to work.
I am so excited to actually get filming the show, because we have been talking about it for a little while. This is about giving back. We aren’t going for a Pimp My Ride vibe. The builds are more about creating something that is impressive but also very functional. We are supposed to film in Los Angeles, so we are in a waiting pattern right now. It will be good to get back to building.
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