American Chopper was one of the first (and the very best) reality TV shows in the world. Starting in 2003, where it was first aired on the Discovery Channel and produced by Pilgrim Studios, it followed the life and work of the Orange County Choppers. This company, set up by father and son team Paul Teutul Sr. and Paul Teutul Jr., are renowned for creating and customizing some of the most incredible chopper style bikes in the world.
Based in New York, where the family grew up and lived, the series focused on the challenges, trials and tribulations of running such a unique business. Alongside Paul Sr. and Paul Jr. was Mikey (the second Teutul son), Rick Petko, Jason Pohl, Vincent DiMartino, Cody Connelly and Mike Ammirati.
The Orange County Chopper crew, as they were known, were filmed in their garage in Newburgh, where they built custom bikes for various customers; including some special guests, competition winners, and celebrities. However, it was the friction between the father and son team that made American Chopper so popular with audiences in the US and around the world. Having diverse opinions on most things, Paul Sr. and Paul Jr. were constantly battling with each other (you’ll find out why later on), and this made for great television.
People weren’t used to this kind of real drama on TV, which led to thousands – if not millions – of fans across the globe. American Chopper officially finished in 2010, but there have been various spin-offs and even a reunion show since. There were many behind-the-scene secrets about this unique reality TV show, that were sometimes even juicier than the on-screen drama. Here are just some of the shocking untold truths about American Chopper and the Teutul family; from the rows to the heartbreak, and even the lawsuits.
One of the first
There’s no denying that American Chopper really set the stage for reality shows, being one of the first to show people going about their daily lives. While there had been reality shows in the past, none quite matched the drama (and bad language) as American Chopper. It was also completely unscripted, something which a lot of reality shows struggle to do, even today. While others have tried to create a tense reality show, full of drama and without a script, they have predominantly failed to capture what American Chopper had.
Paul Senior, one of the key characters on American Chopper, went through fifteen years of addiction to alcohol and other harmful substances. It was his wife who managed to persuade Paul Senior to go and get the help he needed, ensuring he checked into rehab (despite him being totally against the idea). In true American Chopper fashion, he had one final massive blowout party before he went in! Both of his sons have also suffered from their own addiction issues, with Paul Jr. having to attend rehab at the young age of 16.
Paul Sr. and Jr. were known for having quite a strained relationship on the show, so it didn’t surprise viewers when the older Paul fired his son. However, this caused a breach of contract on the show which said that both of the Pauls had to feature on American Chopper. TLC canceled produced and filed a notice of default, which led to Paul Sr. finally giving in and hiring his son back as a contractor.
More contract problems
While Paul Sr. may have hired his son back for the contract with TLC to remain in place, there were a few loopholes in the contract he gave his son. Paul Sr. could actually buy out the Orange County Choppers’ stake his son owned which would take away any rights Paul Jr. had to be on the show, and stopping him from accessing any money the company made. It was this sneaky loophole that caused a family feud, creating yet more drama throughout the show over the next few years.
Suing the son
Of course, this loophole was added to the contract for a reason, and Paul Sr. didn’t hesitate to try and buy his son out. He attempted a hostile takeover of what Paul Jr. owned of Orange County Choppers in an effort to push his son out of the company (and the show). When Paul Jr. refused to back down, Paul Sr. attempted to sue his son for a whopping one million dollars. As expected, Paul Jr. wasn’t exactly thrilled by this and so enlisted lawyers who managed to win the lawsuit.
With so many issues brewing already between father and son, the lawsuit was the straw that broke the camel’s back. After Paul Sr. lost the lawsuit in a lengthy court battle, Paul Jr. could technically have kept his stake in the company. However, after hashing things out, they realized they were no longer able to work together for their own sanity (and for the rest of their family). The two decided to call it quits and remain friends.
Paul Jr. moved on from the family business and decided to open his own shop instead. It’s here where an awfully tragic accident happened, that has haunted Paul Jr. ever since. The building he had rented for his new shop had a leak from the roof, so the landlord hired someone to come in and fix it. The man who came to repair the leak somehow fell through the roof and onto the floor of Paul Jr.’s garage, killing him straight away. Paul Jr. was horrified by the accident and offered the repairman’s family heartfelt support and condolences.
A missing wedding guest
During the same time of Paul Sr. and Paul Jr.’s lawsuit and feud, the younger Paul married the woman of his dreams. He met Rachael Biester on the set of American Chopper; she was a model and McCuff girl. The pair were together for two years before marrying on August 20 in 2010; the year of the lawsuit. Paul Sr. was so angry with his son that he didn’t even turn up to the wedding. Heartbreaking.
Stealing the idea
In 2010, the Orange County Choppers seemingly came up with a pretty sweet idea. They partnered with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation in order to create a chopper that could be used by those in a wheelchair. However, a man named Christ Tavantzis (who suffers from polio) claimed he gave the American Choppers boys the idea at a trade show in 2008. He sued the Orange County Choppers for stealing his idea.
Kept around as a bit of a general dogsbody at Orange County Choppers, Mikey (the second Teutul son) became a bit of a fan favorite on the show. He was initially hired for odd jobs, such as sweeping the floor and taking out the trash but often acted as keeper of the peace in the show. Unfortunately, he quickly tired of having to deal with his family’s drama all of the time and so decided to leave the company (and the show).
The surrogate son
Everyone who knows American Chopper remembers Cody, who was almost like the third son of Paul Sr. The shop hand at Orange County Choppers was so well-loved by the family that they secretly built him a motorcycle as a gift. Strangely, they never actually handed over the gift and so the issues began. Cody eventually left, yet American Chopper continued to use his likeness in the show. He attempted to sue for a quarter of a million dollars, but it was eventually settled out of court.
Rumors of shutting up shop
There have constantly been rumors about the financial situation of Orange County Choppers, with many people saying the company was facing financial difficulties. In fact, some said things were so bad that the shop would eventually have to close its doors. The rumor mill went into overdrive when the HQ and shop were both put up for sale, but Paul Sr. put them to rest when he told the press they were simply moving location.
Is Paul Sr. dead?
Another rumor that confused the world was when it was claimed Paul Sr. had died in a motorcycle accident. A fake news site had in fact used another motorcycle crash, of a man in Louisiana, and claimed that it was, in fact, Paul Sr. The story circulated for quite some time, until Paul Sr. took to his Facebook page to let everyone know he was, in fact, alive and well. Pretty strange thing to have to tell people you’re alive!
Shaq’s very own chopper
Being an actual giant like Shaquille O’Neal, it can be hard to find a motorcycle that can cope with such a large frame. Four years after American Chopper ended, there was a special reunion episode featuring Shaq and a chopper that OCC had made for him; finally, a motorcycle he could fit on. The American Chopper special featured Paul Sr. and Mikey (who was listed as VP of the garage) but no Paul Jr.
Freebies for the wedding day
Some people raise their eyebrows when they see the American Chopper family on practically all of their shows as if they own them. However, Paul Jr. and Rachael Biester weren’t going to say no when the network offered them some seriously nice wedding gifts. The pair were featured on both “Say Yes to the Dress” and “Cake Boss” which landed them a free wedding dress and cake. Not going to say no to that, are you?!
Everyone loved Mikey, as his witty interjections often added light relief to much of the drama happening on the show. When he left to make it on his own, he dabbled in a few different business ideas. One of them was to open up a gallery, in order to get into the wonderful world of art. The gallery sold work by various artists, including some stuff that he had done himself. Who knew Mikey was such an artist?
We were absolutely heartbroken to learn that Paul Sr. didn’t turn up to the wedding of Paul Jr. and Rachael, back in 2010. However, our spirits were lifted again in 2015 when the pair had their baby Hudson in 2015. A photo surfaced of Paul Sr. holding baby Hudson, with Paul Jr. looking on, beaming. Could it be that the pair are trying to put aside their differences to be in each other’s lives once again?
Paul Jr.’s smart business move
Paul Jr. opening up his own chopper shop was a pretty savvy business move, despite all of the drama that led to him leaving Orange County Choppers. Doing it on his own may have seemed daunting, but business has really taken off. He was approached by huge video game moguls Blizzard to make custom choppers based on World of Warcraft, along with creating various bikes for Hollywood movies. Perhaps stepping out of the shadow of his father was what he needed.
Started from the bottom now we’re here
Paul Sr. first fell in love with choppers after films such as Easy Rider and The Wild One (featuring Marlon Brando’s famous bike). In 1999, Paul Sr. and Paul Jr. showed off their first homemade chopper at Biketoberfest at Daytona Beach. True Blue, as it was named, was built in the basement of their house, as the pair didn’t yet have a garage they could work from. They’ve certainly moved on from then!
American Chopper video games
The brand of American Chopper was so well-known and loved that it didn’t take video game companies long to work out there was a pretty penny to be made off the back of its success. Activision was the first company to get on board, creating the aptly titled American Chopper for PC, PS2 and Xbox. Creat, another video game company, then get on board with American Chopper 2: Full Throttle. This time it was released on PS2, Xbox and Gamecube.
Back to Discovery
At the very beginning of American Choppers, the show was aired by the Discovery Channel after Pilgrim Studios (known for shows such as Ghost Hunters) sold them the rights. A few years down the line, the show was sold to TLC and eventually moved on to Country Music Television as viewings waned. However, as it goes in the TV world, things went full circle. The reunion episode featuring Shaquille O’Neal was broadcast on the Discovery Channel once again.
The grand prize
When American Chopper first started, Discovery Channel held a pretty epic competition. You could have been in the chance of winning a custom chopper, built by Paul Sr. and the rest of the OCC crew. Four different winners were chosen to get their custom bike, with an episode then dedicated to each. Susan Morisset won the Female Snake Bike, Bryan King won the Vertebrate Bike, Jeff Clegg whose bike was in Corporal Punishment, and Joseph McClendon was in Custom Hog.
Vincent and his success
Everyone remembers Vincent DiMartino who appeared in the first few seasons of American Chopper. He had only been working at OCC for a little while before he found out they were going to be turned into a reality TV show. He left Paul Sr. and the crew a few seasons in and decided to set up his own shop; V-Force Customs. His business has had relative success, and Paul Jr. has always been on hand to offer any advice that Vincent may need.
Vincent going back
While Vincent was riding high on the success of his own shop, he was also featured on plenty of TV channels and specials, including Untamed Sports TV and Throttle Junkies TV. He also made his way back to the OCC team (kind of) when he appeared in American Chopper: Senior vs. Junior. Here he buddied back up with Paul Jr. while continuing to run his own shop, V-Force Customs. That’s dedication!
Another Mikey business venture
After dabbling in the art business for a while, Mikey decided to go down a different route completely. Cooking. He recently opened up his own company specializing in gourmet pasta sauces, which he makes in his own kitchen. By the sounds of the names (The Sunday Gravy and The Devil’s Brother), these are going to be absolutely jam-packed with flavor. They’re available to buy online if you fancy a taste of Mikey’s sauce.
Neverending American Chopper
This reality TV show was proven so popular that it ran for nearly a decade, with a total of 165 episodes (not including spin-offs). Each episode was approximately 45 minutes long, so that’s like nearly 124 hours of American Chopper goodness! The show is still a fan favorite today, with re-runs being viewed by people from all over the world on TV and online. So, if you haven’t seen all 165 episodes, at least you can catch up.
Ever wondered who the voice behind the TV show was? Mike Rowe, the former host of Dirty Jobs, was the main man behind the microphone between 2003 and 2007. This was around the same time that Dirty Jobs really took off, not to mention Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. It seems as though his voice is everywhere! After his stint with the Discovery Channel, Rowe went on to host “Somebody’s Gotta Do It” on CNN, in 2014 and 2015.
What’s my name again?
For some bizarre reason, Paul Sr. never knew his real, full name growing up. It wasn’t until he was over 30-years-old that he found out he had a middle name. Not only that, but he also discovered his father was called Paul, which meant he should have been Paul Jr. and not Paul Sr. Strange! He was born in Yonkers and grew up in Pearl River, both in New York, and spent most of his life not knowing his real name.
Playing a role in Vietnam
While Paul Sr. was never actually part of any American Armed Forces, he did actually have a role to play in the Vietnam war. Paul Sr. was a merchant marine who helped the US Navy in logistical operations. Merchant Marines are private trade boats or vessels, that can be taken over by the US government if they are needed in war. While he may not have been in the Armed Forces, he technically helped out the Navy (so it counts).
You may have seen the face of Paul Sr. crop up everywhere; not just on American Chopper. You may remember him from My Name is Earl when his bike gets stolen? If not, perhaps you recognized his voice in King of the Hill (the episode Hank Fixes Everything)? If that doesn’t ring a bell then maybe you’ll know him for featuring on Long Way Round with Ewan McGregor or perhaps in the video for Nickelback’s Rock Star single. Phew! That’s a fair few guest appearances.
Traveling the world
American Chopper isn’t just popular in America; people love it all around the world. It’s their international popularity that has allowed the OCC team to travel around, working on bikes across the globe. Perhaps one of their biggest career highlights was when they built a chopper for the Brazilian Prime Minister, Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva. The custom chopper was all-white, and by the looks of his face, Luiz was pretty made up with it.
It’s no big secret that Paul Sr. has a bit of an addiction to tattoos. There was once an entire episode of American Chopper that was dedicated solely to him getting some new ink; it’s quite a good one, actually. You may also have seen Paul Sr. on a fair few episodes of Miami Ink. Some of his most famous tattoos include his dogs (Marty and Gus) and one that says “OCC New York.”
An epic bike off
Quite possibly one of our favorite bike building competitions ever featured Orange County Choppers, against Paul Jr. Designs (PJD) and Jesse James, another legend in the bike building world. They were tasked to create something inspired by the T-51 Mustang, a famous plane flown in World War II. The three garages were given two hours to create something spectacular, which viewers then voted on after. Paul Jr. Designs won, with Orange County Choppers coming last. Awkward.
Yet another bike building competition came next, only with PJD versus Jesses James versus Gas Monkey Garage (from Fast N’ Loud). This time, the chopper they had to build was inspired by classic muscle cars such as the Mustang. There were some big rows in this show, mainly as Jesse kept needing extra time to finish his bike off. Paul Jr. won yet again, with a bike that had a real grill from a 1939 Chevy.
Paul Jr. is well-known for his philanthropic ways; always willing to help out different causes that he cares for. He’s more than willing to get his hands dirty for the greater good, which included donating $50,000 from the shop and his time to build a huge dog park in Montgomery, New York. Both Paul Sr. and Jr. are known for being dog-lovers, so it only made sense that they would get involved and help out.
Branding and design
Paul Jr. Designs is not just a chopper design shop; it’s so much more. Paul Jr. set up a branch of the company called Paul Junior Studios which offers a range of different marketing and branding solutions such as logos. They also dabble in animation works and special FX. There’s no denying that Paul Jr. has one seriously creative mind, that lets him branch into several different avenues such as this one.
From zero to hero
Ever wonder what Paul Teutul’s net worth is? Despite growing up in quite a poor area of New York (and not even knowing his full name), Paul Sr. has certainly turned his fortunes around. It’s thought that Paul Teutul Sr.’s net worth is a whopping $15 million! The majority of his wealth has been built on hard work, determination, and a little bit of luck. For someone who started off in his basement, with a dream, that certainly isn’t bad going at all.
Paul Jr.’s net worth
So, is the son of Paul Sr. worth more or less than his father? Being one of the co-founders of OCC and earning royalties off of American Chopper, along with running his own companies (Orange County Iron Works and Paul Jr. Designs), means that Paul Jr. has made quite a lot of money himself too. In fact, Paul Jr. has a net worth of $17 million which must be a bit of a slap in the face for his father.
Turns out that Paul Jr. isn’t the only one with a business-savvy mind in the family. His wife, Rachael, also runs her own business. In 2014, she opened up a women’s boutique which sells clothes and accessories. The couple opened up the shop together in the Spring of 2014, making for this adorable photo. Just look how supportive they are of each other! You can visit the shop in Montgomery, in New York.
Business advice from Paul Jr.
Having started and run various successful businesses, Paul Teutul Jr. is the kind of person you’d want to take business advice from. Which is lucky, because he’s happy to give it. He’s said in the past that the best way to start a business is to begin small, working your way up “slowly, but surely.” Start working for a fair price and build up your customer base, so you don’t get into too much debt that you can’t sleep at night.
When Paul Jr. was given the contract to create special World of Warcraft choppers for Blizzard, he didn’t expect for it to lead to yet more TV work. Blizzard created a mini-series called Azeroth Choppers, where fans could see the unique bikes being built. Paul Jr. was given absolute artistic control over how the bikes would look, and they were then turned into buyable items in-game. Lucky gamers were also able to buy the real bike with in-game gold if they had enough!
Approached by Pilgrim
Pilgrim Studios actually approached Paul Sr. to ask if he’d want to be in a reality TV series, a few years after he showed off his first creation. ‘True Blue’ The production company, who are affiliated with the Discovery Channel, hunted down Paul and the Orange County Choppers to offer him something rather spectacular; his own reality TV show. Paul Sr. was smart enough to know this was not a deal you turn down, so said yes right away.
Senior vs. Junior
As if there wasn’t enough tension between father and son already, TLC had an idea on how they could add a bit more drama. They commissioned the show American Chopper: Senior vs. Junior which is exactly what you’re expecting. Both father and son’s companies were pitted against each other, to see who could make the very best bikes. It proved to be a success with fans, lasting for four seasons before a beautiful finale where the whole family built a chopper together.
Back in 1973, bikes were probably the last thing on Paul Sr.’s mind. In fact, he started off his first company back then, which was a steel shop. Here he fabricated steel and specialized in iron work, for customers from all over New York and beyond. Having the metalworks knowledge is obviously something that helped Paul Sr. in his chopper making career. What’s even more amazing, is that steel shop is still open today!
Mikey hated metal
Mikey struck it pretty unlucky at the beginning, as he was left to work in his father’s steel and iron shop for quite some time – which he hated! Once he caught wind of the reality TV show his father and brother were going to be on, he asked to switch companies. Luckily, Paul Sr. agreed and Mikey got to do something a bit more fun; work with bikes! He also liked the idea of being on a TV show, as you would expect.
No photos, please
If you hate photos being taken of yourself, you may want to consider this when you agree to let cameras into your life, pretty much full-time. Paul Sr. admitted that he hated having pictures taken of himself, and there are very few of him growing up because of this. When the film crews turned up, Paul found it hard to adjust to being filmed all the time. Eventually, he got used to it and is much more open to having his picture taken now.
Mikey isn’t a viewer
Mikey recently said in an interview that he doesn’t watch the show, and has some pretty sane reasons as to why. Firstly, he likened the experience to “a trip,” saying how weird it is to watch himself on TV. Fair enough. His other reason is he’s already experienced his life, so doesn’t need to watch it back. Also fair enough. Oh, and he said there’s plenty of other things to watch on TV. True!
The family were super surprised by their almost overnight success, as you would be. One day they were just your run-of-the-mill family building bikes, the next everyone knew their name. With hundreds of thousands of fans, it wasn’t uncommon for the Teutul family to spend 12 hours signing autographs at the various shows and exhibitions they attended. It must have been a culture shock to go from where they were to global superstars.
Didn’t want to compete
When network execs first pitched the idea of Senior vs. Junior to Paul Sr., he wasn’t too keen on the idea. He actually fought hard against the notion, not liking the thought of having a bike off between his company and Paul Jr.’s new bike shop. Despite their huge falling out that nearly destroyed the whole family it seems as though Paul Sr. wasn’t keen to make drama (or money) out of the whole situation.
Needing the money
According to sources, Paul Sr. and his bike shop was struggling financially, which led to him finally agreeing to take part in the American Chopper: Senior vs. Junior spin-off. Also, his own show had been taken off the air which meant that he wasn’t making any money from that either. His staff persuaded him to take part in the build-off against his son, to bring in much-needed funds for the business.
Spending all the cash
Apparently, the reason Orange County Choppers and Paul Sr. was struggling so much financially was for one simple reason: people were spending too much money. When the show stopped airing, the family and OCC crew kept on spending money like it was still coming in regularly. However, it wasn’t, which led to some serious financial difficulty. This definitely helped the decision to take on the Senior vs. Junior spin-off show, which promised to pay well.
Tainted by money?
When American Chopper was being aired, the money was coming in thick and fast. The team expanded to 100 rather rapidly, not giving the family much time to get used to all of the changes. Paul Sr.’s money shot up to around $80,000 a year, with even Mikey seeing a pay rise to around $10 an hour plus overtime. The family had to ensure they were spending their money wisely, and not just throwing it down the drain.
Sense of entitlement
According to Paul Sr., in an interview, there was one key reason he fell out with his son. Apparently, both had a conflicting sense of entitlement, which led to them fighting like cats and dogs. He also admitted that the pair were so similar that it was like arguing with the same person most of the time. He also called Paul Jr. his brother in the interview, which is quite telling of their unique relationship.
Stuck in the middle with you
It’s no secret that Mikey was always stuck in the middle of his brother and his father, which can’t be a very nice place to be. Even as a child, he felt as though it was his job to be the peacemaker in the family. This continued on as he got older, particularly when the drama heightened during their time filming American Chopper. He also said he felt guilty if he couldn’t get the two to make up, as though he’d failed in his mission.
Those who remember the last season of the show probably recall Mikey throwing in the towel right near the beginning of the series. He walked out, fed up of having to act as the mediator between his brother and father. Mikey had come to realize that the pair were adults and could deal with their own problems; he no longer wanted to be caught in the middle of all the fights. We don’t blame him!
We have often wondered whether Mikey regretted his decision to leave Orange County Choppers, to leave his father and brother to it. After all, he was making some pretty good money for filming American Chopper. As the dust has settled, Mikey is more than happy to make a joke out of it, saying he wishes he had stuck out just a little longer to keep making cash until the very end.
Looking the bad guy
Paul Sr. had a few shock revelations about the producers of American Chopper, who obviously thrived on the drama between him and Paul Jr. He claimed that they would light the fire of the arguments, then cut scenes to make him look like he was a bad guy. He did also admit that he was no angel, but that not everything shown was quite as it seemed. For the producers, however, they apparently loved the pair arguing as it made good TV.
Not working together, ever again
Despite the father and son pair seeming to get on better now (the picture of them both with Paul Jr.’s son hints to this), there is one thing Paul Sr. won’t do again: work with his son. He’s admitted that he’s hoping to repair their broken relationship, but he doesn’t want to work with him. No matter how much money or fame is involved, Paul Sr. feels as though working together would break their relationship again.
An adorable Christmas present
As Hudson (Paul Jr.’s son) is a little bit too young to be riding around on choppers just yet, Paul Sr. got his grandson a rather adorable present for Christmas in 2016. He was given a die-cast model of the famous Statue of Liberty chopper which we see being built in one of the most popular American Chopper episodes of all time. It’s a bike that Paul Jr. built, which goes to show Senior is proud of his son after all.
Not making the big bucks anymore
During the years American Chopper aired, we were so used to seeing extremely extravagant bikes coming out of the garage. Because of the promotional nature of the TV show, many of these bikes were for big corporations who wanted to use them for advertising. However, this kind of work has dried up leaving Orange County Choppers with a gap they need to fill; especially if they want to bring in the big bucks.
A little bit of everything
As they don’t have the market for the extravagant chopper bikes anymore, Orange County Choppers have expanded their repertoire. They’re taking on pretty much any kind of motor vehicle you can think of, ranging from cars to quad bikes and snowmobiles. Some custom bikes are being built from junkyard scraps, for amounts as low as $12,000. Frugal, but not very profitable. Especially when they used to work in the region of $100,000 – $250,000 bikes.
One of the biggest mistakes Orange County Choppers made was moving to a huge garage, with even bigger fees. Once the financial crisis hit in 2008, people just weren’t willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on chopper bikes anymore. This led to the company struggling financially, with very few customers and big overheads. Some may call it bad luck, others a mismanagement of money. We think it could be a little bit of both.
Because he was the comedic relief in the show, Mikey was easily the favorite amongst fans. Although his main role was to answer the phone and sweep the floors, people couldn’t help but be drawn in by his witty quips. It’s because of his inner-comedian that he managed to represent the American Chopper on shows such as The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and the Late Show with David Letterman.