American Chopper was one of the first of its kind – a reality TV show about a family business making chopper motorcycles. Who knew that this concept would prove to be so wildly successful.
The Teutul family cast, with its drama, funny moments, intense engineering, and awesome rides became a massive hit for Discovery Channel. American Chopper made huge stars of its owner Paul Teutul Sr. and his two sons, Paul Jr. and Mikey but it also led to numerous meltdowns, lawsuits and family arguments.
Despite the show accurately portraying the family and shop dynamics, there is still a lot that went on behind the scenes, such as…
It really created a new era of reality shows
American Chopper was one of the first reality TV shows that followed normal people in their average, day to day lives. However, the show really set the bar super high due to it’s drama, fighting, cursive language, and awesome engineering with beautiful finished choppers! The best part and often seen as the real secret sauce of the show, everything that happened was real and none of it was scripted! The actions, arguments and problems that happened on camera actually affected the company and the family in real life. Since it’s success many other reality shows have tried to emulate this, but few have seen the success levels as American Chopper has.
The show was in part inspired by I Love Lucy
You might be thinking how did the classic 1950’s sitcom inspire the structure to American Chopper. Well show producer Craig Piligian told Forbes magazine that he initially struggled with the premise of American Chopper. But, after watching the simple, repetitive plots of I Love Lucy, he realized the direction that the show should move in.
The Teutul men have all had substance abuse problems
Head of the family Paul Teutul Sr. admitted in his autobiography that he entered rehab in 1985 following a 15-year battle with substance abuse. He was able to kick the habit. Unfortunately, his two sons Paul Jr. and Mikey have both followed in his footsteps. Paul Jr. visited a treatment facility for drugs and alcohol issues at the age of just 16.
The Teutul’s Weren’t The First Choice Stars Of The Show
In his Forbes interview producer Piligian revealed that Orange County Choppers (OCC) wasn’t his first choice of motorcycle store. It turns out that, the Teutul’s were actually selected on the first day that American Chopper was due to film.
Piligian realized that the chosen New Hampshire business didn’t have the right attitude, and he opted to make a last-minute switch to the Teutul’s, a decision that proved vital.
The Stolen Idea
In 2014, a Florida man named Christ Tavantzis sued OCC including Paul Jr. and Sr. for copyright infringement. The OCC team worked on a bike with the Christopher and Dana Reeve foundation in 2010 to create a wheelchair accessible chopper so that people with disabilities could also ride.
Tavantzis, who suffered from polio and was wheelchair-bound claims that he gave the Orange County Choppers crew the idea when he met them at a trade show in 2008.
Heated argument leads to monumental firing
American Chopper wouldn’t be the show it was without its overblown, full force father-son arguments. However, in 2009, Paul Jr. took things too far during a particularly heated dispute over his lack of punctuality. Paul Jr. picked up and threw a chair, Paul Sr. as a result fired him and their relationship was broken forever.
Beginning of the father son fued
When Paul Sr. Fired his son, it created a whole lot of legal problems for the show. TLC stated that because the contract stipulated that BOTH of the men had to be on the show, if one of them left or was fired, then the show would be no more. Paul Sr. initially refused to budge on his decision. TLC ended up filing a notice of default and cancelled the production. The show only re-started filming once Paul Sr. re-hired his son as a contractor.
Paul Jr’s new contractor deal at OCC had a severe loophole, It allowed Paul Sr. to technically buy out Paul Jr.‘s stake in Orange County Choppers, Which would block his son out of both rights to be on the show as well as any of the money the company made. This would lead to a major feud which ran for the next several years.
The Million $ Lawsuit
Of course, this contractual loophole was added for a reason, and it didn’t take long for Paul Sr. to try and use it to buy his son out. Sr. 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). However Paul Jr. refused to back down, so Paul Sr. then attempted to sue his son for an amazing one million dollars. Paul Jr. was angered by this and enlisted his own lawyers who managed to win the lawsuit.
Family parted ways
After a lengthy battle, Paul Sr. ended up losing and Paul Jr. was able to keep his stake in OCC. The two talked about the current situation and decided mutually that they could no longer work together and keep their family together. The two parted ways amicably.
Sr. doesn’t attend Jr’s wedding
The same year Paul Jr. left OCC, he married girlfriend Rachael Biester, a model he’d met on an episode of American Chopper. In advance of their August 2010 wedding, the couple appeared on, unsurprisingly, TLC’s show Say Yes to the Dress, and they even met with a chef from TLC’s Cake Boss. There was one person, however who did not attend Paul and Rachael’s wedding: as their battle in court over Jr.’s stake in OCC raged on, Sr. decided not to go, even though he had been invited.
Tragedy at Paul Jr. Designs
Paul Jr. founded in Paul Jr. Designs in 2010 after he’d fulfilled his yearlong non-compete with Sr. The new shop was hit early on, by a tragic accident when a 26-year-old man from the nearby town of Beacon fell through the roof and died. The man was not employed by Paul Jr. Designs, but had been contracted to repair the roof by the building’s owner.
Paul Jr. was deeply saddened and perturbed by the incident reaching out to the family of the worker with a heartfelt message of condolence and support.
Paul Jr Took OCC’s Staff
Paul Jr. didn’t waste any time in hiring people he knew when recruiting for his new business. The eldest Teutul brother hired the likes of Robert “Nub” Collard, Joe Puliafico and Vinnie DiMartino during the early days.
Mikey went off piste
Mikey quickly became a fan favorite on the show for his role as peacemaker adding comedy and wit to the often fractious atmosphere at the shop.
n November 2010, he opened Wolf Gang Gallery, an art gallery that showcased, among other works, his own paintings. He closed Wolf Gang two years later
Paul Sr. has been sued by another business partner
Sr. has again faced legal troubles, this time from a suit filed by a former business partner, Thomas Derbyshire. According to TMZ, Derbyshire states he provided finance for a new show, starring Paul Sr. called Orange County Choppers: American Made, in which he invested $1.8 million for a 51% stake in the company. Derbyshire claims that as production was beginning, Sr tried to renegotiate the split to 50/50.
Paul Sr. was the victim of a death hoax
Around the same time as the foreclosure rumors started swirling, Paul Sr. was the victim of a story claiming he had died in a motorcycle accident. According to Snopes.com, on April 18, 2016, the website Iron Demons doctored a real article about another man’s death in a motorcycle crash in Louisiana to make it look like it was Paul Sr.’s death.
OCC quickly shut down the rumours as Paul Sr. appeared to let everybody know he was doing fine.
Paul Sr. was caught up in a steroids scandal
In a 2011 case involving several MLB players and the use of steroids, Paul Sr. was named as one of dentist James D’Amico’s most famous clients. D’Amico pleaded guilty to prescribing performance-boosting drugs to numerous clients, with the American Chopper star one of his most famous. Teutul reportedly received a vast amount of human growth hormone and steroid prescriptions during a four-year stretch.
Business is on the rise for Paul Jr.
Paul Jr.’s move to open up his own chopper shop may have been the best business decision he could have made. After stepping out of his father’s shadow, Jr. is thriving, and has been commissioned by video game empire Blizzard to create a series of custom bikes based off of their World of Warcraft franchise.
Orange County Chopper restaurant failure
Sr. more recently found himself at the center with Carlos Urbaneja of a business scandal in 2016. The Miami Herald reported that several Venezuelan businessmen had been defrauded over their investment in a potential restaurant franchise. The franchise was due to be based on the show, and image of Teutul in particular. But only one such eatery ever opened.
In response to the allegations, Urbaneja has said that the lawsuit has “no merit” and that he would be filing a motion to dismiss it. Paul Sr. has yet to comment.
OCC to shut it’s doors!
In recent years, the OCC name has been consistently linked to rumors that the company is in dire financial straits and headed for foreclosure.
In an interview posted to OCC’s YouTube page, Sr. and Mikey admit that the company is not in a great place financially right now. Paul Sr. describes the position of the legendary bike shop as “in the pits” and “in the bottom of the hole.” He cites his own mismanagement of money as well as ballooning overhead costs that came along with the expansion of the business that was a result of the popularity of American Chopper.
Paul Jr. apparently wanted to fight Jesse James
The rivalry between the Teutuls and fellow bike shop owner Jesse James once threatened to go further than verbal sparring. Ahead of a 2011 televised Vegas event, James alleged that Paul Jr. wanted to fight him, describing him as, “wound up tighter than a watch.”
No fight occurred and Paul Jr. went on to win the build-off.
Cody sued OCC too
Just before the first episode aired, the team was working on a bike what they called “The Cody Project” motorcycle, which was sold for an undisclosed sum at Daytona Bike Week in 2003. This was based on the work of shop hand Cody Connelly. Based on the hard work he’d put into the project, Cody was gifted a different chopper that he helped design. However in his lawsuit against OCC, Connelly has claimed that he never received the old-school chopper Paul Sr. promised.
Paul Jr built bikes for TMNT
Paul Jr. is still picking up some pretty high profile projects. In 2016, he completed two bikes for the summer blockbuster, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle: Out of the Shadows.
“They never do anything without drawings, but they trusted me and my process,” Jr. said of working with director Michael Bay and the film’s production company. Jr. also said that he was only contracted for one bike, but when he finally delivered it, Bay “liked it so much he asked for a second bike.”
Jr. Is Deeply Religious
In an interview with the SOS Radio Podcast, Jr. opened up to the audience about his faith, and how his rededication to living by christian principles led him to a more meaningful relationship with his wife, Rachael Biester.
He has also become actively involved with benefits for PR Ministries, and held speaking engagements alongside his wife for church congregations. You can book him as a “Christian speaker,” and he has heavily incorporated his faith into his upcoming book, The Build: Designing My Life of Choppers, Family, and Faith, which the description says is “a rallying cry to unleash God-designed creativity and live life to the fullest.”
Paul Sr. and Jr. starting to make amends
Paul Jr Designs“There was a time when I didn’t think this was even possible. It was great having my dad stop by yesterday to meet Hudson. Three generations.”