The untold truth of American Chopper

When it premiered in 2003, few could have predicted that American Chopper would shape the future of reality TV, but programs like Cake Boss, Pawn Stars, and the slew of home-renovation and cooking shows that crowd the dial today all fit the competition-driven, drama-rooted model that didn't exist until Chopper roared onto the dial. Perhaps the hardest thing to believe about American Chopper—and a lot of weird stuff has happened on and off screen—is that all the fighting, cursing, crying, welding, and painting was real. Here's the untold truth from behind the scenes of the show.

History of drinking

In his book The Ride of a Lifetime, Paul Teutul, Sr. discusses his 15-year drug and alcohol addiction, which ended when he went to rehab on the advice of his wife in 1985. "Somehow, she talked me into going into rehab, something I thought I'd never do," Teutul says in the book. "But I wanted to have one last good drunk. So the day before I was set to go into rehab, I got totally plastered. I drank a half-gallon of wine, a pint of brandy, and I took six Valiums." While Paul Sr. was ultimately able to stop his drinking, his sons Mikey and Paul Jr. both had issues with drugs and alcohol in their young lives. Paul Jr. went to rehab at age 16.

Father-son feud

Fights between the Pauls were a regular occurrence on the show, driving much of the onscreen drama. But the most heated argument ever captured on camera happened in 2009, when a chair-throwing Paul Jr. was dressed down by his father for sleeping on the job and showing up late. On one hard, it's exactly the type of nerve-wracking drama the show's network, TLC, wants, but in this case, the row became irreconcilable, with Paul Sr. screaming at the end of the fight, "And don't f—in' bother coming in tomorrow because you're f—in' terminated." Surely the network—as well as viewers at home—thought this, like so many others of their arguments, would blow over. As fans know now, it didn't turn out that way.

The Teutuls were actually Plan B

In an interview with Forbes, American Chopper creator Craig Piligian revealed that he'd initially centered the show on another bike shop in New Hampshire, but after a phone conversation, he decided they didn't have "the right mindset," so he changed his plans. Within two days, Piligian and his crew were shooting with the Teutuls, and it wasn't long after that that Piligian had another realization. "What we started to see was that it was a relationship show more than it was a build show. The bike was a by-product of the relationship with the father and the son. It just came out of nowhere and was hugely successful. It was the first family docu-soap," he said.

Piligian even admitted that after a while, he was molding American Chopper after I Love Lucy, meaning he viewed the show as more of a sitcom than reality show in which they would make simple conflicts the center of each episode. "I decided we should make the loglines real simple: Junior goes missing. Mikey doesn't show up. That's what we built the show around. Simple loglines. It was the inspiration for the whole show," he said. So, what was the logline for the infamous chair-throwing meltdown: 'Production company ruins family for ratings'?

Sued for $1 million

After the 2009 fight, Paul Jr. was, in fact, terminated by his father, causing TLC to file a notice of default based on Jr.'s absence from the show. In order to honor their contract with TLC, certain key members of OCC needed to remain employed and on camera. In response, Sr. and Jr. drew up a new contract making Jr. an independent contractor (appeasing TLC). Paul Jr. lasted a matter of months as a contractor, but the new contract gave Sr. the option to buy out Jr.'s stake in the company for a fair market value determined by a neutral party.

And things got uglier from there. Sr. flexed his contractual option to buy Jr. out, which Jr. fought. Paul Sr. then sued his son for $1,000,000 in damages, hoping to bully his son into selling his share. Again, Jr. fought back in court, eventually overturning Sr.'s evaluation of his shares, and keeping his stake in the company. It's really kind of sad, because despite their constant bickering, the show displayed moments of great kindness and reconciliation between the father and son. It would appear, at least for now, that a decent relationship between the two was impossible.

Paul Sr. was sued by another business partner as well

No stranger to the courtroom at this point, Sr. is once again facing legal troubles, this time from a suit filed by a former business partner, Thomas Derbyshire, who claims he got screwed over on the development of a new TV show. According to TMZ, Derbyshire claims he financed 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, only for Sr. to turn around and try to renegotiate a 50/50 split just as production was beginning.

According to Law 360, Derbyshire claims that instead of using his invested funds towards production of the show, Paul Sr. "mostly paid expenses connected to his custom-motorcycle shop." Derbyshire also claims Paul Sr. misrepresented the financial well being of the shop, claiming it was "making enough to keep itself afloat," when in reality, "it was actually operating at a loss." Yikes. If those accusations are true, it sounds like Senior's far from his heyday of building gold-plated choppers for Donald Trump.

The Orange County Chopper restaurant failure

Remember what we said back there about Paul Sr. knowing his way around a courtroom? Well, go ahead and add "running a Ponzi scheme" to the list of things he's been accused of since his custom bike shop shot to fame. According to The Miami Herald, Venezuelan businessman Angel Briceño and several other investors have filed lawsuits, claiming they were duped out of a collective $12 – $15 million dollars in investment money towards what they believed was going to be an Orange County Choppers restaurant chain. They claim, however, that Paul Sr., along with wealthy investor, Carlos Urbaneja, "sold the same project to three or four groups of investors, and at times issued shares in paper companies that had no value at all."

The investors claim they were courted by Urbaneja, who furnished them with luxury accommodations during negotiations, and by Paul Sr., who at the time — around 2011 — was enjoying the height of the popularity of the show, and who allegedly allowed them work out of his headquarters in Newburgh, NY for five days. 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.

A tragic accident

Founded in 2010—after fulfilling his yearlong non-compete with Sr.—Paul Jr. opened up Paul Jr. Designs, based in Rock Tavern, New York. But early on, a tragic incident occurred at the new shop 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. In a statement, Paul Jr. said, "This was a tragic accident and, although I've never met this man, my deepest condolences and prayers go out to his family and friends." Neither Teutul nor his regular shop employees were there when the man fell, but it couldn't have been easy to have such a horrific accident happen only a few months into starting a new business.

Dad doesn't come to the wedding

The same year Paul Jr. spun off from OCC, he married Rachael Biester, a model he'd met on an episode of American Chopper. She can be seen here on the left, in a yellow jumpsuit, posing as a "McCuff Girl." In advance of their August 20, 2010, wedding, the couple appeared on, not surprisingly, TLC's show Say Yes to the Dress, and even met with a chef from TLC's Cake Boss to really hammer home the fact that TLC keeps the Teutuls' lights on. One person, however, did not attend Paul and Rachael's wedding: as their battle in court over Jr.'s stake in OCC raged on, Paul Sr. chose not to go, even though he was invited.

Case of stolen idea

In 2014, a Florida man named Christ Tavantzis sued—among 29 other defendants associated with OCC—Paul Jr. and Sr. for copyright infringement. Tavantzis, who suffered from polio and was wheelchair-bound until his death in February 2016, claimed that at a bike show in 2008 he pitched the idea of a handicap-accessible, three-wheel motorcycle to members of the shop. Tavantzis contends that this bike, which the American Chopper team built at the beginning of 2010 in conjunction with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, was a ripoff of his original idea, for which Tavantzis held a patent.

In this clip from the American Chopper episode about the bike, Paul Sr. can be heard saying, "Such a unique thing that I think that we did for our company and for the people who are going to appreciate it." As far as the lawsuit goes, unfortunately for Tavantzis, his complaint against Sr. and his 29 co-defendants fell into the category of something called a "shotgun pleading," which basically means it was worded in a way that was confusing, repetitive, and did not clearly separate which defendants supposedly committed which wrongdoing. This resulted in the case being "dismissed without prejudice," meaning Tavantzis would have the opportunity to revise his lawsuit and submit "an Amended Complaint" within 14 days. As of this writing, it is unclear what has happened with the case after that initial dismissal, but if the guys from OCC really did steal a motorcycle idea from a man with polio—then profited from a television episode touting the idea and the benefits it will have for the handicapped—that's definitely dirty business.

Mikey goes rogue

OCC and American Chopper have always balanced any tension and screaming with comic relief, coming mostly from Mikey Teutul, the cheery, heavyset shop fixture and youngest Teutul son. If reality stars can be seen as semi-fictionalized characters, the Mikey persona is strikingly similar to the Chumlee character on the History Channel's show Pawn Stars.

While his father and brother were settling their differences onscreen and in court, Mikey's energies shifted from the shop to other schemes. In 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 to focus on his family and health. A year after he opened the gallery, Mikey tried a different venture—this time concentrating on his other love, food: he launched a line of gourmet pasta sauces under the company name FarQueue Products, which carried flavors like Porcine Orgy Sausage Supreme.

Cody sues OCC

Before making its way onto sister channel TLC, American Chopper first aired on the Discovery Channel in March 2003. By that point, OCC had already been building bikes for four years. Fans of the show will remember the very young and patient shop hand Cody Connelly, who'd spent two years before the the show's premiere cutting his teeth with OCC. Just before the first episode aired, the team was building what they called "The Cody Project" motorcycle, which was sold for an undisclosed sum at Daytona Bike Week in 2003. Because of his hard work, Cody was gifted a different chopper (you can see the clip here) that he helped design—but in a lawsuit, Connelly claimed he never received the old-school chopper Paul Sr. promised. On top of everything, Connelly—who sought $250,000 in damages—claimed that OCC continued to use his likeness on promotional materials after he'd left the company.

OCC closes its doors?

In recent years, OCC has been dogged by persistent rumors that the company is in dire financial straits and headed for foreclosure. More than five years since the last episode of American Chopper aired, it's easy to understand why fans or members of the media might assume the worst when word got out the company's Newburgh, NY headquarters were being sold—but as it turns out, OCC doesn't own the building, they only leased it. As Paul Sr. told listeners on the local radio station WPDH, when the owner of the building went into foreclosure, it wasn't a reflection on OCC's stability—although they are having struggles of their own.

In an interview posted to OCC's YouTube page, Sr. and Mikey admit that the company is not in a great place financially. 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. But now that the show is over and the big corporate projects aren't rolling in, Sr. says they're taking on any work that they an get just to pay the bills, like "repairing quads, snowmobiles, and cars," as well as "restoring garage finds." He's even gone into his own pocket over the past three years just to make payroll. This is just an idea, but maybe there are obvious ways they could rein in cost—like, say, getting rid of the bowling alley inside the shop. That seems excessive.

Paul Sr. and Mikey are trying to crowdsource a new OCC show

During the above interview in which they spell out their financial woes, Paul Sr. and Mikey also announce their intention to start a new OCC-based show, using the crowdsourcing platform, Patreon. Claiming it would give them more creative control, Mikey and Sr. struggle to define their unrestricted vision for the new show other than to say they would be "blowing stuff up" and asking fans for what they'd like to see.

Though the Patreon account has been removed for "not complying with Patreon Community Guidelines," American Iron reported on what viewers could get for a direct contribution toward's OCC's new show. For $10/month, they would get exclusive access to shows ahead of the general public. For $25/month, they would get access to a 24 hour livestream of the shop as well as the opportunity to livestream episodes of the show and "take part in a Q&A session afterwards." For $250/month, they would get "a monthly live video chat with Paul, Sr." Their initial goal was $6000, and it's unclear if they ever reached it, although they did start producing shows which can be seen on their YouTube channel. Their most recent upload was about a year ago and it's a one-minute clip of "Cousin Nick" falling out of a ceiling and onto Paul Sr.'s desk, so it's already going pretty great.

Jr. made custom bikes for TMNT: Out of the Shadows

While his dad and the crew at OCC may no longer be getting hit up for flashy builds, Paul Jr. is still snagging some high profile projects. In 2016, he completed two bikes for the summer blockbuster, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle: Out of the Shadows. Even more impressive? He did it without concept art. In fact, according to duPont Registry, that's how Jr. does all of his design work — purely from his imagination. "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."

Paul is dead

Around the same time as the foreclosure rumors started swirling, strange reports surfaced suggesting Paul Sr. 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. After that, people started posting on social media and message boards sending their condolences, and the whole hoax spiraled from there. Somebody even made this crude YouTube video about the death. OCC finally responded on Facebook, insisting, "Paul Sr. is alive and well!"

Jr. is deeply religious now

In an interview with the SOS Radio Podcast, Jr. got surprisingly candid about his faith, and how his rededication to living by christian principles led him to a more meaningful relationship with his wife, Rachael Biester. As we've previously mentioned, Jr. and Biester met during the taping of American Chopper, and though he says that he's always been a Christian, at the time he met Biester, she was not, and that he was "not really doing the right thing" by living with her before marriage. While he was still having doubts about the relationship, he attended a weekend retreat during which he received some sort of clarity from God. Apparently embracing a newfound faith of her own, Biester suggested she move out, during which time they "abstained for nine months" and Jr. proposed. Jr. says they "honored God and each other" during that period and that their relationship has been strengthened by their faith. "There's a blessing in obedience," he says.

And he wasn't just talking the talk. Jr. became actively involved with benefits for PR Ministries, and even did speaking engagements alongside his wife for church congregations. He is available for booking as a "Christian speaker," and 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." We'd say God is definitely Jr.'s co-pilot, but that would seem like a bit of an understatement.